Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Plateau or Summit?

When I was in rehabilitation, “plateau” became a dirty word to me. I know that others undergoing rehabilitation share this sentiment. The word is code for “you’re not going to get any better” or “don’t expect to see any more improvement.” All you do is strive to get back to normal; all they tell you is be happy with what you’ve achieved. The conspiratorial wheels start to spin when the insurance company terminates your therapies because you’ve “plateaued.”

This July marks the tenth anniversary of my stroke and thus the tenth opportunity to pay “homage to my hemorrhage,” as I like to call it. Ten years out, yet my symptoms persist: hemiparesis, left-side neglect, neuropathy, proprioception problems, spasticity. Yes, to experience the condition is to know the term to describe it, though I can think of better ways to expand my vocabulary. So, sure, I still have a lot of deficits, but do I think I’ve plateaued? No way. I’m going roller blade and I’m going to run again. In a recent radio interview, I was asked, “Are you 100 percent now?” I answered, “Are you? I’ll be 100 percent when I get to heaven.”

In my ongoing recovery, I picture myself as any professional - an athlete, an actor, a musician - who strives to achieve by practice, hard work, and determination. Like a tennis player working on her backhand, I am constantly working on my gait or on trying to control my spastic left arm. So it really raises the hair on my neck when I hear a patient described as having plateaued. I was speaking to a brain injury group the other day, where a woman told of her husband who, eight weeks after suffering an aneurysm, was described as having plateaued. Eight weeks. That hardly seems like enough time to come back from the trauma to the brain, let alone to show any signs of what degree of recovery might be expected. How can they be so quick to quit on a person?

The word “plateaued” should be expunged from the medical lexicon. I’m not advocating false hope, just to keep hope alive. Never underestimate the human spirit and the will to get better.

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