hands sketch by joe bustillos

Thinking about Hands…

I recently started or restarted sketching or doodling, now on my iPad. It was something that I did a lot of back in the pre-computer days. Look at any book I owned in those days and you’ll find my doodles and notes bleeding across the margins. Funny that someone who drew long before I was comfortable writing would have mostly abandoned the art when I switched to computers in the 1980s… I’m definitely out of practice…

This past Sunday I was sitting on a park bench after doing three laps around Lake Lilly in Maitland and my feet were not happy with me and I was wondering what to draw. I had this beautiful vista of this lake and the birds and the trees, but my thoughts were much more inward. I wanted to remember, despite my achy feet, how far I’d come in the past year… this time last year I had been losing strength in my hands to the point where I found it difficult to sign my name (not that anyone would notice the difference in my pathetic signature). I was also growing more and more frustrated that I was losing accuracy in my typing. I had bought a couple different keyboards to use with my iPad and had to reject them because anything less than a full-size keyboard and I couldn’t seem to hit anything with my left or right pinky finger. It was so frustrating and scary to feel like I might lose my ability to communicate via my writing. I was losing feeling in my fingers and after seeing how my legs so quickly wasted away to nothing I didn’t know what I’d do if I lost my hands like I’d up to that point lost my feet and legs.

I tried to adjust and started gripping my eating and writing utensils in the same close-fisted stabbing posture because I could use my arm strength to help my failing fingers. I know it scared those around me to see me this way, but I couldn’t think about it much beyond just trying to adapt and keep moving. I did find out that the way I was leaning on my elbows was probably contributing to causing numbness in my hands. Ack, but I leaned so much because with so little padding on my legs and rear I found it difficult to sit for any length of time (not that standing was at all an option…). Grhh. Not a fun time.

I still have some slight numbness in my right pinky finger, which might be permanent, but as I started to get better over the course of the past year, my hands also have returned to something close to their pre-illness functioning. Just like the rest of my body, I don’t know if I’ll ever fully get back to the way it used to be. All the more reason to remember the difficulty I’ve been through and celebrate what I’ve regained so far. Thus, the return to sketching means more to me than something to do during idle mental-cycles. After what I’ve been through I’m trying to figure out the things that are important to me and reclaiming them.

Up to the point when my body began to fail me and I started to lose every day abilities, I had so much that I gave no thought to. This time last year I had lost my ability to walk or to drive my car, to go up and down the stairs of my townhouse, to even get something to eat from the freezer to the microwave and I was beginning to notice the numbness spreading to my hands. As the new year began I started to see some signs that the treatments might be working, but I had lost so much at this point that I didn’t want to make assumptions about when it would end or how long it would take. I don’t if I would have made it if Tricia and her family hadn’t taken me in, but the holidays 2012 were still a very dark time for me when I spent as much time as possible either sleeping or doing something like soaking in a hot bath to escape the pain. It’s all the more important for me to remember what I’ve been through, what I almost lost and reclaim what is truly important to me with both hands. Happy Holidays.

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