HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Sorry for the delayed update. I don’t have any excuse aside from being busy and a little procrastination. I’ve actually started this update several times but the words I wrote never seemed to come correct. Thank you to everyone for their continued support, the letters, emails, phone calls and visits, they really brighten my days. So here is a quick summary of the past couple months…
In early November I had a muscle test to see what mobility I had gained since my first days at Shepherd. One by one my occupational therapist isolated the muscles in my upper back, shoulder, and arms and asked me to move them. If the muscles respond the strength is measured on a scale of 1-5. If the muscles do not respond they are graded zero. When my therapist got to my right hand I told my fingers to move, but saw no results. I was prepared to have my hands graded as a zero once again, same as they were when I first arrived to rehab. However my therapist said she could feel the muscles firing. She held my hand tight with an inquisitive look on her face, searching for something I couldn’t feel. I tried again and again. Finally I saw my middle finger and my pinkie twitch ever so slightly. I was surprised but skeptical. The movement was so minimal I didn’t know if I were responsible or if my therapist was accidentally initiating the movement through skin contact. I kept trying to move the fingers, the more I did so the more i realized the movement was under my command. My therapist shouted across the gym, “He’s got extensis digitorum! David’s got extensis digitorum!” That’s the technical term, which essentially means I can extend those fingers. This is important because once you know your spinal column is helping your brain communicate with a certain region, you can work on strengthening it. The movement in my fingers has improved and my index finger has recently started firing. The finger muscles are still weak (i.e. I cannot fully extend) and fatigue quickly, but it is still a cool new trick to show my friends.
Throughout November I continued to use the FES bike twice a week, pedaling 11 miles each session. (This is the machine that moves my legs through electronic stimulation) The bike measures how much effort I am contributing to its movement by %. Usually the bike was doing about 97% to 100% of the work. By Thanksgiving I was able to work the bike down to 79% which means my legs were able to contribute almost 1/4 of the power to pedal the bike. Pretty amazing for appendages I cannot feel or move under my own power. I’ve found pedaling the bike is a mental game where I think about my legs moving the pedals. The more focus I have, the greater I contribute.
Shepherd Center is very progressive concerning extra curricular therapy to get patients acclimated to the real world. One class in which I participated was Airline Travel. We went to Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport (world’s busiest airport) to learn the ins and outs of traveling while being disabled. The class was extremely beneficial and eliminated many concerns I had about traveling with a wheelchair. Since then I have flown to New York and Indianapolis, travel plans went off without a hitch. Its small accomplishments like this that encourage me that getting back to a normal life is not out of reach.
Also in November I completed some therapy in the swimming pool. This was a big step as I hadn’t been immersed in water since getting pulled out of the pool where I broke my neck. The feeling of being buoyant with out the full use of my limbs is a bit scary. Especially in water, its nerve racking to not be able to effectively control your body’s movement. The notion of floating face down without the ability roll over to breath is not a pleasant one. Just a week before my accident I was surfing the Hurricane Hannah storm swell with 8-10 foot rollers at Rockaway Beach. Its a quick surf break with debris of an old pier lurking underneath the waves. It’s a bit nasty out there to say the least and I was getting pounded by the storm surf. At the time that environment didn’t phase me but now I am intimidated by the back stroke in a heated indoor pool. That’s a tough transition, but you have to start somewhere and I feel good about taking my first steps back in to having an aquatic life. Shepherd Center also has scuba diving classes for disabled people which is encouraging to know I can still dive while I recover from my injury.
I graduated from inpatient rehabilitation on December 6th. That weekend Rosaleen and I flew to New York to test the waters and see if it were feasible for me to return to the city to lead a normal life. There were many accessibility questions to be answered. Unfortunately my old apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn is in a turn of the century brownstone, with three sets of stairs to reach my bedroom. We scoped out other options in the neighborhood, but to our disappointment quaint historic neighborhoods are not the most accessible. Everything from stairs, sidewalks to subway stations were going to be a challenge in Fort Greene. So we expanded our apartment hunt to Manhattan and Jersey City. We dropped into my office in the Financial District during our dry run of my NYC commute. Surprisingly, for an old building it was quite accessible for me. I was able to catch up with my boss and team over lunch. I have to admit I was concerned how I would be perceived by everyone now that I am in a chair. But there was no need for concern as the people in my office didn’t blink and we began to catch up where we left off in September. That group is truly a bunch of champions; it felt great to be in the mix again. I have been utterly amazed by my employer’s support, caring and patience throughout my ordeal. Seriously, thank you so much, everybody has been incredible!
The rest of our week in New York was spent jumping trains and buses, negotiating sidewalks, and braving some fierce winter weather. On one particularly nasty day, with cold driving rain, Rosaleen and I were in lower Manhattan scurrying down the sidewalk when a lady ran up, shaking her umbrella at us, saying “Take it, take it! Take my umbrella!” We sat there for a second on the corner and thought, “Wow, we must look pathetic,” and declined her offer for the Burberry print umbrella. I am glad we both find humor in situations like that, because it was quite funny. Just goes to show that New Yorkers do have hearts.
Towards the end of our week in New York we were able to catch up with some family and a few friends before heading back to Atlanta to begin Day Program at Shepherd Center.
The Day Program at Shepherd Center is structured around goals set by the patient. Now that we had a dose of NY reality, we had several things we wanted work on. Most importantly is urban landscape negotiation. So during my first week back at Shepherd I learned to pop wheelies. Poppin’ wheelies has led to climbing two inch curbs independently and four to six inch curbs with assistance. I have also learned to “bump down” curbs in reverse, a trick that makes my mother very nervous.:)
I was able to show off my new skills when I flew home to Indiana for Christmas. It was awesome to have a break from therapy, see family, show Rosaleen my home town and catch up with friends. Speaking of catching up with friends, some of my old cronies dedicated this year’s Muncie Christmas Jam to me. The Jam has been going on for several years where some of the coolest kids in town put together an evening of local music for a good cause. This year I was the good cause and my heart goes out to everybody involved in organizing as well as everyone who came out to support. I love the fact that old friends in Muncie are still holding it down, supporting local music and continuing to grow as artists. BIG UP!!!!!
Happy New Year Everybody! I complete rehab at Shepherd Center January 14th and then Rosaleen and I will be on our way back to NYC. Thank you so much for your continued love and support, we couldn’t make it with out you. Hopefully it won’t be as long until the next update!
I wish everybody the best in 2009!!