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.

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