A foot was thrust into my line of vision with an injunction to look. Unable to think of a suitable retort to this unusual command, I complied. The foot appeared to be just that… a foot. Not a particularly attractive member, but fully supplied with the requisite number of toes, flushed pink. There was nothing at all remarkable about it. Attached as it was to an appropriately hairy leg it was, quite simply, a foot, evidently of the male variety.
I had woken to brilliant sunshine. The fact that it was a little after five in the morning and I hadn’t gone to bed till one had made me groan, but it had promised to be a good day for the gardening I was determined to do when I got home. Then I moved, and groaned some more at the seized hands and feet, knowing it would take a good hour at least before they would be of much use. It was one of those mornings.
Fumbling ineptly with coffee and dog food, muttering frustration, I debated the merits of pitting the pack of frozen peas against the stiffness, weighing the undoubted benefits against the inevitable complaints of the Reynaud’s… and chickened out. I would wait. There would still be time to walk Ani before I left for my son’s. I wrapped my hands around the warmth of the coffee cup instead.
Stretching the stiffness out of each cramped finger reminded me forcibly of doing the same for my son when he was in the coma. There are still flashbacks to moments that conscious memory has sought to hide. His hands and feet were no longer paired; the right side paralysed, the extremities curled and useless and every day we would force the clawed digits apart, massaging the limbs in some vain hope that when he woke, if he woke, there would be some use left in them. If he could move at all.
I was still thinking back as I drove to my son’s home. For a long time it had seemed as if our efforts would prove fruitless. Even the better, left side had only restricted movement and lacked coordination. But little by little, movement returned, although the hitherto dominant right side remained only marginally functional. My son continued to work towards control, though. Little by little. Day by day. Yet while he mastered a fair amount, under the pressure of, say, standing or weight bearing, the fingers and toes would curl. Spasticity limited movement… ataxia reined back coordination and clonus and appalling circulation added insult to injury. But he persevered regardless. Stubborn.
You wouldn’t believe the whoops of joy when he managed to touch finger to thumb! He tried to write, painted and laboriously drew… and bit by bit the fingers came back online, even if they were far from being as dextrous as they had once been. Any kind of fine control seemed liked reaching for the moon. Toes, however, are not so ‘easy’ to deal with. Few people have any real digital dexterity with their toes in the first place. So we did what we could with common sense and hope to straighten out the incurving foot and regain some suppleness and movement. You don’t want to know some of the things we tried. You certainly wouldn’t want to do some of the things he does to stretch! The road was long and slow, and it seemed doubtful he would ever get anywhere. Even so… at least his body would be in the best possible shape to permit recovery if there was ever to be a moment of breakthrough.
Pouring everything he can into his recovery and funding private neuro-physiotherapy for himself this past year, he has made progress in all sorts of areas. The staff at the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital have been exceptional. And somewhere, something is working.
My eyes searched the proffered appendage this morning, when I took my son his tea in bed. I could see nothing unusual. Here, to all appearances, was just a perfectly normal foot.
But wait a minute…
This was his right foot! And the ankle lay straight on the bed! The toes wiggled! We shared a grin. My shoe came off and we compared the range of possible movement and control. Touching the skin of each digit, rather like playing, ‘This little piggy…’, allowed his brain to locate them individually and fire the nerves to move each toe in turn… and while that may sound like a minor achievement, this has enormous potential to help him regain balance and learn to walk again! It seems such a small thing, but it is cause for real celebration. It is hope made manifest in reality.
So we were on a bit of a high when we went through to the living room, where I made a bee-line for his piano-keyboard. This has become a standing joke; in the few days since its acquisition I may have spent more time playing with it than he has and he laughed as the first few notes of Für Elise filled the room with their new inevitability. I can’t play, sadly, but can pick out a melody by ear and from memory. Nick always had an inherited talent for music, but of course, this was yet another thing lost to the fallout from his injuries. The keyboard is a brand new avenue of exploration.
I left him there while I went out to get his hot tub organised… and came to an abrupt halt as I heard Greensleeves being played, all on the low notes. I smiled … even if it was his ‘good’ left hand. But then, there were high notes. I turned and walked back to the door, quietly, not wanting to break the moment… and watched his right hand pick out the ancient melody.
And for such moments, there are no words.