Cooperstown Crier - Your Source for Hometown News - Cooperstown, Baseball Hall of Fame

March 6, 2014

Let not thy left hand know

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — That headline’s a Bible allusion, trenchant advice not to preen when doing good: “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth.” Amen, I say.

But lately I’ve had an actual right hand that not only was failing to keep its counterpart posted. On its own, it would haul off and slap me upside the head. Or clutch at my beard. Or punch me. What? Yes.

And this assault was unpredictable, twenty-four, seven. The rest of me could be sound asleep, and still that right hand would yank itself out of the covers and, open-handed, would slam into my ear. How’s that for an abrupt awakening?

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Parkinsonism never sleeps; and further seems to have a bizarre sense of humor. And pointless to say to P., “Give it a break!” or even to my hand, “Stop that, damn it!” I wouldn't have heard a snicker in response, but I could imagine one.

The creepiest part for me was that tendency to personify my hand and arm—to think of the unit as a willful, separate entity. After all, if you’re down with a horrible cold, trapped inside a clogged head dense as a block of cheddar, you still think of your body as your ally in fighting off the invader. “We’ll beat this together, whether it takes two weeks or a fortnight.”

But what if a bodily part turns traitor, has suddenly joined the evil forces? And, holy crap! What if other limbs go turncoat, too?

But, to my rescue came Dr. Paul Deringer, who quickly doubled one of my medications and, in about ten days, quelled the rebellion. My good right hand was my own again!

And just as well. I’d taken to sleeping with an elastic bandage wrapped tightly around my right forearm, then run under my body, then bound to my left arm. So strapped, I got at least an early warning tug if that right hand was balling its fist.

I owe you a year’s updating on Parkinson’s and me, but most of it can be summarized as “more of the same.” More imbalance and falls, more memory loss, more cognition that sometimes jerks and judders like an engine screaming out for servicing. And still no name for the kind of Parkinsonism that is moving forward at a wobbly pace of its own choice.

There is a specific symptom that is quite close to what my willful arm was doing. You can look it up on any search engine: “Alien Limb Syndrome.” Most entries carry video clips of people dealing with it. You won’t want to watch more than one.

The syndrome often follows a severe brain surgery to quell uncontrollable grand mal epileptic seizures; it consists of severing a link between the brain’s two hemispheres and is usually quite successful—except for an awful side-effect: alien limb syndrome, and much, much worse than what I was experiencing.

Thank God, between Dr. Deringer and Michael Quinn, Bassett’s gifted physical therapist, another possible cause for my assault and battery has emerged. It may be closely related to the gross startle reflex that’s affected me for perhaps five years.

All we animals are blessed with startle reflex; it saves the life of numberless gazelles and gnus from being gnawed by lions and such. A subtle, almost subliminal warning sounds in them and causes a huge surge of adrenalin. And off springs the graceful gnu or gazelle, leaving the lion cursing the startle reflex.

And so with us humans. If someone clashes a set of cymbals just behind us, we jump, are flooded with adrenalin, and are instantly ready for flight or fight. But, as to me:

Well, in a restaurant, let someone at the near table burst out with a sudden roar of laughter, and I’m ready to leap, gazelle-like, right across my own table and into a dining companion’s lap. Or worse, let a cook drop a steel pot lid, or a busboy a stack of plates, and your usually genial friend all but climbs the drapes.

We don’t dine out as much as we used to, and usually where there are no drapes.

What’s going on with me, you see, is a steady deterioration of natural governors that control the degree of physical, emotional, and cognitive reactions. In Parkinsonism, this goes with the territory. (You can see now how we’re edging toward an explanation for my backhanding myself.)

It may be that the gross action of my hand and arm, now mercifully under control, may in fact have been gross over-reaction to some subtle stimulus. To wit: The first time I slammed myself, Anne and I were watching “Castle,” a favorite TV show. I remember sensing the slightest itch on my forehead; but before I even brought clearly to consciousness the inclination to scratch it, my arm had made its own decision. Open-handed, I slammed myself in the forehead with, I might say, undue force.

It was a slap to the forehead like the one Oliver Hardy gives himself when speechless over one of Stan’s maddening, totally innocent actions.

And so, maybe that’s what was going on. (Poor Oliver should have been on medication!) Michael Quinn put it this way. Biceps and triceps are meant to work in tandem, with the former drawing forearm closed while the latter controls its rate of speed and force. And the reverse function straightens the arm, but in a controlled way. What a neat system!

However, when natural governors deteriorate, that grand system (and many others) can get out of whack. Hence my past tendency, even in sleep, to remedy an itch with a haymaker.

Having this possible explanation is a relief. More so is being spared resort to a hockey mask.