Friday, December 28, 2012

A Breath of Summer

"In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."--Albert Camus, 1913-1960, Return to Tipasa, 1952.  

Albert Camus was a French "Pied-Noir" (Algerian-born French colonist) author, journalist, philosopher and one of the youngest persons to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as Absurdism. 

I hate it when this happens.  I decide to post a photo which leads me to think of Camus' quote which leads me to read more about Camus (in particular to learn the genesis of the quote) which leads me down the rabbit hole of reading essays on Camus which leads me to a blog  which leads me to this part of the blog post in which the writer (Awais Aftab) observes this about Sisyphus, Camus' hero in the book "The Myth of Sisyphus,":

"Yet, Sisyphus is superior to his fate because he has accepted. He will remain in torment and despair as long as he has hope or dream for something better. But once he has realized that this is what his life is, and what it will remain, and there is nothing better at all to look forward to, he will no longer be tormented by the absurdity of his existence. And this would be the key to his happiness."

And I am struck by the remotest of similarities in my own life as a stroke survivor/victim/casualty.  The remnant of the stroke is my hypertonicity which has left me permanently (?) handicapped.  The question mark is there because, frankly, no one really knows although those with some years of experience with this sort of thing seem to agree that it won't get any better (and certainly from what I've read it could get worse). 

 I am confronted with Camus' philosophy of the Absurd.  Camus was influenced by Søren Kierkegaard who wrote: “What is the Absurd? It is, as may quite easily be seen, that I, a rational being, must act in a case where my reason, my powers of reflection, tell me: you can just as well do the one thing as the other, that is to say where my reason and reflection say: you cannot act and yet here is where I have to act...”(Journals, 1849)  Camus believed that the only reasonable response to a life which is "absurd" is to live in full consciousness of that life.  Which might beg the question, "what then was he thinking when he wrote his famous line about winter and spring?"  It would seem that if you fully live life in all its absurdity finding the spring within you in winter could be regarded as some sort of escape from the absurdity.

Maybe he means that in only by returning to the "spring" (representing hope and newness) of life can we can learn to accept the reality that is our "winter."  He writes also in Return to Tipasa, " I discovered once more at Tipasa that one must keep intact in oneself a freshness, a cool wellspring of joy, love the day that escapes injustice, and return to combat having won that light." To me it represents the dichotomy in which I find myself:  on the one hand I feel as though I would in general be happier if I just accept my fate and quit believing that it will get better; on the other hand I cannot escape the pull of eternal optimism.

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Truth be told, I was, well I wouldn't say terrified of going home.  Let's just say I wasn't as excited as one might expect.  This surprised and confounded me.  Why on earth would anyone not be eager and ready to get back to familiar surroundings—especially with a view like ours?

Perhaps it was because I was going home to a familiar place but in a stranger's body.  I knew how to live in the hospital.  I knew what to expect and what my limitations were.  Life was predictable. 
I could get around.  I could do most of the things I needed to do for myself.  I had my little room where everything had its place and was in its place.  I had my routine.  I could manage—even master—this small world where I knew how to function.  And in here I was an overachiever!  I was successful. Compared to the rest of the patients I was highly functioning.  And I didn't have to explain myself.  Everyone knew why I was there and what could be expected of me. And no one watched me, wondering or judging.

But out there?  That was another matter entirely.  Out there people did things that I could only dream—or reminisce—about.  Out there I was an anomaly, a circus side-show character.  Out there I would have it rubbed in my face every day that I now had limitations and shortcomings, that there were oh so many things that I could not do.  And there would be many more disappointments.  I would be a fish out of water and I was afraid I'd asphyxiate.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Musings...How do you???

Maybe I'm alone in this but I just have to say that I really struggle with how to say "2012."  I know that might sound weird (as do most of the things I muse about!) but it's not as simple as it looks.  I mean I can say "two thousand twelve" (not "two thousand and twelve" which is totally wrong grammatically speaking and kinda makes me crazy! Especially when supposedly educated people say it that way!) but I'm talking about when I need to abbreviate it as in when I am telling the person on the other end of the phone the expiration date of my credit card.  It is downright tedious to say "two thousand twelve" in that situation (and just wait until 2013 when we have to add a syllable!).

It is also incongruous (which also drives those of us with any kind of OCD tendencies!) to say "two thousand twelve" when the month of expiration falls in the single digit category.  You wouldn't, for example, say "oh-six two-thousand-twelve" because you're mixing your formats!  So what does one do?

To maintain some congruity you might say "oh-six-twelve" but that doesn't seem to separate the two numbers by the appropriate forward slash (/) and feels like there is a syllable missing.  But then it seems too long and tedious to say "June, two-thousand-twelve" and perhaps even a bit formal. And "six twelve" sounds too much like an address and perhaps would throw the person off with the result of you having to repeat the date in another format anyway which defeats the goal of brevity in these situations.

And it isn't just brevity.  I feel somewhat judged by how well the date of expiration slides off the tongue, as though the other will think less of me if I somehow say it wrong (do you think I have a complex?!).

Ah, me.  I long for the old days, in the good old 20th century when one might say easily, "oh-six ninety-eight." For some reason that just seemed to flow better.  Or my birth date, "three-thirty-one-fifty-eight."  Now those are some numbers that just sound musical in their simplicity.  Not so much my grandson's birth date: "eighteen-ten"??  I could see people looking quizzically at me as if they thought I was nuts in pronouncing that my grandson was born in the early years of the 19th century!

It's the little things...

Boy could I use some of these...

(Courtesy of UCLA Extension Writers' Program)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 in "A-..."

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 It's Not Walking. Walking is a whole other thing.
I've probably said this before (and most likely will say it again) but if one more person says, "Look at you! You're walking!" I'm gonna scream!  This, this thing that I do to ambulate from one place to another, this is not walking!  Not in any sense of the word.  This is getting around.  (as my friend/Operations Manager is fond of saying, "it's a workaround; we're really good at workarounds!").  Walking is a whole other thing. 
Walking, in case you were unaware, is a complex exercise in which brain, muscle, tendon, nerve, bone, cartilage, and blood dance together, perfectly choreographed. Human walking is frequently described as "controlled falling."  According to the American Physiology Society"…walking does not involve a simple sequence of alternating contractions in pairs of antagonistic muscles but involves complex and variable patterns of activity."
Still not convinced?  Take a few steps and carefully observe. As you move forward you bend your knee slightly, pull up your foot starting with the heel rolling up to your toes and then using your hip propel yourself forward, generally with a great deal of grace and balance.  Take any of those myriad muscles, joints, etc. out of the equation and regular walking as we have evolved to do no longer exists.  It now becomes "getting around."  In truth, I do walk with my left foot but I manage to drag my right foot along for the ride.  When I try to gently bend my right foot forward (which it doesn't want to do) the action causes the right lower leg to jerk up marching style and the foot to curl inward resulting in putting the foot back down mostly on its side.  If I try to force the natural movements of a step I end up dragging my toes along the floor and if I'm walking on carpet that's a recipe for tripping and/or stumbling.
I have a new appreciation for such a lowly activity as walking.  It is really poetry in motion compared to what I do.  And walking is only part of it.  I also can't kneel, can't squat down very well, have trouble rolling over in bed or on an exam table, crawling, and crouching under, and forget about getting down on the floor—at least on purpose!  Not only are these activities nearly impossible but painful as well.  So what you say?  Try picking something up that has fallen and rolled under a piece of furniture without squatting or kneeling.
Stepping over even a bump in the sidewalk or down from a curb can be treacherous. I do not have good leverage with my right leg so getting into and out of a restaurant booth or theater seat is tough. I lack the finesse to stand and just place my right foot into a shoe or even put on pants.  I get tangled up in cords, table and chair legs, and other would-be obstacles. We can't park too close to another car as I can no longer squeeze out through a narrow passage, not being able to bend my knee sufficiently or slide my foot and let out smoothly. There's definitely no scrambling up on a step stool or ladder to reach something above my head.  And of course, driving—at least using my feet—is out of the question. As my last PT put it: "You should not be driving; I'm glad you're not driving!"
Perhaps the worst injustice: I am consigned to wearing only very flat, flexible shoes or "sturdy" ones which are large enough to accommodate my charming AFO.  No heels, slip-ons, boots or skimpy sandals for me.  And I have a pretty respectable collection of those! Every day I walk into my closet and am confronted by the Ferragamo's, Eagles, Clarks, Italian Shoe Companies, and others that reside there.  It is as if their collectives eyes are gazing up at me; as if their collective voices are calling "remember"?  They are decidedly from before and as time goes on and more than one expert tells me that this is probably the best it is going to get I wonder if it isn't the prudent thing to do to find a new home for them. But then I would walk into my closet and be confronted by sadly empty shoe shelves, looking as pathetic as when they were once filled with unused shoes.
At a friend's birthday party I mentioned this in conversation with another friend.  Her advice (because it seems that everyone has some for me these days!) was that I start by giving up just my least favorite shoes and as I buy new ones that work I gradually give up the rest, eliminating the dreaded empty-shelf syndrome.  Sound advice except…I'm also "paralyzed" by something similar to what families of coma victims must experience: when do you pull the plug?  What if you pull it and then they come up with a cure?  What if you pull it and then spend the rest of your life wondering if it was the right thing to do?