Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Londoner is Falling Down, Falling Down, Falling Down.

A few weeks ago, I got the subway to the acupuncturist, as I usually do once or twice a week. (The fall I mentioned yesterday was two days ago; I still have the sore butt to prove it.)

I used to read on the subway; in fact I liked to read pretty much everywhere. Nowadays, though, reading is hard work and slow, and I find it too frustrating on a short trip. Longer trips, I often have a graphic novel or manga with me, because I find the small chunks of text are easier to read, and of course the pictures convey a lot of information.

Instead, though, I was solving a (British-style) cryptic crossword on my phone, switching between Crux and Chambers as I needed, and becoming thoroughly engrossed in the puzzle. I wasn't paying enough attention, because suddenly it was my stop, so of course I got up in a hurry and fell over immediately, limbs akimbo, stunned for a moment, then chuckling a little.

Someone helped me to my feet, someone else made sure the door didn't close—at my prompting; I'm a New Yorker after all—and while I hustled to hobble out onto the platform, I reassured everyone that I was just fine. I was fine, too; I had almost no bruises and was pretty amused by making such an ass of myself. 

There's a qualitative difference between my two recent falls: on the subway, I had been so engaged with my crossword that it did not occur to me that I couldn't just stand up without falling over; I forgot that I can't do that any more. In the gym, though, I failed at standing up and staying standing. I was trying to be able-bodied, and not succeeding.

I don't mind forgetting that I'm a bit crock now and then, but it's more shameful (for small amounts of actual shame, it should be noted) to fail in doing something that I can now do, but is difficult. My self-image is so tightly associated with being able that I feel some (absurd) shame about my disability. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Maybe Pride, Definite Fall.

My walking improved over the last day or so. Not hugely, but enough for me to notice; some connection has been made in my brain between the balance part and the part that controls my right leg, hip and foot. As happens frequently when I've made any sort of progress, I promptly fell over. 

It was the first time I've fallen in the gym, and it was fairly spectacular. I was mere inches from sitting heavily and gracelessly on the bench, but instead hit the floor with two 30lb dumb bells in tow. My pride was far more hurt than I am, especially since there were people around (at 8am on a Saturday!), who helped me up and racked the weights. The help chafed but was welcome, because the surprise of falling on my ass was a bit of a shock. Later, I would be lifting heavier weights, but the amount of metal is less significant than my internal (im)balance. 

Strangely, it was a sort of relief. One of the criteria for my current inability to work is that I can't carry a (light) weight around regularly. I claim this and yet I go to the gym and lift weights; surely I'm lying? The fall was an accident, but an ample demonstration of what happens when I don't concentrate all the time that I'm carrying anything. Going to the gym is tiring both because I'm working out, but also because I have to pay attention all the time.

Happily, the rubber floor in the free weights section saved me from all but a bruised behind, and if I was a bit pleased with myself, that got put in perspective. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A startling (re)discovery

Back in the UK, I was drinking a mug of tea (as you should, in the UK). Since the stroke, using my right hand with cups or mugs has been awkward, and I didn't really understand why except the old fallback of brain damage. "Brain damage" is useful: it explains a lot in a way that doesn't beg further questioning, but it can be counter-productive when it stops me examining deficits in detail.

As I picked up the mug with my right hand, slowly, controlling the motion to reduce the tremor (and get more tea in my mouth and less on the floor), I watched my hand and arm perform an action that has been automatic for about 40 years. That was when I noticed that I wasn't doing something that should have been automatic: I wasn't articulating my wrist at all. Try it: raising a mug without moving your wrist is awkward. Here was a key to being a bit less of a spaz in public. 

This offers me some more insight, or confirms what I thought, about the brain damage I have: as well as affecting some muscles directly, I've lost some of the learned components of complex movements, like picking things up, or walking. I suspect this is where the tremor originates. To simplify: one part of my brain has the intention to drink some tea, and devolves the task to other parts of the brain to make the movement happen. They, in turn, devolve further, and ultimately direct the muscles to move.

I've killed off some of those intermediate bits of brain that handle the automation of the complex muscle motion, so a higher layer of abstraction has to hustle to control the muscle directly, overcompensates and overcorrects in turn causing the tremor. If I concentrate on a deliberate quality of motion, I'm using other parts of the brain, engaging the musculature more actively, and have less of a tremor.