Definition: Spasticity is a constant and unwanted contraction of one or more muscle groups as a result of a stroke or other insults to the brain or spinal cord. Over time spasticity prevents the normal voluntary contraction of affected muscles.
I don’t recall if I’ve previously explained spasticity in my posts. I am open about what I can and can’t do and try to explain what my struggles are like, but I should give you all a better idea of why that is.
I turned to Google for a decent definition of spasticity and found quite a few. I chose the definition above from About.com because it’s simple, accurate, and I love that it refers to my stroke as an “insult to the brain.” Well no shit! You don’t say!
What it means is that when part of my brain was killed off by the insult, er stroke, the rest of my brain wasn’t sure how to talk to the right side of my body. Some things it has figured out, some things it won’t communicate at all (paralysis), and yet for other things it won’t shut the hell up. Spasticity occurs when the brain won’t shut the hell up. It keeps sending signals to the nerves (in my case, my shoulder, fingers, and toes) so they are constantly tightening without me even knowing it. Imagine flexing your bicep as hard as you can and not letting it go to relax. Hold it…hold it…yeah, like that…keep holding… for several years. Do you know how difficult and painful it would be to force yourself to extend your arm after that?
I realize a medical professional would probably explain this much better and give you a far more accurate analogy. Despite how awesome I am, I am no professional.
The muscles in my shoulder are constantly contracting and tightening up. As numb as I am, I do have some feeling. It can be excruciating to reach for things, to let my arm hang at my side, and if you want to know just how many swear words are in my vocabulary, pull my arm back. It hurts like a motherfucker. I have a serious fear of getting arrested because of this. Wait, what? MAN, YOU DON’T KNOW ME.
The best thing I can do for it is stretch. Stretching doesn’t cure it, but it helps loosen the muscles just enough to ease the pain. Gravity pulling on my arm makes it too hard to lift it well, so I have to lie on my back to get it moving. I sometimes need someone else to help lift it when it’s an especially bad day. The other problem area is my toes. They don’t hurt because I can’t feel them. Winning! As I walk, my toes start to curl under. I don’t notice until I start stepping on my toes and falling over, launching me into Human Pinball mode. Human Pinball mode is when I ricochet back and forth between the furniture until I can safely come to a stop. If this were a sport, I’d be a World Champion.
I have mastered the art of not falling. That is not to be confused with the art of walking. I walk, but I stumble; only I do it with grace and skill! Bing bang bong, bouncing down the hallway I go without ever hitting the floor. Like a ninja, I grab at tables and chairs and you don’t even notice I’m doing it! Maybe you do and you just don’t say anything because you are polite and your mama raised you right, but still! In these past four years since my stroke, I have only fallen – like seriously hit the floor – three times.
Two of these falls occurred within 48 hours of each other.
And those happened this week.
You could say I’m on a roll. (You see what I did there.) I’m laughing at myself right now, but the second fall was a bad one. I completely ate shit. There was a box of random crap that needed to go to the dumpster. It wasn’t heavy; it weighed about the same as an empty cardboard box. I figured I could at least get it out of my living room to just outside the back door. Due to the drop foot in my right ankle, I use my hip and knee to kind of fling my foot in the direction I need to go. I realize that doesn’t sound terribly efficient, but remember I’m a Master Ninja. I got this. Well I did, until my dragging foot caught on something (chair leg I think) and sent me flying forward through the back door. I took out the screen and everything! My arms, which had been holding the box, slammed down on the metal, sliding door track and my knees took the rest of the impact.
Falling as a grown-up sucks. It takes a minute for your brain to realize that your body has had the audacity to pull such bullshit. I mean, really. REALLY? I’M ON THE FLOOR? THIS JUST HAPPENED? Consumed with indignation, I forgot to breathe. As I started to pant, I started to cry, partly from the pain but also because I was just so overwhelmed with that are-you-fucking-kidding-me-right-now feeling.
My husband was still home, thank goodness. He ran over to me, scared shitless, and tried to help me up. I couldn’t talk yet, but he could see that I needed a minute. I needed to just sit there on the floor and breathe and cry for a minute before attempting to get up. Once I was up, I sat in the chair that had brought me down, and I sat there for a long while.
This is my normal. I forget that my “new normal” means there is also this piece that sometimes feels crappy and comes crashing in my face with a rather aggressive, unfriendly reminder that I’m still not invincible. If it weren't rough enough having thoughts that won't simmer down, now my brain won't stop talking to my muscles behind my back. I am grateful that most of the time I get them to tone it down just enough to stop trying to kill me. Eh, that screen door needs to be replaced anyhow.