Hearing the news that your hand needs to be amputated is truly horrible, especially when it’s your right hand and you’re right-handed.
Murray Halberg Retirement Village resident David Christian had to deal with just that in June when the melanoma he’d been fighting off since 2014 became too far advanced for his hand to be saved.
But, in a classic example of using Kiwi ‘No 8 wire’ ingenuity, retired engineer David has risen to the various challenges that his physical disadvantage has presented by devising numerous inventions to assist with everyday activities – and now his ‘gizmos’ are inspiring other new amputees.
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“I’ve sent pictures of my inventions through to the Artificial Limb Service and they told me they’re sharing them with another chap who’s recently lost his hand.
“I just hope I can inspire others to get up and go too.”
When he first noticed a little black spot under the fingernail of his right ring finger eight years ago, David had no idea it was actually a melanoma and admits the health journey he has been on subsequently has been a huge emotional rollercoaster.
Nine months after the spot first appeared, it had spread down his finger, prompting medics to amputate the top third of the digit.
Over the next five years every effort was made to contain the disease, with small operations to remove the lumps that had started appearing on the back of his hand, and bouts of radiation therapy, followed by immunotherapy.
Being a retired civil and industrial engineer and logistician working for top international firms such as Alex Harvey Industries, Bax Global and DB Schenker, David says his mindset has always been solutions-focused.
“When I thought I’m going to lose my right hand, I didn’t quite panic but I realised I only had a certain amount of time before it came off, it was more being scared of the unknown.
“I started to think, what can’t I do with one hand? I just tried to find ways to do things without having to ask my wife Janice for help.”
He adds: “My motto at work was ‘there’s always a better way’ and I like a challenge - I decided I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do it no matter what.”
A natural tinkerer, David put his mind to creating gadgets that would allow him to remain as independent as possible without having to constantly turn to Janice.
He has a favourite spot out on the patio of their apartment with a self-made workbench and there are years of accumulated supplies hidden in various spots including under the bed, in the walk-in wardrobe and in the bedroom cupboard.
David uses his multi-purpose gizmo for many tasks, including holding bread while he spreads it (below) or keeping a jar steady while he unscrews the lid off (above).
On the kitchen bench is the gizmo David is most proud of.
It’s a square piece of wood with rubber feet to grip the benchtop. One corner has raised edges to hold his toast while he spreads it, then there is a v-shaped grip to hold the jar of marmalade while he screws the lid off, or any size jar in fact, and then a wee ramp with a hole above it to pop his pills out of their foil pouch.
It also has a spiked section made from some upside down nails where he can place fruit or vegetables for peeling or slicing and there are a couple of bungee hooks to pull his watch strap off at the end of the day.
There is also a clamp which can open up to 15cm wide: “I can hold virtually anything in here at all, and there is even a bottle opener whenever a cold beer is required,” he says.
“You can buy all these aids but you don’t have them all together like this.”
As well as that, he has made a special stand to play bowls, a Lazy Susan to make mealtimes easier, and he has adapted a nail brush with suction cups to wash his left hand.
“Well, I realised you need your right hand to wash your left hand! So this way the brush stays in one spot and I can move my hand over it to wash it.”
David says while he is staying positive and looking forward, if he’s struggling, he tries to get perspective and inspiration from other people’s stories.
“I think people like Sophie Pascoe have done wonders for bringing these things to light, and Anna Grimaldi, the long jumper, her arm is similar to mine.
“Watching her at the Olympics was such an inspiring moment for me when I knew there was a chance that my right hand may have to be amputated. I thought ‘what the hell have you got to complain about, I’ve had 84 years with two hands!’”
David often sits out on the patio to tinker and create.
Being at Murray Halberg since December 2019 had made life so much easier in many ways too.
“I don’t need to do the gardening or the maintenance so that’s helped a lot and has freed me up, which is good.
“Moving in here was the best decision we ever made.”
The staff now serve David’s meals at fine dining in a special bowl rather than a plate, and the maintenance team happily added a lower shelf in the shower, in reach of the shower seat.
As David continues to think up and make other items with just one hand with the various tools he has modified, the Artificial Limb Centre (Peke Waihanga) is adding the finishing touches to his new prosthetic limb.
Clinical prosthetist John Brookes was full of admiration for David’s ‘No 8 mentality’, saying: “David’s attitude is quite inspirational. He is using his ingenuity to help himself so it doesn’t impede his everyday activities, and with the addition of his new prosthetic it will be quite exciting to see where he takes this.”
David says his family have all been very supportive while Janice had been ‘an absolute rock’.
“I can dress myself, go to the toilet myself and I can drive, there’s really just the odd little thing that Janice helps me with. But having her by my side through all this, I couldn’t have done it without her,” he says.
Janice said she was full of admiration for David’s positive attitude: “Instead of sitting there and waiting for me, he’s getting on with it. There’s not much he can’t do."
David describes Janice as 'his rock'.