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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Update - General

This seems to be a prudent time to give everyone an update on my condition. December, 2010 was certainly better than December, 2009 for me. It wasn't pretty, but I reached my goal of playing every concert I set out to play, and I did not have to bow out of any performances at the last minute. December—to most classical musicians—is the month requiring the most dogged approach with any number of Holiday Pops, Nutcracker and Messiah performances. One way or another, I made it work and I got through everything.

Also in December I traveled to New York where a hand specialist (actually, one who specializes in treating woodwind musicians) made a custom splint for me so I can support my oboe and still move my fingers freely. It's not perfect but it works. I don't know why my arm has continued to malfunction but my gut tells me it is not related to anything neurological. Most likely it is—like my eyesight—just a by-product of age. I need to relearn how to hold my oboe so I don't put as much stress on my thumb. The tumor and the hormone replacement therapies have accelerated my crashing into menopause and all these issues are probably related to that.

On New Year's Day I met another goal by finishing a new composition (a one-movement quartet for oboe, violin, viola and cello) and played two performances of it so far with another yet to come next week. I wanted to push myself on this particular program, so we added the Mozart Oboe Quartet in addition to another composition of mine as well as a concentration-heavy piece where MJ and I do nothing but clap various rhythms. The Mozart in particular is a fantastic piece but it is also very difficult (and taxing). I made it through everything. Barely.

It is so important to me in my healing that I continue to set goals for myself that are just beyond my reach. Over a year ago my challenging goal was to stand up from the hospital bed by myself and walk to the toilet. That was it. The room was spinning and my brain felt like mud as spinal fluid spilled out my nose. But I made it to the toilet on my own and then made it back to the bed on my own. I started there and have set higher and higher goals ever since, always realistic but also always slightly out of reach.

Six months ago my brain was detonating with painful electrical shocks and I was conjuring hour-long auditory auras. I felt "sort of" normal some of the time but I was never quite sure what was reality. My goal was—simply put—to get a grip, to find a toehold somewhere so I could climb the next rung. I suffered from sometimes extreme disorientation and I simply knew I had to find a way back. I told myself, "There IS a way out of this. Where is it?" I found it.

My next goal is to return to performing at the level I know I am capable of reaching. I know what this feels like and I also know I am not quite there yet. I am close, but what separates me from that former self is a stamina that will allow for more practice time in addition to playing rehearsals and performances. In so many words, what I have been doing up until now has been coasting on talent. This was apparent to me when I played the Mozart Quartet last week. If anything, playing any Mozart is like having nowhere to hide and nowhere to gloss over little gaps in technique or intonation. The textures are so transparent everything shows. In Mozart, if something is a little out of practice it feels like you are wearing muddy boots to a cocktail party.

I did a good overall job (I thought) but both performances still had small mistakes and errors, the kinds real professionals should never make. I would say I am 90% there by now, but the final 10%, 5% and 1% will take a lot of work and a lot of setting more goals just out of reach.

Next week I have one more big hurdle before I am really in the clear: my six-month MRI. The previous MRI (a four-month interval) was essentially unchanged. If this next scan looks the same as the previous two, my odds go up dramatically that it will be a long time before I will have to think of myself as a patient again and not a classical musician.

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