08 February 2008

The First and Last Time

Yesterday was a big day for me. I had the unique experience of doing something that I have never done before, and will probably never do again.

In a couple of weeks, I will be having shoulder surgery due to some loose ligaments that don't want to keep that arm bone where it belongs. It's a relatively simple arthroscopic procedure that takes about an hour, but the recovery will be a bit more onerous, as the doctor tells my I'll have my right arm strapped to my chest for a few weeks. Needless to say, this adds a new dimension of difficulty to ordinary tasks a right-handed feller performs every single day.

It's hard to predict ahead of time just how I will be affected. Obviously, eating will require some new strategies, as will showering. I'm still not sure how long it will be until I can type or take notes. Driving a car with a manual transmission is possible (I've done it before with only one usable arm) but talking on the phone, drinking coffee, and wolfing bagel sandwiches while at the wheel are probably no longer viable options.

A former physical therapist I know refrained from getting surgery on his shoulder after working with innumerable patients in the process of recovery from this procedure. He said it was the worst and most painful recovery of all the various procedures. Never having gone through it himself, I am guessing he based this judgment on the expressions on his patient's faces and the sounds coming from their mouths while he worked with them. He also gave me a valuable head's-up on some potential difficulties to plan for.

It was on his advice that I found myself in the baby aisle at Dominick's, an utterly foreign realm of the grocery store. I can't think of a single time I've deliberately been there. Being the first of two children born only three years apart, I've never had to make a run to the store to pick up diapers or some formula for a younger sibling. My extended family all live at least a couple hundred miles away, and so for most of my life I have had little to no contact with infants. Being in the baby aisle is simply the occasion for a "whoops" and an about-face, kind of like finding myself in the "feminine needs" and "family planning" aisle at Walgreen's: I get the vague sense of being an intruder in a foreign realm. Yesterday, however, I was on a mission, and I had a right to be there.

Never having actually looked at anything in the baby aisle, its contents were of interest to me in a way they had not been before. As I moved down the aisle, looking for what I needed, it occurred to me that anyone who had no idea what parenting was about and made an educated guess based upon the supplies stocked in the grocery store would probably have an image of babies that roughly corresponded to the following conceptual rendering:

The care of the human infant, for all practical purposes, appears to the non-parent as an endless cycle of putting food in baby, making sure food stays in baby, and disposing of the food once baby is done with it. I'm sure there aren't too many parents out there who would deny this (maybe some lazy or oblivious fathers), though I'm also sure there are plenty who would contend that this is not all there is to this most rewarding vocation.

All the same, I couldn't help but be reminded of Nicholas Rostov's failure to appreciate the beauty and wonder of his own children, considering them little more than "a lump of flesh" until they began to develop beyond infancy (though Tolstoy made sure to note that he was a devoted father to them). It's a small wonder the human race managed to persist through the stages of primitive child care. Babies can be smelly and messy even now, with our disposable diapers and antiseptic wipes; imagine with what joy a new papoose was welcomed into the world when the last one crapped in the wigwam six times a day, and all they had to clean up with was a scrap of moose hide.

Needless to say, I was that uninformed non-parent who was making educated guesses about the care of infants upon the sole grounds of the contents of the baby aisle. And the above conceptual rendering is a pretty accurate illustration of the conclusions I came to.

None of this was a problem, however, because it happened to coincide with my reason for being there. You see, my physical therapist friend advised me that I had better start learning to do things with my left hand, and it would probably be a good idea to learn to do at least one of those things with some baby wipes. "Used food disposal" becomes a little more complicated when you have only one arm. Even though huge portions of the world consider the right-handed option a horrendous barbarism, and seem to manage just fine, I was glad baby care had come so far.

At any rate, while future contingent propositions are neither true nor false, it's a safe assumption that there won't be many reasons for me to be back in the baby aisle anytime soon. Parents, I salute you.

1 comment:

The Director said...

You should just get yourself a pitcher full of water. That seemed to work just fine for our dishstasha wearing friends. Your conclusions, by the way are not far off. at least from a lazy fathers point of view.