Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I dream of walking.

There are days when it feels like the last two months have been spent trying, and failing, to walk. I long to amble on a clear cold day like today, to stride manfully somewhere, to stroll casually through the Union Square Christmas Crapvillage (pronounced with a French accent, of course). Just to wander up the street for a coffee would make my day, but it's currently beyond me.

The problem is no longer my weakened right side which has greatly improved since I started in rehab. Nor is it that I've forgotten how to walk; my dreams make it quite clear that I remember how. The problem is, and remains one of balance: mine is terrible, and there nothing I can do about it. My lack of balance is essentially unchanged from eight weeks ago. The symptoms are better: I have better control of my musculature and both my right leg and my core are stronger than they were. But the cause is unchanged and I'm still liable to fall over in a stiff breeze.

I can only really describe the sensation to those of you who drink, and who recall drinking to excess. There comes a stage in drunkenness where the imbiber staggers around, the room reels, and he (or she) lurches in the general direction of travel from (presumably) steady point to steady point. When you're that plastered, you are also feeling little or no pain, and have such diminished faculties that the prospect of falling over doesn't really bother you.

Not so with me: The sensation I live with is almost exactly like being drunk, but without the fringe benefits. I am acutely aware how catastrophic a fall would be for me, and I'm very capable of feeling pain. No matter how hard I try, though, my brain is ignoring the message.

The challenge is an all-consuming one. When I stand on a gently sloping surface, I have the very strong sensation that I'm falling in that direction, and unless I actively engage some muscles, I soon will be. This effect has improved with my ankle, leg and midriff strength, but it's still there; I just handle it better.

Sidewalks are not level, and worse they are all new to me and my brain. This is where the hassle of my eyesight comes in: I simply can't assess a potential walking surface at a glance. My one unoccluded eye skitters over the vista jerkily, and my brain forms an image as fast as it can with as much inferred depth information as possible. On a typical sidewalk this is as close to no information as makes no practical difference. The process is also slow, so my two short walks on unfamiliar surfaces were as cautious as a tortoise's.

On Saturday night, I dreamt of walking: I had a new doctor who insisted I wear a suit and dress shoes. I could tell he was an American doctor by the white coat and the gaggle of be-coated students and acolytes. He bade me walk, and I did, relishing the feeling of a good stride and the leather soles of dress shoes on stone flags. I realized suddenly that I was walking with ease, and that this was because I could see with binocular vision. Then I realized that I could see again because the occluding film had been removed from my left lens. Finally I realized that I could not remember removing the film, and must therefore have been dreaming. I woke, and checked to see if my vision was working, again.

Last night, I dreamt of walking: just walking. I guess it was a boring dream, but I loved it. Of course I checked my eyes when I woke.

Today I was allowed to walk a little, unaided.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Two months

It's exactly two calendar months since I had the first of my many strokes, and I have much to marvel at. First, that I took so little damage; if ever there was a successful save vs. Death, I made it. Beyond that, I find many of the changes to my body quite interesting. I don't yet understand why my right side should so much weaker than my left, but it's giving me very practical insight into the workings of the muscles of my limbs especially.

I'm thoroughly bored of the destruction I wrought on my visual cortex. I knowit will eventually fix itself; I know it could have been much worse, but at this point, I really don't care. My double vision can go screw itself sideways with a rusty shovel. The necessary lack of depth perception (I have to keep one eye covered to avoid staggering around like someone epically shit-faced drunk - I chose the ugly squinting one) is also deeply boring and hampers me in a million different and unexpected ways; I liked and admired my friend with one glass eye before, now I hold her in the highest admiration.
Most tedious, though, is that my balance is still totally shot. It's a combination of new weakness in my core (especially on the right side), and something related to my vision. If it were related to my inner ear, I'd feel dizzy constantly, which I fortunately do not. No, my vision holds the key to balance and walking, to reading with my former ease, to typing quickly, to neat handwriting; essentially to all the prerequisites to getting a damn job and returning to society as anything more than an occasionally amusing burden.

One of the biggest changes, though, has been in my mind. I don't mean that there's been any cognitive impairment; as best we can tell there has not: I'm still mentally the same person I was on October 10th, only without the headaches. I mean that just over two months ago I had been living in New York for over eleven years. It was, and is. the place I think of when I think'home.' But since I had my 'brain events' I've been in institutions for all but one day at home and one overnight transatlantic flight. New York and my life there has begun to take on the features of a dream that I recall unusually well. Now, as I fight to walk down a corridor, or wrestle to force my hand to my will, my horizon has become so near, I am so focused on the next minute goal`that it's been increasingly hard to raise my eyes to "the only real citycity" as Truman Capote had it. Lunch with the demented denizens of this establishment is hardly the Algonquin round table, nor Thursday thali at Bhojan.

It's not by any means all grim, however; silver linings abound, if you know to look for them. For example, if I happen to forget your name, or your spouse's, or brood, or some significant event in our shared past, something that was not infrequent, I no longer have to frantically cover, nor wrack my (very much intact)memory. I just say "sorry, stoke damage, I'm afraid" with a meaningful and preferably lopsided look, and you will never know.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Food Poisoning

I am not currently in a position to recommend corned beef sandwiches. At all. Thursday night I slept very poorly, and then at 5am the diarrhoea started. Forunately I am now just steady enough on my feet (and with my walker) that I could consistently make it to the bathroom on time. Equally fortuately I managed not to throw up, but there were a couple of close-run moments, and I was left with a very bad taste in my mouth.

Cue 48 hours isolation and rest, which came at a rather opportune moment, particularly for my right leg.

I had noticed that the right side of my right foot was asleep, including the smaller toes, and that I had the sensation of phantom pressure under the foot, on my right calf and under my right buttock. It consistently felt like there was something in my shoe, I was wearing a tight sock, and I had sat on something

As I have been learning to walk again, I've had to concentrate hard on my right foot. I've mentioned that my balance is very poor; one of the contributing factors was that, when I leaned to the right, I would automatically use my big toe and the ball of my foot to correct my balance, since I couldn't feel the right side of the foot. With concentration, knowing they weren't actually missing, I could activate my foot and ankle, rather than the big toe, and be much more stable. Over a few days, sensation returned to my foot, and it's now very close to normal, though still weaker than the left.

On Thursday the assistant physio had me walking quite a long way with a quad-stock (I am due to graduate from the walker soon), and work in the gym, where we did a classic parallel bars learn-to-walk montage, complete with palsied grimaces.

When exercising, I've been getting very tired in the right leg, but not really feeling tired in any particular place. No more! Sensation returned to my right glute. Sadly it was the sensation of "Hey! I've been working too hard. Give me a break!" and it's quite painful... but it's sensation that was formerly absent and if the phantom object that I was sitting on has been replaced with a sore butt, I'll take it.

One of the odder consequences to the restoration of leg sensation is that my right leg now feels much stronger, while I've steadily been adapting to a weaker leg. I'm therefore more capable, but less steady - at least for a while.
In most apparent setbacks there is an abundance of silver linings.