Studies show that ten per cent of the world’ s population is left-handed. Yet, little effort has been taken towards making life easier for lefthanded individuals who have to adjust and adapt in most aspects of life which have been designed for right-handed people, by right-handed people. While doing simple tasks like writing, opening a can, or even pursuing hobbies like music, lefthanded individuals suffer in silence.
Inevitable ‘elbow wars’
Mason Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School
To facilitate left-handers in schools/colleges, we need to provide left-hander friendly desks so that they do not have to go through the eternal right-left elbow wars with classmates. Also, can openers are the devil’s invention for left handers.
Other problems include using keyboard number pads as well as writing in English because a lefty’s hand runs over everything written, creating a mess of smeared ink.
As for appliances, quite a lot of these designed for left-handers are now available. The only issue is finding them easily in Oman.
You just adapt
As a left-handed person I spend a fair bit of time adapting to what is basically a right-hand world. Those same skills help you when learning new skills such as driving, which may account for the slightly higher driving test pass rate for left-handed people in the UK. But when it comes to the driving task itself, being left or right-handed makes very little difference. I learned to drive in the UK and had no particular problems due to my left-handedness. Then when I came to Oman, I had to adapt my driving accordingly. Quite simply, you do what is necessary. You adapt.
Adjustment is the key
I have not faced problems in my medical profession as a left-hander, but earlier in life, especially during school days, I faced many, like having to sit and write with the wrong posture. I have trained myself to eat with my right hand as eating with the left hand is not acceptable in Indian culture. However, I perform other tasks with my left hand.
In cardiac care, many procedures conducted on patients remain the same for left as well as right-handed patients as the vascular anatomy is the same for both. However, none of the instruments or equipment used are designed for left-handers.
“Left-handedness is a dear topic for me as I myself am left-handed and have faced a few common difficulties which most like me face in their life,” says Dr Deepali Jaju, senior specialist, Department of Clinical Physiology, Sultan Qaboos Hospital. In fact, one of her key research papers based on handedness has received much acclaim.
“As a child, my parents never forced me to eat or write with my right hand, but that is not the case with left-handed children in different societies wherein they are scolded and forced to use their right hand for tasks like eating, writing, accepting money etc, and the aspect of auspiciousness is associated with this practice,”
Dr Jaju says, explaining that left-handed children who are forced to use their right hands are compelled to go against nature.
Explaining the medical aspect of handedness, Dr Jaju points out that the brain is divided into two hemispheres, one of which is always dominant and which controls motor skills. The left hemisphere (which is dominant in right-handers) is connected with logical thinking, mathematics, verbal memory etc and the right hemisphere (which is dominant in left-handers) is concerned with three-dimensional perception, spatial understanding, pictorial memory, music, emotions etc. She explains that left-handedness is not just confined to motor skills, which are in the reverse order compared to right-handers, but also a series of other typical traits found in left-handers.
Dubbing left-handers as more creatively inclined than right-handers, Dr Deepali, who herself is a painter as well as a musician (she plays the drums), points out that many left-handers are ambidextrous, which means they can use both hands equally well.
This can be noticed among many left-handed sportspersons who are either able to use their left-handedness or their ambidexterity to their advantage in a game.
Dr Jaju, however, feels that left-handers generally do not get a good deal in most aspects of life as everything is designed to suit right-handed persons. From having to learn writing scripts whose alphabet curvatures are more sui-ted for right-handed individuals, using everyday use items like scissors, kitchen tools and appliances to automobiles, left-handers have always had to adjust.
Often, this adjusting can lay untold strain on one’s physique with short and long-term repercussions, she cautions. This begins in school itself when they take on awkward postures and place the notebook at various angles to facilitate writing, putting immense stress on the back, neck, head as well as wrists. Pointing this out, Dr Jaju advocates the need for lefthanders to learn modern techniques of writing that have been designed for left-handers.
As a medical professional, Dr Jaju too has had to make many a compromise as most surgical instruments and equipment have been designed for right-handed doctors. “Till today, no one has paid due attention to facilitate left-handed professionals in almost all medical disciplines,” she observes.
As a message to people on International Left-handers’ Day, Dr Jaju says, “Handedness is natural, whether left or right. And as one grows, one should let one’s ability to flow naturally without stopping it or forcing it in another direction as it can confuse the brain. The effects of that confusion are not very good for one’s growth. And right-handed people, too need to understand that there are others among them with a different orientation who need to be accommodated.”
Dr Saif al Riyami, senior specialist, deputy HOD, physiotherapy and rehabilitation, SQUH, also pointed out that left-handers always attain an inappropriate posture while writing so as to be able to see what they are writing as well as to avoid smudging the ink. However this causes immense physical strain which can take a toll on their health and wellbeing later on in life.
This strain can be prevented by changing the position of the notebook instead of left-handers rotating themselves. Training to write with the right hand is also helpful.
“Most left-handers suffer from neck pain/headaches, wrist pains, muscle spasms as well as breathing difficulties in the long run,”
Dr Said says, adding that these problems can be prevented by adopting correct postures early in life as well as going for mobilisation of the thoracic spine to relieve the physiological effects of strain.
Handedness and health
Neurologists usually ask if you are right-handed or left-handed during a neurological evaluation. The reason for this is that any problem that affects the brain manifests differently depending on whether you are right-handed or left-handed. Stroke in the dominant or non-dominant hemisphere has different symptoms and different recovery.
It has been documented that left-handers respond differently to certain drugs. They could have greater reactivity and hypersensitivity to commonly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs. Left-handers are more likely to experience side effects or negative drug reactions.
Left-handed people are more likely to suffer from learning disabilities, stuttering, migraine headaches, allergies and, according to the latest findings, certain autoimmune diseases.