Senior shows how losing limb can open doors to ingenuity

September 24, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

Four years ago, James Larrimore didn't give a second thought to putting on a pair of pants or taking a shower. Then came the mulching machine accident in which he lost his left arm.

Since then, Mr. Larrimore has relearned tasks most people take for granted, simple things like brushing his teeth and throwing away trash at fast-food restaurants. The retired photographer also has learned a few tricks about adapting to his loss.

He shared his secrets recently at Union Memorial Hospital during a weekend meeting of amputees and health care workers.

"At 70 years of age, I cut my arm off," said Mr. Larrimore, who has no professional experience as a physical therapist. "I had gotten very used to that arm, and when it was gone, I really missed it."

Since that awful November day four years ago, the Glen Burnie resident has learned that if he tried to force things to work the way they used to he would experience failure and despair. If he just took a little time to think the problem through, simple solutions were available.

The insights he offered Saturday were intended for people who do not want to depend on a prosthesis all the time.

The first rule, he said, is not to let anyone rush you. Losing an arm or a hand means that everything, regardless of how many little survival tricks you learn, will take more time.

"Don't get in a hurry," he said to a half-dozen amputees and their supporters. "You'll die of frustration if you try to hurry with one hand. Don't let anyone hurry you."

Simple things, he said, can make life easier for someone with one hand: Buying Western-style shirts that have snaps instead of buttons, shoes that use touch fasteners instead of laces, and using sticky mounting tabs to keep plates and papers in place while trying to eat or sign something.

How do you wash your hand when you only have one?

Mr. Larrimore, a tinkerer who enjoys gadgets of all kinds, screwed a scrub brush to a flat wooden board, lathered the brush and rubbed his one hand against it. He turned the board upside down and brought the brush closer to his forearm to wash the rest of his limb.

In the shower he takes a long towel to which he has attached touch fasteners and makes it secure around his right leg. Propping his leg on a stool in the shower or on the side of the tub, he lathers the towel and rubs different parts of his body against it to get clean.

How does someone with one hand wash the pit under the only arm he has?

"I found out by accident that the human knee fits perfectly under an armpit," he says.

Mr. Larrimore had tips for gardening -- a one-armed man can learn to use a long-handled shovel -- and photography and driving a car and shaving.

All of this and more, he said, will be discussed in more detail at the Great Amputee and Family Health Fair between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Oct. 5 at Kernan Hospital, 2200 N. Forest Park Ave. in Northwest Baltimore.

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