Sunday, February 23, 2014

My left hand


My new wheels

I have been keeping a journal since coming home from the hospital after brain surgery. I’m posting some of it today for any BITS readers curious about how I’m getting along.

Monday, 2/17/14. I’ve been wanting to write about my left hand and arm, which have been affected by this tumor. The numbness in them was the sign to me that I was developing some kind of neuro-problem. The neurosurgeons seemed disappointed when I told them afterward that I had not regained full use of them. Apparently, that had been on their wish list. Maybe mine, too, but I have been careful not to seem ungrateful that my left side has not deserted me completely. I still have use of my left leg and the ability to walk short distances without a roller-walker.

Bedside basics
But the numbness of my arm and hand are a mostly constant reminder that for a time, that part of my physical being is experiencing a kind of “brown out.” I wake in the morning with a heaviness that extends from my shoulder to my fingertips, and only thumb and index finger seem functional, though not with great reliability. I massage my left hand and wrist with my right, and something like feeling returns for a while.

Throughout the day, however, simple movements produce a frustrating comedy of unrealized expectations. Pulling on a tee shirt or sweatshirt is usually a challenge, the memory of how to do it colliding with the impediments. What was once an automatic function now requires my full attention, as I relearn the process, breaking it down into steps.

And most of all not losing patience as (once again) the shirt balls up into a twisted lump, half on and half off. Laughter may or may not be the best medicine. In the past, anyway, my chances of putting on a tee shirt backwards were 50-50. Now the odds are 80-20, and what else can I do but laugh when I discover I’ve done it again.

The dreaded Sunday Times
Other struggles include reading a newspaper, which is reduced almost instantly into a fight of flailing arms and wild sheets of newsprint acting like a gale has suddenly sprung up in the room. Magazines offer their own challenge: the slick pages will not separate easily. So (a) thumbing through the New Yorker back to front for the cartoons is an impossibility, and (b) leafing from one page to another, especially searching for something I know is there, yields limited results. 

Holding a book open in two hands and turning pages gets complicated, too. The book keeps flopping shut or away from me. Spiral-bound, I think, would be perfect. But thank digital technology for the next best thing: my kindle and nook. In my fumbling hands, they are often jumping a page ahead or back, but I can deal with that.

Shoe laces
Otherwise, I am still a way off from (a) tying my shoes, (b) buttoning Levi’s, (c) flossing teeth, and (d) using a knife and fork at the same time. But there are work-arounds for most of these, and I do not dwell on the big-ticket items: (a) driving a car again, (b) doing a share of the cooking, (c) taking long walks in the desert, (d) travel, and (e) typing with both hands.

Meanwhile, my left arm remains this strangely willful appendage that needs supervision like a restless child ready to wander off at any moment. A simple intention to make a long-familiar movement typically goes unheeded. My arm or hand gets trapped or hung up or fails an easy task like pulling up my underwear. My right hand, impatient with this foolery has come to be an irritable twin brother, reaching over sometimes to take my left and offer some awkward solace, sometimes just holding on as if it might fly away. And for the moment, hands held over heart, I briefly feel knit together again.


Previously: Almost back in the saddle

Coming up: Dane Coolidge, The Texican (1911)

23 comments:

  1. This is a vivid description of how it is to live with an unruly body, and I extend my heartfelt wish that you will recover the use of your left arm and hand, and make it obey. How burdensome the loss of it is on every ordinary task. I am seeing all that in my wife, now in an assisted living unit where she gets help with many of her motor functions and tasks. You have one great solace: your mind is sharp, your intellect is powerful, and you can write these things and share your life with us. I am thankful for that.

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  2. I add my sympathies.
    It is but carrion comfort, perhaps, but the struggle against disability and a mutinous body often sharpens the mind and gives new perceptions. Reports on your struggles- and your progress, I hope- would be welcome.

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  3. I wish you the best, Ron, and I hope you make rapid progress toward recovering the use of that unruly left side.

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  4. My thoughts are identical to Bill. And thank you for sharing your recovery and progress.

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  5. Hoping for your complete recovery. Sometimes, as with a stroke, it takes a while and maybe this is the case. You are working hard to recover and I think you will be rewarded.

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  6. Prayers to you, my friend. Good luck on your recovery.

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  7. Many folks don't realize how important "feeling" is to the control of movement in an arm or leg. I'm sorry you are struggling with all of this. I hope it improves soon. BTW, I seem already to put my t-shirts on backward more than half the time. Even when I have a pocket on the front and look for it.

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  8. Hey, Ron. You beat the tumor. Now just work at those neural networks until they hook up again. May take a while, but I've heard (and so have you) some amazing stories of nerve regeneration. Prayers with you, buddy.

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  9. I'm glad to see you are making progress and it's great that you can still read and write without too much trouble. I'm wishing you the best of luck on your recovery.

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  10. Ron, as Patti and Chuck note, I'm sure you'll regain full strength and feeling in your left hand. My prayers and thoughts are with you for a complete recovery. Do you have to do physio? I believe it hastens progress.

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  11. You're doing really well, Ron. Head up, eyes forward, keep going! All our best!

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  12. You beat the tumor just keep working to beat the, one bad arm thing. I think you are doing remarkable and as Mr. Wheeler put it so well,"your mind is sharp, your intellect is powerful," keep on using them and we will keep on reading.

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  13. It reminds me of my father's stroke on the left side. He recovered enough to walk and work in a tire shop. You are doing great and we wish you the best and regaining the full use of the left arm and hand.

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  14. Thank you for sharing this very personal journey with us all. I will be praying for you Ron. Best of luck, and keep writing!

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  15. Ron, I hope it might be a bit of a digression from very your real concerns, but your photo of your "new wheels" reminds me of the 1969 VW Beetle that you owned in Mansfield (the one we later bought for the same $900 you had paid for it some years earlier in Europe). That beauty had a deep blue exterior and bright read upholstery, and anyone in the know told us that they'd never seen one like it before. What's the story, they asked--it surely couldn't have been purchased in the U.S. Anyway, I recall that once in the several years we all lived in the Corey Creek Apartments, unexpectedly you decided to wash your VW. Task completed, astounded neighbors were led to ask what had led to this unprecedented and altogether remarkable event. Years later I remember your explanation..."I guess it was an ego trip." May your droll humor continue unabated as you navigate all your health difficulties. Russ

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    1. Russ, thanks for being the keeper of that story. Perhaps I could interest you in a low-mileage 2008 Honda Accord, dark blue, gray interior.

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  16. Despite all you sound remarkably chipper. Good for you, early days yet, you never know. Good to have you back.

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  17. Hi, Ron -

    This is a very trivial story compared to all that you are going through, but I thought I'd share it nonetheless. I severed the nerves to three of my fingers in my left hand with a kitchen knife back in 1992. I was an avid guitarist at the time and also spend much of my day at the piano teaching. The neurologists did their best to reattach the nerves and told me that if I hadn't regained feeling in two years that I never would. Two years passed and my fingers were still asleep. Imagine my surprise in 2009 - fifteen years after they had told me hope was lost - waking one morning to my hand feeling like it was on fire and I very suddenly and miraculously (to me, anyway) regained neurological function in all but one side of one of my fingers. Just keeping hoping and continue to have a sense of humor about it all. I know it's going to work out - I feel it in my bones. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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    1. A story with a happy ending. Not trivial at all. Thanks.

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  18. Ron, you have such courage to endure and write about your brain tumor, the surgery, and your struggle to recover your recalcitrant left arm and hand. Yet, as Richard Wheeler says, your mind is clear and sharp as ever, and your stories and reviews will be there any time you call them up.

    Has anyone reminded you of the voice recognition software Dragon Naturally Speaking? It's by Nuance.com, and it helps me type when my arthritic fingers don't want to.

    You can find it at http://www.nuance.com/dragon/index.htm

    Amazon also sells it for less: http://www.amazon.com then enter Dragon Naturally Speaking in the search box.

    It guides you on how to train it to your voice, and you'll need earphones. It's not perfect, but it's a great help.

    I'm praying for and thinking of you, Ron. Take care.

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  19. This is some beautiful writing, Ron. I'm going to remember that last line for a long time.

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  20. Ron, may the impatience of your right hand be gentle, but firm, with the left.You carry the spirit of courage and that's half the battle. Our prayers are with you.

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