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July 2, 2008

connection

some of you may remember that about about a year ago, T.T. had to undergo neural reconstructive surgery to repair the damage from a botched outpatient procedure in which a major nerve was severed by a surgeon we'll call Dr. X. he had lost all use of his left trapezius muscles, and his left shoulder was caving in from the atrophy. initially, we were told we would know in about six to eight months if it was a success -- what was actually meant was that it would be a minimum of six to eight months before we'd know anything. for there to be any hope of him regaining movement and usage of that shoulder, several things needed to happen. first, the graft would have to "take," then the nerve would need to "wake up," and then the slow growth process would have to begin: nerves grow at the snail's pace of one millimeter a day. if all that happened, THEN we would have to wait and hope that the deadened trapezius muscles would not be so atrophied beyond repair that they could not begin to regenerate with the newly firing nerve.
in these long intervening months of waiting, T.T. has been doing physical therapy to try to keep his left shoulder in the best condition possible, but there has been no conclusive evidence anything was happening. this is when we really appreciated everyone's patience and concern: you would ask "how's the shoulder?" and we'd have to say: "no news yet." meanwhile, i watched T.T. struggle with the new reality of the landscape of his body: men relate to theirs so differently than women, and there were many times when i could simply feel him grieving, or letting it go...again, or even gathering himself for battle against the creeping dread that there was nothing happening under his scarred skin. there was nothing i could say, though; no magic words of consolation that would do any more good than simply putting my hand on his ruined shoulder, or gently kissing the white, twisting line that now runs down his neck.
my own private grief would sometimes bubble to the surface in odd ways, but mostly i have kept it to myself, because hope is much shinier and easier to carry like a shield in front of your tender parts. my faith tells me this is not self-delusion; this is how life is and i can either choose to trust that there is some kind of good even in the smelliest cesspool of circumstance, or i can give up and wallow. (honestly, wallowing could be easier, but i'm just a stubborn ornery girl sometimes and that's saved my sorry arse more than once from despair.) we're still fairly newlyweddish, i think, enough so that it has been scary learning to navigate the big wide chasms of soul distance that yawn wide when you look at your beloved and realise: as much as i could drown in these eyes, i will never, never see the world through them and thus i am essentially alone. but, cheesy as it sounds, love does build a bridge over those pits somehow and we have learned to be closer through this. i still can get a little emotional when he comes back from surfing -- rehab in and of itself -- and i can tell by the way he holds his face a little too steady, that he desperately misses the days when paddling out to the break wasn't the Herculean effort it is now. but i've seen his back become less hollow; he can put shirts on now without contorting to get his left arm in the sleeve, and his range of motion has improved. we've remained hopeful -- he's a stubborn ornery guy too -- yet subsequent visits to the neurosurgeon have been inconclusive. so it was decided to schedule another neural conductivity test.

now, an EMG, or neural conductivity test, basically involves sticking an electrode into the affected muscle (looks like acupuncture) and seeing waveforms and hearing feedback as to whether or not there is electrical activity (nerves firing) to it. when T.T. was initially diagnosed as having had that major nerve severed, his trapezius was literally flatlined -- no electrical activity going to or from it whatsoever. the screen showed a straight line, and just white noise emanated from the speakers. i remember feeling like something was flattening my insides so i couldn't breathe. i remember T.T.'s face going cold and steady. i remember thinking somewhat detachedly: wow, this is the worst air gap situation i've ever experienced. ("air gap" is common audio-tech speak for "not plugged in or connected." as in: "why can't i hear anything on this mic?" [pick up disconnected cable end] "uhhh... it's an air gap. sorry.")
i tried not to think about this the morning of the test. i deliberately did not apply any eye makeup, knowing that if i heard that white noise again, knowing that if that flatline saying: all this, this whole year, has been for nothing came up on the screen, i would utterly dissolve in tears. the night before, we had held each other and talked about hope and about the future and about simply looking forward. "it's no use praying for a result," said my wise husband, "prayers should be for the ability to accept and face whatever the results are." we thought about all the people who have been our supporters, cheerleaders, concerned askers, pray-ers, sources of humour and comfort and encouragement. as we learned in the immediate aftermath of the surgery, our community is trusty and amazing and are the grace of God in visible form: we are far from alone in this.
we arrived early at the hospital, and as we passed the coffee cart at the main entrance, T.T. squeezed my hand in surprise. "that's him!" he said. "that's Dr. X." he kept walking. i pulled my hand out of his and doubled back: i'd never seen Dr. X, and in my mind he was a shadowy figure of destruction that i had more than once envisioned as a recipient of a good strong kick in the head, courtesy of my hadashis.
and there he was, in his white coat, putting sugar in his coffee, unaware of me staring at him. i was surprised by the total lack of anger i felt, now that i was looking at him. he was just another man who had made a horrible mistake that we were paying for. he didn't start out that day intending to destroy T.T.'s body like he did, just as T.T. didn't walk into that appointment expecting to lose his left shoulder. bad things happened that day. in some ways, both were victims. i took one last look at Dr. X, who was taking that first tentative sip of hot coffee, and realised that no matter what was about to happen on the 4th floor Neurology department, i was not going to have any bitterness or anger towards this man. i felt oddly buoyant about that as i rejoined T.T. in the lobby.
the buoyancy was short lived, once we went into the examination room. the EMG hulked in the corner, all wires and hardware and for now, a blank screen. we took deep breaths. we kissed. and then we held hands, silently, waiting for the neurologist to come in. he did. T.T. took his shirt off. the neurologist made small talk. the EMG was connected up. and then the needle went in. i literally held my breath. T.T. closed his eyes.

the screen now filled with lines; huge, jagged peaks of electrical activity, and the noise of that nerve firing, over and over, into newly repaired muscle was constant. "fascinating!" said the neurologist. i felt like an entire garden inside me was bursting into bloom. T.T. opened his eyes. "does this mean it's alive?" he said.
yes, the nerve has re-connected, woken up, and started repairing the muscle. the neurologist was very certain that we were seeing the formerly damaged muscle and not healthy muscle underneath, as apparently muscle that has been dead and is now reconstructing has a very distinct electrical signature. while the muscle repair has just begun -- it's a radius of about three or four inches around the graft site -- and has a long way to continue to go, we are incredibly, relievedly thankful that it is there at all.
we are thankful for healing, and for hope. while T.T. will probably never have full movement of it again, he may recover a good deal of it eventually, and we all know that Anything is a good deal better than Nothing! we realise we're no longer holding our proverbial breath, and just to know for sure that there is resurrection and regrowth going on gives us a great deal of optimism for the unknown future.

two things i do know: one: without God and without our community -- you, our family and friends and even strangers -- we could not have withstood this. thank you for being our fireworks of hope. and two: good that i left off the eye makeup -- after we walked out of the office, we fell into each other's arms and then i bawled anyway.

Posted by hadashi at 5:37 PM | Comments (0)