Monday, October 20, 2014

Leaps and Metaphorical Bounds

In an earlier screed, about the received wisdom of doctors, I promised some personal anecdotal evidence of recovery.

Six months after having strokes I was told by an eminent neuro-opthalmologist that it was very unlikely that there would ever be a change in my eyesight or balance, and thus my walking. Happily, I thought "bollocks," and carried on (perhaps I should make that a t-shirt).

Over the last three years, recovery has been slow and, on a daily basis, imperceptible to me. I can look back a month or six, and see improvement, but yesterday usually looks just as crappy as today is and tomorrow will be. There have been a couple of times when something has changed in a noticeable way.

One such change happened a few weeks ago, about a fortnight before the third anniversary of my strokes. Let me be clear that this is not an instance of my suddenly noticing a slow change, but rather a dramatic—for me—shift, where I had to figure out what had changed and why it made things better. Again, this happened three years after my brain was first damaged.

Until then, I realized, although I have worked to make my affected right leg function well, it was not able to bear weight. My center of gravity, therefore was shifted left, and hard to control. Since then, my right leg is able to take my weight some of the time, and as a result I have greater control of my center of gravity, and my body.

For me, this is a huge change, with substantial benefits (I walk better, turn more easily, stagger like a drunk less), and it is not muscular: my musculature hasn't changed. The change was in my brain. Pathways were permanently dedicated to this function, doing the work of brain matter destroyed by the strokes.

The net result is that my balance has improved, at least as far as the outside world is concerned. It's hard to tell whether my sense of balance has improved, I think it has, but my effective balance has indubitably improved. This doesn't contradict what the eminent physician said, but I do not think I am physiologically exceptional, nor do I think that recovery is unlikely. Hard? Yes. Slow? Hell, yes! Unlikely? No.

I am lucky: physical impairments are more simply overcome than cognitive ones. The damage was also to my brain, not severing any nerve fibers, which is a hell of a lot harder to fix. Nevertheless, my point is this: recovery is possible. It continues to occur, and occasionally, it takes sudden leaps, long after any damage first occurs.