Sunday, November 13, 2011

Progress Bar

I love progress bars. And, yes, I happily acknowledge how much of a geek that admission makes me. I enjoy installing software just to watch the progress bar fill up. And I like installing updates even more, because it feels like getting something for nothing and might include a meaningful and useful change to a program I already like. What I cannot abide are stalled progress bars, circular or otherwise non-progressive representations of progress, meaningless updates which take a ridiculously long time (I'm talking to you, iTunes and AOL software, circa 1995), and forced reboots.

Back on the "Why I like progress bars" side, I'll just say, how often do you get to gauge and garner some level of accomplishment simply by sitting and watching something fill up? I'll tell you how often -- not very. In my current circumstances, I would love for there to be some indicator and background algorithm telling me how close to being "done" I am. Unfortunately, there's no such thing. My rehabilitation is as much art as it is science, and no one can say how far down the road I am. This particular time is especially significant for me,  now that I've passed the one-year anniversary of my stroke. I’ve heard anecdotally about people who suffered a stroke and then were "fine after a year”. But I have also heard anecdotally about people who continued to see improvements five or six years after their stroke. I have looked to the arbitrary one-year mark as a moment of potential miraculous recovery, and at times – even while working very hard at my therapy – hoped that time alone could heal my body. As with most things, I think the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of  wishes and hard work.

So, progress bars . I realized that even though the blog has been a great tool for reporting on news or our mental states, I haven't really been able to give you all much of a sense of the every day. Thus, please take note of a new feature toward the top of the site. You won't see it in the e-mail edition, only at the blog  site itself. It's a progress bar of sorts, just to give you a sense of where things stand in some key areas, most of them pretty every day. My apologies for anything that's a little too every day (i.e., potty related), but it's all pretty damn important. Because most of my meaningful progress has and will come in moments -- moments where once ordinary and seemingly insignificant activities become extraordinary and then once again, hopefully, become ordinary. It's useful for me to see it in a broad swath – a year at a glance – because it truly shows how far I've come in a relatively short time, as long as that short time has felt.

Sometimes my progress is depicted by powerful and empowering moments I've been aiming for; sometimes, the goals are less tangible. Edgar Wright(writer/director of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) wrote on my Scott Pilgrim poster, "Achievement Unlocked". If you don't know what that means, you have not completed your assignment of seeing the movie, you have rarely played video games, or both. I am not a hardcore gamer, but here's my interpretation: In many games, when your game character (or, "avatar") completes a portion (or, "level") of the game, you may "unlock" new powers or abilities (or challenges)for your avatar. While not all progress is that tangible for me, it has often been an apropos analogy for my most significant achievements. For instance, getting upstairs in the house (literally, a new level)unlocked the power to shower, help put the boys down to sleep, and to sleep in my own bed. But most accomplishments are more subtle stages in my evolution than breakthroughs. Hopefully, my progress bar shows how I've continued to evolve and improve. Sometimes I feel it, sometimes it all blurs together. Sometimes I have to remain cautiously optimistic – in part because too much optimism can lead to overconfidence, which can lead to hazards. Just an example – I went out with friends from work recently and climbed onto a barstool. At the sight of it, I questioned whether it was the best place for me to be sitting, but I was also feeling pretty secure in how I'd been handling sitting and standing lately. When a friend I hadn't seen in quite a while walked into the restaurant, I attempted to get down from the stool and greet her. However, I didn't properly estimate the distance to the floor or the amount of swivel to the stool. The next thing I knew, I was tipping backwards – fortunately into her arms (thanks, Melissa! Nice catch.) This was a bit of a bruise to my ego, though much better than the bruise I would've received on my butt or possibly my head. It was just a lesson to go at my own pace and remain vigilant in new situations, even if they feel comfortable and ordinary. As comfortable as I'm becoming in my own new skin, it's important that I not grow complacent. I can't even bring myself to make the "Now" column in my progress bar truly green – I had to choose a green that was still a little hazard yellow.

Since the theme of this entry involves some visual aids, I'd also like to present some before-and-after images of my head – CAT scans taken prior to my surgery and one from this past June:
this was from July2010. You can see the aneurysm on the right side, surrounded by some calcification.otherwise, what you see is fairly normal "grey matter".

this is a CAT scan from June 2011. You can see a bit of a lens flare on the right. That's caused by clips left on some arteries after the removal of the aneurysm and its surrounding calcification. The black areas on the right were pretty eye-opening and a little sad for me –the area which had been directly occupied by the aneurysm is now filled with cerebrospinal fluid. Other darkened areas on the right side of my brain represent damage caused by the stroke. So you could say I'm not dealing with a full deck.

This was from August 2010. It shows more of an arterial blood flow perspective, but you can see the aneurysm, brightly on the right side.

this is June 2011. I take away less bunching on the right and improved bloodflow overall

this is also June of this year. The takeaway/oddity is that I have a hockey mask in my head.

I like this one not only because it clearly shows the clips in my head, but because the profile is distinctly mine – there was definitely no mix-up with the medical records.


  1. Hi Ken, it's always good to read your messages. I do think it is meaningful to consider personal progress, or, when possible, to chart it out with graphics. I typically prefer mechanical pencils and journals when I'm trying to make sense of my life. Old fashioned, I guess :) Thanks for keeping us posted.
    Love, Jill

  2. Hey Ken, I know it's creepy but I really like the pictures of your brain. The profile one that you like is cool but I can't help seeing a little Freddy Kruger in it, maybe I'm projecting. Anyway, I'm glad your progress is such that I can make fun of you a little. See you soon

  3. Hazard-green, ha! Those are some pretty great "nows" in that column, Ken! I think you're right, progress comes through the wishing/positive thinking part and A LOT of hard work and (for now) independent PT, OT 'til the new year rules around. Keep on unlocking those achievement levels!