Reading a post by Grace Carpenter over at "My Happy Stroke", I was reminded by how much trouble I used to have with referring to my left side, the side affected by my stroke, as my "weak" side.
Trouble because it wasn't just that my side had been made "weak" by my stroke. Right after my stroke, it had been been nearly paralysed, or so it had seemed to me. I remember doctors asking me to lift my leg from the bed, and only being able to lift both a couple of inches. The foot that had kept its strong arch and pointed toes from years of highland dancing and ballet classes lay shapeless despite my best efforts to make it do anything. And my left hand, when I tried to open my fingers, wanted to remain a clenched fist.
The Problem with "Weak"
As Grace points out, "weak" is a problematic descriptor when it's used to captured the full spectrum of experience with a limb that's affected by a stroke:
- Weakness - Weakness is part of it, yes. Twelve years after my stroke, my left leg is strong enough to support my weight only for very short periods (this is a relatively recent development) and my left arm isn't strong enough to hold very much. I do heavy lifting with my right arm and use my left arm as a brace, for extra support.
- Spasticity - For a long time (years), my left arm and leg had a lot of what my physiotherapists called "tone". My arm and leg shook sometimes, and my arm jumped when I was startled (I was fun in scary movies).
- Lack of Sensation - Once, when I fell, I broke the little finger on my left hand and didn't realize it until I had an x-ray of my hand done to look into something else. I couldn't feel that I'd broken my finger.
- Lack of Proprioception - For a long time (years), if I closed my eyes and someone raised my left arm in the air, I wouldn't be able to detect where it was. For all I knew, it could be just be a few inches from my side, or out at shoulder-level, or straight above my head.
- Neglect - I'm pretty good about not neglecting my left side now, but occasionally I'll walk outside with my t-shirt hiked half up my left side, or I'll not realize that my jacket has slipped off my left shoulder to my elbow. It used to happen much more than it does now, though.
I generally use the word "weak" to describe my left side, just because I haven't come across an alternative that I like (well, on my less-than-good-days, I might say "bad", but I don't mean it.)
Grace is considering "gimpy" but there's something that doesn't sit quite right about that with me, either...but if it works for Grace, more power to her! :)
Anyway, if you watch the video at the end of Grace's post, you can get an idea of how my left arm now moves. It looks as if we've got about the same amount of arm movement and control, but Grace definitely has more fine motor skills in her hand. I am not to the point where I can pick up cutlery with my hand; the more I try to move my fingers, the more they want to curl up into a fist.
I really like Grace's blog. Go check it out: http://myhappystroke.blogspot.ca/