While on holiday in an inaccessible part of the African coast a year ago, my 18-year-old grandson contracted septicaemic meningitis, which he survived thanks in very large measure to the heroic efforts by my eldest son. The young man got better, but the illness left him seriously paralysed as a result of brain damage due to sudden devastating cerebral oedema (also called 'wet brain', when there is an excessive accumulation of water in the brain tissue).
By now, he has largely recovered from the paralysis. During his illness, I sent him a stream of e-mails which I believe contributed to his recovery. I'd like to share them with you in case any of you suffers from similar damage following a paralysis or an illness like meningitis.
This report is empirical medicine in practice: what has worked, and suggesting that others should try it too, even though it is not backed by any scientific studies.
You ask: is this me? You answer yourself: yes it is, but the real me'll be back! But how do I do that?
You must mentally commit yourself to the best possible recovery you can imagine. Start with a burning commitment and the will to get well follows.
It's also essential that you hang on to your sense of humour. See if you can make someone smile today.
It will take time and unflagging determination on your part. It's likely that at the height of your meningitis, major arteries in the brain became blocked because of brain tissue swelling, which cut off the blood supply and resulted in brain cell death.
The good news is that we all have far more brain cells than we'll ever need. Like a computer, your brain is 'programmed' to be either 'on' or 'off'. If 'on', the brain cells (neurons) send an electrochemical signal, triggering an action (like moving your leg); if 'off', no signal is sent and no change occurs.
Dead or damaged cells wreak havoc on signal transmission but, fortunately, we all have a few billion neurons to spare. To get around the damage, you must train the undamaged and unused brain cells to take on the roles of the dead neurons. This will take a lot of time and determination. Look how long it takes a baby to achieve any such control.
But, to look on the bright side, I can tell you that it will be easier for you than for a baby because the connections between brain cells will have become more sensitive near the damaged area. Nature helps to make recovery easier.
Also, as the swollen cells around the gray matter of your brain gradually subside, the less-damaged neurons will regain their function, making your recovery seem quick at first.
Keep trying to reclaim your faculties until you do. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Stay calm, don't panic, and concentrate on priorities! Never stop expecting to get better! It is probably a mistake to look too far ahead so, for now, take one day at a time. Do your best. Summon the will to recover. Until you are fully committed to recovery, there will be a persistent hesitancy, which will slow down the recovery process.
Here are 12 cardinal tips for coping with your own rehabilitation work:
* Rest before and after every 'rehab' session: too much exercise is just as bad as too little. Find a happy medium and stick with it
* Practice any new skills you have acquired
* Enjoy what you are doing and make sure your mind maintains a steady purpose: to enjoy yourself is the expressway to recovery
* Be patient and keep trying: it takes a long time to relearn lost skills, so set yourself realistic goals; faith, which feeds on your actual achievements, is the substance of hope
* When you feel agitated or impatient with yourself, wind down and relax with a favourite piece of music
* At night, or whenever you sleep, beware of spasms: change positions regularly, adopt resting positions that stretch the joints and muscles, and support the weaker side of your body (with pillows, say)
* Don't lie in bed for long periods at a time
* Establish a routine that aims to help you regain your handgrip fully and reestablish your foot control
* Rediscover, or find, a purpose for your present life (for instance, get yourself a pet to look after). You may find that you possess a hidden talent
* Allow yourself just a little time to grieve in your own special way, but never ever wallow in self-pity
* Avoid watching upsetting dramas on TV or video: opt for a comedy instead
* Always think about getting better: think it, dream it, plan for recovery and strive for it.
All this can be summed up in three key words: persistence, persistence and persistence.
Harald Gaier is a registered homoeopath, naturopath and osteopath.