Saturday, May 1, 2010

Quad Engineering: Gloves

This is the second Quad Engineering post taken directly from a question I was asked in the comments section of an old post. I was asked why it seems that so many quadriplegics wear gloves. Again, with a few extra edits my response is:

You see paras wearing gloves much more often than quads because gloves offer protection to their hands as they wheel their chairs around, since so many more of them use manual wheelchairs. From what I've seen, quads that use manual chairs often wear gloves or something similar for both protection and to get some extra grip on their wheel rims. Quads that roll with power chairs probably don't wear gloves as often though because they don't need that extra hand protection to work the joystick to drive their chairs.

As for me, I use a power chair and wear fingerless biking/weight lifting gloves. I started wearing them back in rehab primarily as hand protection to wheeling my manual chair. But after I started using my power chair full time in college I kept wearing gloves because it became habit to put them on every morning, like an extension of my wardrobe. But the primary reason that I've kept wearing them to this day is because they give my hands, and fingers specifically, that extra stability they lack without them. Stability that makes it much easier for me to type, grab stuff, and do more fine motor things with my fingers (e.g. taking money out of my wallet). Otherwise, my fingers tend to be more flimsy and I feel like I have less control over them. From a personal aesthetic standpoint I prefer the hand structure that my hand has with my gloves too. As a result of my specific spinal cord injury my pinkies stick out a bit more than my other fingers. So it looks like a combination of giving the "hang loose" sign and the way that pretentious people raise up their pinkie while they sip on a cup of tea. It's not much and it's probably barely noticeable to others but it annoys me just enough. So it's nice that my gloves sort of keep my pinkie in line with the other fingers.

Speaking a little bit more about the grabbing things aspect, people that can just pick things up with the full use of their fingers don't realize how slippery the bare hand and fingers can be. Take me trying to pick up a piece of paper located in the middle of my desk, for example. To work around my inability to just grab and pick the piece of paper straight up I compensate by sliding the paper to the edge of the desk and then pick it up from the top and bottom simultaneously. It's essentially a quad trick of the trade when it comes to picking up just about everything that is flush to a surface or hard to get your hands underneath. Without my gloves trying to slide a piece of paper, etc. towards me sometimes takes a few attempts because my hands often slide right over the surface. But my gloves provide a much "stickier" surface to can grab at and slide stuff closer to me with much greater ease. Of course, part of the issue with that is that my hands have been covered with gloves the majority of the time for the past fourteen years and thus the skin hasn't been worn through every day use like with most people. So the result is that the skin on the palms of my hands is quite literally as soft as a baby's bottom. I'm sure if I ditched the gloves the skin would eventually get "seasoned" and gain that extra natural tackiness that would make for grabbing and sliding paper, etc. a lot easier. Gloves also sidestep that same slippery gripping issue in regards to driving, putting on clothes, and a lot of other things too.

Another primary reason that I use gloves is as an eating accommodation. While I was in rehab one of the occupational therapists made me an adaptive food utensil holder made of plastic and a Velcro strip that wrapped around my hand. When I decided that it was too awkward and encumbering I started using a universal cuff like the one in the picture in my last Quad Engineering post about typing. The problem with both of those was two-fold: 1) I had to take them with me everywhere I expected to eat a meal that required a fork or spoon, and 2) they couldn't accommodate food utensils with wide handles. The solution to the latter meant also having to carry a fork or spoon from home that fit perfectly just in case, which isn't ideal. Even more problematic was if I forgot my cuff altogether because all I could do then was to to weave the fork or spoon handle in between my fingers in order to hold it, which looks very odd and doesn't provide a lot of food lifting power. The only other solution was to have someone feed me but I would just assume take the whole meal home in a doggie bag if that were the case. It was on a night that I forgot my cuff and/or forgot my fork and I was stuck with one that was too big to fit my cuff that is essentially what lead me to start using my right glove to hold my fork for the first time. Using some quick ingenuity I stuck the end of the fork in the hole in my glove that my thumb goes through and boom, it worked just fine. The glove holds the fork in place and the bottom part of my thumb provides enough leverage for me to be able to eat any kind of food. It's a quick, built in accommodation so I don't need to worry about bringing eating cuffs and my own forks everywhere I go. And I have been eating with utensils that way ever since.

Nonetheless, I have been trying to move away from using gloves bit by bit over the last few years for a few reasons. One reason is that the kind of gloves I've been using for years aren't made anymore, and I haven't found a new kind that I think will work for me just as well. So I keep washing and fixing the ones I have. Second, I feel like they're socially awkward. I think that one of the first things that people notice about me is the wheelchair and coming in second at some point is the fact that I'm wearing gloves. I've been asked countless times over the years why I wear gloves, so it's obviously something that people are always curious about. But it's been tough making the move to ditch them for a combination of the reasons that I described above. For example, do I bring a glove with me everywhere I go to eat? I once again go back to that whole issue of what happens if I forget it and how do I eat with utensils again. I would also venture to say that without gloves I would burn my hands a lot more when I'm cooking, etc. But over the last few months I've been spending longer and longer stretches of time each day sans gloves, but I'm not ready to make the permanent switch away from them altogether yet. And to that point, if they make my life higher functioning in a lot of ways why would I?

Anyway, that's just a few reasons why you often see quads like me rocking the gloves: they are a simple, multi use accommodation that also gives my hands protection and stability.

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