Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 Update

Monthly update time! It's 11 months since I had a stroke, and 11 years since I first wrote a piece called "Hello from a new New York" in the wake of the WTC destruction. The city is new again, but because my brain is damaged, not the city nor the psyche of the whole country.

I've written quite a lot about the progress I've been making in my effort to recover, and with the occasional exception, I hope I have been as positive as my recovery to date has merited. I return home to this city in a lot better shape than I left it, thanks in no small part to the friends and family who succoured me when I needed it most. But I realise that I have had a shorter-term goal over the last months: be well enough to return to New York.

That goal has been accomplished, but it has left a gap I didn't know had been filled until I felt the lack. I am not joking, nor lying when I say that I intend to walk on my hands again, but as a goal it is far more distant than I need, and although I can keep working towards it, it's not enough. Likewise get stronger, swim further, or walk better are too nebulous to be of much use. I'm working on all those things anyway, because I don't like the alternative.

I have an idea what the new goal should be, and it's almost orthogonal to recovery, but I suspect that if I fulfill that goal while doing all the other stuff I'm doing, then it will prove worthwhile. In the meantime, suggestions (facetious, fanciful or fantastic) on a postcard...

It's hard to judge my recovery compared to last month, since the context shift has been so huge. Not only, for example, have I had to deal with a new gym with weights in lb. not kg (arithmetic is hard!), but I have redesigned my workout to use more dumbbells,  which are more challenging to use anyway, go to Pilates three times a week with a much more fierce instructor, and make do with a murky, chemical-filled 22m pool. Who makes a 22m pool? People who hate, that's who.

Easier instead to look at some of the victories and challenges New York has had to offer in six days:
- I got around on the Subway, at first with a friend, but after the first day on my own. Victory! Some interchanges are hard (Canal St., 59th and Lex), and by and large people are even worse at offering me a seat than in London. I think I am not helped by the fact that I look in pretty good shape. Conversely the facial palsy helps here, as does the stick, but I find myself thinking "I'm not carrying this thing for fun, you know!" rather a lot. Perhaps I should get a t-shirt.
- I took my laundry in and collected it. Victory! The first non-food thing I purchased in NYC on my return was a laundry bag with shoulder straps, which I also used to pick up friends' CSA share. Both the veg and my laundry were bastard heavy. Much more so than a year ago. Manageable, but tough.
- I went shopping on my own to Pearl River, and got what I needed. Victory! I was so damned tired though, after Broadway and the Subway, and cooking myself dinner that I was in bed at 9:30pm, and asleep by 10pm. Not to mention the fact that I had had to resort to the Chinese emporium for white people because my vision was too poor to pick out a useful store when I had an hour to spend in Chinatown. That has a lot to do with the parlous state of my glasses (new ones arriving soon!) but the fact remains that my vision is pretty poor.
- I navigated a busy Brooklyn street in the dark and wet. Victory! I was with friends, and I nearly went over once, but caught myself before either face-planting or hitting anyone else. It was hard, and substantially harder after even one meagre glass of wine. I have become a very cheap date.

One of the things I have been wondering about has been prompted by the Paralympics, where there is a class for moderate impairment of the whole of one side. I have that. It remains to be seen whether I am sufficiently impaired to qualify for the actual Paralympics in RIo, and at 45 I shall likely be too old for any of the sports that interest me (i'll remain a spectator for the wheelchair rugby, thanks), but it has come as a surprise to me that I can work that hard

Qualification aside, what I have been wondering is essentially whether it gets any easier. When I walk, swim, or even sit upright I am consciously getting my right side to work. I am better at it, and am better at doing something else while spending some concentration on not falling over, but at a conscious level, I am working. This is visible in many ways, but two are most obvious: if I am distracted when walking, I look even more drunk than normal; when I'm eating, I tend to eat to the exclusion of all else: it is quite difficult to multitask when I'm cramming foodstuffs in my pie-hole. I don't yet know if any of the gains I have made so far will ever be automatic. I believe they will, but that it will take years, and I can't hide from the fact that I may be wrong.

This makes it occasionally galling to be in good shape. I have buffed up because I had to. If I hadn't, I would still be using a walking (Zimmer) frame, and labelled a falling risk. My legs look great because it takes a frankly ridiculous amount of effort to stand upright. Make no mistake: I am very happy to be in better shape than I have been for years, but to be in good shape and be disabled regardless challenges a lot of assumptions in the able-bodied, and I'm afraid that Americans, even New Yorkers, are pretty ignorant about disability, vide the almost complete lack of Paralymic coverage here..

So, New York is as challenging as I thought it would be. It's providing me with lots of opportunities to master my fears, both rational and irrational, as well as lots of opportunities to be humbled and grateful, both to strangers and to friends. Who could ask for anything more in life?

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