Thursday, February 05, 2009

Reaching up (and out) to the brain

bowls_shelf_225.jpgThe bowls you see here are on a shelf in my kitchen that is a bit less than 6 feet from the floor. Since shortly after I finished radiation therapy in December 0f 2006, I haven't been able to reach them with my left hand.

As part of my rehab program, I started to try to reach them about a month ago (these are breakfast bowls, so I do this every day). At first I could only reach up to the bottom shelf. With repeated reaching (to this shelf and another where my medications are stored), I slowly was able to reach higher.

Two weeks ago I finally touched the top bowl, and managed to get a finger under it. This morning, I picked up the top two bowls (one for Linda) and lowered them to the counter in one piece.

I mention this not just because I'm pleased to have back some use of the previously all-but-paralyzed limb, but because it illustrates the theory of neuroplasticity, the idea that the brain can be made to rewire itself, to route around damage (in my case, a brain tumor).

My experience teaches that it takes multiple repetitions - some hundreds or thousands - of simple movements to get them working again. Building neural connections is like building muscles at the gym - and proceeds about as quickly. If you keep at it, it will come...

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