It’s Been a Long Time Coming

Until I was 14 years old, every trip I made from Whitehorse to Vancouver included at least one doctor’s appointment.

True, those trips also included an Orange Julius at the mall, and even the occasional Canucks or Lions game, but nearly two decades later the details of the sporting contests are lost on me, but my medical memories remain vivid.

I have cerebral palsy, a condition caused by brain damage during childbirth. It is more-or-less non-degenerative and my case, it is on the mild end of the spectrum. Still, it renders my left hand useless for fine motor projects and I walk with a limp.

I was diagnosed with CP when I was learning to walk at about nine months, and I had my first set of surgeries when I was one. They cut a notch in my heel-chord to improve the range of motion in my foot, and they took tendons from one part of my arm and moved them to another.

My father describes watching his infant son being wheeled into the operation room as a gut-wrenching experience. He was the same age then that I am now.

Over the next 16 years I had one disastrous appointment with a child psychologist and five or six different rounds of surgeries and castings, each of them Frankenstein-like contortions of my tendons. I stopped thinking it was cool when kids signed my cast, and the Get Well helium balloons did nothing for me.

I can’t say I never felt sorry for myself.

By the time I turned 18 and took legal responsibility for my own health, I was sick of everything — sick of Vancouver, sick of doctors, sick of hospitals and sick of the patronizing way that the institution of Medicine seemed to treat me.

I resolved to just grit my teeth and plow forward, occasionally stumbling. Never again would I discuss my CP with a doctor; I would deal with problems and consequences by myself, as they arose.

For nearly 14 years I was good to my word.

However, since 1999 advancements in technology have made new and less invasive treatments available.

My roommate Jenny Duncombe, a physiotherapist, first alerted me to the possibility of Botox injections. For six months she urged me explore the option, and I hummed-and-hawed, making vague statements like, “Yeah, I should look into that.”

Finally I did.

Around Christmas time I got a referral to visit a physiatrist (I don’t think physiatry — rehabilitation medicine — existed when I was a kid) from my long-time family doctor, Ron Kolton. Last week I had my first appointment with Dr. Grace Li.

Botox weakens the muscles it is injected into. This sometimes results in reduced facial wrinkles, but I like to think my purposes are a less superfluous.

Unless I concentrate on keeping it extended, my left hand automatically curls into a clenched ball because the muscles responsible for closing my hand overpower the ones responsible for opening it. This works well for spontaneous fistfights, but it’s been a while since I’ve been in one of those. So Dr. Li injected Botox into my “closing” muscles. Hopefully this will level the playing field.

Similarly, my left foot has a tendency to point down when I walk. Usually this means that my stride lands flat-footed on that side of my body, but when I am tired or distracted my toes often dig themselves into the turf, which causes stumbles and staggers. So Dr. Li also injected Botox into the muscles responsible for pushing my foot down.

Now it’s a waiting game.

I was told that it is often two weeks before a patient notices any change; it’s been six days so far.

But I’m paying attention. I’m waiting, watching, measuring, stretching, experimenting, and most importantly, hoping.

It’s more than I’ve done in almost a decade and a half, but I guess everyone has to grow up sometime.

Peter Jickling is a Whitehorse playwright and the assistant editor of What’s Up Yukon

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