Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Still Learning to Take the Tortoise-Approach

Tortoise. Tortoise. Tortoise. Yesterday was a great day and I overdid it.

We restarted our strength training and it felt fantastic. I was comfortably able to do twelve minutes on the treadmill at incline (we climbed steep hills this summer in France and have been trying to keep that gain) for a cardio warm-up and then I was able to do most—but not all—of what I have been doing all along. We were warmly welcomed back and being at the gym again was great.

Michael and I started strength training together for our birthdays almost two years ago, in large part because of how often I was falling down at the time, not to mention general aging and health issues. Since my mother died so young (47), we don’t have much health history for her, and we’d watched Michael’s mother shrink over the years, so all the way around, strength training seemed like a good idea. It’s been something we do together as we move closer to our empty-nest years. While I’m not big on the actual exercise part of it, it has been an unexpectedly positive experience. One completely unanticipated aspect of it that I’ve particularly enjoyed is the part where I just do whatever the trainer says to do: if she (our first trainer) or he (now) says “you should be able to do 15 of these,” I just do them. I don’t have to make any decisions or think about it, just do it. Letting go in that way—and clearly getting stronger throughout—has been great. And, the difference it’s made in my balance has been remarkable. Except for stepping in a pothole and twisting my ankle while carrying a tray of food (my excuse for not seeing the pothole), I hadn’t fallen down since we’d started the training. Even then, I was able to catch myself and save the tray of food, which felt like, and was, a great victory at the time. I was steadier on my feet than I’ve been in years. Of course, now we’re beginning to understand that I wasn’t just a clumsy oaf (my self-image), but that my balance had probably been tumor-affected for some time. I’m still working through this part of what’s been central to my self-image for so many years. It’s unlikely that it’s just been the tumor, as I’ve never been all that well coordinated and my hand-eye coordination, in particular, are terrible, as I am profoundly near-sighted, with eyes that don’t match, which affects my depth perception. Plus, my preference would always be to read a book before I’d go exercise.

Here’s the perfect illustration of my point: when Michael and I first took up many years ago, he and his friends played pick-up softball on a field across the street from the Meadows off Race in Urbana, near the old Bliss Drive housing area. (Where my parents, as so many faculty of their generation, first lived when arriving on campus.) I’d never played softball, and his friends were a particularly generous group (then and now—nice knows nice, it turns out) who encouraged me to join in, even though I didn’t know what I was doing and wasn’t ever an asset to the team that ended up stuck with me. I still remember as an epiphany the moment in which it became clear that when other players said “heads up,” it wasn’t a sports euphemism for “close your eyes and duck” as I’d always understood it. They really meant that I should look up and try to catch the ball! They laughed until they fell down, in the nicest possible way, when they grasped the extent of the insight I was experiencing. I’ve heard about it on and off for years.

Anyway, the strength training has been positive for us in many ways including providing a strong foundation for this recovery of mine. There are motions I cannot yet produce, especially with my right arm, and we experimented to discover what I can and cannot do. Since we’re doing all the training and therapy at Mettler, the physical and occupational therapy will all be coordinated with the strength training. It felt great to be back there and while I’m not as strong as I was before surgery, the number of things I could do that weren’t much worse was encouraging.

Then I went home and slept for an hour before a nice visit from C, the source of the information on crabbiness in the index of her Brain Tumor Recovery Manual. While we visited, she edited flowers to refresh them all and told us that lime seltzer water will help prolong flowers—nice to know. We found a stray staple on my head, which Michael removed using tools not quite as cool as the surgeon’s but equally effective. Then I slept for another three hours.

Because I felt strong and good, I ate something and went to the second half of my law class. That was a terrific experience. This class has one of those great group personalities that happen now and again and are so special when they do. The second half of yesterday's class plan is a particularly fun and illuminating group negotiation. Both sides want the same thing, but because they’re so afraid of losing leverage by being the first to put their goals on the table, it comes to impasse a remarkable percentage of the time, which is a great teaching/learning moment. Being there for this negotiation was fun, as this group did two or three novel and skillful things in the way they approached it, though it did get messy in the end. They settled, though, which is more than many classes ever manage to do. I was very happy to see them, and they were welcoming and warm. It was a real spirit-booster.

It’s pretty clear that I’m not going to have the stamina to teach this class alone for a while, so wonder-woman friend who has been handling it for me says she’ll keep coming and will be there with me as long as I need. That’s a real friend. It’s also pretty clear that I’m not going to be writing on a blackboard with my right hand anytime soon. Michael thinks maybe I could write on an overhead projector in lieu of the blackboard, since if my elbow is supported, I can write more often than not. Plus, wonder-woman says she’ll be there and SHE can write on the board… brushing off completely the cost in her life for adding this in this chunk of time and effort to an already-full load.

Anyway, I’m working up to admitting to having overdone it. Even though I was testing as I went and making sure at each point that I felt ok and even though I sat down through most of the class (they were negotiating, and we were watching, after all)… ok, I wasn’t as clued in as I should have been to my energy level. Another bad night with the return of headaches/pain resulted. I’ll learn from this. Really. It’s just going to take me time to learn my new energy rhythms and limits, because it’s just not the way I’m used to living. This is the new me, though, so I’ll get the hang of it.

Wasn’t Kearney’s post yesterday wonderful? What a terrific human being she is. We are so proud, and of course we need her—just not in the same way we did when she was here, filling in all the gaps and taking care of me and us. She was here for us when we did need her and we know she will be again, should the situation change. So what we need for her to do now is have a fulfilling and productive life in Madison doing her research and making progress on becoming who she is going to be. She’s right, of course, about how our questions and worries were misdirected. It’s worth thinking about, as we gleaned many of our questions from our research and still never hit some of the really important ones. One area dawning on us now to ask about, for example, are hormonal effects. Either we have some massive coincidences going on or we’re seeing some. Time to go back and do some more research.

We mailed off our full document with both the counting results and our suggestions/reviews to the hospital and clinic CEOs as well as our two main physicians, and it occurs to me that it would be polite to let them get it before we post our suggestions for improvement in this quasi-public place. Plus, I’ve blathered on today, so we’ll postpone our more personal, qualitative review of the medical adventure for a day or so.

At least in central Illinois, we have on tap another beautiful autumn day. The leaves are just beginning to turn and the quality of light filtered through the green and gold is stunning. Take a walk at lunch if you have nice weather where you are.


  1. As the "substitute teacher" for Tina's amazing law school students in her Negotiations course, I whole-heartedly echo her thoughts about them. Collectively, they are unbelievably generous of spirit—my first day teaching (the first class after Tina’s surgery and only their THIRD class meeting) they circulated a card for the group to sign and sent flowers to brighten her home. They have adapted smoothly and graciously to this unexpected turn of events in their academic lives and have made it a joy for me to dust off my rusty teaching skills and join them in the fun of learning something new.

  2. Tina:

    I have enjoyed reading your posts here each day. Congrats to you and your family on keeping the content of this Blog alive on a daily basis.

    We are delighted to hear that you are on the mend.

    --S. Kording