Friday, May 15, 2009

Let's get physical

The Tongue Fairy passed up my apartment again on her rounds last night.

I go to bed each night hoping to get a visit from the Tongue Fairy while I sleep, and to wake up in the morning chattering a blue streak. The pragmatist in me knows that ain't gonna happen.

Still, I keep praying for a vowel movement.

My tongue is gradually diminishing in size, but it still doesn't move so well, and my left jaw is weak. If I had been born as an amphibian and needed to use my tongue to capture flies, I'd starve.

So a few weeks ago I handed a note to one of my doctors in the Radiation Oncology Department in which I asked what I should be doing to promote recovery of my mouth. He gave me a referral to Kaiser's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department.

I had my first appointment there on Wednesday night.

Physical Medicine is one of the departments that still remain in the massive hospital that Kaiser recently abandoned for snazzier digs next door. Exam areas are separated by curtains, not walls, making it easy to eavesdrop on the other patients' sessions.

I was led to the area by Lamont Toma, D.P.T., the physical therapist assigned to my case. Dr. T., a wiry young man with long hair and street clothes instead of the usual Kaiser scrubs, got things rolling by asking to give him an overview of what's going on with me and to tell him what I hoped to get out of physical therapy.

"Being treated for cancer in my tongue," I wrote in my legal pad. "Gradually getting better. Need to find out what I can do to help me begin to speak again."

Dr. T started the exam by pressing his hands all over my face and head, and asking me to raise my hand if I felt any pain. I usually find it hard to relax in situations like this, but there was something about Dr. T's manner that I found calming.

He asked me to open my mouth as wide I could, stick my tongue out as far as possible, and move my jaw from one side to the other. As I followed Dr. T's cues, I realized how severely restricted my mouth movements are.

Then Dr. T snapped on a pair of gloves and got down to the serious business: probing the inside of my mouth.

It wasn't that long ago that my doctors had trouble getting a single finger in my mouth for a tactile exam but Dr. T was able to get several fingers in my mouth at the same time. I laid on my back with my mouth open as wide as I could get it while he applied pressure to my gums and my jaw.

It was my turn to probe next. Dr. T handed me a few tongue depressors and told me to insert them into my mouth and apply pressure on one side. He fed me more and more tongue depressors, two or three at a time, until I couldn't handle anymore; then we did the same on the opposite side of my mouth.

I felt silly –and I must have looked ridiculous– but I could feel my mouth and jaw start to loosen.

Then Dr. T took the tongue depressors out of my mouth and disappeared for a few minutes. When he came back, he had a blue carrying bag in his hands. He unzipped the bag and showed me a device called a TheraBite.

The TheraBite is a plastic gizmo that I can use on myself to practice my jaw motion. It's like a Thigh Master for your mouth. Dr. T couldn't let me try out the demo model, but he said he would recommend that Kaiser supply me with a TheraBite of my own.

It may take three or four weeks for Dr. T's request to go through, but once it does and I start working out regularly with that TheraBite, baby, my mouth is gonna be as supple as Suzanne Somers' thighs. Even Alan Hamel would be impressed.

I'm counting on the TheraBite to give me my jaws back.

Before long, I hope to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say: "Mr. Spielberg, I'm ready for my close up."

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