Don't try this at home!

Going tapless

BS (before stroke) I did most of the DIY and household maintenance, including plumbing. Since stroke, I’ve tried to farm out jobs to professionals, with fairly dismal results. Kitchen re-fit, decorating, other plumbing jobs needed to be put right or redone. Somehow, with one hand, I’ve managed to complete tasks that ‘professionals’ with two had messed up.

The one outstanding craftsman we’ve encountered over the years was a tiling contractor appointed by the kitchen fitters. Before he was due to arrive, we were told by the main contractor not to be worried when we met the man: he had lost an arm in an accident, years back, but he was still a very good tiler. We had bought large stone floor tiles and 50mm X 20mm wall tiles, all pretty heavy. I did a quick calculation to work out how many spare tiles we had, knowing the answer was very few. In the event, the result and quality of workmanship is superb and we still have some spare tiles.

This week, plumbing rose to the top of the agenda. The radiator thermostat in our shower room failed last winter. This meant the radiator was permanently cold. This caused a degree of anxiety about what might drop off as I stood showering. On reflecting on our previous plumber disasters, I decided that, if a one-armed man could do such a good job with the tiles, I with a good left arm and semi-operating right arm had a reasonable chance of success.

This job was superseded unexpectedly, however. The mixer tap in the kitchen seized up and no longer swivelled between basins, so it had to be replaced. I rapidly moved into project manager mode and ordered a replacement on line from the world’s largest supplier of just about everything, which, unfortunately, arrived next day. (I’ve just noticed spell check on Word is querying the word ‘tap’ so would all our fans across the Pond just substitute with ‘faucet’, please?)

Now there were two tasks, so I started on Sunday with the easier one – the shower room radiator, a fairly straightforward job of removing and replacing the thermostatic valve. The slight complication was the whole heating system needed to be drained. The alternative to draining was to use a pipe freezing spray which involves putting an insulated plastic reservoir around the incoming pipe and filling with the freezer spray. The leaflet promised it would stay frozen for 45 minutes, blocking the flow from the pipe. In reality, there was just sufficient time to uncouple the inlet pipe from the valve and the valve from the radiator. Suddenly, there was a loud bang as a lump of ice was forced out the pipe, followed by a jet of mucky water hitting the ceiling. As well as the sludge descending on my head, the other thing that hit me as I sat in a pool of water, was that there were 10 radiators and the full header tank which I now had to drain, assuming the mains water could be turned off. I was a bit busy using a trick taught to me by a little Dutch boy of keeping my thumb over the pipe. If I’d let go, we would have had a lovely new downstairs swimming pool, albeit, rather mucky!

Gill knows where the mains water stop valve is. (Maybe from a previous DIY adventure.) As my thumb and hand became whiter and number, she connected a hosepipe to the drainage point on the hall radiator. I wasn’t able to go and find a jubilee clip to secure the hose so she had to impersonate one whilst we waited anxiously for the system to empty. When the water stopped, I connected the valve, we let the system slowly refill. Then we faced the mess. So much for labour saving short cuts.

I resolved to have the day off from plumbing on Monday.

Tuesday. The kitchen tap. I discovered the only position to see and access the sink tap fittings was to lie flat on my back. Problem was, it necessitated lying with my top half inside the cupboard, and mobility is not one of my best skills. Also, we had invested in a useful one and a half bowl sink unit. That means two drainage pipes from the bowls, and pipework for the dishwasher, water filter and washing machine. Somewhere behind all this spaghetti was a tap that must be changed.


This exercise quickly improved my memory, and I rapidly learned to take all the tools I needed under the sink with me. With a bit of rearranging of pipes, I could, just about, reach the tap fittings and, eventually, remove it. The new one was more difficult to get through the sink top because, as well as flexible hot and cold hoses, another hose ran from the tap, formed a loop under the sink and returned to the tap (faucet). This cunning arrangement allowed the spout of the tap to be removed and used as hand held jet or spray. No emergencies this time. Apart from the access difficulties, the job went well.

There’s a lot I can do now with my previously dominant right hand. I eat with a normal knife and fork;  I now tie laces using both hands; can fill a kettle half full (any more and it’s too heavy to hold steady); I’ve progressed from carrying a glass of water in my left hand to carrying a glass in either hand, albeit messily; then to  carrying both glasses reasonably safely; culminating in carrying two glasses of red wine across a carpet – on a good day. I can use scissors in my right hand, but don’t have great control.

Still impractical: toothbrush, screwdrivers, spanners, hammers et cetera. Once the weak hand tires it won’t hold still. After a few minutes it starts to shake – this isn’t a tremor, it flails from side to side, which can lead to damaged surfaces. And hands.

The left hand is prepared to take over interesting macho jobs such as using power tools and hammers, and to use a knife for DIY. It has a reliable sense of rhythm, but still refuses to take on right-hand jobs such as writing. 

I’m optimistic. Although the danger is, if the right hand gets better, they’ll start fighting over who gets to use the dangerous tools.


2 thoughts on “Don’t try this at home”

  1. Great stuff! Made me chuckle.
    I use to live on a narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon canal. Getting plumbers, carpenters etc was a nightmare unless you knew someone. The best guy was a fellow with three fingers on each hand. Did excellent work and completed tasks that many others with a full hand of fingers left unfinished.

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