Charlie Swinbourne: Signing one-handed, with the wrong hand

Posted on May 12, 2017

In this blog, I’m going to be talking about something I haven’t really discussed on Limping Chicken before – my shoulder.

To watch Charlie’s article in sign language, click play below:

Five years ago, I dislocated my right shoulder playing football. I made a sudden movement while shielding the ball from another player, then it was out. Next, I was on my way to hospital, in total agony, before having morphine as a doctor manoeuvred it back into place.

I was careful after that, cautious about doing anything that could make the same thing happen again, and for four years, all was fine. Until last year, when I dislocated the same shoulder twice, in really small and innocuous incidents which were again followed by an ambulance ride to hospital.

That’s why four weeks ago I had keyhole surgey to stitch the tear in my shoulder back together, hopefully keeping it solid so it doesn’t slip out again.

The only problem was that after the operation I had to wear a sling for four weeks, keeping my right arm static on my chest. I could move my arm a bit, but it was really painful at first. Even after a week or two, when the pain had dulled, I had to keep my arm still.

This had a really big effect on my life. I couldn’t write, brush my children’s hair or teeth, cook, or drive.

From a deaf perspective the biggest thing it affected was signing.

I’ve signed one-handed in the past of course – such as when I’m in the pub holding a drink in my other hand. But when I did that, I could still use my better hand – my right hand, to sign with.

But when my hand was in the sling, my left hand became my main, leading hand. I was fingerspelling in the opposite way, making all my main signs with my left hand.

It was really strange, especially at first. I felt like I had to learn how to sign certain things all over again. Like I was signing in mirror image.

It was tricky at first, then gradually, I got used to it.

The funny thing is, my sling was removed on Tuesday, freeing up my right hand again, but right now I think I’m signing half and half, with both hands leading at different times. Like my brain’s been scrambled and it hasn’t got back together yet!

All of which made me think about deaf people who’ve broken arms, had an accident, or an operation, or even something like a stroke. How do you cope? I’d love to hear your stories below in the comments!

For now I’m just hoping to keep getting better every day, and to start fully signing with my right hand again soon…

Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter and filmmaker. His new sketch comedy in BSL, Deaf Funny, premieres at Deaffest this weekend and will be shown on TV on 18th and 25th May. Watch both episodes at

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