As Thanksgiving approaches, I guess I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. Not least, being 0.5% of an American abroad, I get to attend a number of Thanksgiving Dinners in excess of one.

Veggie Tartlet didn’t show up, but Beth’s one is pictured bottom right

[For more personal news and occasional whimsy – and to join the conversation – check out the Apoplexy Newsletter.]

When we returned from the dinner pictured above, it felt appropriate that the picture below should show up as one of my Facebook memories.

Thankful for putting on some weight. But not from that dinner.

As the original post says, I couldn’t have hoped for a better rehab team during my stroke recovery. They were young, enthusiastic, and always coming up with interesting and fun and challenging stuff to do, as well as clever ideas to improve my recovery – whether turning me into a Cyberman, taping my trainer to a therapist’s sneaker to relearn how to turn a corner, or bringing in a series of puntastic word games for the British guy.

Enjoying a British form of humour that isn’t a pun

Which makes me think that they’d lap up the first episode of Science Happens that The-Professor-Out-Of-Nerd-Bait recently sent me. They’re rehabbing stroke folks, and it’s let than five minutes long!

Also, it’s really cool. Thanks, Prof!

In the episode, Carl Zimmer of The NY Times and STAT News looks into an interesting new way stroke patients are being encouraged help their brains rewire themselves.

A Cyberman, cunningly disguised as a dolphin

He’s visiting John Krakauer, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University, who observes that…

…most [stroke] patients get about 70% of their maximum potential recovery back in three months. I’d like 90%.

And Doctor Krakauer is going about trying to achieve this with a team of engineers, artists, and computer programmers.

Not that kind of artist, thanks.

Part of the struggle of trying to hit this kind of number is that for the first two weeks after a stroke, patients only really move around 15% of the time, and they’re alone 60% of the time. That’s grim. I know that when you’re perseverating and you have no idea what post-stroke life will look like and you’re hallucinating about having malarial bugs crawling all over your arm, you don’t want to be sitting around with nothing to do but think. And, as in many areas of my recovery, I have to admit to a great deal of good fortune in most of the visits I received. You can imagine the scenes that Dr Krakauer describes in which a visitor comes by, says a few words, and then just doesn’t know what to do.

Maybe it would be more fun if the patient and the visitor could do an activity together. I enjoyed using an adapted joystick to position a little box on wheels under some dropping balls.

That sounds like fun.

And that’s where the Johns Hopkins team comes in. They want recovering stroke patients “to explore and be motivated and joyful.” It’s a big ask, but the team figure that, if you can make people inject themselves into another animal, they’ll begin to forget that they’re moving their limb into all the places that their physicians want them to go for a long period of time.

As Carl Zimmer explains in Science Happens,

during the first month after stroke, the brain releases a flood of molecules that can spur neurons to drive new connections. [It’s been noted that mice] that get intensive rehab in this period can regain much of their lost motor skill.

So the game designers and artists at Johns Hopkins studied the movement of dolphins – including Foster at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, who I recently visited – for about two years. Dolphins seemed perfectly suited to being part of a game that would meet the developers goals – they’re cognitively skilled. And they look like beautiful movers in the water. Wouldn’t it be lovely to inject yourself into a dolphin?

So to speak.

But now we’re getting back to merpeople, and that’s so Edinburgh Book Festival 2015.

“Nessie! What are you doing here?” asked The Wee Mermannie.

Now, we’ve got a friend who used to play the Wii game Endless Ocean: Blue World – above – pretty incessantly. It looked relaxing, mostly, but it didn’t look like a good way to avoid a stroke. Nevertheless, Doctor Krakauer is convinced the type of activity involved in his underwater game – with all the right types of cognitive-motor interface – could be helpful in all types of illness, including depression, congestive heart failure, and autism.

And isn’t that something to feel happy about this Thanksgiving?

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4 thoughts on “Thanksgiving

  1. I still remember the thanksgiving 3 years ago when prof.offspring was in a cast and you were just home and a group of us cobbled together a decent thanksgiving! I made stuffing and sweet potatoes and a bunch of sides if I recall and there was a turkey and wine too. And deserts. You had a walker race with the lil’un

    Now 3 years on hard to imagine how much better you are. So in the truest sense of being thankful, your post reminds me that I should be.

    Happy tofurkey day!

    1. Ha, yes! We were, of course, reminiscing about that very day. Puts what was served up to the States’ Consul General in Edinburgh to shame. Which reminds me – remember Ricky’s Loaf? It plays a central part in a recent short story I wrote concerning (maybe) an Irish superhero. As does *that* butter knife.

      And a happy oddly-positioned harvest festival to you and yours, too. Your thoughtful reply reminds me of how thankful we are as well.

      1. Hey man it’s a point of pride I snuck salt into the rehab center. Knife shmife the quality sea salt and butter was the real coup!

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