Friday, August 05, 2005

Update on my mother

I want to thank everyone whose good wishes and prayers have gone out to my mother in her illness.

I haven't been over there yet today, but the update on my mother is that there's been some improvement, although there's still a long way to go. By "improvement" I mean in body mostly, but a little bit in mind and spirit, also. My mother is still so far from where she wants to be that it's hard for her to credit that she has made progress, but she is starting to acknowledge that every now and then, too. If one wants to walk under one's own steam (and who doesn't?) it's awfully hard to be happy that one has managed to move a leg a few inches more than one could a week ago. But, of such moves are steps ultimately made.

I myself had arm surgery six years ago--I think six years ago today, although I no longer remember the exact date. It was an ulnar nerve transfer, a peculiar and nasty sort of surgery that is most commonly undergone by baseball players, of which I most decidedly am not one. Afterwards, my elbow unaccountably froze, and stayed there for some time.

Even the physical therapists (in this case, occupational therapists, because they're in charge of the lower arm) were perplexed. This sort of freezing doesn't usually happen, or rather, if it does, it usually responds to exercises. Mine did not.

My personal opinion, in retrospect, is that this happened to me because, according to the surgeons, they had to do a more extensive surgery than usual and were forced to sever a lot of other nerves that had become tangled up in the first one. At any rate, I could see the puzzlement on the face of the therapists--something you don't ever want to see--and then their frustration with me, the patient who was unaccountably not getting better. Certainly wasn't their fault, so it had to be mine.

The main therapist I had was quite cold and dismissive. She kept telling me to do more and more stretching and pulling at that arm--the regimen she ultimately had me on would have taken about five hours a day, had I actually been able to do it. But I couldn't; my arm and body would not cooperate. I did what I could, which was quite a bit, and still, nothing was happening. The arm wasn't budging, and it felt worse and worse.

Finally, I changed locations and therapists. The new one was just as puzzled, but not as frustrated. She conveyed a sense of calm, telling me that if this didn't work, she'd try that, and then that, and then still another thing, till she found something that did work.

The first thing she did was to evaluate the exercises I was already doing. "The problem is," she said immediately on seeing me go through my paces, "that you're stretching everything in the same plane. You need to vary it more." And then she gave me fewer stretches to do, so I wouldn't be so exhausted and it would be less traumatic to the arm, but ones that were varied in terms of direction.

Within a day or two the frozen elbow began to thaw. Not quickly, but slowly, in tiny increments. But it was progress I could see. I was delighted. Within a couple of months the thing was moving--if not freely, then well enough.

It took about three years for the nerve to heal. It's not perfect, but it's okay. And the moral of the story? Don't give up, but don't keep stubbornly going on when something is clearly counterproductive. Sometimes less is more, and new approaches to the same problem can solve what had heretofore seemed insurmountable.


At 11:22 AM, August 05, 2005, Blogger goesh said...

There is hope - my uncle had almost total L side paralysis but today you would never know it. The old WW2 Vet travels at will and still tends to his flowers. Hang in there!

At 3:11 PM, August 05, 2005, Blogger camojack said...

I had a nearly fatal motorcycle accident back in '96, courtesy of a pickup truck driver, requiring brain surgery.

Fortunately, besides a lovely horseshoe-shaped scar on the left side of my head (which my hair fortuitously covers now) I sustained some hearing loss in my left ear.

Of course, for awhile there, I was quite a wreck...


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