"Live and learn." How often have you heard that?
Well, for the past several weeks I must really be living, because
I've really been learning.
As a part of the Healing Waters Fly Fishing Project I've been
teaching fly tying to four servicemen at Walter Reed Army Medical
Center in Washington, DC. That's no big thing in itself; I've taught
quite a few fly tyers-over the years.
What makes this class different and a real learning experience is that
three of the men lost their left arms in action in Afghanistan and Iraq. They
were taking the tying class as a part of their occupational therapy to learn
fine motor skills with their new artificial arms and hands. The fourth did not
lose an arm, but his right elbow and hand had been badly wounded by an
Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq and has very little movement and
almost no sensitivity. Fortunately, the three with artificial arms were
right handed while the one with the wounded right arm was left handed.
That would simplify things I thought.
The first class was held, and the learning began. Oh yes, the students
did learn, but I probably learned much more. That class involved just
the basics: the fly tying tools and their uses, placing the hook in the
vise, tying the thread on the hook, and doing a whip finish, either with
the Materelli whip finish tool or with the finders. The video from the
DVE set, Basic Fly Tying with Marve Nolte demonstrating the
procedures, was projected on the wass, giving the students a clear
view of the good clear demonstration.
The simple acts of adjusting the vise, placing a hook in it, and starting
the thread on the hook - simple acts for us "temporarily able" folks -
required special techniques because of the different types of
prosthesis and an almost inert right hand. With the help of Sandy
Burk, we were able to make adaptations that got the basics done.
Then came the whip finishing. The three with prosthesis were soon able
to use the whip finish tool, but the southpaw was having proble with it.
So I had him try the two fingered whip finish. That was even worse, so
I tried to demonstrate it for him.
I had been using the two fingered whip finisher for more than 50
years, but only with my right hand. After about 15 minutes of fumbling
and failure, I tied a left-handed whip finish! After seeing me do it
several times, the student tried it and soon was able to tie a whip
finish with fingers. With that success, the class was dismissed.
The motivation and determination of these guys is something to see.
They know that besides learning something useful, they are developing
the fine motor skills that will help them do many other things with their
prosthesis and wounded arm and hand. They are also involved in the
fly fishing part of the Healing Waters Project so they will be able to
use the flies they tie on their fishing trips in the Spring.
I am probably learning more than the students. Besides learning
to do a left-handed whip finish, I am learning to make other
adaptations to compensate for the prosthesis and the wounded
limbs. I'm also learning that the plans I made about teaching the
class were only a very rough guide. The class will take longer
than expected, and further adaptations will have to be made.
This is far from being the easiest job I've ever done, but the
rewards are great. Just knowing that I'm helping these guys
learn to use their wounded hands and prosthesis and have
confidence in their bodies is reward enough.
~ John Colburn (Phly Tyer) The Soldiers' Home, Washington, DC