Words, Words, Words

August 16, 1999

I'm really bad at getting the information I need out of doctors. Friday's visit to the neurologist was no exception. I had three symptoms I was very concerned about. First, my neck has been getting stiffer and has developed a downward droop. Second, I can't straighten my back. Third, two of my fingers are bent way out of shape. Of these problems he addressed one adequately and didn't completely not address the others.

The problem he "solved" was the trouble with my fingers. He gave me a referral to a hand surgeon, who I'll be seeing later this week. This is probably the best solution, and what I was expecting. I doubt surgery will really restore my hand to what it was, but it should give me back most of the function I've lost.

As for my back, he arranged an appointment for me to get an MRI. The more I think about it, the more this sounds like a red herring. He said that I might have a compressed spinal cord, which could be causing some of my problems, but since I've had these problems for a long time there probably isn't a connection to the relatively recent trouble I've had straightening up. I suspect that the MRI is to look for something that would be interesting, and when he doesn't find anything interesting he'll do what he ought to have done in the first place and prescribe physical therapy, which may or may not be effective.

As for my neck, he prescribed a soft cervical collar after I brought up the subject of some kind of a brace. The stiffness itself clearly has nothing to do with my weak neck muscles, but I think the fact that my neck is stuck in a drooping position instead of straight up may be because I'm just not strong enough to hold my head up all day. I don't know if the collar will do any good; if all it does is keep the droop from getting worse that will be an awful drag. But if giving my neck muscles a rest by transferring the weight of my head to my shoulders helps loosen them up then that would be well worth the hassle. (This is speculative, because I still haven't tracked down an orthopedic supply place where I can get the prescription filled. I may just take the whole day off Friday to get that done and see the hand surgeon.)

He also said that I qualify for a handicapped parking placard. I don't actually need one much, but it would be nice if I could get one before we go to Stratford in September so we can park near the theaters. I need to get a form from D.C., fill it out, give it to him, and then probably wait some unknown length of time.

I didn't talk to him about whether I should be driving at all, which is something I've been thinking about. It's hard keeping track of traffic around me when I can't turn my head much--not impossible, but hard. I don't drive when there's a lot of traffic and I plan ahead so I have plenty of time to change lanes safely and I try not to do anything stupid, and when I renewed my driver's license last year the only restriction they put on it was that I can't drive a manual transmission. (I have no idea why that person thought I would have trouble driving a manual transmission. My best guess is she wanted to put some kind of token restriction on my license to show she was doing her job.)

Money is not an issue. I can use Metro or taxis for most of the short trips I take in the car, and with what I'd save on insurance I could buy plane tickets for the long trips. What would really be inconvenient are the local trips that are just out of the range of public transit, like driving out to my mother's house in Columbia or visiting friends in Reston. I can get friends and family to drive me around, for the most part, but it's a question of when the inconvenience of not having my own car is outweighed by the hassles of having a car and the discomfort of driving.

After talking it over with my family I've decided to keep my car for the time being, but at some point I most likely will give it up. Not a change I'm looking forward to.

# # #

My sister Marie is in the Washington area on a business trip, so Friday night my family went out to dinner. Marie picked a Moroccan restaurant named Marrakech that some friends of hers liked. It turned out not to be a very handicapped-friendly choice. The benches were very low, several inches below my knees, so I had an incredibly difficult time just sitting down. Then the table was hopelessly out of reach. My family ended up passing me food on plates, and handing me my glass whenever I wanted to drink. Aside from an interesting first course (with pickled carrots, a cucumber salad, and eggplant in a spicy sauce) the food wasn't extraordinary. Plus they turned down the lights partway through the dinner for a bellydancing exhibition which none of us particularly appreciated. It was an okay meal, but I don't think any of us will be going back there.

I found out, incidentally, that neither Susan nor my mother has read my journal. I didn't particularly want my family reading in the first place, so I ought to be pleased, but at the time I was thinking, I told the whole world about this. How dare they make me repeat myself?

After dinner we went to my sister's house, where we played a card game called Royalty. You're dealt a hand with seven cards and the object is to form words from your own hand and to add letters to other people's words to steal them. I never win this game, where "never" means I've played it about five times. I almost won this time thanks to some very lucky cards (I got both wild cards early in the game), but Marie won in the final round.

Then I went out to my mother's house. Saturday we tried a game called Streetcar which is sort of like a combination of Empire Builder and Waterworks. The board is a square grid representing the city of New Orleans, with terminals along the edge of the board and landmarks scattered throughout the city. The object is to build a streetcar line from one of your terminals to the other that passes two (or three) landmarks. You build the line by playing tiles on the empty squares, which can be as simple as a straight piece of track or a simple curve, or more complicated switches and combinations of track. You can replace an existing tile by one that's more complicated, as long as it contains the track you're replacing. (So if you have a straight rail connecting one side of the square to another, you could replace it with a cross, but not with a curve.) Once your track is complete you start moving your streetcar from one terminal to the other. You can move as many squares as the last player moved plus one, or until you reach a trolley stop. Stops are common enough to keep speeds from getting too high, and add a bit of luck to the endgame. It isn't always the shortest track that wins. Strategy is crucial, but the game is unpredictable enough that it isn't worth obsessing about making the Absolute Right Move, so the game moves quickly. (In fact a lot of the time the best thing to do is to just work on the part of your track that isn't a problem and hope you draw the tile you need.)

This game was a lot of fun and I'm not saying that just because I won all three games. I got lucky in the second game; Susan was about to win, but the player before her hit a stop sign early in her move, Susan ended up one square short of her terminal, and I just barely made it into mine. The same thing happened in the third game, although I had made some good moves in that game and had a really good set of track; if she hadn't finished hers two turns before mine I would've beat her by a lot.

Saturday was also noteworthy because I forgot to take my aspirin in the morning. I was extremely feeble all day, had a lot of trouble with stairs, and finally realized what the problem was around dinner time. Sunday I took my aspirin and was much more mobile; everyone was amazed at the difference. I forget sometimes how important my daily dose can be.

Another benefit of spending the weekend with my family is that they help me out with all the chores I find troublesome, from doing my laundry to clipping my toenails. I'm very grateful that, while I can manage for myself, I don't always have to.

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