Month: January 2015

I Have Been Humbled

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I have been humbled.

 Yesterday was my first day of OT (yes, Occupational Therapy).   When I was in the hospital (12/9-11, 2014) to remove my cancerous prostate, my Ulnar Nerve received a trauma.  For those of you who may not know what the Ulnar Nerve is or what it does, I have stolen the following from Wikipedia:

The Ulnar nerve runs near the ulna bone. The nerve is the largest unprotected nerve in the human body (meaning unprotected by muscle or bone), so injury is common. This nerve is directly connected to the little finger, and the adjacent half of the ring finger, supplying the palmar side of these fingers, including both front and back of the tips.  One method of injuring the nerve is to strike the medial epicondyle of the humorous from posteriorly, or inferiorly with the elbow flexed. The ulnar nerve is trapped between the bone and the overlying skin at this point. This is commonly referred to as bumping one’s “funny bone”.  The Ulnar nerve also helps fire the muscles for the grip.

We are not sure exactly the injury occurred.  It may have been banged during or right after the surgery when they moved me. I may have banged it on the rail of the hospital bed, or I may have compressed the nerve while struggling to get myself up from a chair in the hospital room.  The cause does not matter, the result is irritating.

 I have constant pins and needles in my pinky and adjacent half of the ring finger in my right hand.  I cannot touch my pinky to my thumb.  My wrist/grip is weak because this nerve helps fire the muscles of the entire hand.  During my OT assessment, the grip in my dominant right hand was 70% LESS than my weaker left, and the pinching tests (finger to finger) in my right hand compared to my left had similar results. 

 I am having difficulty with many of the tasks I love.  I am having difficulty playing the piano, not just because of my weakness but because my right pinky can’t keep up with the rest of the hand and lags behind the instructions my brain is giving it.  I can’t bowl because while I can grip the ball, when I go to the release it falls off of my hand.  My horrible handwriting is now worse, and simple everyday activities such as handling a fork, typing, shaving and brushing my teeth are now a chore.

 My neurologist (yes, I have a neurologist now!) said that the nerve will heal and the symptoms should go away, IN A FEW MONTHS!!!!  In the meantime I am going to OT to help re-strengthen the muscles that are not getting the signals from the damaged nerve.

 So, I said humbling?  How about it took me 15 minutes this morning to try to button my shirt sleeve button on my left arm (I was stubborn, I wasn’t giving up!).  How about how difficult it was for me yesterday in OT to pick up toothpicks with my third and fourth fingers and thumb and press them into putty, or using a hand-held spring tensioned vice device to pick up 100 cotton balls and put them back into a box.  How about sitting at a table performing these therapies with three other people, all stroke survivors, who have it much worse off than I do.   I am doing OT just for one injury, they are doing OT as part of a regiment of therapies to recover from their injury.

 We all take many things for granted. The air we breathe, the food on our table,  etc.  We don’t even think about the countless things we do each day.  It’s easy to forget about these simple things (they are just there for us), until we lose some of that ability.  Like a fish out of water who can’t process oxygen, this simple injury has had a major impact on almost everything I do each day.  Even now, as I type this I am unable to use my pinky (I am a 10 fingered typist) and it has taken me twice as long to write this as it would have two months ago.  But then again, two months ago I wouldn’t have given a second thought to type this out quickly, or button my shirt, or pick up toothpicks, or touch my thumb to my pinky, all activities that require much more work  or are impossible right now to achieve.

 I have been humbled.

 

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Music And Me

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There are few things more important than music in my life.  Breathing, health, family and friends will always be on the top of my list, but after that there is music.  Music is the very essence of who I am and I cannot ever live without it.

Music has been with me for as long as I remember.  I started playing the piano at the age of 5, and remember buying my first records at 11 or 12 years old.  I cannot imagine driving in my car, exercising, or performing any other passive function without listening to music.  As I write this article I am listening to music.  It is all around me, and I am always thinking about it.

Music is the way I express myself, and moves me in ways that I cannot accurately describe.   Without any warning, music can make me laugh or cry, lighten my mood, move me, it can remind me, and inspire me like nothing else.

The the right sound at the right time, in the right situation, affects me like almost nothing else in my life.  The other day How Can I Be Sure by The Rascals shuffled on my phone and the beauty of the song hit my emotional center with such force that I was close to tears, brought on by the beautiful lyrics and amazing instrumentation behind the words.  Similarly, while driving the other day I Don’t Want To Go Home by Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes came on and it lifted my spirit as I thought about summer, the beach, youth, and anything but the 18 degree temperature outside.

I am very open minded about music and listen to so many different genres that when someone asks me what type of music I like best I am unable to answer them.  Bruce Springsteen is my favorite artist (I have seen him over 60 times and am not ready to end that ride),  and if I had to make a list of other favorites the Beatles would be number two, but after that things get rather confusing.  For example the last 12 songs I have listened to on my iphone are:

 

  1. REM – Driver 8
  2. Grateful Dead – Big Railroad Blues
  3. Genesis – Ripples
  4. Rush – Subdivisions
  5. Springsteen – Streets Of Fire (Live ’78, Passaic)
  6. O.A.R – Shattered (Turn The Car Around)
  7. Bob Dylan – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
  8. The Band – Get Up Jake
  9. Pearl Jam – I Am Mine (Live)
  10. Phish – Ghost
  11. The Verve Pipe – Colorful
  12. Linkin Park – Bleed It Out

So, you can imagine my lack of surprise when some of my friends call me a music snob.  You can imagine how hard it is for me to make a mix CD for friends.  I like so much, and have so much material to draw from (close to 1000 cd’s, a few hundred albums sitting in a closet, and over 6000 tracks on my itunes library) that choosing the “right” songs for a mix is an impossible labor of love that totally depends on the mood I am in.

In a future article I will write about the social side of music, what that means to me, and how it has changed for me over the last 40 years.  I will talk about how in the old days your collection took up a wall in a room (and organizing it, if you did,, was a labor of love) and today it may fit into a hard drive the size of your hand.  I will talk about how I have shifted from an album oriented approach to listening to music to a track approach, how streaming makes exposure to  music much easier, and how all of this is good and sometimes limiting to how we share and listen to music.

Thank for listening.  If you love music as much as I do, I hope you found this article interesting.

And remember, it is possible to “learn more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school”.

 

Life Happens, Cancer Happens, Life Goes On

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So, what happened?
Life happened.
Work happened.
Having a busy schedule and commitments happened.
Not writing a post since June is not what I wanted.  But somehow life just got in the way.

AND, getting prostate cancer and having a Radical Prostatectomy on Dec 9 happened.

It is absolutely amazing how the layers of life can get so complicated
and busy and then you receive a cancer diagnosis on top of it and all
of the shit that is hovering near the fan hits and gets all over
the place.

The good news is I am cancer free.
The bad news is recovery after surgery can suck the life out of you. My surgeon
was great and did an excellent job. What they don’t tell you before the
surgery is how tough the recovery is, especially after a major four hour
surgery.

The first few weeks were horrible as I had no energy and all I wanted
to do was sleep, not to mention going home with a catheter and an abdominal drain for a week. My continence is getting better but still not the greatest but I am told that this will improve with time. I need to be patient.

The most important thing is I AM CANCER FREE.

This whole experience has taught me alot about myself. I am not as strong
as I thought I was and I truly now know what it means to have to live one day
at a time. In the hospital I had to learn how to live sometimes one hour at
a time when I was waiting for my pain medication. My Al-Anon program
really helped me through the tougher times of this recovery and gave me the
strength and the guardrails to weather the days when my patience with my
body wore done and I started to lose it.

I still have bad days, but as I get stronger my resolve gets stronger and I am
able to weather and push through the tough moments. I am very lucky the cancer
was found in such an early stage and I am grateful for my long term prognosis.
I just need to be more patient with my recovery, take the bad days that come
along with the good, and live my life one day at a time.

More to come. Stay tuned….