Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Neurologist Visit

Yesterday, I took a trip up to London to see a consultant neurologist with a specialty in dealing with vision. I'm due to go up to the regular got-referred-in-early-December eye clinic in two weeks' time, but when I got the appointment for that clinic, nearly a month ago, I was desperate to see someone about my sight, and so I shelled out to see this guy privately. He's one of the pre-eminent neuro guys around, all the people at the eye clinic will know him, his name was given to me back when I was in hospital in the US, so he's definitely the right guy to go see.

Except I don't believe him, and I think he's wrong, and while I don't for a second feel like I wasted the money (on the order of $500, thank you disability allowance), I got more out of seeing old friends and teachers from drama school in the afternoon.

He was professional, thorough and on the ball, and thought that I'd probably seen all the improvement in my double vision that I was going to. The one and a half syndrome might improve. The oscillopsia (vertically wobbling eyes) could maybe be treated with a drug... that would have a deleterious effect on my stability, making it challenging at best. My balance issues are likely unrelated to my vision, but daily balance exercise for ever will help. So:

• Diplopia - tough shit, carry on.
• One and a half syndrome - tough shit, carry on.
• Oscillopsia - there's a drug, it sucks, probably tough shit, carry on.
• Balance - tough shit, carry on with your walking stick.

Also, since the one and a half syndrome is so rare these days would I mind coming up for a half day with some students... they'd reimburse travel. Of course.

Now, I'm in no rush to dismiss the expert opinion of an eminent neurologist (I'm still going to, it's coming), and I'm genuinely happy to have someone pay for me to go up to London and amuse medical students for SCIENCE, and I may just be in deep denial about the whole thing, but I respectfully decline to take his word for it, for two major reasons:

First, he quoted to me the neurological canard about there being negligible progress after about six months. Since I have seen walk into my hospital room (with a stick, and with difficulty, but walk) someone who could move only the toes of one side at six months, I consider this, on its face, false.

Second, I continue to see change and progress in my vision. Slow, for sure, and inconstant, but I am certain that the double vision is gradually improving, as I mentioned a week or so ago. My left eye can look slightly to the left of the midline which says either my left LR is weak but working, or the diagonal muscles are working hard to try and compensate.

Underlying my dissent from neurological orthodoxy is a question that remains unresolved for me, mostly because I'm not asking it hard enough, or of the right people, or because we just don't know. It is this: how are the nerves and muscles of my eye different to all the other damaged nerves?This is crucial. My eyeballs themselves are fine, it's the nerves connecting to and controlling the extra-ocular muscles that are damaged (or dead) and must be worked around. Going to the gym, as well as making me fitter and stronger, has improved the musculature, control and nerves of my right side.Why should it be somehow less effective to work the the muscles of the eye? Show me the science.

More nebulously, and rather irritatingly foo-foo-ey, I am arriving at another conclusion about our neurology and the brain's rather amazing ability to recover function: believing we can or should heal some part of the brain, or re-learn some useful skill makes it possible to recover that function or skill. I can't be doing with some of the deficits I have, and I'm determined to eliminate them, and I think that that choice, that mental direction, influences the actual neurology of recovery. Again, I want evidence beyond the anecdotal, and my personal, and again I have arrived at a question I would love answered:

Is there a significant difference between the expected and actual outcomes predicted and observed by neurologists when treating stroke patients as compared with treating victims of external brain injuries. Do we have higher expectations of, say, Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head, than we do of a stroke sufferer, and does it make a difference?