Watching Bob’s determination to participate in our daughter’s move this weekend called to mind Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech on July 4, 1939 as he bid farewell to baseball. It was Gehrig’s courage and strength during his battle with ALS that Bob drew on during that first year of his recovery and Bob shared that inspiration in his first public speech just one year after his stroke. Bob's speech is recalled in its entirety in Semper Avanti, and was a key milestone in Bob’s early progress.
I was reminded of all this over the weekend while Bob and I spent it in Pittsburgh, helping our daughter move into her new apartment. The first day of moving boxes and furniture down two flights of stairs and into a U-Haul panel truck kept Bob mostly on the sidelines that day, his weak right side preventing him from doing any of the heavy lifting or even negotiating the long flights of stairs leading into the apartment.
But he was determined to lend a hand in the process, and so he did. It started the week prior when he combed through our garage and then Home Depot assembling a tool box of essentials, some of them carefully chosen from a collection Bob had inherited from his own father many years before and now wanted to hand down to his daughter.
As Julia and I unloaded the truck he became more determined to help with the physical move. For the past six months Bob has been trying a new form of therapy to which he attributes an improved sense of balance and flexibility. It is called the Feldenkrais Method® and we learned about it from a colleague of Bob’s.
The Feldenkrais Method is a form of somatic education that uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning. It can increase ease and range of motion, improve flexibility and coordination, and help a person rediscover their innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement.
The Feldenkrais Method is based on principles of physics, biomechanics and an empirical understanding of learning and human development. It expands the self-image through movement sequences that bring attention to the parts of the self that are out of awareness. Students become more aware of their habitual neuromuscular patterns and rigidities and expand options for new ways of moving. In Bob’s case, we believe it is behind some things he is beginning to do more on his own, like taking off or putting on a jacket and hanging things up on a coat hanger.
In the spirit of Feldenkrais, Bob has been working with his right arm in an effort to re-introduce his brain and arm to each other, to remind the arm and hand that they once did things, and to remind the brain that the arm is still there. On Sundays, for example, Bob now pushes the grocery cart, carefully wrapping Little Pal’s curled fingers around the cart handle so that it understands it has a job to do (yes, Little Pal. And in case you are wondering, his right leg is called Pal). Anyway, on this day Bob was determined to help unload the truck, so he’d hook the handle of anything lightweight into Little Pal’s curled fingers and carefully carry it into the apartment.
Later Bob made it his job to break down and flatten all the cardboard boxes as Julia and I unpacked the kitchen. That seemingly easy job required a level of balance and flexibility that is still new to Bob, especially given that the boxes were all on the floor requiring him to bend and stoop with every movement.
Bob ‘s doctors have all told him he will not likely regain the use of his arm, but he is undaunted and he does not look back. Like Lou Gehrig, he recognizes he got a bad break three years ago. But in the grand scheme of things, he considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Semper Avanti, and Happy Fourth.