How Someone Handles My Hands Makes a Difference

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by Halsey Blocher |

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My mom and I enjoy treating ourselves to a relaxing afternoon of mother-daughter bonding at the nail salon from time to time. We don’t have one specific salon that we always go to. While there are some that we like better than others, we often pick one that’s in an area where we already have other errands to run.

Each salon is a little bit different, from the decor to the artists’ methods for painting the same design. One thing that never seems to change, though, is everyone’s willingness to accommodate me, as a person with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), and make sure my nails are done just as well as all of the other customers’.

I’ve noticed that in many social interactions, people often have a tendency to shy away from gripping or moving my hands, but I’ve never met a nail artist who hesitated for a moment. Instead, they immediately scoop my hands up in theirs and set to work clipping, filing, buffing, washing, and painting. My contractures and floppy fingers might require artists to lean over at awkward angles or stand next to me while they work, but it never hinders their progress.

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I’m always amazed by how confidently and delicately they maneuver from finger to finger, expertly painting each tiny nail. When I hire new home care nurses, it typically takes several weeks, if not months, before they’re fully comfortable moving my arms, but nail artists seem to know my body’s needs and limits as well as I do within mere seconds.

I’m always keenly aware of the way people react to my hands. The majority of people I meet will probably avoid taking my hand, or they’ll hold it as cautiously as possible. The reaction is understandable, as I’m sure they fear hurting me or are unsure if I can even move my hands. But because I’m accustomed to such reactions, it stands out when someone approaches the situation differently.

Another memorable instance of this happened last summer during a family ice cream outing. We had walked to a popular ice cream chain near our house, and we’d even brought the dogs with us. It was a fairly hot day, so they were eager to cool off under a shady tree.

As my mom stood with them in the shade, a friendly young man who appeared to have autism approached and asked to pet the dogs. After a few minutes, he asked if she would also introduce him to her family, so she brought him to the table where the rest of us were sitting a few feet away.

I extended my hand as far as I was able to shake his, which he’d offered to me in greeting, and he quickly bridged the gap. Then, he did something that no one else ever has. With my hand safely enveloped in his much larger one, he repositioned it onto its side before firmly and gently shaking it.

Whenever I hold my hand out in front of my body, it stays palm down. My wrist is flexible enough to comfortably turn inward, but I lack the strength to independently execute the motion.

Handshakes are such an ordinary thing. They’re a simple greeting that some might offer multiple times in a day without realizing it. But by recognizing my need for assistance in completing that normal activity and choosing to help me do so, that young man turned an ordinary act into something truly extraordinary.

To be clear, the reason I share stories such as these is not to encourage you to take the hand of every individual you meet. You should always ask permission before touching someone and be respectful if they decline. Some people are fragile, myself included, and there are numerous other reasons why someone might wish not to be touched. If someone does allow you to shake or hold their hand, listen to any instructions you’re given on how to do so correctly.

Instead, I share these stories to demonstrate the impact of reaching out to people where they are — physically and metaphorically. Whether you’re a nail artist, you’re enjoying some ice cream, or anything in between, seek to make others feel seen.

Being compassionate and welcoming to the people you cross paths with is a skill that may take time and practice to develop, just as it takes time and practice to perfect the craft of nail art, but the results could lead to a deeper, more meaningful connection with those around you. And that won’t go unnoticed.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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