Showing posts from February, 2007

Happy Monday!

A Double-Crested Cormorant comes in for a landing. These aquatic birds are unusual in not having waterproofed feathers. This makes them less buoyant than other diving birds, and helps them dive more deeply for prey. But it also means that they have to air-dry-their feathers to avoid hypothermia. Cormorants can be observed, standing quite still with their wings fully spread. Robb and I think they look oddly ominous when they do this. This is, perhaps, the very first Black Oystercatcher I've ever seen. Robb and I were driving away from the shore when I said, "hang on.....I don't know what that bird is," and hopped out to take a few photos. This bird is exclusively a West Coast bird, from Alaska to Southern California. They like rocky tidal pools, where they use their bright red bills to pry open shells. Finally, a Flotilla of Excellent Noses. The bird on the left is a first-winter male Surf Scoter. His bill isn't as colorful as the older male on the right,

This Just In...

I'm approaching the following story from The Hindu with optimistic skepticism, but... Doctors treat spinal cord injury with stem cell therapy Chennai, India Feb. 25 (PTI): Doctors at a hospital here have claimed they successfully used stem cell therapy to enable a 25-year-old man, who injured his spinal cord in a fall in July last year, to walk normally again. Akbar Ali, who was employed by a construction company in Abu Dhabi, was injured when he fell from the fourth floor of a building. When he was admitted to a hospital in Abu Dhabi, a plate was fitted to treat his spinal fracture, but he could not stand up on his own. Ali was brought here by his parents in a wheelchair and admitted to the Lifeline Hospital here. Its doctors, in collaboration with the Indo-Japanese joint venture Nichi In Centre For Regenerative Medicine (NCRA), used autologous or "own body" stem therapy in December 2006 to treat Ali who started walking on his own, Rajkumar told reporters Saturd

A Day at the Races

Lately whenever I talk to someone connected to my "case" I'm asked the same question: How's the driving going? Yes, we just recently had hand controls installed in our car, after a two-month long process , but there remains one small obstacle–– I don't have a driver's license. My license was suspended following my injury since I couldn't use my feet. Right now, my temporary learner's permit allows me to go on the road in a hand-controlled vehicle with an instructor on board. I've had three sessions driving with instructors and feel pretty confident that if the DMV ever decides to schedule a road test for me (I've been waiting ten weeks), I'll do just fine. The only thing I was missing, is the experience of getting behind the wheel of our car. So, yesterday Lisa and I went down to the biggest empty parking lot we know–– at our local horse racing track. This lot is perfect. It's more than a quarter mile long, an eighth wide and compl

by the numbers

This evening as we were driving, Robb started citing statistics about spinal cord injuries, which I found quite interesting. Here, then are some facts about spinal cord injuries, as complied by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center . Incidence: It is estimated that the annual incidence of spinal cord injury (SCI), not including those who die at the scene of the accident, is approximately 40 cases per million population in the U. S. or approximately 11,000 new cases each year. Prevalence: The number of people in the United States who are alive in June 2006 who have SCI has been estimated to be approximately 253,000 persons, with a range of 225,000 to 296,000 persons. Age at injury: SCI primarily affects young adults. From 1973 to 1979, the average age at injury was 28.7 years, and most injuries occurred between the ages of 16 and 30. However, as the median age of the general population of the United States has increased by approximately 8 years since the mid-1970’s, the ave

creative thinking

Robb has always been a problem solver. He's a lot like the eponymous character in the television series, MacGyver (minus, of course, the dubious mid-80's hairdo). Give Robb a well-stocked junk drawer, and he can solve anything. Last night, I was leaving the house to go to the photo shoot at the final dress rehearsal of the current show at Berkeley Repertory Theater , when I realized that the beautiful boots Robb bought me for xmas were a tad too long for the new adaptive controls in our car. The toe was getting tangled up in the hardware that connected the foot pedals to the hand controls. I called upstairs and asked Robb to throw a pair of shoes out the window for me. I figured that he was going to pelt me in the head, as if I were an overly loud cat in a black and white cartoon. When I arrived under our living room window, Robb was lowering a pair of my clogs out the window, latched to the end of my hundred-foot tape measure. It is exactly this kind of quick thinking and

Wait and See, huh?

Like any good 21st century citizen with a medical condition, when I have a question or concern I ask the internet. Lately the focus of my searching is the treatment of spasticity (This is the involuntary contraction and rigidity of muscles-- in my case, many of the large muscles below the waist). So, what have I learned? Compared to most people with spinal cord injuries, my spasticity is quite mild. The big problem with mine is that the rigidity, discomfort and weakness it causes limit almost everything I do. It's the main reason I can't walk very far and can't sit or stand for very long. What else have I learned? Almost everything I do: walking, standing, sitting, exercising, stretching, not stretching, not exercising... actually causes increased spasticity. But then, I already kind of suspected that. So what to do about it? The information I've found tells me that medication helps-- I take baclofen which inhibits the action of the muscles. The problem is, when

Lest You Think...

I should take this moment to dispel the notion that I am anything like a good photographer. What I am is a tenacious photographer. I take a lot of horrible photos, and then I throw them all away. I did this back when I was shooting film. I would open the envelope of photos, while standing over the trashcan, and almost everything would get chucked. Photographing diving and dabbling ducks is particularly challenging, and I take a lot of amusingly dreadful photos. I have to say that I'm totally delighted by the story (from yesterday's comments) of the person who was so frustrated by bird photography, that they resorted to taking photos out of their field guides. Yeah!!!!! That's creativity! (Okay, I have to admit that I have a weird fondness for the first picture on this page. It is, by anyone's standards, a rotten image, but if fills me with innocent glee. Hurray for Duck Butts!)

Out and About

I often tease Robb that the reason he has been buying me camera gear is to slow me down when we are out walking. As it is, Robb moves quite slowly, but as I'm busily taking photos of everything under the sun, I hardly notice. Robb disagrees, and says that it is all part of his nefarious plan to make me incredibly happy. We went out for a number of walks this weekend. These birds were mobbing the berries across the street from our apartment. I just adore cedar waxwings. They're so amusing, and also so beautiful. Take a look at the red wing-tips on the top photograph. We had intended to drive down to Arrowhead Marsh, but pulled over next to Lake Merritt, and set up the spotting scope. Despite the fact that Robb has been experiencing particularly bad muscular spasticity lately, he had quite a long walk. Robb's determination is really incredible. I know that walking is terribly difficult for him, but that doesn't stop him. He is determined to get as much therapeu

almost like driving...

Today, after what seemed like a very long time, we regained possession of our car, which now has adaptive gear, so that Robb can drive again. We then drove about half a mile down the street, and dropped it off at the mechanic, so that the horrible squealing belt issue could be fixed. I'm not certain if this will be under the car's warranty, or not. We bought the car two days shy of three months ago, which is the length of our coverage, and besides, the warranty may or may not cover the particular part of the car that is causing the problem. As it is, we have loads of very fine rubber dust all over the engine, from the belt that had been installed a few days before we bought the car. So, we almost have a car. While at the first mechanic's, I saw the following signs. Both just seem wrong to me, albeit for very different reasons. Bad advertising. Just bad. But not as bad as this one, which I have not seen in person...


Robb has always claimed that he doesn't dream. I maintain that he doesn't remember most of his dreams. The morning of his recent doctor's appointment, I was going in to work late, and for once I would be getting up after Robb. Something jolted me awake, and I realized that Robb had overslept. I woke him up and he said that he would get up, just as soon as he got Mel Brooks his orange juice. Apparently, Robb had been dreaming that Mel Brooks and his wife (not Anne Bancroft) were at our house, and Robb had to run downstairs to open the door for our grocery delivery man. As dreaming Robb was running down the stairs, lucid Robb was thinking, "I've got to remember how this running thing works." I used to have very vivid dreams, but for the most part, I'm not recalling any dreams at all. My delightful intern, Sheri, recently gave me a dream-catcher that she had made. And oddly, the morning before she gave it to me was the first time in months that I can re

Out for a Stroll . . .

The other day I took a walk down to our local shops and then a stroll and a rest (and a stroll and a rest and a stroll) along the lake. It was a walk I'd taken before and I felt like it was about all I could manage. That thought bothered me, though. So, feeling more stubborn than energetic, I took the long way home and by the end I'd covered almost one and a half miles. {I recently read that's how far the average American walks in a week} The last half mile was the hardest part; there was no place to sit and rest. By the end I'd averaged a bit under one mile an hour. I recently got myself a folding walking stick/seat which I'm hoping will give me some more range when I go out walking. Yesterday I decided that my next big goal should be to walk around the lake–– circumnavigate Lake Merritt. It's about four miles and would take me the better part of a day but think it's something I can work toward. Wish me luck.


A year ago , Robb was in the hospital, with a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne that we forgot to drink and a silly pussycat. I think we've come a long way, since then!


Regular blog readers may have noticed that one of the most infuriatingly unresolved aspect of Robb's case is the part that relates to things urological. The fact is, a urologist who accepts worker's compensation insurance is rarer than some of the birds I've photographed. Both Robb and his case manager at the insurance company have been unsatisfied with the care he has been getting, and today Robb went down to Stanford University, to meet with a new doctor. I got a call from Robb, as he was waiting for his cab back from the appointment, and he said, "I'm so happy that I could cry." Finally. A doctor who gets it. Finally, a doctor who regularly works with patients with spinal cord injuries. Finally a doctor whose appointments last more than (no exaggeration, here, four and a half minutes). Finally, a doctor who will actively pursue this case. This doctor has ordered a new series of tests (he considered the last set really shoddy, despite the fact that the

. . .

I try to maintain a really positive tone on this blog, and emphasize all of the things that are going well, but the truth of the matter is that a lot of things aren't going well, and this whole thing is difficult and tedious and terrifying. We have no idea how much of a recovery Robb is going to make, or for how long he is likely to see improvement. We have no idea if he will be able to regain enough functionality to return to work. I think the blog is particularly misleading in this regard. We show all of the fun days, when everything is working out well. But we skim over the ratio of Good Hours to Bad Hours and the fact that any good day usually has to be paid for with a day of unpleasant physical discomfort. I also don't tend to write about all the things that we used to do, that we just can't anymore. We can't have a normal social life, because we never know which days are going to be Good Days. We can't plan for the future. We can't travel. We can

no peeking!

If you are a San Francisco Bay Area letterboxer, or if you are planning on attending the Desperately Seeking Sun event next weekend, don't you dare look at this , or this!

It's the Little Things

Robb has been working with two therapists, one of whom is a Feldenkrais practitioner. When I ask him about his sessions with Lori, he usually says that they spent the session doing very tiny movements. Despite the miniscule activities, these sessions totally kick Robb's butt. The day after a Lori session is an exhausted day for Robb. But he really loves working with Lori. She is helping him reconnect with his body, and feel more whole. I had the day off, and attended therapy with Robb. Lori was very kind and allowed me to take a few photos. The therapy gym is very impressive, and I really enjoyed meeting Robb's therapists. After therapy, Robb and I went for a little walk in a nearby park . It was another rainy day, and the walk was not very long. After a fairly dry winter, we are getting a bit of rain, which bodes well for spring wildflowers. Our climate brings us lots of moss, which I find really beautiful. We may be moving at a much slower pace, but this allows us to

Damp, but not Dreary

Although I had a morning meeting, I was able to take my first day off from work in eleven days. Despite the rain, Robb and I decided to get out of the house. This could have been a really dreary day, but I was so glad not to be painting straight lines, that all the rain in the world would have seemed nice. We ran a few errands, and even scooped up a few letterboxes. One was by our friend Kathy , and the other by Cara and Hunter . Since the location of this letterbox is a bit of a mystery, I'll post some rather mysterious images from its location. I won't explain these images, other than to say that I found this place very moving. In case you wondered, the plant pictured above is a manzanita . This is a California native plant. I love the contrast between the bright red trunk and the lichens that cover it.

"What's My Line?"

Remember all those lines we drew the other day? We spent the weekend painting them. Hundreds and hundreds of lines. Miles and miles of lines. The worst part, for the scenic artists, is the realization that nobody (except, maybe, another scenic artist) will have the slightest notion of all the work that went into creating this floor. Of course, life isn't all work and no play. My intern, Sheri, is a delight to be with. And my letterboxing friends Hunter and Cara were in town, so I sweet talked them into having lunch with us.

Make it Snappy!

We are still very busy at work. The stage floor of our upcoming show has hundreds and hundreds of painted parallel lines on it. So we have to first figure out where each line is located on the floor, then mark those lines, and then paint them in by hand. We use a "snap line" embedded with charcoal to draw the lines on the floor. Each line must be measured and snapped by the scenic artists. To get the line taut enough to leave a really straight line, the scenic artists wrap the string around their fingers. I suggested that they wear bandaids as a form of finger-protecting padding. Painting scenery can be messy work.

a working weekend

Alas, things are so backed up at work that I will be at the shop all weekend, and Robb and I will not be having adventures together. For those curious about what I do, here are some photos from the shop. I'm not in any of the pictures, because I'm the one holding the camera. The scenic artists are adhering mirrored film to plexiglass panels that will form some of the walls of the set of our upcoming show. Very exacting work, to be sure!

on the move?

We're Getting our Wagon Back!!!! After something like a month and a half, there is some movement in the process of installing adaptive driving gear in our car. Remember all this? We had to take the car forty miles away to have all this installed, and when it was, not only did none of the gear fit Robb, but the mechanics messed up our brakes? And we haven't had our car during the entire period. Yeah. Remember that? So, today, I am going to the mechanics to sign a form saying something along the lines of "I am satisfied with the condition of my car." And then, the car will be towed to another company -- one town over from us -- that will install all of this, all over again. Only this time, they will ADAPT it to fit Robb. Imagine that! Adapting the (oh wait? what was that stuff called again? hang on, it will come to me....) adaptive gear, so that Robb can actually drive. In Happier News... Robb is really and truly getting a recumbent trike! I'm so utterly