Overcoming obstacles with Optimism

This post is a continuation of last week’s post.

I started playing the piano when I was so young my feet could not touch the floor.  I remember my teacher often telling me to stop swinging my legs and start focusing on my fingers.  Following my stroke at age 27, I was unable to move my left hand fingers at all.  Occupational therapists suggested I visualize something I had done frequently with my hands or arms.  Sometimes when a patient uses this visualization technique they regain use of the affected limbs faster.  Until my stroke, I had still played piano regularly.

At night, when the only sounds were nurses shuffling their feet or the beeping of IV machines, I would visualize that I was playing my heart out.  I could hear the notes in my mind as I imagined my fingers easily pressing the keys.  I could instruct my fingers on how far to be spaced, the beat at which they should move and the correct motion of the lifting wrists.  I played and played and played.  It was the oddest sensation.  Sometimes I would feel my paralyzed fingers move.  I was thrilled this visualization technique was really working!  Each time I excitedly anticipated feeling those left fingers lifting and monitoring how far they were progressing.  In my mind, I could feel them lift with every beat.  I wanted to tell my doctors first thing in the morning. I wanted to call the nurses and have them come and look.  Yet, each time I was disappointed and confused when I came to the realization that the finger movement and all the sensation it drew down my arm was only in my mind.  Night after night my fingers remained powerless and still.

As disappointed as I was, I knew to never give up.  If I only tried hard enough, if I only played long enough within my mind, my fingers would surely play again.  I came to the belief the only reason it was not working was because my imagination was not powerful enough.  If I was able to get in front of the piano, I would have the power and strength to let my fingers fly.  I got my wish late one afternoon.  A nurse wheeled me down to the rec room.  Upon my request, she left me alone.  As I pushed my wheelchair to the piano, Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” was racing through my mind.  I knew I could play this song; I had played it for years.  It was a positive, fun melody.  My right hand took off.  My heart was racing.  My eyes were shining bright.  This was it.  Years of practicing were going to give me back my left hand movement. I assisted in lifting my left hand up to the keyboard.  Here it was….. and then there was nothing.  I offered no music.  My fingers provided no movement.  My mind and body failed me giving no response.  How could that be?

I sat there.  I started the song again and again flawlessly with my right hand.  I tried.  I silently yelled at my arm.  I cursed my lifeless fingers.  I ached at the reality that was playing out.  My eyes filled with tears.  I felt gratitude toward the nurse as she leaned her head into the room and silently backed away to leave me alone.  I cried for the final time that night.  I cried for the dreams that now seemed unattainable.  I cried for understanding I could only move my right side – no longer the left.  I cried that second time because the only music being played was from the fingers playing the piano in my mind.

I allowed grief, and then I was wheeled back to my room.  Stroke recovery did not come quickly.  It was not a simple process.  I worked hard for it.  It took a lot of effort.  I still work to maintain the progress I have made.  I was eventually able to make the left hand work.  I can no longer play nearly as well as I had before the stroke.  However, the music I now am able to play creates the most beautiful music I have ever heard!

Comments on: "Playing Piano In My Mind – Part 2" (5)

  1. This is, in some ways, the most Zen story — the “practicing” in the mind is one of the ways one practices any skill in Zen fashion. If your fingers had been able to move, you likely would have played better than ever before in your life, due to that practicing.
    But you report that you can make music with your fingers now, even if not at the “before” level.
    I wonder, do you think there is more progress that can be made? Or do you work to keep the gains you have already made?
    The fact that you could play Joplin’s The Entertainer impresses the h— out of me! That’s like having your left hand and right hand doing two entirely different things at the same time.
    What is your favorite listening music, I wonder.

    • I always “hope” progress can still be made, but I understand it is not realistic. There are too many senses that are still lacking. I cannot see both hands while I am playing. I cannot feel with my left hand very well, so it is hard to know where my finger is on a key. I am still slow at manipulating my fingers’ movement. There are just too many factors to truly believe I will be as skilled as I had previously been. Yet, with the talent I do still have, I am able to teach my children to play. Hopefully some day they will fill our house with Joplin again soon! 🙂

      My favorite music is generally whatever is being played. As long as I can understand the words, I thoroughly enjoy listening. Pachelbel, AC/DC, Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz help display the variety of music I listen to on my music player. And Judith,if I may ask, what music fills your house? Thank you so much for stopping by!


  2. When my husband’s is the guiding hand on the Boze, classical music — often Schumann, could be Haydn, Beethoven — flutes, piano —

    I love music (Schubert’s Trout Quintet can practically reduce me to tears), so it’s a little puzzling to report that when mine is the guiding hand, it’s — silence. (There was a song called that, The Sounds of Silence.)
    In the car by myself, usually silence. But if I feel like music, it’s usually loud and ethnic and pulsing rhythm — like the Buena Vista Social Club, or The Big Chill sound track, or —brass versions of Scott Joplin! Odd things, that make my heart dance.

  3. Maggie said:

    Every time I hear or play Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” or “Maple Leaf Rag” I am going to think of you. Really, I mean it. And just in case you’d ask, my favorite piece of music is Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.” I also like smooth jazz, Beethoven, Vivaldi, “Old Time Rock and Roll,” Canadian Brass, Louis Armstrong, the Weavers.

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