Bernie is currently spending 2 weeks at the Taub Clinic in Birmingham, Alabama working on regaining mobility in his hand that was previously paralyzed from his stroke. He’s engaging in physical therapy aimed at “re-wiring the brain.” We’re all very excited by Bernie’s progress as seen in the following videos, and hold much gratitude for everyone’s support. Below, Eve reflects on her and Bernie’s experience in physical therapy, and the resiliency Bernie continues to demonstrate.
(Bernie moving blocks with his hand that was previously paralyzed from his stroke)
Eve writes about Bernie’s recovery process and their experience in Alabama during the beginning of March.
Miss Eve and Mr. Barney
By Roshi Eve Marko, originally appeared on www.evemarko.com on March 3rd, 2017
Miss Eve and Mr. Barney are here in Birmingham, AL, and Mr. Barney, as some of the staff refers to him, is working hard. With his left hand resting comfortably in its mitt, his right hand is busy transferring blocks from one container to another, carrying a spoonful of beans and emptying it someplace else, putting one cone into another, and he’s timed to see how many he can get done without dropping them in 30 seconds flat. You call that work! Each exercise requires a different way of grasping the object with the fingers, a different twist of the wrist, a different reach with the arm.
Everything was fine till I saw him working on a calculator with his right hand. He’s finally learning to use a calculator, at the age of 78! Now I know why we were so broke all those years.
It really is hard work. I’m amazed at how versatile his dead-fish hand has become. When it’s forced to do things, it does them, and you could almost see new brain cells lighting up, new connections being made. As if the brain is saying, Oh yes, I remember now. I remember how to do this.
After therapy Mr. Barney is exhausted—not physically, mentally. It’s not the muscles in the arm and hand that strain him, it’s the palpable brain work. And I’m moved by how a 78 year-old man meets the challenge to learn new things, set new goals, and do new activities.
We live in a culture that so denigrates the elderly. At his age he’ll never change, people say. That’s being demonstrated as untrue day after day in front of my eyes. Mr. Barnie’s willpower is as strong as it ever was, as is his drive to get well. And the brain can get it together. Edward Taub emphasized to me last fall that his research shows that the brain cells relating to physical functions can come back at any age.
Out in the lobby I talk to lots of folks in wheelchairs, and others with aphasia who speak with difficulty. They’re young and old and everything in between; they encourage me and each other. A young, handsome man built like a football player, sitting in a self-propelled wheelchair (he has no legs), watches Mr. Barnie walking slowly with a cane. “You’re doing good, man, you’re doing good!”
And after Mr. Barney enters the clinic, Andrea, a thin, middle-aged woman tells me this before I get up to follow him: I fell 8 years ago. Since then my nerves go all hot and burning on me, I get lots of shots of pain and my muscles kill me in both arms and legs. I had an operation on my neck 7 years ago and that made things worse. I can’t work no more, on disability only that don’t pay the bills. Only one thing I got going for me, and that’s that the dear Lord gave me a great ear to listen with. I’ve always listened real good. The one thing that makes me feel better is when I’m with people who’re worse off than me and they start talking. I was with folks the other day who had terrible face disfigurement and I could listen to them talk. That’s when I realize that I am so much better off than them and I thank my God that I have this life and that I can listen, you know what I mean?
How did you learn to listen so well?
My God, only my God.
(Bernie operating a spoon to move beans)
(Bernie moving disks with his “stroke” hand)
Roshi Eve Myonen Marko is one of the founding teachers of the Zen Peacemaker Order and a principal teacher at Green River Zen Center in Massachusetts, USA. She has co-led bearing witness retreats in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rwanda and the Black Hills. Eve writes regularly in her blog and is the author of the novel The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills: Hunt for the Lynx.