September 6, 2005

 

To my family and friends:

 

Today is exactly five weeks since the surgery, and I'm pleased to report that I can now walk unassisted (without the cane or leg brace), and have regained more than 80-90% of the functionality in my arm and shoulder.

 

Its been incredibly fascinating (and incredibly difficult) to experience firsthand how the brain recovers from traumatic damage and how it utilizes "all available resources" to function amid the adversity of paralysis of my right arm and leg following the surgery.For example, having lost the instinctive sequence of muscle actions learned during infancy, I can now walk unassisted only because the conscious aspects of my brain are working overtime to direct each and every movement of my right hip, knee and those portions of my ankle that are functional.Only by thinking about every element in taking a step can I substitute acquired knowledge and visual cues for the new nerve pathways that are yet to be fully rebuilt.

 

I've also experienced firsthand that the best form of rehabilitation therapy for my type of neurological damage is to leave the hospital and therapists behind and just DO IT.I learned how to walk again by explicitly not relying on ancillary assistance (e.g., the cane or brace, or a strangerís help in opening a door).I learned how to regain facility in my right arm (e.g., to eat, write, play golf) by abandoning all efforts to become left-handed, and instead once again designated my right arm as the dominant one, even though at the time it could barely lift a glass or hold a fork.It has been extremely difficult, frustrating and mentally painful to do these things, and in typical maniacal fashion I often set unrealistic goals.But ultimately that's been the best way to compel the brain to rewire the necessary nerve pathways that were lost as a result of the surgery.

 

Yesterday was both a challenge and a signature achievement:I was able to play a full round of golf.Although I had to rearrange my swing and stance to compensate for the weaknesses and instabilities in my right leg and arm, I was still able to hit many long, straight shots and was quite pleased to be able to reach the green with a 5 iron shot on a 160 yard, par 3 hole.Non-golfers should check their TV listings and watch the Golf Channel if they don't understand any of this.

 

Much work remains to be done:I canít walk without looking at my right foot every few steps;I havenít yet begun to think about running; I canít lift heavy objects or accurately throw a ball; and I canít easily turn a steering wheel.But Iíve now passed through the ďgritty existenceĒ phase that marked the first few weeks following the surgery, when I was functionally and mentally paralyzed.Good riddance to that era.

 

Tennis, anyone?

 

Ilan