Regaining pain

For about a month Tom’s been having pain in his right hand. Lately it’s gotten worse and affected his ability to do physical therapy with his hand. It limits his range of motion. Even wakes him up at night.

It’s a crampy pain, “like there’s too much blood in my hand,” he says. And his wrist feels as though it’s injured from a strain, like it’s been bent back too far.

The physical therapists suggested ice and massage, which helped some, but the pain seemed to gradually get worse.

With someone who’s had a stroke, these sorts of things get your attention in a different way than, say, the twinges from a bone spur. There’s a low-grade anxiety that never quite leaves me alone.

Tom followed the advice of the therapists and got his neurology checkup appointment bumped up a week earlier, to today.

After the exam and lots of questions, the nurse practitioner assured us that this pain was normal. Good, even.

It happens commonly with stroke patients “as the weakness is receding,” she told us. In addition, the stroke having affected sensory perceptions, the pain is amplified too.

We were relieved. It made sense to us.

Tom’s brain was injured by the stroke. At first, his brain couldn’t make any part of his right side move.

With physical and occupational therapy, Tom re-learns how to stand, walk, eat, take a shower, by consciously directing the muscles. And that creates new pathways in the brain, to get around the damaged parts.

The brain has to get reacquainted with those right-side muscles. So the pain is like a conversation.

Muscle: “Hey! I’m here! Moving!”

Brain: “Hey! What the heck! OUCH!”

Muscle: “OUCH! Hey! Hi there!”

Brain: “Hey cool! Hi! Ouch?”

Muscle: “Yeah, ouch! Hi.”

Regaining movement is bound to carry pain with it, no matter what you are relearning.

It’s like the assignment I was doing for painting class. Trying to paint a value chart with cheap acrylic paint and a really bad paintbrush (because none of my good equipment is here at the condo, I just grabbed a few supplies at a discount store).

Art brain: “Hey! I’m here! Painting!”

Hand: “What the heck? What? Blehp blehp blop …  here, blehp”

Art brain: “Hey! Pay attention! That’s not a very good gray. It’s too dark.”

Hand: “Oh. OK. More white. Bleep blop?”

Art brain: “Um, try again?”

All good. Nothing that a few muscle relaxants won’t ease up.

Today’s penny is a 2013, the first year I tried to paint with acrylics.

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