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What a Pool Noodle Taught Me About Adapting to Changing Health Needs

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I distinctly remember hating the idea of adaptive equipment when my hand therapist (an occupational therapist who specializes in hands) brought it up. I felt weak, that I was somehow failing if I couldn’t do things the same as everyone else. But the truth was, I actually couldn’t. I couldn’t hold a pen normally without pain, and had to admit that, even if I fought it at first.

I didn’t want to buy an expensive pen grip, and wouldn’t even know where to start for looking for it, so my hand therapist suggested I get a pool noodle and use it for my pen. One short car ride later, I was the proud owner of a bright red pool noodle, which I promptly cut into an expanded handgrip.

The relief was near-instantaneous; with the wider grip, my hand didn’t hurt as much writing. I was hooked. Now that I had tasted pain relief, even if it wasn’t complete relief, I didn’t want to go back to writing without the grip. (There’s not always instant relief, and sometimes a particular adaptation doesn’t work, but it’s all part of the process of discovery and learning what works.)

You’d think I would’ve learned an important lesson that day, that I shouldn’t fight adaptive equipment and instead embrace it because of how much it re-enabled me to do things. But I didn’t. Each time a medical professional suggested adaptive equipment, I fought it initially, and so the cycle continued.

What I needed to give myself was permission: permission to be different, to act differently, to use items that other people don’t need but I do. Just because most people type with their hands doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to use voice software. Just because most people can sit for a whole plane ride doesn’t mean I can’t get a whole row of seats and lay down for most of it. I have permission. I give myself permission to do what I need to do to manage the conditions I have.

I’ve come a long way since the pool noodle pen grip. I’ve upgraded my pen grip to something nicer. I’m proactively on the lookout for actions in my life that might need an adaptation (though often I still need someone else to suggest something, because I’m not aware of what all is out there). And above all, my mindset is starting to change: adaptations are OK and they can give you some of your life back.

Getty image by Terri Rosa Fox.

Originally published: May 5, 2021
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