Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right, by Nathaniel Tower
Irvin Willakers was pissed when he woke up one morning to find he had two left hands. His first reaction was to yell a string of profanities, as he was wont to do anytime the slightest thing went wrong. Like the other night when the bar of soap broke in the shower. But this was much more serious. Only when that task of swearing was finished did he decide to call the doctor. Picking up the phone and dialing was a rather difficult task; Irvin had never been able to do much of anything with his left hand, and now he had two of them to deal with.
When the receptionist answered the phone and asked how she could help, Irvin let out another round of profanity.
“Calm down sir,” the woman said.
“I need an appointment now!” Irvin roared.
“If it’s an emergency,” the receptionist suggested, “then might I suggest you visit the emergency room?”
The phone fell out of Irvin’s right left hand. He picked it up with his left left hand and held it up to his left ear.
“They don’t know anything at the ER,” he shouted, the phone awkwardly pressed against his cheek.
“I’m afraid that Dr. Edwards can’t get you in until tomorrow,” she said unapologetically.
“And what the hell am I supposed to do with my two left hands in the meantime?”
“Hold on,” the receptionist said. She put Irvin on hold. The hold music was dreadful and made Irvin want to throw the phone, but he didn’t know how to throw with his left hand. He sat down on his bed and waited.
About four minutes later, the receptionist was back on the phone. “Dr. Edwards can see you at eleven today,” she said.
“It’s about time,” was all Irvin said before hanging up.
For the next three hours, Irvin struggled to perform the most basic tasks. When trying to urinate he found himself unable to control the direction of his flow. Making coffee was even worse. He would have a lot of cleaning to do after Dr. Edwards fixed his hands.
Next he tried to take a shower, but he couldn’t even get the water turned on. A few moments later, his bowels urged him to sit on the toilet, but he didn’t even want to attempt wiping, so he told them to be quiet. Knowing he wouldn’t be able to button any pants or shirts, he slipped on a comfortable gray sweat suit. Then he sat down on his couch and waited. He didn’t even bother to turn on the television.
At ten thirty, Irvin hopped in his car and headed for the doctor’s office. Driving was quite the adventure. He kept turning the wheel the wrong way and almost sideswiped about thirty cars. Somehow though he managed to show up to the doctor’s office in one piece.
After struggling to sign in at the office, the receptionist asked him to have a seat. Irvin found it wasn’t too terribly difficult to flip through a magazine, provided he went through the pages in reverse. Less than ten minutes after he sat, a nurse called him in.
“Dr. Edwards will be right with you,” she said as she led him to a cramped examination room.
Irvin took a seat on the table knowing that Dr. Edwards would take his sweet ass time getting there.
The doctor must’ve walked right past Irvin’s room twenty times before he finally came in.
“Well hello there, Irvin,” Dr. Edwards said when he walked in as if they were best friends making a routine visit. He made no effort to apologize for Irvin’s wait. Looking at a chart, he asked, “What seems to be the problem?”
“I have two left hands,” Irvin said.
“That’s odd,” Dr. Edwards said without looking up, “I think we would’ve noticed that before.”
“It happened this morning,” Irvin said, the doctor’s eyes still glued to the chart. Irvin wondered what the hell was so interesting on the paper.
“So another hand just grew there over night?” Dr. Edwards almost looked up.
“No. Nothing grew. My right hand became a left hand,” Irvin said impatiently.
“Oh, I see,” Dr. Edwards said as if this were some grand revelation. He finally looked at Irvin. “I thought you meant you had two hands on your left arm.”
Irvin realized that the doctor hadn’t wanted to look at someone with an extra hand.
“Mind if I have a look,” the doctor asked.
“Go ahead,” Irvin said.
Dr. Edwards set down the chart and scooted in close. He stared at Irvin’s left left hand first. “This looks normal,” he said before studying Irvin’s right left hand. “I see,” the doctor said before pausing for awhile. “Yes, yes, I think I see the problem.” He reached for the chart.
“So what’s the problem?” Irvin asked.
“You have a left hand where your right one should be,” he proclaimed proudly.
“Well no shit,” Irvin snapped. “That’s why I came here.”
“If you already knew the problem, then why did you come in?” The doctor scribbled on the chart.
“Because I want you to fix it.”
“I can’t fix that. I’m just a general practitioner. You’ll need a surgeon of some type.”
“Well, can you refer me to one?”
“I can set you up with someone who makes artificial hands.” The doctor clicked his pen triumphantly and set it in his shirt pocket.
“I don’t want an artificial hand,” Irvin replied. “I want my right hand back.”
“Well, I’m afraid I can’t help you there. I’ve never heard of replacing a hand before.”
“Then what do you suggest I do?”
“Learn to cope.”
“I couldn’t even piss in the toilet this morning.”
“Then sit down to piss.”
“I can’t write.”
“Then type everything.”
“I can’t even put on my gloves.”
“Then buy two pairs and just wear the left ones.”
“Do you just have an easy answer for everything?”
“Look, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to live with two left hands. You figured out how to live with one left and one right. It can’t be that much different with two left ones,” Dr. Edwards said before walking out of the room.
Unfortunately for Irvin, the doctor closed the door on the way out and Irvin couldn’t open it with his left hands. He pounded on the door for several minutes before a nurse finally came and let him out.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Does it look like I’m okay?” Irvin said while holding up his two left hands for her to see.
The nurse, who had been cute a moment before, made a hideous face that Irvin knew was a reflection of his new appearance.
“I’m sorry to have bothered you,” she spat before slamming the door in his face. Again he was trapped. He tried the knob, but his left left hand slid right off and crashed into his leg.
“You can do this,” Irvin said aloud to himself. “There are people with no hands at all, and they get by.”
Irvin fumbled with the door for several more minutes, but neither hand could do the job alone. He even tried the hands simultaneously, but he couldn’t coordinate the turning. He almost resigned himself to the fact that he would forever live in Examination Room 5 when Dr. Edwards burst in with an idea. The door smacked Irvin in the face. Automatically, his left hands shot up to attend to the pain, but he lost control and they both smacked him in the nose.
“I’ve got it,” Dr. Edwards cried as Irvin collapsed to the floor. “What are you doing down there?” the doctor added while waiting for Irvin to be impressed at whatever revelation he had.
Irvin and his two left hands remained silent on the floor.
“I’ll tell you anyway,” the doctor beamed. “All we need to do is move your thumb.”
Irvin looked through his blood-soaked lefts. He tried to spread his fingers wide enough to see the doctor clearly and still cover his face.
“What do you mean by move my thumb?” he asked while wiggling his left left thumb.
Dr. Edwards looked at Irvin like he had two heads. When it was apparent that Irvin really didn’t understand, the doctor said, “I mean we would take the thumb from the right side of your right left hand and move it to the left side. Your other fingers would still be switched, but it’s really the thumb that’s causing you trouble. You’ll pretty much be back to normal.”
Irvin stared at his right left hand trying to figure out if it was really possible to move the thumb. “Would the thumb really still work?”
“I don’t see why not,” the doctor said.
“Will it leave a hole on the right side of the hand?” Irvin continued to stare at his hand, struggling to move the thumb in a circular motion.
“We’ll patch that right up,” Dr. Edwards said with a smile. “You’ll look pretty much normal.”
Irvin still seemed skeptical. He tried to picture a thumb next to his pinkie. It didn’t seem plausible.
“Couldn’t you just take a dead guy’s right hand and put it on my right arm?” Irvin suggested.
“That would never work,” the doctor said. “You’ve been reading too many stories.” Dr. Edwards let out a hearty chuckle at the foolish idea.
“So this is really the only option?” Irvin asked.
“That’s it.” The doctor said it with such finality that Irvin was sure there wasn’t another option.
“Will my insurance cover it?” Irvin asked.
“That’s a good question. Probably not if it’s just cosmetic, but based on how much trouble you seem to have even standing there with two left hands, I am sure we can convince them that it’s not just a cosmetic procedure.” Dr. Edwards marveled at Irvin’s difficulty in performing any task with two left hands.
“I guess we have to do it then,” Irvin said. “I can’t go on living like this. Not that I could kill myself like this either though.” Irvin laughed at his joke. Dr. Edwards did not.
“There’s nothing funny about suicide,” the doctor said.
Irvin hoped his comment wouldn’t make the doctor change his mind about the procedure or the recommendation to the insurance.
“Sorry,” Irvin offered quickly. “So when do we do this?”
“We’ll have to schedule an appointment with a plastic surgeon and a transplant specialist.” Dr. Edwards clicked a pen twice and then headed out of the room, this time leaving the door open for an easy exit.
Irvin waited for a few minutes to see if the doctor would return. When he didn’t, Irvin went to the reception desk to see about that appointment.
“Tomorrow at one,” the receptionist told him. “Don’t eat that morning,” she added.
Once Irvin got home after a rather tricky commute, he decided it best just to stay in bed and wait for tomorrow’s appointment. There was no sense in trying to get anything done. Besides, he would be as good as new tomorrow and would have all the time in the world to do things.
Irvin had no trouble falling to sleep that night. It seemed to be the only thing he could really do with two left hands. Even breathing was beginning to get cumbersome. He assumed this was from the asymmetry his body now had.
He arrived at the hospital fifteen minutes before one. Everything was in place for his surgery.
“Are you ready?” the transplant specialist asked after marveling at Irvin’s two left hands.
“I guess so,” Irvin said with a smile, happy he was about to get his full function as a human back.
“And you say this just happened one morning, that you weren’t born like this?” the plastic surgeon asked.
“That’s right,” said Irvin, but he could tell the plastic surgeon didn’t really believe him.
“That’s messed up,” the transplant specialist said.
A few minutes later Irvin found himself being wheeled on a gurney to a brightly lit room. There were lots of nurses and doctors in the room, and there were a whole bunch of people watching from some windows above as well. Irvin half-expected some video cameras and members of the local media. Maybe this would even make it as a plot on one of those terrible doctor shows on television.
A doctor told him about a bunch of possible complications and the uncertainty of this procedure. There were a bunch of other instructions issued as well. His hands would be placed in bandages that he wouldn’t be able to take off for two days. He wondered why they were bandaging both hands, but he didn’t bother to say anything about it. He figured it was for balance or something like that.
When the instructions were all issued, the doctors placed a mask over Irvin’s face and he was soon asleep.
When he woke up a few hours later, both of his hands were indeed bandaged. He felt a bit woozy, but he was able to make it home without too much trouble. Driving with his hands in bandages was about as difficult as driving with two left hands. Honestly, Irvin was surprised they even let him drive home by himself. He thought there were policies against this, but he had to admit that he didn’t know much about medicine.
Irvin pretty much stayed in bed for the next two days, waiting eagerly for the moment he could take off the bandages. He wondered how he would even manage to get them off.
When the time finally came, he somehow managed to do it. It was actually quite easy. He even kept his eyes closed while doing it so that he could be surprised by the results. With the bandages off, he looked down and saw that both hands were right. He supposed he could live with that.
Nathaniel Tower writes fiction, teaches English, and manages the online lit magazine Bartleby Snopes. His short fiction has appeared in over 50 online and print magazines. A story of his, “The Oaten Hands,” was named one of 190 notable stories by storySouth’s Million Writers Award
in 2009. His first novel, A Reason To Kill, is out now anywhere e-books are sold. Visit him at www.bartlebysnopes.com/ntower.htm.. He currently lives in Missouri with his wife and daughter.
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