Saturday, September 5, 2009

Brain Stuff

A year ago now, we were in the thick of making preparations for the upcoming surgery, handing off my obligations from speeches to classes to the valiant friends who stood in for me, notifying people about events that would be missed, gathering information for the family, etc. While we’d done a lot of research about what we were facing, most of it was focused on the short-term. We’d been told, several times, that it would be “a year or two” to full recovery. At the same time, we’d also been told that teaching within two weeks of the surgery wasn’t automatically out of the question (which, in the event, it was not) so the longer term wasn’t much on our minds. Getting through the next week was our goal.

A year later, how do I feel? Mixed up. Grateful, happy, sad, positive, ambivalent, resigned, hopeful and resolved. All at the same time. Most recently, though I cannot find any good information about it, it seems pretty clear that my brain is doing some kind of work because the nature of my dreams is so different than ever before. Last night’s were full of sensory experiences, like getting dressed in a snowsuit to go out to play as a child.

Putting on an extra pair of socks, feeling the extra bulk and friction from going over the first pair. The sound and feel of snowpants as they were pulled up over corduroy pants. Adding an extra sweater, with the pop as it went over my head--I had a lot of hair then, too. Pulling on the snowboots twice, once on the wrong feet and then reversing them. Zipping up the jacket and pulling it down over the pants. Sliding on the mittens that were hanging on threads connecting them through the jacket. Putting up the hood and having my mother wrap a scarf around the back of it and around my face.

After that, the dream was about the sights and sounds of a summer thunderstorm. Then about glimpses of the sky through openings in a box. No context for any of it that I remember, just the intense sensory experiences. Thoughts of playing in the snow as a child haven’t been in evidence recently, and nothing has happened lately that seems likely to have stimulated this memory, especially not the sensory parts. Other nights in recent weeks, I’ve had intense dreams about people and events, with the strange juxtapositions that dreams usually have, just much more vivid than most. What’s going on? Who knows? It’s different though, and it raises questions about why now, and to what end? I’m clueless, just observing as it goes by.

Waking up from yet another dream last night, the main thing I noticed was that I’d been sleeping comfortably on my right side, which hasn’t happened in several years. For at least a year and maybe two before the surgery, that had been uncomfortable enough that I’d given it up, though it’s always been my favorite. I’d even been to the doctor for shoulder pain, with a diagnosis of arthritis or bursitis or the like following inconclusive tests. It turns out, of course, that the tumor was pressing on the part of my brain that controls my right shoulder and that all the aches and pains were likely artifacts of that pressure. A year later, with physical therapy twice a week since surgery, it’s better than it has been since this saga started, even if we didn’t know at the time that it was underway. That’s a net positive, though there’s still some distance to go to regain full use and mobility of the shoulder.

That’s today’s report from the brain-as-a-work-in-progress front. The day is glorious and the three-day weekend lies ahead with all its promise. We’re taking deep breaths and planning to intermix work and rest. Happy weekend to all.

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