Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Firm Handshake

To say that I am a fan of the firm handshake doesn’t begin to do it justice. I don’t only enjoy or prefer a firm handshake. To me, it is essential. A wimpy handshake leaves me wholly unsatisfied with the interaction. Why bother to shake my hand if you can’t put a little effort into it? If you don’t care about delivering a firm handshake, then what else don’t you care about? Truth? Justice? The American way?

It doesn’t have to be overpowering – in fact that’s an entirely different problem. But it can’t be mushy or weak. And I don’t forgive a limp handshake from a woman any more than I do from a man.

Recently, my high regard for the firm handshake has become a problem, because I can no longer deliver one. I can’t uncurl my fingers far enough – I can’t make my hand sufficiently flat – to couple with your hand in the proper way. I often give you only a few of my fingers and no hand at all. If I do manage to seat my hand into yours, which I still accomplish once in a while, then you will find my grip to be underwhelming – generally mushy and soft.

I know you don’t blame me. Obviously, when someone is sitting in a wheelchair they are forgiven if they’re unable to perform certain tasks. What bothers me is that I enjoy the brief connection a handshake provides, and I miss that. It demonstrates friendliness and good manners. It clearly marks the opening or closing of an interaction. So many times, especially in my professional career, a degree of animosity and distrust developed over time with relationships that consisted of phone calls and emails only. But once we were together, once we shook hands, the distrust often dissolved and positive relations ensued.

Of course, the other reason that my recent inability to perform a proper handshake bothers me is because it marks continued disease progression. My right hand is my last decent appendage, and it is continuing to weaken.

So, if I cannot complete a handshake, what can I do instead? I am able to perform a fist bump. But they are a bit juvenile and informal, so they don’t suit every social situation. Additionally, I expect that fist bumps are merely a fad and will lose popularity like the high five, for example.

Hugs work too, but they are too intimate for every relationship or every situation. If you do come in for the hug, please approach from my left side. If you approach from the right side you may hit my joystick and send me flying. Yes, that has happened.

And of course, if you don’t mind a mushy, three finger handshake, then I’m still good for that too. The bottom line is that if we’re in a group and there are greetings going around, don’t avoid me because you’re not sure exactly how to proceed. Come on over and we’ll figure out something together.


  1. I am in the same MS numb hand "boat". For now, I can clasp my left hand onto the back of the other person's right hand to strengthen my hand shake but I find I am avoiding hand shakes and that upsets me....

  2. I think I would embrace your hand with both of mine; leaning in to a wheelchair from a wheelchair is awkward, too!

  3. I plan to blow you a kiss, Mitch, and with it, this prayer... "May the light of my present moment awareness shine away the
    disabled self I once thought of as me."

  4. I, too, am no longer able to give a proper handshake. It was the way I always greeted people to my office -- when I had an office -- when I worked. Now, I know I'll look stupid trying to shake hands, because the hand no longer works. Instead, I merely smile and tip my head toward the person. They figure out quickly that I'm not being rude.

  5. i hear you with regards to what you feel a good firm handshake can convey. In the last few years, I've noticed that I sometimes "miss" the proper hand alignment, and my handshake comes off as a bit limp. In the beginning, I thought it was the other person coming across as the 'weak' link, but over time I've come to realize that I'm the problem. Even worse than that, when I attempt to give someone a welcome/good-bye kiss, my balance issues cause me to miss and can lead to a rather embarrassing interaction!

  6. Like this post especially...been thinking about this too...for the same reason. My hand curl has improved since my CCSVI but my hand is still weaker and I'd become a mature woman in the 12 yrs since MS, I kinda got used to a gentle shaking of the hands and always tried to give a warm smile and a firm gaze into the eyes of the person I was greeting to replace the firm handshake .....Recently, my hand is getting stronger ( My PT is painting with a heavy brush) and I'm going for a bit more, but was really regretting having tried a firm shake when I met an overly enthusiastic gentleman who just crushed my whole hand in his. My ring was twisted and it really hurt a lot when he pressed the fingers together so hard!! He was greeting a bunch of people at the time and didn't realize... Since then I've kinda backed off and since flu season is coming, I'm thinkin' I'm gonna try the fist bump!!! Warm Regards.

  7. Hey Mitch,
    I still lurk around here but just haven't commented for a long time. You remember me :-) "the stalker"
    Well, here's a cyber ((((HUG)))) for ya!
    (Of course, from the left side only!)


  8. Linda, interesting accommodation, using two hands!

    Webster, yes, that is double the trouble. I've been there.

    Catherine, what a lovely sentiment. Thank you.

    Muffie, yes, I've always felt that people understand the situation. we get a free pass on handshakes.

    anonymous, nothing more embarrassing or startling than when you try to kiss someone on the cheek and you end up lip to lip.

    Carol, yeah, large men with the super firm handshake must be sensitive to whether their grip is being met with an equal and opposite grip (this is the little-known Newton's 13th law), which this guy definitely didn't do for you. Good luck with the fist bumps!

    Dee, I love it when my stalkers come out of the bushes once in a while!

  9. I, too, love a good handshake, and share the preference for an affirmative one. And in truth, I don't think I would have offered mine for all the reasons you list. So thanks for this invitation, or permission, to be clumsy. "Come on over and we'll figure it out" - Nice.

  10. Lynn, I have continued to shake hands since I put up this post, but I've noticed a lot of my friends who I know our readers are completely steering clear of a greeting handshake or fist bump or anything now. oh well…