“Insert!” He extended his foot…
“You sound like a Borg.” … and wriggled his toes into the sock. “That would make me a cyborg.” He paused. I could see the wheels turning. “That’s it…my recovery… the screwdriver must have damaged the wiring… and the nano-bots have been busy with repairs…”
He stopped as I sighed… to be fair, it wasn’t a bad analogy. Most of Nick’s problems are caused by faulty wiring. He is fitter than most, carries not an ounce of fat and is all muscle. Even so, there are a few of the moving parts that don’t function as well as they should, in spite of the incredible recovery he has made so far.
His eyes are one of them. And that had hit hard. Nick had always been an avid reader, sharing my ‘library’ and devouring fantasy and science fiction. Being unable to hold and read a book was a grief for a long, long time. Audiobooks never appealed to him… reading is a tactile pleasure.The Kindle reader made it possible again, though not easy; his vision is double and the two images at different ‘heights’ and of different colours to his perception. Everything he sees also bounces. At two different paces. You can imagine…
Yet oddly enough, it had been in one of those books that we had shared that we found an early key to his recovery.
Something had niggled in my memory. A book we had both read by Anne McCaffrey, “The Ship who Sang.” One small passage… a space plague that left the populace paralysed and unable to communicate. Locked in. In the book, the therapist had spoken of ‘patterning’, a technique using monotonously repetitive motion that re-educates the nerves, reforging neural pathways by reminding body and brain how to work together. We adapted the idea…
Much of the visible damage caused by the injuries had manifested in a similar manner to that caused by a stroke; paralysis down one side, weakened muscles… I did some research and Nick set to work with his usual determination… everything from strapping his feet onto a cross-trainer to pulling strange faces to reactivate sleeping muscles. The results are visible to anyone who looks at the old photographs and the new.
The trike on which he plans to complete the triathlon on Sunday is a new venture. Not only does it allow him to get out into the world again using his own muscles, giving him a freedom he has lacked for so long, it is also part of his personal take on patterning, the two pedals forcing the legs to work together equally… and, in conjunction with the physiotherapy, and the neurodevelopmental approach provided by the therapists at the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital, already he has seen real results in his range and quality of movement.
And the thing that had given us hope, right back at the start, was a book. Not a medical treatise or serious work based on research… though we read those too. No, it was a bit of light science fiction that had stuck in memory and given us a clue, a key and a place to start. Fiction had given us hope.
Books had helped with Nick’s speech too, as large print versions of Dr Seuss became the focus and the lunacy of his tongue-twisting verse engendered both laughter and healing, allowing slurred speech to become clear and articulate once more, and putting the inflection back into a voice that had been almost robotic for a while.
You can never know who will read your book or what they will glean from its pages. It may simply be a little light relief after a heavy day… it may be an escape from pain or heartache… or it may be the spark that kindles a torch to light the way forward. You cannot know the value your words may hold for a reader.
I was taught as a child that books contain all the knowledge of the world and every facet of human experience and interaction is contained within their pages. In fiction we see stories played out that may be beyond our own experience, viewpoints expressed from perspectives other than our own. For us, fiction brought an idea to consciousness, a starting point from which my son has forged a path towards recovery.
And his cyborg analogy was more than appropriate.
On Sunday 9th August Nick is riding 20km in the Para-Tri triathlon, while his physiotherapists run and swim. He is trying to raise awareness and funds for a brain injury charity.