Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Qwerty Envy

On my first day of occupational therapy, I was asked to state a goal. My answer: To type.

I can't expect that I'll ever type as well as I used to. At university, I acquired speed and accuracy by entering classified ads on deadline for the school paper. Over the years, I became so fast that co-workers would comment. One asked, "Are you doing that for real? Or are you typing gibberish to make us think you're working?"

Typing was an integral part of my writing process. The words flowed out of my head and through my fingertips. When I stopped being able to type, I stopped being able to write. Several people recommended Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software. Learning to adapt my writing process to this tool is one of the main reasons I started the blog.

My goal to type is an ambitious one. To reach it will take lots of patience and practice. I might as well start now.

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs.

(Typed with two hands – my right guiding all fingers on the left except the middle one, which can punch a key all on its own. 7 WPM, Errors: 0)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lighting the Darkness

My dearest friend from grade school made the effort to visit soon after my stroke. Living far apart, we don't often see each other. She brought her six-year-old son with her.

"Zachary," I told him, "Your mommy and I were your age when we became friends."

This did not interest him. Nor did our conversation, which we gorged on, sitting before the fireplace in my backyard. Taking pity at last on the bored child, I told my friend where to find leftover sparklers from the Fourth of July.

The two of them danced, sparklers crackling, my friend’s graceful arms waving overhead, her son spinning like a dervish. I began to weep. My friend took me in her arms and held me.

When Zachary's sparkler burned out, he came for another one.

"Why are you crying, Marcie?"

Because I can't dance anymore. Because this is my life now.

"Because you and your mommy's dancing is so beautiful." And that was true, too.

"Thank you," he said. And his mom lit more sparklers and they danced some more, throwing pieces of light into the darkness.

If I had been well, I would have been dancing with them, and I wouldn't have this memory that moves me more than dancing ever did.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Recipe for Recovery

Dear Ana,

Six weeks after my stroke at our third appointment you told me, "I haven't seen anything that helps stroke patients. You're pretty much going to have the functionality you have now. You need to learn to adapt."

At the time, my left hand curled into a useless fist. I could not even twitch a finger.

At our next appointment, I told you I was transferring to another occupational therapist. What I didn't tell you was that I had gone home sobbing and spent the next two days in bed, paralyzed from despair. Your words haunted me for months.

Fortunately, a chorus of voices rose around me, saying you were wrong.

Last Sunday I made dinner for 12 people. I held a grater as I skimmed lemons across it to make a zest; I minced garlic with a two-handed Ulu blade; I held tablespoons flat and steady as I filled them with spices and oil; I poured marinade into a bag of chicken pieces and sealed the Ziplock with both hands; I husked corn.

Dear Ana, there is something that helps stroke patients: Hope.

In future, if you can't give it to your patients, please don't take it away.


Marcelle Greene

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Such a Spaz

When I was a kid, one of my favorite expressions was "Don't have a spaz," which I would say to someone who had lost emotional control. I didn't know it then, but spaz is a derivative of "spasticity," which is a common result of stroke. It describes a state of continuous, uncontrollable muscle contractions.

Absent the proper signals from my brain, my fingers clench into a fist. My arm curls toward my chest. My foot turns inward, pulled by tight muscles along my inner leg. My chest constricts like a steel band around my lung. Sometimes it's hard to breathe.

I am on two types of medication to counteract this problem – daily oral baclofen and quarterly Botox injections.They both ease but do not eliminate the symptoms.

My therapists tell me that I can learn to control the spasticity. For each movement, I concentrate on extending one set of muscles then contracting the opposing muscles. To straighten my arm, I focus on relaxing my bicep then recruiting my tricep. It's exhausting mental and physical work. I sometimes break a sweat just moving a can of tomato paste.

My no-longer neurologist told me that I'd be fighting spasticity the rest of my life. I'm not sure how that statement is supposed to help me. As someone who cultivated flexibility during 10 years of yoga, the idea of spending the next 30-plus years with half my body contracted totally makes me have a spaz.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It Had To Be Me

When I had the stroke, I was no longer working, but I still had medical insurance through COBRA. And my husband had just landed a good contract.

And yet I know people without medical insurance or a job.

My parents are still alive and active. My father stayed with me the first month I was home and my mom drove me to endless medical appointments.

And yet my brother-in-law, cousins and three high school friends
have lost a parent in the last year

I live in a beautiful, handicap-accessible house, and employ a maid and gardener.

And yet I hear of those who cannot afford to stay in their homes.

I have friends who believe in service to others as a way of life. For months, they filled my refrigerator with meals.

And yet I see people on the street asking strangers for food.

I know parents struggling to raise their kids; and I have young people in my life who give me great joy.

And yet I have no children dependent on me.

If this had to happen to someone, it's best that it happened to me.

"Strength of heart comes from knowing that the pain we each must bear is a part of the greater pain shared by all that lives.
It is not just our pain but the pain."

– Jack Kornfield

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Rehab: The Movie

Unlike every other thing about rehab, I loved my therapy sessions. And I was a refreshing change for my therapists; I had a good understanding of my body and a determination to get better. It was this, combined with my sense of humor, which prompted them to film me for a celebration of Rehab Week.

Most of the footage was shot in the gym at the rehab unit. Some of it was shot during my home visit a few days before my release. My therapists and I looked through the house for hazards and discussed strategies for coping without their help. My husband had already rolled up the carpets, put a handicap bar and seat in the shower, and added a second railing by the kitchen stairs so I would have something to hold onto with my functional hand in either direction.

I am grateful to have this footage as a benchmark of where I was. One of the hardest things for me about living with this condition is to celebrate the progress that has been made rather than focusing on how much further I want to go.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Stop It – You're Killing Me

My first roommate in rehab had broken her hip while sneaking out of her daughter's house for a cigarette. One morning over breakfast, she gave voice to my sentiments in her
tobacco-roughened Alabama accent: "I hate this place.
Get me out of here. I can't stand it another day."

I lost it: I laughed, I howled – I went into a complete hysterical fit. Sensing that Helen was not amused, I tried to stifle my giggles and focus on my flat-as-roadkill sausage. But bursts of laughter continued to erupt out of me for several more minutes.

I remembered something I'd read in the thick stroke notebook I'd been given on my arrival in rehab. An effect of stroke can include "emotional lability – uncontrollable laughing or crying for no apparent reason."

The next time I saw my husband, I asked him, "Am I behaving inappropriately? I mean, any more than usual?"

"Like when we were having lunch with your mom and you laughed so hard you snorted milk out your nose?"

"Okay, the milk bit," I conceded. "But the situation was pretty funny – you've got to admit."

(I’d relay the story here, so you could see my point, but it's really one of those things where you had to be there.)

"It wasn't that funny," my husband said.

Okay – maybe you had to have a stroke and be there.