Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Thinking about grandpa and physical therapy

One of the MS-related abstracts last week was something about multiple sclerosis and Guillan-Barre Syndrome. I don't remember anything about the abstract, but it got me to thinking about my late grandpa, who had GBS and died when I was a freshman in college.

He was an interesting guy, from the little I know of him. He was born in Sweden and, along with a friend, ran away to sea as a kid, in part to escape a troubled family life (troubled like Dickensian troubled, I guess). Eventually, he became a ship's captain of, among other vessels, liberty ships during WWII. On day, maybe in his fifties, he woke up while he was at sea and couldn't move. That was the end of his working life.

As a kid, I knew him as a frail-looking old guy who shuffled around a big old house in old-guy Hush Puppies and spoke heavily-accented English, which made him hard to understand. I can remember picking up the phone as an adolescent and being so unable to understand him that I thought it was a crank call. He had a passion for gadgets, mainly photographic or electronic, and liked James Galway and Miller High Life. He didn't smile or laugh much, except occasionally at the dog, an Airedale named Bingley (there were a few different dogs who played the role of Bingley). I think he was probably an alcoholic at some level.

He had about a gazillion photos he had taken during his life at sea, of places he had been and ships he had sailed. I have a copy of his picture of the Steel Maker in my office. There were plenty of pictures of him, too: a trim but muscular, stern-looking guy in a uniform, who looked like someone not to be fucked with. I remember him talking about the time he had a lion or tiger or something like that on the ship in a cage as cargo, and the lion or tiger got out of the cage and jumped overboard in the middle of the ocean.

If he was still around, I'd like to think that I would have some kind of insight into who he was, how his life had been changed by his illness, what it meant to go from sailing around the word to tending to the geraniums hanging on the porch.

I got a little taste of that feeling at my last physical therapy appointment. The thing about physical therapy is that the exercises prescribed for you will do one or both of the following: 1) make you intensely fatigued, because the whole point of PT is to find those motions that are most difficult for you, and 2) make you feel like a big sissy, because you know that the exercise you are supposed to do is something that most people do every day, maybe all day long, and think nothing of it.

Actually, PT is going pretty well. I think my therapist is very smart and conscientious, and she has been very adept at zeroing in on my weaknesses and modifying exercises if necessary. The problem is finding the stamina to do my exercises and all the other things I must do or enjoy doing. During the work week, do I do them in the morning before work, such that I arrive at the office already pooped out, or do I try to do them after work, when I've already burned most of my energy for the day and would really prefer to just veg out in front of the TV? The answer is, I do the exercises when I can, in the morning with a cup of coffee, during the work day while sitting at my desk, and I do them in the evening while watching the cast of Grey's Anatomy struggle with their screwed-up lives. I don't do them as often as I should, but I do what I have time/energy for, and I think about what it will be like in the future, when and if it becomes my full-time job to try and take care of myself and possibly the geraniums hanging on the porch.

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