Becoming a Buff

While reading the section on logotherapy in Man’s Search for Meaning, written by Viktor E Frankl, my mind made a sudden leap to photography. You are now wondering what a mode of psychoanalysis and a camera have in common, but please bear with me.

Having been an avid, but very amateur, photographer pre-Guillain-Barre Syndrome, when I could still hold a DSLR camera, my interest lay in landscape photography with the intent of capturing the essence of what I saw at specific moments in time.

Dorothea Lange, whose iconic photo of Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out at the world is widely recognized, has been quoted as saying “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera”. Lange was a professional whose focus was on portrait photography and she is probably most well-known for her documentary photography for the Food Security Administration, in the USA, during the Great Depression, that made human the ravages that the Depression wrought on people.

Logotherapy was developed by Frankl in response to his experiences as a prisoner in World War II concentration camps, as a result of which he identified the need of people to find meaning in their situations and lives. (Before the war, he had practised as both a neurologist and a psychiatrist.) This meaning can only be found by each person, it’s not something that someone else can decide for us. If this sounds like existentialism, it’s because existentialism is “a philosophy concerned with finding self and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility” – Google’s definition. Logotherapy is the method of counselling used in the quest for one’s life’s meaning.

And this is where the leap to photography came to mind: a photographer finds an image and strives to bring about meaning in what he/she has seen and experienced into a photograph. This is what separates the images taken by a camera buff from those taken by a happy-snapper. My husband doesn’t totally approve of digital images that have been filtered, enhanced, etc. as he feels that they are partly artificial but he does agree that some are pure works of art.

I only ever “tampered” with an image if it didn’t look the way I’d seen it with my own eyes, i.e. background too dark, colour of a sunset too muted, focal point needed highlighting, image needed cropping to follow the “thirds” rule, etc. It’s this mind’s-eye that sees something magical in the mundane both before and after the shot has been taken and gives one the ability to turn it into something special.

Another quote from Dorothea Lange: “While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see”. How many of us have taken holiday photos that captured what we saw, only to find upon development that there were other interesting points in the image that were only apparent once studied in depth? And we’ve rued missing them because we recognized that they needed more attention.

And this is how it is in our daily lives. We’re sometimes too busy or too distracted to notice that we exist but do not live, that we need meaning in our lives to feel fulfilled, that the mind’s-eye snapshots we take every day as we travel, work, shop, and interact with others only scratch the surface of the richness life has to offer.

In our lives we need to identify the main focal point, decide what surroundings are important, take aim, and refine the outcome. Only then can we be happy and satisfied with the final buffed result.

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Back. Again.

I lied seven months ago.  I wrote my post in October 2016 knowing full well that I was going to end my life that same night.

The daily emotional trauma of coping with my lack of independence and slow recovery, added to my intense frustration with dealing with a new home nurse who was utterly incompetent and sullen, acted as a catapult and pushed me over the edge of reason.

I got the nurse to leave a full container of sleeping tablets next to my bed that night and swallowed them all as soon as she walked out the door.  I woke up 11 hours later in ICU, in my old bed.  Yes, I was disappointed.  Although my mind had given up, my body fought on.  I was stabilised, physically, and transferred to a general ward the next morning.

My neurologist had been notified and she arranged for a psychiatrist to see me.  Dr Steve duly arrived, reviewed my medical history and existing medications, and stated that I needed seratonin enhancers in addition to the anti-depressants I was initially prescribed 3,5 years previously.  He was surprised that these had not been prescribed earlier, but I explained that I hadn’t seen a psychiatrist since 2013.  I was discharged the following day and returned home to a replacement nurse.

Seven months later, I am still recovering physically.  Mentally, I am far less depressed but I do have days when this slow recovery drains every emotional resource that I have built up.  I am reading Viktor E Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning at present.  It details his experiences as both an objective psychiatrist and subjective prisoner in concentration camps, in Germany, during World War II.  In the book he described internment as a “provisional existence of unknown limit”.  He also talks about being able to cope with “how” if one understands “why”.

I perceive my life with Guillain-Barre Syndrome as a life within my life: a temporary existence of unknown duration.  I understand the “why” but struggle with “how” to live this unfulfilled life.  I still have much to learn.

My real name is Katina Hartman; I used Louise as a nom de plume for my blog as that had been the name I chose for myself when I was a young child.

My major achievement during the past seven months is the publication of my eBook Coping with GBS – My Story, Tips and Advice on Amazon Kindle.

Life continues…

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My Last GBS Post

This is the last time I’ll be posting here as there won’t be much more to add in the near future.

I am walking again after my fractures in June, albeit very short distances to begin with, and will probably get back into the aquatherapy pool next week.  To prevent further fractures, I now wear skateboard knee pads when I walk.  I’m a plump 61-year-old grandmother so the image of me in knee pads can be imagined and, yes, it IS a funny one. Thank goodness I still have a sense of humour!

My fingers are still improving slightly every month but it’s unlikely that I’ll ever carry anything heavy again as it’s 3,5 years since I first developed GBS so my chances of making a full recovery are out the window, so to speak.

And that’s okay.  I’ve made peace with it and accept that this is my new “normal”.  Giving up is not an option and I’ll continue with the physical and occupational therapies to achieve every bit of strength that is possible.

Thanks for reading my posts.  I hope they’ve helped at least one person.

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.

Martin Luther King

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So, I did break something…

…two somethings, in fact.

After waiting a week after my fall I didn’t see any decrease in the swelling on both feet or my right knee, and the pain didn’t lessen either, so I went to the hospital for xrays on 5 July.  Result: a cracked metatarsal (long bone) in my left foot and a broken right patella (knee cap).

I was immediately admitted as the patella would need to be wired together.  The left foot didn’t need surgery and was put into a “moon boot” that cushions and stabilises the foot, and it also serves as a walking boot.

The orthopaedic surgeon, Dr E, scheduled me for theatre on 7 July as, given my Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), he needed me to be checked out by a neurologist and a specialist physician on 6 July before he would proceed with surgery.  Both specialists who had attended to me when I was in ICU three years ago were on holiday, so two new specialists saw me and gave the go-ahead.

The anaesthetist, Dr F, checked me out too and I notified him that I had signed a “Do Not Resuscitate” form.  He was taken aback by this but I explained that I had already cheated death once and didn’t want to be resuscitated again only to left in a vegetative state.  That wouldn’t be fair to my family.  I told him that anaesthetics generally produce three side-effects in me: hypotension (low blood pressuee), hypothermia (low body temperature) and crying.  I don’t know why I’ve cried after previous anaesthetics as it wasn’t due to pain. He didn’t appear surprised and just smiled and said “Oh, you’re one of those!”.  He also assured me that he’d make sure that I would be safe.

When I got to theatre the Bear Patient Warmer system was waiting for me.  I know of this equipment because I worked for the company that supplies it.  The heat makes you feel as if you’re enveloped in a warm cloud.  Lovely!  Needless to say, I sailed through the op. When I woke up in post-op my brain was clear, I was warm, and had no urge to cry.  The first thing I did, however, was check whether my hands and arms were still mobile.  They were, but my body felt weak and my knee was very sore.

My leg was in a full-length telescoping brace, with the knee-lock set to zero degrees flexion.  One hour after returning to the ward a physiotherapist arrived and I had to stand up and walk!  It was difficult because my strong right knee couldn’t do any work and the weak left knee was weaker after its one week of inactivity.  With the physio on one side and a nurse on the other, I eventually stood up and staggered about two metres while holding onto a walking frame.

Dr F saw me that night, said the op had been successful and I could go home the next day if I felt well enough.  The brace had to stay at zero deg for two weeks, after which he would bend the knee to 30 deg for two weeks, and then to 60 deg for the last two weeks.

Getting into the car to go home was a challenge.  I have long legs so sitting in the front passender seat was impossible.  Not being able to walk backwards or bend my right knee meant that I had to slide forwards from the wheelchair onto the back seat – no mean feat as there isn’t anything to hold on to in order to do any self-sliding.  Never have I been more grateful for a transfer board; it formed a bridge between the wheelchair and back seat.  One person lifted and slid me forward on the board while another, inside the car, lifted and pulled my legs.  Success!  Getting out at home was much easier.

Having to keep my feet up all the time is uncomfortable.  The pain medication gave me added problems so I had to give them up and tough it out through the pain as over-the-counter medicine was ineffectual.  My emotional state at home during the first two weeks waxed between resignation and frustration.  On days of extreme frustration, caused by the enforced immobility and increased sense of loss of independence, I felt utterly hopeless and wept, wanting my old life back.

I have, since, pulled myself together.  Again.  I’m halfway through recovery and will start rehab in three weeks’ time.  Dr E adjusted the brace for the first time last Friday and the second adjustment will be done next Friday.  I can now easily bend my knee within the 0-30 deg range and the left foot is also pain-free.

My recovery from GBS may seem to be two steps forward and one step back, but every step now has to be forwards, not backwards or sideways.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. – Buddha

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Another fall! :-(

My left knee gave out under me on Wednesday morning as I was walking up the first ramp from the bedroom to the sitting room.  I don’t know why it buckled and can only guess that I wasn’t focused on locking my knee before taking my next step.

This is my fourth fall in 15 months.  I never fall backwards.  I go straight down onto my knees, with my toes bent towards the tops of my feet.  It took a lot of manoeuvring to get me down the passage and onto the bed.  Waves of nausea washed over me in response to the pain.

The first thing I checked once I was sitting on the edge of the bed was whether I could extend my lower legs.  I could, and immediately felt relieved as I dreaded another avulsion fracture which would have kept me off my feet for another 12 weeks as was the case in March 2015.   The tops of both my feet, though, are very swollen, sore and starting to bruise, and my right knee is a “delightful” shade of dark blue/purple.

My occupational therapist arrived this morning for our regular Friday session and brought her new Deep Oscillation machine which was meant for my hand but became therapy for my feet and knee.  All I can say is WOW!  The effect was immediate.  The swellings have reduced and so has the pain.  I can even wiggle my toes again.

I’ve started taking Arnica tablets to reduce the bruising and swelling, and my nurse is applying a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory cream, called Fastum, which our pharmacist recommended based on her personal experience with it.

I should be up and walking again in a few days.




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Seeing the light

Finally!  The myelin sheath has regrown more than halfway down my right shin and impulses from a nerve stimulator make my right foot twitch!  I cannot describe the joy this gives me. There IS light at the end of this long tunnel I have been in since May 2013.

The therapies I currently receive, i.e. biokinetics and occupational therapy, can shift up a few notches to develop muscle strength now that the muscles are receiving more nerve impulses.

The biokineticist, “Martina”, is keen to experiment on me and I’m a willing participant. Her practice’s rooms are located at one of the Virgin Active gyms and I’ll also be able to use the gym’s hydrotherapy pool as part of my treatment as there is a hoist which can lower me into the water.  I’m looking forward to the day that I will be able to walk up and down the little steps into the pool.

Took another little tumble on Saturday morning because I over-balanced while trying to climb a little step up onto a pavement.  Very little damage done – just a few bruises and a slightly strained ankle which is a bit puffy but not sore.  Was almost immediately surrounded by people from the restaurant who saw me fall and who wanted to help us. The experience didn’t spoil our outing though.  I’ve accepted that falling once in a while is inevitable as I push the boundaries.

Have also managed to walk DOWN the ramps inside and outside our house in the past two weeks.  Knees, quads and glutes are making their comeback!


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An anniversary NOT to be celebrated

The past week has been difficult emotionally.  In three days’ time it will be three years since I developed GBS.

I know that I am lucky to be alive, lucky that I’ve never hit a plateau and that there is still improvement every week, lucky to have loving friends and family.

What is hard to contend with is the fact that my active life – as I knew it – was put on hold and I don’t like the sedentary life I have to contend with on a daily basis.

As I wrote in a previous post, I am not depressed just despondent.  I am afraid of something silly.  I am afraid of the calls and messages I’ll get from people who will want to be happy that I’m still improving after three years, while all I want is to forget that I’ve lost three years and that I’ll never be as strong and active as I was.

So. What is there to do?  Wallowing in self-pity is not the solution.  Embracing the new me is.  I need to be Buddhist in this respect and contemplate the Four Noble Truths.  I am suffering because I am attached to my thoughts about my previous self.  I must look on those memories as “Thank you God. You gave me many active years that I made full use of.”  My new physical situation must be accepted and I must do things that will give me satisfaction and help others.

I am a Christian.  I believe that Buddhism is a philosophy and that its teachings can be appreciated and practiced by everyone irrespective of their religion.

It’s time to work on some of the points in the Eightfold Path: right intention, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.  I’ll never have peace of mind unless I progress out of this unfulfilled state.




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