Friday, June 15, 2012
Phantoms and Cats
As most of you know, I am owned by two cats. Hobbs is a gray tiger striped cat who I adopted back in 2006 after Cleo died. He's a little over 9 years old. Jasmine is my black cat, who stalked me from outside the house until I had no choice but to bring her inside. She is now about three years old, and I find it interesting that she's never shown any interest in getting back into the yard. Hobbs, on the other hand, tries to escape at least a couple of times a year. For those of you who are curious, If you haven't been following this blog for a long time, or don't necessarily read it regularly, there are postings about Cleo's death (she was my first cat that moved home with me from Texas in 2001), and both Hobbs' and Jasmine's arrivals in the archives.
As most of you also know, I am plagued by phantom limb sensations (which I actually like) and pains (which I do not like). The phantom sensations feel like your foot is asleep, or when it's been numbed for some reason and you try to push on it. You can feel a tingly sensation coming from where you remember your foot should be. Sometimes the sparkly sensation only comes from your foot, or part of it. Sometimes it reaches up past your ankle, into where you're pretty sure your calf muscle used to be. And sometimes you can feel the pulsing wave of energy flowing straight through where you recall your knee used to bend and on into the residual limb, so it's hard to tell where the sensations actually begin and end. I'm not sure what causes it, but it reminds me of what my legs felt like, so I don't mind the sensations at all. The phantom pains, on the other hand, range from burning to stabbing, to muscle cramping, to tearing, to... If you can imagine it, your phantom limb can feel it; that is to say, phantom pains totally suck! Again, if you're curious about more on this topic, there is an entire detailed entry about them in the archives, probably in either 2006 or 2007; I think I titled the post 'Phantoms" or something similar.
I've noted three fascinating things about the phantom limb phenomena over the last six years:
1. When I have my prosthetics on, it's easier to pinpoint what phantom sections I'm actually feeling, and if I rotate my knee to cross a leg over the opposite knee, the phantom follows the prosthetic. What I'm trying to say is that if I'm sitting down and feel a phantom pain, or sensation, in my right ankle while my foot is resting on the floor and I then rotate my knee to cross my right leg over my left knee, the phantom that I'm experiencing will continue to come from the ankle as it changes position.
2. Barometric pressure changes seem to increase both the frequency and the intensity of the phantom experience.
3. Alcohol usually increases the amount/surface area of phantom limb that you can feel. (I have not taken the time to measure the impact of different types of alcohol, although that might be fun; I'm just not that angry with my liver.)
On Saturday morning, at about 5:30am, I was sleeping comfortably, in that warm cozy place where your body becomes one with the mattress and the bedding, blissfully dreaming. Hobbs was curled up against one of my residual legs, and Jasmine was sleeping towards the end of the bed but close enough that if I had rolled over she would have been in the way. (This is the only point where the cats and the phantoms share the story.) In my dream I was lounging on a tropical beach, watching the sunset. I felt a tiny pulse of electricity at the end of my left leg; it felt like when you accidentally touch an outlet for just a moment. My leg twitched, Hobbs readjusted his position, and the dream started to weaken, but I clung to it, refusing to wake up.
Another pulse, at the end of the right leg this time (which is the longer residual limb). My leg trembled and knocked Jasmine in the head. The sunset in my dream started to turn black. I sat up on the beach and looked at the sky. Everything started to darken for a moment, and as the fading reddish light of the sun came back, other people on the beach started running and screaming.
Lightning bolts struck both legs and I was instantly awake. Sitting straight up with a loud grimace, both cats bolted from the bed as I tossed back the sheets and reached for my legs. I started to massage them, trying to find the nerve endings that had ruined my slumber. Two more lightning bolts struck, almost double the intensity of the first attack. I screamed and rolled over onto my side. Taking a deep breath I reached for the top drawer on the antique vanity by my bed. As I fumbled in the dark for the Vicodin bottle another wave of pain came roiling up at me from somewhere mid calf.
I struggled with the cap for a moment and then popped two pills into my mouth. I took a drink of water to help swallow the pills and then sat there for a moment, just waiting for the next attack. When it didn't come I thought "ok, hopefully the Vicodin will have time to work before that starts again". I called the cats back to the bed and then laid back down. This was the first morning that I'd gotten to sleep in for a while and I was determined to get back to sleep.
I pulled up the covers rolled onto my side, and was just about back to sleep when I felt small itchy pulse somewhere outside my right leg. "Crap", was all I could think. I squeezed my eyes tighter shut and tried to ignore it. The Vicodin allowed me to sleep, but it was broken from that point on. Every few minutes there would be this annoying low current vibration itching at my phantom limbs.
When I finally gave up on sleep it was a little after 8am. Much earlier than I had intended to be up. The low intensity phantom pains kept coming in wave like pulses throughout the day. Based on the way my friend Cliff has described it, I imagine it felt much like getting a tattoo when the artist digs a little too deep. At one point I tried to count the seconds between pulses. Over a five minute period I was never able to count higher than 7 before the next pulse came. I would take two more doses of Vicodin throughout the day and the pains would still not fully subside until about 2am. I had to get up for church at 8.
Sunday night I was really looking forward to getting some good solid sleep, especially because I had nowhere to be on Monday morning. As I crawled into bed at midnight, I noticed a dark spot on the sheets. Sure enough, one of the cats had urinated on the bed. Now I had to get the bed stripped, sheets and mattress pad going in the washer, and bleach the mattress before I could get some sleep. Plus, I'd have to set up the futon in my office. As I was preparing the futon, which is not easy to do from a wheelchair, I felt a minor phantom pain hit my left leg. Not wanting a recurrence of Saturday, I went back to my room, which was shut to keep the cats out, and took two Vicodin. It was 2am before I finally got to sleep.
Why did the cat pee on the bed, and which cat was the culprit? You might ask. I'm sure it was Hobbs, because right after I'd discovered the fresh puddle I saw jasmine walk out of the litter box. Also, Hobbs has been sick, dwindling appetite over the past several months and frequent vomiting (also not easy to clean up from a wheelchair). The previous week he had been through a battery of tests that all came back saying that there's nothing physically wrong. My Vet had put him on an appetite enhancer and anti-nausea medicine that comes in a refrigerated liquid form that I have to squirt down his throat with a 1 ml syringe (again, not easy from a wheelchair).
Add to that ordeal the fact that he had gotten out of the house three times over the weekend and you start to see why he might be mad at me. The first time he got out, I was able to chase him down before he got off the deck, scoop him up, and then hold him in my lap with one arm while I managed to maneuver the wheelchair back up the ramp to the house (not easy). The second time was at night and he went straight for the yard before I could catch him. I had to use the laser sight from a nerf gun (that I bought specifically for getting the cats off my Receiver without having to leave the couch) to lure him back to the deck but he always stayed out of reach. I finally had to get down on the deck, catch him, clutch him to my chest with one arm, and then scoot myself up the ramp on my tush until I could reach the back door (more difficult). I was rather impressed to learn that my gluts are strong enough that I can "walk" up the ramp with them!
The third time he got out was the following morning. He went straight out to the yard again, and this time it was too light out for my laser sight trick to work. Once he's outside, he won't respond to his name, nor will he come for food. Again I had to get down on the deck, but this time I had to actually get down into the grass, which was still wet from the morning dew, and chase him around the yard. Propelling myself with my hands I got to the middle of the yard, but he continued to move up toward the fence at the top of the hill. It's not a big hill, but it's a bit daunting when you're in my shoes, or lack there of. Finally he turned around an noticed me. Giving a happy little meow he came running straight towards me.
Once I could grab him I again clutched him to my chest, waddled with my gluts over to the deck, where I then had to figure out how to leverage myself onto the deck without losing my grip on the cat, or accidentally crushing him. I'm still not entirely sure how I did it, but I managed to get us back up the ramp and into the house (do I even need to say it?).
It took two days for the mattress to dry completely, which meant another night on the futon, but everything's back in order now. Hobbs doesn't appear to be mad at me anymore, although he does continue to get the medicine every three days, so I'm keeping an eye on him. Jasmine also went to the Vet this week for her annual check up, but she handles that much better than Hobb's does. (She's fine by the way.) The mattress has been flipped, which needed to happen anyway, and there haven't been anymore issues. Unfortunately I've had to get up early every day this week since moving back into my room so, needless to say, I'm looking forward to Saturday morning!
Friday, June 01, 2012
The month began with a trip to Marion Indiana to help my friend David Kay open his new restaurant. He had asked me to come in early on their first day of server training to speak with his front of the house staff (those people who are serving the food and tending to their guests needs, as opposed to the kitchen staff...who would be considered back of the house staff) about disability awareness. After I had spent about an hour with his staff, David sent me to Lowes to get a light bulb. When I returned we went over a few of the finer points on the menu with his servers and then the first "training" table of guests arrived. (When a new restaurant opens there are usually a couple of nights in which friends, family, and other people lucky enough to get invitations come in to eat for free and be guinea pigs for the staff). I had one of the first dishes served and was amazed by the simple elegance of the presentation and the phenomenal tastes of every thing I ate! Even though the food was free, I gave David a dollar bill (which he had handed to me earlier in the day) to represent their first dollar. After almost a full month of business, K-Bistro is off to a fantastic start! I highly recommend that anyone within at least two hours of Marion make a special trip to try out their amazing food and friendly atmosphere!
Early in the month I had a business meeting at the Sheraton, which is located at Keystone at the Crossing in Indianapolis. I had the pleasure of running into Matt Holland, who is an old colleague from my days at the Marriott Downtown. We spent a few minutes catching up and after my meeting he took the time to show me some of the newly renovated/updated accessible rooms at his hotel. I was surprised, and pleased, to see some features, like automatic curtains, that I had never seen in an accessible room before. They even had a room permanently set up for people who are deaf, that was completely different from the more common accessible rooms that are usually designed for people with mobility impairments.
Matt was conducting an interview with a potential management candidate when my meeting wrapped up. Both the interview, and my meeting took place in their restaurant, so before I left I politely interrupted the interview (which I had thought was just a group of managers having lunch or else I wouldn't have stepped in) to ask if Matt still wanted me to hang out for the tour. The candidate he was interviewing looked up at me and said "You spoke to my 312 class at Purdue a few weeks ago, I loved your presentation!" What a pleasant surprise to meet someone who had so recently been in my audience. Matt looked at me and said "Wow, you really are becoming a celebrity!"
After the tour, Matt and I sat in their Concierge Lounge and reminisced over our time working together while also catching up on the last several years. The following week, he and his wife Sarah (also a former colleague from the Marriott Downtown) joined me for lunch at the Legend in Irvington. The Legend, which is a fantastic restaurant, was hosting a third party fund raiser for accessABILITY, inc. Matt and Sarah have recently been blessed with twins, and this was a rare treat for the two of them to get out without the kids. It was also a rare treat for me to catch up with two of the people who made my last year at the Marriott bearable!
As the chair of accessABILITY's fund development and marketing committee, I couldn't get away with just one meal at the Legend that day (which is fine because their menu is. I returned for dinner that night with Mom, Dad, Sarah (my Sister), and Madeline(my Niece). During both Lunch and Dinner I saw many of my friends, neighbors, and business acquaintances enjoying the food and service. I cannot express how grateful I am for all of the support that everyone has given to the non-profit!
The month continued to fly by as my days filled with meetings and speaking engagements, all leading up to Memorial Day weekend, which I spent in Chicago with my friends Jim and Jenny Goodman and their three and a half year old, Anna. We had a relaxing time, mostly spent at their house just being with each other, as opposed to running around the city trying to get to every tourist attraction. Due to issues with the flights I got in much later than intended on the first night. We went out for a nice dinner on my second night there and had a great barbecue the following night. The best part of the trip was reading stories to their daughter, something I probably wouldn't have been able to do if we had spent each day dragging her around the city!
I returned home from Chicago on Sunday afternoon, which meant that I would still be able to enjoy Memorial Day with my family. With temperatures in the mid to upper 90's, Memorial Day was the hottest day of the year so far, and when I arrived at Mom and Dad's house I found Sarah and Madeline relaxing outside on the deck. My Dad's big project for the summer has been resurfacing their deck and also building a very attractive pergola, which provides a great deal of shade. While it was relaxing outside, it was also very hot, so I was very pleased when Mom and Dad called us inside for dinner!
On the Sunday before I left for Chicago I received a call from a member of our congregation at North United Methodist. His daughter, who is in 5th grade at a school in Fishers, IN was studying prosthetics in her science class. (Yes, you read that right, 5th grade students are/were studying bio-engineering)! The man's daughter wanted to know if it would be ok to give her Teacher my contact info. Of course I said yes.
The Teacher called me the next day and we had a great conversation about the best way to present my story to her students. Due to the timing of the upcoming holiday (Memorial Day) and the end of the school year, we had to squeeze the presentation in on Thursday before my flight to Chicago. The students were a wonderful audience and I was floored by the maturity of many of their questions (more on that in a minute). I love speaking to students, no matter what age, but this particular audience had a special place in my heart, as one of the students in the audience just happened to be a good friend of Madeline's, and also the daughter of one of Sarah's (my Sister's) best friends. When I asked if she remembered when my accident happened, she looked at me and said"It was either the day before, or the day after, my birthday". She was absolutely right on the timing, and a great helper!
I spoke for about 20 minutes, which is about 5 to 10 minutes longer than I had intended, and the students kept me busy with questions for the rest of the hour. As many of the students put their hands in the air to get my attention I scanned the room for the student who was being the most patient. I called on a young lady who looked at me and asked "You've obviously gotten past the physical pain, but how do you deal with the emotional pain, does it ever go away?"
As I said, I was floored by the maturity of many of their questions, but this one took the cake! I've been speaking to various groups, of all age ranges, about the accident and what came out of it's ashes for a little over six years now. Out of those groups, the most consistent audience has been Elementary & Intermediate school students. None have ever asked about how I deal with the emotional pain. I thought about the question for a moment and then answered "As you go through life you will be faced with challenges that will at times seem unbearable. I've been massively depressed, even suicidal, but as you work through each challenge, you have to also deal with the emotional pain caused by your challenges so that you don't get stuck in a negative place, you need to then look back on those challenges and think about what you have learned and leave the negative part of the lesson/challenge in the past. I have learned that life is a gift, no matter how difficult things seem there is always hope that it will get better and you have to work through your problems to make that hope a reality. It is my hope for all of you that when you find yourself dealing with something you think you can't handle, that you will remember my story and tell yourself: if he can deal with losing his legs and learning how to walk again, and still be happy, then I can get through this too."