Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Oh, What a Feeling!

My loss of sensation was as concerning as my loss of movement. In the hospital, family members would touch my fingers or toes and ask, "Can you feel this?"
Not only did I lose sensation in my lower limbs, I could not place them in space. With my eyes closed, I could not tell if my arm rested by my side or in your hands. My perimeter had become fuzzy.
As feeling began to return in those early weeks, I qualified it: There was vibration and pressure, but not touch – no sense of skin against skin or the texture of bed sheets.
Temperature returned during a rehab shower – strange signals from my left leg. My right leg felt hot water. So, this is what hot feels like, I told myself. To this day my left side feels heat more keenly than my right. Hot is insistent.
A different sensation emerged one day as my occupational therapist worked with my arm. Her hands were cold. And so this is what cold feels like, I instructed myself. Cold is subtle – it reveals itself from a distance.
Without looking, I still cannot tell if my fingers are open or curled – grasping an object or empty. To test my sense of touch, I ask my husband to brush a cotton swab beneath my fingertips. With eyes closed, I try to tell which finger he's touching. For the first time last week, (15 months post-stroke), I was finally able to identify each finger correctly.
Who knew that having my husband tickle me with a Q-Tip could be so exciting?


  1. Tickling stuff! Reading your beautiful descriptions of what cold and hot actually feel like...reliving those things anew...it is a gift, albeit one you'd rather not receive in this manner. But for a writer, what an amazing power you now have to imbibe your writing with fresh sensations. Rock on!

  2. Marcelle, rather distressing that your OT doesn't know about this;
    Margaret Yekeutiel in her book Sensory Re-education of the hand After Stroke believes that sensory input is necessary for fine motor control of the fingers. And most of the results Taub noted for movement without sensation were for gross motor skills. Ms. Yekeutiel gives a number of exercises to try to bring back sensory input to the hand. Most involve different tactile sufaces, smooth, sandpaper, rubber balls and also having someone draw shapes in the hand. A newer report from 2005, Stroke Journal Report 'Going hot and cold can speed limb recovery in stroke survivors' also improves sensation.
    In what may be the first study evaluating the effect of thermal stimulation on stroke
    rehabilitation, researchers found that cycles of heat and cold significantly enhanced the
    sensory and motor function in the arms and hands of stroke survivors after a few weeks of
    therapy. The URL I had for this is no longer active.

  3. That is great that you are gradually getting sensation back again. I liked reading your description about how you experienced temperature.

  4. Great news on nerve regeneration. Sensation is a very unique thing. I didn't even notice I was missing some sensations until they returned. Then I marveled in how it is supposed to be. Amazing!

  5. When I was first in rehab, neurologists and therapists would ask whether I could feel anything on my left side. Every single time I said,"yes." They would touch me and ask again. "yes," again and again. They would touch different fingers and I could indicate which one had been touched. Finally, one day a doc came in and poked me with a needle all along the side of my body, from foot to shoulder. Even watching him do it, I didn't flinch. Now, once again, I believe I can feel everything, but how can I trust my own perceptions?

  6. Great post! I am also starting to get back different sensations. Almost 2 years post-stroke. I think that for me I really don't notice it much because it's not coming back all at once instead it's more like a little at a time. But I'll take a little at a time anyday as long as it's happening!

  7. Hi Marcel,
    Your writing is a great example of how you are using your cognition to regain your sense of touch and temperature. I so agree about cold being "distant." As a kid growing up in snowy Buffalo, NY and being outdoors in the winter for hours, cold came slowly and from far away, until the street lights turned on and it was time to go in- then it was cold!

    Thanks so much for sharing your insights!

  8. Thank you for sharing this. My husband had a stroke a week ago and has lost all sensation down the left side. You have given me hope. Thank you.


    1. It depends on the severity but a desire to recover is essential. The brain can be retrained. Feel something on the good side, really concentrate on the feeling (e.g. hot from coffee mug or scratchy from finger nail). Then do the same activity on the bad side and really think the same feeling. It really does work. You have to repeat little and often, maybe 10 minutes 3 times a day. For me, the parts nearest my head recovered sensation first and mainly by themselves. I worked a lot on my fingers so that I culd use my hand (left side affected). Still working on foot and still improving. Good luck!