Yesterday was my first occasion participating in New York City’s Disability Pride Parade and I couldn’t have been more proud and inspired by the very best New York City has to offer as I marched with Mount Sinai Rehabilitation. As our joyous celebration wound its way through the city streets on a hot Sunday – 5,000 richly diverse human beings strong – we forgot the pounding sun as we shouted our disabilities from the rooftops.
“Disability Pride” teems with an inherent irony: Take pride in a lack of ability? Yes, we announce ourselves with pride and incite inclusion. What is more empowering than accepting – and loving – ourselves, imperfections and all? We puff out our chests in celebration of how we persevere…and more…notwithstanding our disabilities and of all we overcome amid the daily muck muddying but by no means devaluing our lives. Whether we’re wheelchair bound, deficient in sight, gait, hearing or speech, struggling with learning or mental deficit, suffering from a disability that is “hidden” or glaringly evident, we take heart in our robustness of spirit as we bend and sway but never break in response to the challenges we face and conquer.
I am Pamela Sloate. I have Dystonia and I’m proud!
Posted in Inspiration
Tagged Activism, Chronic illness, Disability, Diversity, Dystonia, Equality, Health, Health activist, Inclusion, Involuntary movement, Movement disorder, Neurological disorder, Parkinson's, Parkinson's disease, Perspective, Positive thinking
Sir Isaac Newton, take note, my Dystonia has served as a vivid example of your 3rd Law of Motion gone haywire: For every [voluntary] action there’s an equal and opposite [involuntary] reaction.
Now that the involuntary kinetic forces generated by my voluntary movements have begun to magically disappear, walking is no longer a contact sport. I feel as if I’ve fallen down a wormhole and emerged into a parallel universe where Newtonian mechanics have drastically simplified. My alternate reality gives me pause as I adjust to my newfound freedom. Who knew walking is as easy as putting one foot in front of the other and telling your legs where to go? Destinations that formerly loomed as remote don’t seem quite so far away.
When I trudged around the city with my walker, I measured distance by the corresponding depletion in my energy and operated on a permanent power outage. Every ounce of my being directed an overwhelmingly focus to the technical details of getting from Point A to Point B…with little thought for my destination – and scant attention to the scenery along the way. Post DBS, my energy quotas have completely transformed. I make my way around my neighborhood with power to spare enjoying the local landscape. Think of me as a bee buzzing along on full throttle as I relish the “conserved” energy I previously expended on the mechanics of walking.
I’m not the only one benefitting from my newfound energy. My puppy is thrilled to have a new training partner. Now she’ll have to learn to keep up with me (lol)!
Posted in Life
Tagged Activa neurostimulator, DBS, DBS therapy, Deep brain stimulation, Dystonia, Gait, Hope, Independently mobile, Involuntary movement, Medtronic DBS Therapy, Mobility, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Mount Sinai Hospital, Movement disorder, Neurological disorder, Neurosurgery, Optimism, Programming, Walking
Having been a “solo act” for a little over a week, I’m ready to – knock on wood – announce my new status! The occasion of our break-up was simple: in a miraculous burst of post-DBS reality, I came to the realization that my shiny blue walker had outlived his usefulness. At its genesis, our relationship stood a marriage of convenience. My inner stubborn mule protested his attentions – until it became abundantly clear my new friend offered benefits! The rock by my side, he protected me from a precarious loss of balance, carried my packages…and my puppy, and offered a spare seat on a desolate stretch of street.
Now that I’ve left my walker by the wayside, I find myself in a strange new reality. At times, I reach for him as I leave my apartment. After all, over the course of 2+ years, his constant companionship became a force of habit and, I’ll admit, a bit of a safety blanket. Life without him may be strange but it’s neither cold nor empty. Not quite used to navigating the local terrain without my hot wheels, I instinctively head towards ramped walkways when stairs have pleasantly become an option. Mind you, my gait still has its quirks and I entertain an unfounded concern that the full force of my involuntary movements will return.
Now that I’ve gone solo, there’s no turning back. Indeed, in a bizarre psychological conspiracy perpetuated by my feet, my brain and my “ex,” a dalliance with my walker actually makes my Dystonia worse!
Posted in Life
Tagged Activa neurostimulator, DBS, DBS therapy, Dystonia, Independently mobile, Involuntary movement, Medtronic DBS Therapy, Mobility, Movement disorder, Neurological disorder, Stairs, Walker, Walking aid
Last month, I aced my starring role during neurosurgery. Now that my neurostimulators have been powered on, I find myself in a constant state of heightened hyper-awareness of my movements making my body the “star” of every moment.
This new chapter in my DBS saga began at my first programming session. I arrived determined to keep rising expectations at bay. Deftly manipulating her remote control unit, my savvy programmer began to work her magic. She turned the key in the ignition and took each “launch pad” on my electrodes for a test ride in search of signs of rough driving ahead.
Like my oral meds, neurostimulation can exert unwanted “side effects.” Now that all systems are go, I’m perpetually on the lookout for an inimical twist, twitch, jerk, grimace or spasm as I continually search for signs that the electric pulses in my brain are exerting some untoward effect. I struggle to recall the details of my involuntary motions pre-DBS for purposes of comparison but find this to be a futile task thanks to the ever-changing choreography of my Dystonia.
In the meantime, I’m officially electronically enabled. I stand before you a BATTERY emPOWERED FEMALE “humming” strong at 2.5 volts! With my handy remote, I can power myself on and off like a TV set. Plug me into an outlet, and I’ll light up the room!
Posted in Health
Tagged Activa neurostimulator, DBS, DBS therapy, Deep brain stimulation, Dystonia, Involuntary movement, Medtronic, Medtronic DBS Therapy, Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Mount Sinai Hospital, Movement disorder, Neurological disorder, Neurosurgery, Programming
Hollywood’s leading ladies have nothing on me and my starring role in a “surgical trilogy” featuring a brilliant neurosurgeon, his drill, cutting-edge guidance technology, and two electrodes taking a slip into my brain for an ongoing adventure of electrical proportion. Best supporting actor goes to the strong-armed “villain” in this medi-drama, the metal vise that fiercely immobilized me every step of the way. The hero, my Mount Sinai neurosurgeon, cool as a cucumber, assumed command over his troops in the OR. His team took no prisoners, bolting me to the operating table to set the stage for the drilling…but with my neurosurgeon controlling the scene, this dystonia damsel was hardly “in distress!” As for the “awake” part, our tete a tete during surgery was largely surreal as my “leading man” filled my field of vision during our big dramatic moment and I lacked a bird’s-eye view of the surgical scene. I’ve absolutely no recollection of the drilling.
Having considered – and rejected – DBS oh so long ago, I needed a pinch to jolt me into reality as we traipsed about the hospital – vise securely in place – on our way to a pre-op CT-scan. You’ll find my verdict – since overturned – on this site in the article “Promises, Promises.”
With DBS, the waiting is the hard part. Until that all-important first procedure set a bar on my expectations, my overactive imagination embarked on a joy ride over the prospect of two “awake” brain surgeries in the span of one month. For those Dystonia warriors considering DBS, rest assured that the “idea” of these procedures is far more daunting than their reality – especially that fearsome metal vise. After the numbing injections, it’s smooth sailing ahead. If you can handle life with dystonia, you’ve got DBS!
Once the surgeries are completed, this surgical thriller morphs into a tale of suspense. Stay tuned for my BIG MOVIE ENDING, dramatically revealed in 3 to 6 months…
My amazing Mount Sinai neurosurgeon is second to none!
Posted in Health, Life
Tagged Activa neurostimulator, Anxiety, DBS, DBS therapy, Deep brain stimulation, Dystonia, Involuntary movement, Medtronic, Medtronic DBS Therapy, Mount Sinai Hospital, Movement disorder, Neurological disorder, Neurosurgeon, Neurosurgery
For those wondering how the prospect of two “awake” brain surgeries becomes palatable, let’s consider my relentless left foot, which seizes every small step as an opportunity to insist on an arduous detour. Walking takes on a whole new “twist” when the ever-present intervening destination is your next forward-intending movement. Even the shortest sojourn with my puppy becomes a true labor of love.
The upper echelons of the thermostat – even relatively moderate temperatures – stand amongst my triggers. At the onset of spring, exhaustion settles in for a multi-season stay, sentencing me to a summer of heavy breathing punctuated with plentiful naps. Ambulating ceases to be a means to an end and becomes an all-consuming focus, draining every ounce of my energy at the speed of light. As an added bonus, my tortured summer strolls invite back pain to settle in for an extended stay.
Surgeries anyone? Sign me up!
Posted in Life
Tagged DBS, Deep brain stimulation, Dystonia, Fatigue, Force, Health, Involuntary movement, Movement disorder, Neurological disorder, Puppy, Puppy love, Stress, Summer, Walker, Walking aid
A dashing speech therapist broke my heart. No, it wasn’t a torrid romance ending in tragedy but his sage words of advice: conversational speech is the last dam to break. Worse still, the coveted prize we were chasing was “communication” not “perfection.”
I’m a self-admitted practicing perfectionist. “Good enough” is never good enough when my life’s work is a perpetual pursuit of Eden. I aim to scale mountains and then chastise myself for the slightest blunder. So, surprise, surprise, I embarked on speech therapy with abundant determination to nail that bull’s-eye. In my estimation, I’d practice, practice, practice until my speech issued perfect, perfect perfect. While I might not scale tall buildings in a single bound, I’d surely conquer them with a rigorous daily regimen. Then reality hit. Those darn “Ks” and “Gs” continued to pose a battle, median “Ds” and “Ts” relentlessly evaded me…and shall we discuss my lip sounds? Further, if I reduced my life to working on my speech when would I actually use it? I needed to modify the recipe.
Most people coast through sentences blissfully unaware of the verbal gymnastics they perform with every word. The tongue effortlessly careens from venue to venue in fluid motion while the lips execute deceptively simple maneuvers. The veritable clockwork programmed by our brains and slickly engineered by our orofacial muscles enables us to focus on the dynamics of conversation rather than the specifics of location. As if on autopilot, we register our speed, then sit back and relax as the flight conveniently navigates itself.
Until I began speech therapy, I pounded out my speech in appalled ignorance of the mechanisms of my physiological inefficiencies. I’d no idea of the muscular precision required to orchestrate individual sounds and master conversational flow. Further, little did I know co-articulation demands we pronounce our sounds in units – in other words, our forward-thinking brains work a step ahead of us – granting undue influence to the banes of my existence. Certain sounds manageable in isolation “malform” when coupled with anticipated sounds looming in my future.
Focusing on my wealth of articulatory challenges simultaneously – a feat of multi-tasking – poses overwhelming, particularly if I seek to partake in productive listening. Adjusting my lofty aspirations, I slow the party down and divert due attention to the dynamics of the discussion. After all, the turtle bested the hare with a slow and steady pace.
Posted in Life
Tagged Anxiety, Aphasia, Dysarthria, Dyskinesia, Dystonia, Involuntary movement, Language, Neurological disorder, Speech impairment, Speech impediment, Speech therapy
Too often, I find myself apologetic over hurdles that come with Dystonia: I’m sorry it’s difficult to understand me…I can’t walk across the park…I need more time to finish this form. Worse are the silent apologies I make to myself. Why do I perpetually raise excuses for my condition as if responsibility for this annoying hoopla falls squarely on my shoulders? I possess greater control over my runaway temper than my speech or my stride. Dystonia arrived as an intruder on my doorstep, robbing me of some of my dearest possessions: clear speech, even gait, smooth handwriting, contraction-free enjoyment of life.
The perpetrators of this medical crime lurk deep inside my brain committing all kinds of chemical mischief. I’ve participated in a bunch of “line-ups” – ironically, I’m the one who’s scrutinized – but while a culprit surfaces in a blood test, the actus reus can’t be captured in a pretty picture and my “head shots” are dead-end streets. We know Mr. DYT1, my uninvited houseguest, orchestrates a mutant ninja protein – Torsin A – who’s ostensibly a key player in a conspiracy of neurological proportion involving a perplexing hoist of my brain with a modus operandi stumping even the most seasoned investigators. To complicate matters, a host of suspect genes orchestrating their own villainous behaviors are implicated in different forms of Dystonia.
On the bright side, I function as my own “neighborhood patrol,” doing my best to combat an ongoing bodily offense. I undertake every effort to keep the crime labs busy, proffering skin and blood samples, funky PET scans, functional MRIs…accompanied by eyewitness accounts of the damage inflicted on my landscape. Meanwhile, I remain a walking crime scene apologizing for acts I can’t explain. Perhaps my amends are best bestowed on the objects of my temper…
Posted in Health, Life
Tagged Conditions and Diseases, Dystonia, DYT1, Genetic disorder, Genetic mutation, Involuntary movement, Medical research, Movement disorder, Muscle contraction, Neurological disorder, Torsin A