Thursday, April 23, 2009

metaphorically speaking

you know when you get hit by a metaphor that's just so good you can't wait to write about it? can't stop thinking about it?

okay, so maybe that's just me. anyhow, this one feels that good.

what follows is excerpted from an article by Ellen Kuwana, a staff writer for Neuroscience for Kids. it was published in 2003 at
(as a former plagiarism detective, i am now satisfied to share the excerpt).

Actor Christopher Reeve, who was paralyzed eight years ago, can now breathe on his own thanks to an experimental surgical procedure [...that...] was possible because Reeve's phrenic nerves were not injured in the accident eight years ago. Phrenic nerves carry the signal for a breath to be taken. In Reeve's case, the phrenic nerves are intact, but they no longer receive the signals from the brainstem to initiate a breath. [...] Researchers at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, had experimented with attaching electrodes to the diaphragm in the place where the phrenic nerves innervate the diaphragm. This area is called the "motor point." When the motor point is stimulated, the muscles in the diaphragm contract, bringing air into the lungs. When the nerve is not stimulated, muscles in the diaphragm relax and the lungs deflate. This cycle of muscle contraction and relaxation is the way we breathe.

Reeve can "breathe" this way for approximately 15 minutes. His muscles need to build up tone again, after many years of not being used.

i remember reading this about christopher reeve back then. and i also remember reading that some people were upset by his public appearances when he seemed to breathe normally, talk normally for fifteen minutes or so. because he wasn't, really. and he was so exhausted by the work of it that there wasn't much left afterwards. but on the talk shows when he shared his inspiring story, all we saw was the miracle: he's breathing on his own! talking! amazing.

that's how my "normal life" muscles feel right now. not firing like they used to before the trauma. i can flex those muscles for a little while and put on the act: amazing. she's back on the horse already. but those public appearances are all i've got. those normal life muscles only have a couple hours before they're too worn out. they need to build up tone again.

but speaking of building up tone, how does one do that, really?

As his muscles continue to get stronger through these 15-minute training sessions, Reeve should be able to breathe on his own for longer and longer periods of time. Not only will he enjoy the relative quiet of his own breathing, he will be able to smell scents and to talk. Reeve has had trouble talking with the breathing tube in his throat. Right now he can only talk in a whisper, but with time, his voice should get stronger, too.

Reeve has again proved that hard work and medical advances -- and staying hopeful about his future -- are the keys to his amazing progress.

training sessions can only be so frequent. and only so long. if i want to build arm strength, i have to lift weights. but only for a little while, every day. i can't just move into the gym and work out full-time. with time--with fifteen minute training sessions over and over and over--my arms will get stronger. and probably my shoulders and back, too.

but if the keys to reeve's amazing progress were hard work, medical advances, and hope, what are the keys to training my normal life muscles? hard work, yes. but not so much mine. you see, i have to be willing to be worked on. just like reeve, actually. sure, his were the muscles being trained, but he had trainers--lots of them, for sure--helping him do it. telling him how to do it. and then he just had to jump in and do the work. a little bit at a time. every day. being coached and worked on and trained. and, of course, staying hopeful.

so i'll do my work little by little, trying out and flexing my normal life muscles little by little. i'll rely on my trainers and my Trainer. and i'll hope and trust that i'll be breathing on my own before too long.