Monday, October 12, 2015

Four Years On

Four years ago, exactly, I had a bunch of strokes, and I have been recovering ever since. I'm still at it, partly because it takes so damn long to recover, but mostly because I have nothing better to do. So, it's time for a status report, both physical and mental, and some cogitations.

Walking is still a challenge for me; I use a walking stick (cane), and can't walk very far. That's mostly because my balance is compromised, but my right side is still weaker, which is disappointing. My balance has certainly improved over the four years, I can turn corners a lot more easily than before, but my equilibrium is still very shaky. Swaying is my default, now. I still look drunk, but I care even less.

On my right side, as I mentioned, I'm still weaker by a long shot, and I have an intention tremor. This means that, when I intend to do something with it, my hand shakes. That makes writing with my right hand a challenge in particular (see below), puts typing back to hunt and peck (but see below), and means that moving any kind of fluid with that hand involved is a risky proposition: I prefer not to spill my beer. As well as the tremor, my arm and leg sometimes jerk at random and are more sensitive. The combination is spectacular.

Visually, there has been little change since this post, although my left eye (the most affected one) now moves a hair past the midline, which is progress. It's hard to see any movement on that front, because the changes are so small, but the difference in four years is undeniable. I still have diagonal double vision, which vies for most irksome visual defect with the oscillopsia, but have an exciting and dashing new strategy for my eyes. Until recently, I've been wearing a prism that corrected the vertical component of my diplopia. Now, however, I'm patching one eye. This new piratical approach deserves its own post, but I'll say this: the patch changes side.

When I first had strokes, my face was paralysed completely from the middle. It was like having a free botox treatment, but only on one side. Since then, a lot of motion has returned: I can smile with both sides of my mouth, but my face is very lopsided. My left eyelids don't close yet. In general, it seems as though activity returns from the middle, from my nose to my ear. I'm a bit concerned that my lips and mouth have not apparently changed, and I think that may be my fault: I haven't exercised them enough. So it goes.

The biggest change for me has undoubtably been moving back to the UK. There is so much I could say about moving back here from New York, but I'll just say that my life is physically better here, and leave it there for now.

Earlier, I mentioned that typing is hard: it is, with a regular keyboard. My typing speed is greatly reduced on a QWERTY keyboard, mostly because I can't tell which key my right hand is on, and it hits a random key often enough that I find the whole exercise deeply frustrating. Since it has been four years without perceptible change, I've switched to a one-handed chording keyboard, called the Twiddler. The whole of this post, including punctuation, was typed with only my left hand. Learning has been awkward, but it's more the slowness of learning to touch-type from scratch, and that is much easier to deal with. It's early days yet, but I like the device so far.

The other casualty of the tremor has been my ability to write with my dominant right hand. I'm luckier than some, I still know how to form letters, but my writing is horrible: inconsistent, jerky and slow. Recently I was reminded that Admiral Lord Nelson learned to write with his left hand after losing his right arm. Notwithstanding his brilliance, if he could learn how to do it, so can I.

So there you have it: in some ways nothing has changed in four years, but of course, a huge amount has improved, and life is really not bad at all.