Saturday, April 24, 2010

We are never broken

Barb (of So The Thing Is... fame) has a new blog, called Listening for a Change, about finding joy in the everyday. I love and highly support this idea.

There's a Jungian concept called synchronicity, wherein two events that seem causally unrelated occur together in some sort of meaningful way, which (this is where it differs from coincidence) belies a larger system at work. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, for a number of reasons, some of them a bit spooky.

This comes up again with Barb's most recent post, Hands. Watching my mom after the stroke, doing three hours of PT and OT every day, struggling to find ways to do the smallest tasks with her right hand that would normally be so mindless... It's remarkable to watch her and her fellow rehab patients. We have ways to adapt the world to them, to a degree (like how yesterday I couldn't find a spoon that didn't have a giant grip adjuster on it). We have ways to help them adapt to the world, to an extent (walkers and wheelchairs and sock pullers and grabbers). But nothing is the same. Even her left arm is a little weaker, which is common after a contralateral brain injury. But it makes you slow down and think about a lot that we take for granted. Like being able to type this blog post - my mom has been an executive secretary for close to 45 years. Her first sign that something was amiss was when she lost her ability to type. Subsequently, she lost her ability to read, to walk, to understand language as well as she had, to do such simple things as dress herself. It's been a humbling experience, certainly for her, but also for those of us around her who are observant and sensitive.

But in the tragedy of all this change, despite its sudden and concerted efforts at derailing her life and irrevocably altering mine, there is a great deal of amazing. It's forced both of us to take a step back, to slow down, to think about the breakdown of things we would normally not even notice. Every moment becomes a triumph. Little successes become magnified. But the thing is, they should've been that important to begin with; they've always been magnificent.

I'm reminded, too, even though I spend every single day wading through the minefields of the psyche, what a remarkable piece of equipment the brain is. The progress my mom has made just within the week is extraordinary. We used to think - easily in my lifetime - that you were born with the same number of neurons you died with, and the brain couldn't repair itself. Which is nonsense. While it seems to be accurate that mature neurons don't divide (at least, the last I heard), we're starting to realize they're far more plastic and resilient that we've ever imagined. When one part of the brain takes a hit, other parts rev up and compensate to minimize the deficits. The chatter works a little like a bad phone line at first, but as the brain makes more and more new neuronal connections, the reception clears up. Knowing the nervous system as I do, having even the vaguest idea what goes on in there - seeing my mother button her shirt becomes like seeing the hand of God in her.

I spent a good deal of time today thinking about the muscles we use to let go of something (there's a great deal of poetry about that, I think). In OT today my mom was trying to put pegs in a board with her right hand. And as her muscles fatigued, she could still get her hand clamped around the peg and push the peg into the board, but she had trouble releasing the peg. And I thought, huh. People totally take that for granted. We all assume letting go is a passive process - you just stop holding on and it's over. But that's not at all true - you have multiple muscles in your arm and hand dedicated just to the extension of your fingers. There are hundreds of tiny movements involved in just picking up a pencil and setting it down again.

Imagine how much energy is involved in letting go of the big things in life. But you can't carry around that peg forever.

5 comments:

Danielle said...

The therapists I have seen in the past few months tended to think we are *always* broken.

Anonymous said...

Interesting reflections combined with actual realism of life---and the brain.

Sharing: My mom was born in Germany and was brought to this country at age 14 to be reunited with "her mom" she did not know.
(another story) She learned english and was adamant about being an American. SHE NEVER SPOKE GERMAN and FORGOT most of it. When she had her stroke in her 60's her speech was affected to0. During Speech T---she began to "mumble" and we ran into to concrete wall. Frustration, anger, tears, by both of us----I would show her a picture of a cup/saucer --say the words---and she would repeat ----but it was ????? no one could understand. One day she BLEW UP and ranted in "her language" which was a combination of german and english.

Yeup the ole brain was combining both and oh boy. Now we knew, and eventually we were able to decipher the messages and then the race was on to compensate and work to improve this part of her problems. In time--we did get back to about 90% normal speech.

The idea of putting a round peg in a square hole comes to mind and the energy to find the "square peg" for that hole is a JOB.

Your days now are "round one" of a
big "prize fight"!

Take care carol

Anonymous said...

Interesting reflections combined with actual realism of life---and the brain.

Sharing: My mom was born in Germany and was brought to this country at age 14 to be reunited with "her mom" she did not know.
(another story) She learned english and was adamant about being an American. SHE NEVER SPOKE GERMAN and FORGOT most of it. When she had her stroke in her 60's her speech was affected to0. During Speech T---she began to "mumble" and we ran into to concrete wall. Frustration, anger, tears, by both of us----I would show her a picture of a cup/saucer --say the words---and she would repeat ----but it was ????? no one could understand. One day she BLEW UP and ranted in "her language" which was a combination of german and english.

Yeup the ole brain was combining both and oh boy. Now we knew, and eventually we were able to decipher the messages and then the race was on to compensate and work to improve this part of her problems. In time--we did get back to about 90% normal speech.

The idea of putting a round peg in a square hole comes to mind and the energy to find the "square peg" for that hole is a JOB.

Your days now are "round one" of a
big "prize fight"!

Take care carol

Barb said...

This piece is so beautiful. I used to think about the brain all the time, you know, because my dad was brain injured but his body was COMPLETELY FINE. He couldn't walk, talk, or feed himself --yet nothing had changed except something in his brain. We are amazingly simple creatures in some ways...and so complex in others.

Bebe said...

I ran into an older woman with a cane in the bathroom at Carr Mill today. She was smiling, held out her hand and asked my name. She said her name was Star and she had learned how to walk and talk again, and she was so happy. She just wanted to say hello and share that with me.