Learning to Write

There has been plenty of of talk in this space about eroding dexterity, the diminished use of hands and fingers. I am right handed, though in recent years, I have converted to the life of a southpaw. This has been sneaking up on me over the years. I eat with my left hand. I cannot hold a fork in my right. I brush my teeth and shave with the same. And so on. I am at a point where I cannot hold a pen. Why not learn to write with my left hand?
My father was left handed, and in those days, teachers forced his kind to write with their right hand. Of course for thousands of years, the Devil has been associated with the left hand and has been assumed to be left-handed. In the seventeenth century it was thought that the Devil baptized his followers with his left-hand. I will take my chances. Someone, please teach me to write with my left hand.
I went to see an occupational therapist. She wanted to begin by working on my right hand. No, I said. Forget my right hand. It has been on strike for a long time. She wanted to see for herself. I decided she would not see me again. My neurologist at the time was no help.
I am having a devil of a time with my right hand. My cane is in my left, and I cannot even carry a newspaper in my right. I am not complaining. I have to write fewer checks. Meredith has become adept at forging my signature. So far, we have not been prosecuted for forgery.
Has anyone out there in MS-vile learned to forsake the dominant hand and give the other a try? I enjoy taking Meredith to dinner. Just once, I would like to add up the charges and sign my own credit card receipt. All ideas are gratefully accepted.

32 Responses to Learning to Write

  1. Sandy December 20, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    I was totally left handed. I come from a left handed family of 6 (except for my baby sister who doesn’t even look like the rest of us). I always say we only had right arms so we did not look scary in pictures.

    I have all kinds of trouble and pain in my hands-more so my left. So a few years ago I began to train my right hand and it has worked out well. I still use my cane on my left but I can eat with a fork or spoon, hold a coffee cup and wine glass, use my mouse and lots of other tools in my right hand. Scissors and such. I can write with a pen but not make my signature look like the left handed version.

    I did it primarily for my hand use issues but I also noted an improvement in my cognitive problems mostly word-finding. I had read that they use this as speech and language therapy with alzheimer’s patients so I decided to give it a try. It’s supposed to help with brain processing and speed.

    I started with the mouse and wine glass….thinking if I could get these two the rest would be easy….and there was the reinforcement of drinking wine.

    I have to say it has worked very well for me and I get to “save” my left hand for the important stuff like cane and signing my name.

    Happy Holidaze!

    • Richard M. Cohen December 21, 2014 at 6:30 am #


      Very encouraging. Thanks.


  2. Jack December 20, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

    I was right-handed and over the years I have gradually lost all ability to move independently my right arm and hand. When I first started to lose function, about 15-years ago, I began doing crossword puzzles with my left hand. Writing in the small boxes helped me learn proportion and control. It was not easy and I was painfully slow. But doing the puzzle gave me an achievable purpose. I can now print as legibly left handed as I used to do right handed. I’m not even that slow anymore. I have a little more difficulty with cursive writing so, except for my signature, I don’t bother with it.

    For me, the key was to practice while I was doing something I enjoyed. I hate boring, repetitive therapy. I get too frustrated and tend to give up.

    By the way, I rarely write checks because I now do all my banking and bill paying on line.

    • Richard M. Cohen December 21, 2014 at 6:33 am #

      Thanks. Practice over and over, I guess.


  3. JoanZ December 20, 2014 at 6:04 pm #

    Richard, you’re not alone. Seems like everything about MS is a moving target. Just when I find a workaround, the challenge morphs into some variant. I “practice” my signature before I sign the final ballot, and have scraped the enamel from a few teeth calling them into service where hands fail me. I guess the good news is that so far it isn’t fatal, just sloppier and messier than I’d like. It’s frustrating for everybody too – “but I thought you said you can/can’t do this” seems like a soundtrack in my house. Yeah, I did say that…last week.

    • Richard M. Cohen December 21, 2014 at 6:37 am #

      I think all of us need to stop talking and start doing.


  4. Yvonne December 20, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    As always, this blog is a comfort when I encounter another freaking MS obstacle. It is frustrating as hell filling out ANY paperwork. Cursive is impossible and I now print like a 6 yr old! I am doing most things with my left hand these days as my dominant right is slowly losing ability to do any thing. Still haven’t mastered eating or writing so I’m looking for tips also.

  5. KG December 20, 2014 at 10:36 pm #

    I consulted an occupational therapist friend. She said the first OT you saw was wrong to dissuade you from learning to use your left hand and you were smart to not see her again. Working with a different therapist that listens to what you want to work on might help. My friend recommended a book titled “Handwriting for Heroes”. Don’t you love that title? And there are hierarchy worksheets where you start with printing then progress to cursive. I think all MS spouses are forgers.

    • Richard M. Cohen December 21, 2014 at 6:40 am #

      We can all go to jail together.


    • Louise December 23, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

      Fitting, as we are all victims of identity theft.

  6. Christopher December 20, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

    I have some advice.

    I too am a “righty,” and have to do a lot with my left hand–albeit, badly. It seems really cruel, and somewhat weird/spooky, that the MS decided to attack the side we favor. It takes years to train our nervous system’s highway what routes to follow when writing, eating, brushing teeth or tapping out a rhythm on a tabletop. None of us sprang forth from the womb with perfect penmanship… so it will take a while to train the other half of the body to take over running things. Actually pretty long, since besides rerouting the map of that neural highway, now there has to be new bridges constructed because the neurons have already gone through many years of pruning and shaping to create the neural you. So the advice is to keep trying no matter what. Keep trying and don’t worry about how ugly it looks in the meantime. You aren’t starting from a place of experience… you are starting from the beginning–square one. You have to train your left to be something new, through trial and error. You aren’t just switching your right to your left–it doesn’t know it exists. That’s why music teachers say it’s much easier to teach a kid to play an instrument than an adult, especially the drums. It would also be a good idea to keep trying to use your right, to keep the lines of communication open.

    Oh, also… the Latin word for left is sinister. Maybe that says a lot.

    • Richard M. Cohen December 21, 2014 at 6:45 am #

      That says it all, at least in Latin. I will keep plugging away.



    • Yvonne December 21, 2014 at 9:32 am #

      Thanks Christopher. Sometimes a good explanation like that makes one feel ok when the soup spoon shakes or the fork flies across the table as your cutting a steak. We always want quick solutions to the complex problems this disease creates so the reminder of “it takes time” is sometimes a welcome nudge. Gotta remember as I retrieve my fork (relieved it wasn’t a knife) and wipe the soup that dribbled from my chin, to exclaim: it’s not me who is clumsy, it’s those damn neurons!!! 🙂

      HAPPY HOLIDAYS, careful with those knives around family 😉

    • Cay February 18, 2015 at 4:49 pm #

      So silver lining time – I’m a righty and it’s my left hand that’s bad. Yay!

  7. Dave December 21, 2014 at 4:05 pm #

    Growing up i was Rt hand dominant, however I Golfed lefty and batted lefty (it also gave me an extra step closer to 1st base 🙂 ). My Father said if i ever wanted to get last years clubs handed down, I’d switch and learn Righty; which I did. That was many moons ago (8yrs old and up) and well before MS Dx with optic Neuritis in 2008 at the age of 39. In the past 6 years my Rt side foot drop and Rt hand/arm Neuropathy along with Frozen Shoulder has plagued me — well, like the plague. I use several tricks to “keep moving”.
    1. Massage Therapy (she spends a good 30 minutes on my hand, arm and shoulder alone).
    2. I use a “signature stamp” from Vistaprint to sign/stamp checks and other documents where a stamp is appropriate.
    3. I use a UBE (upper body Exerciser) – like a small bicycle wheel with pedals for my hands, arm and shoulder.
    4. Tricep pressdowns & lat pulldowns with a velcro cuff that has a hook on it and very light weights.
    5. Cable rope pulley on my door to stretch the arm.
    6. I am constantly stretching my hand and fingers backwards to keep them out of the “death grip”
    7. i wear a compression glove at night and a hand splint a couple nights a week that keeps my hand and fingers/thumb in a open slightly arced position.
    8. I use a “Handshoe” mouse which i can move but i still have to left and right click by pushing my right fingers with my left hand’s fingers. I also have bluetooth trackpads for my Mac and Windows machines that i use with my left hand.
    9. other tools i use can also be found on my blog 🙂

    Hope this is somewhat helpful. I can link you to the actual products that can all be found on Amazon if you would like.

    • Richard M. Cohen December 22, 2014 at 7:02 am #

      A man with a p lan. Lots to think about. Thanks.


  8. Louise December 21, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Dave, is frozen shoulder an MS symptom? I had it in my left shoulder, weaker side, and neuro insisted it was orthopedic. I doubted him but it went away completely. Two years later and my right shoulder is frozen. I’ve been assuming this one would go away too. How long has your shoulder been frozen? I get that it is because of weaker muscles but did not think the immobility was permanent. Anybody else?

    • MB December 22, 2014 at 1:13 am #

      I have frozen shoulder, too. Did the orthopedic run around for three years, then they said it was probably MS related.

      What isn’t?

      • nancy s December 22, 2014 at 9:45 am #

        My drs. have never connected my frozen shoulder to MS. Gave me an exercise to do. Works somewhat if the pain isn’t too great.

    • Dave December 22, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

      In my case it is. I had x-rays, CT scans, and an EMG. I got a cortisone shot in my shoulder – that helped for 2 days and it went back to frozen. I’m not imobile completely but my arm and hand might as well be a wet noodle. Shoulder has been frozen for 3 years? Has not gotten any better but my posture is better because i work the muscles. A TENS unit is also VERY helpful!

      • Dave December 22, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

        There is a Frozen Shoulder book on Amazon that has exercises and explanations but out of 200 pages, only 2 are relevant.

      • Louise December 22, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

        Thank you.

  9. Brian December 21, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

    When the Post Office started returning my mail because they couldn’t read it, I knew it was time to switch hands. Finally, I just sat down with pen and paper and started writing the alphabet and numerals over and over just like in first grade. It’s boring, but it sped up the learning process quite a bit. Good luck!

    • Christopher December 21, 2014 at 11:28 pm #


    • Richard M. Cohen December 22, 2014 at 7:05 am #

      Yeah. Just do it. Thanks.


  10. henriette December 22, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    Richard, I say keep practicing writing with your left hand. The Devil sounds like a great writing partner. At least it would be edgy if not brilliant….

    • Richard M. Cohen December 22, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

      OK. QWill try anything.


  11. Jenny December 22, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    Perfect timing (as usual) for your post Richard! My right hand is weak also and I am starting to use my left hand more. I definitely have difficulties holding a fork, cutting meat and writing legibly. This time of year is difficult trying to fill in TO: and FROM: gift tags! I appreciate hearing the advice from others responding on this blog. I will try to put some of your suggestions into practice! Best to all

    • Richard M. Cohen December 22, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

      And to you.


  12. Kat December 26, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    My dominant hand is my right as well. I have gradually learned over the years to rely more on my left hand. There is no exact way to learn to use one’s non-dominant hand, it’s just something us people with MS just figure out over time and make it work to the best of our ability. I do get a kick out of peoples’ expressions and awkwardness when I reach out to shake their hand with my left hand.

  13. Kevin December 30, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    Interesting. I am a lefty although I have nothing to do socially with Lucifer. My left hand has been getting weaker as of late and I decided to start trying things with my non Devil hand. I started writing the same way I learned in kindergarten by writing out a full line of each letterIt has been amusing and in a fairly short time I have become fairly decent. I have got not one positive word to say about this crappy disease but there is some amusement along the way. Peace

  14. Muff January 23, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    I often say that I’m right-handed by nature, but left-handed by necessity. When MS robbed me of my dexterity, I did learn to retrain my left hand to take over the duties of the paperweight on my right side. I can now print, albeit at a snail’s pace, with my southpaw. Eating is difficult at times, but I envision myself as a European, turning the fork tines as they do. There are times when I so need both hands that I resort to calling the rightie some very nasty names! Of course, she does not reply. I urge you to at least try to use your non-dominant appendage. It may just surprise you!