In 1986, I was director of the Psychotherapy Screening Guild in Los Angeles (shrinks viewing, evaluating and annually, recognizing and awarding films with strong psychological dimensions-on a 1-5 "Siggies" scale). We screened a little film that, while going largely unnoticed in the mass market, did arouse Guild members' psycho-cinematic libidos.

The film, Inside/Out was about a compulsive gambler (Jimmy Morgan, played by Eliott Gould), who, while being agoraphobic, (powerful fear of going outdoors) nonetheless managed to live a rather diversely occupied life with the aid of high technology.

These were the early days of the Internet (let's dub it the Internet's Paleolithic period), the time before it exploded with its miraculous, bountiful menu of applications, platforms, search engines, before social networking sites, online gambling, cybersex, eTrades, eBay, YouTube, etc. --- in other words, before the world of "e."

But there was enough media technology then to make life rather interesting, enough to allow an agoraphobic with money to live life, if not in the fast lane, at least zipping along on a service road. Exercise machines with matching, large screen videos took care of "outdoor" jogging and biking regimens and, as the seasons changed, so did the videos.

Truth was, with Jimmy Morgan's resources it wasn't so bad to be a neurotic, housebound member of the class of walking wounded. And there was always take-out and order-in services (wink, wink, heh, heh). The gambling addiction was another matter entirely.

I was reminded of this movie after my second hemorrhagic stroke last October, when, in my left hand, I lost, among other "inconveniences," much of my sense of touch as well as fine motor coordination. It left me feeling like there is a quarter-inch callous on my fingers and palm.

Even now, when I touch my body it doesn't feel like my hand. My body feels touched but I don't much feel my hand doing the touching. It's something like my hand is walking through a fog.

This desensitization in my hand may not seem so bad, given the horrific and life-disruptive range of ravages a stroke is capable of leaving in its wake (e.g., can't talk, see, speak, ambulate), unless (we're talking relative deprivation here) you try to turn pages in a book or, much worse, try to read the broad sheet New York Times. In bed. While on your back. Then, pages slip through or out of your fingers and sometimes fly through the air.

You end up trying to body slam a page, a section, or even the whole damn paper out of sheer frustration.

There's no problem reading the paper or book at the table, sitting up. It's physically supporting reading material while reading in bed that's crazy-making.

Post-stroke problem: balancing the book, on my knees or on my 6-Pack-abs stomach--yeah, right! -- and turning the page without my weaker left hand losing control of the book, having IT SLIP OFF MY PERCH POINT and losing my place.

This page turning dilemma is compounded geometrically when the weather is dry, making grasping the ear of any page of a book or the NYT even a more cruelly flirtatious task.

As time passed, the NYT was becoming MY ENEMY and books, turncoats. What's worse, if I can't read at night, in bed, before nodding off, I can't nod off, or at least not without the aid of New Age CDs lulling and seducing me with rain storms, rolling thunder, crackling lightning, waves lapping onto the shores of Malibu. And, it need be noted, fog horns and bell buoys clanging in the misty distance.

There I existed.  No news. No literature. Malibu calling like a jilted lover. I could only take that ersatz concatatination of sounds for so long before I began to curse my home in the oceanless mid-West. To quote a line from West Side story, courtesy of lyricist Stephan Sondheim, "I'm [feeling] depraved on accounta I'm deprived." 

A month later along came a friend, Julia, sweet bibliophile Julia, with her new-found toy, der Kindle. That's right, Amazon's eBook Reader, the reading appliance that allows you to electronically download books from the Amazon e-bookstore, as well as magazines newspaper, etc. all in a manageable, light 8" x 5" package.

Julia demonstrated it for a few of us, and took us through its motions. The moment I laid on hands the future was clear to me. The only finger moves I needed to make while in repose were my thumbs, to electronically turn the pages. Hallelujah!

When I found out that I could subscribe to and read the NYT on the Kindle and fumble not, well (be still my heart), my circle of life was once again complete. With the eReader, Morpheus, the Greek God of sleep, would, like a muse, beckon me once again, to the land of Nod.

Alas, I was impaled on this maddening choice dilemma: If I use Kindle instead of struggling with printed material, over and over for -- weeks, even months-- relearning how to turn pages (oh, yes, and zip zippers, button buttons, tie shoe laces, touch type etc., etc., ad crazy-making nauseum ) a necessary brute force process of growing new neural pathways, I would delay or impair that long-term neural growth benefit for the joy of reducing magnums of short term frustration and for indulging in the immediate pleasure of joyful, supine reading of the NYT, books, and all the other delicious print entrées and snacks.

What a bitch!  And  I felt myself tacking toward the short term, the immediate gratification.

Oh where oh where, I pondered, is the means to that happy medium between investment in my future and instant gratification? If only I could find it...

BAM!!! I found it. My wife!

She who must be obeyed.

The master practitioner of the ancient art of post-stroke therapy for the marines.

She tracks me around the house like a laser-guided, talking smart bomb: "Put down the Kindle edition and go wrestle with NYT paper for an hour."

"Do some finger exercises, buster or I'll hound you into an unspeakable hell." "The neurological window is only open for a few months" (she really talks like that).

"Work those fingers, boy! Go button some shirts."

"But honey", I whine...

She's an implacable force.

"Of course, Mr. Fast and Loose, you could do us all a favor and practice zipping and unzipping your fly a few times, for the sheer delight of mastering it again, ‘cause honey, the fun for me is getting a little old."

"But sweetie," I beg to no avail...

"Oh, yeah, and try practicing tying your shoe laces instead of copping out by always wearing loafers"

She wasn't done...

"Go ahead Stuart, work that hand. Button some buttons. Grow those brain cells. Or no garlic for a week! I kid you not, babycakes."

Always inspiring oratory. Especially to a garlic fiend.

My (hopefully) temporary disability had sensitized me to technologies and innovations that help unburden the daily lives of people with long or short-term deficits or disabilities from strokes or injuries. Kindle is just one of them. People with strokes are encouraged by their doctors, physical therapists and members on such forums as the Stroke Network, to explore and exploit the plasticity of the brain. The network is one of those spectacularly valuable forum sites where both stroke victims and stroke victim caregivers can go in order to either give or secure advice regarding the stroke in all of its manifest forms, symptom variations (I have stroke fatigue not geezer nap need-- who knew?) and occurrence frequencies (some people have 10-15 strokes. Babies, teens have strokes) The site also offers tips, news and information on research, and innovations in stroke detection and treatment.

REHABILITATION. The buzz word of buzz words. Stroke victims and others with neurologically-based impairments of muscle, motor and memory skills, are encouraged to get into rehab and do so as early as possible after the stroke. They're reminded, entreated, cajoled to take advantage of the window of opportunity before it closes and many temporary deficits become permanent liabilities.

The earlier you start on relearning, the more repetitions you do, the greater your rate and amount or recovery, all other things being equal. There are no pills or others to do the work for you. It's just you and your grit-and, if you're lucky, a cheer leading task master who loves the hell out of you.

In other words, use it, use it now, use it often or risk losing it permanently later.

But repetitious rehab exercises can be both boring and discouraging. Many, already depressed because of stroke deficits, stroke fatigue and stroke self-consciousness, drop out of rehab early, before their regimens of exercise begin to show significant, ego-rewarding improvements.

This is where another innovative media technology comes into play, for stroke victims and others like disabled war veterans - Nintendo's Wii library of "games." Unlike most computer games, the Wii games involves acting out all the physical movements involved in normal sports, such as tennis, golf or boxing. Obviously, you fit your game to your disability.

These games are in use at hospitals all over the world. Doctors have discovered the game helps to rewire the brain after it has been damaged by strokes. Intensive physical therapy aids the brain in relearning old habits and skills, re-enabling the use of the limbs, muscles, eye-hand coordination, etc. Although brain cells cannot regenerate once they have been damaged or killed., relearning can be achieved by recruiting undamaged nerve cells and setting up new instructional pathways to, say, the arms, hands and legs.

Wii helps. The system and games can be fun and cheap forms of therapy, particulary for patients who find conventional exercises too frustrating and tedious and positive feedback too long in coming.

So, what do we have here? We have media noninvasively aiding people with all sorts of stroke- and trauma-related disabilities, ranging from the physical to the neorological to the psychological. There are Internet-enabled forums to join, read questions and answers, ask questions, or just lurk until the spirit moves you or until something said on the forum personally resonates with you or someone close to you.

From what I've seen with my strokes and from the people on the Stroke Network forum my wife hooked me into, with Wii games, e-readers, laptops or (in hushed tones), the iPad, the future for stroke victims is a little brighter, a little freer and alot more hopeful.

Now, is my flirtation with Kindle for real or was it just a one night stand and once again, each evening, I will snap on some rubber fingers to turn the pages of the NYT so that I can gently deliver myself unto the arms of Morpheus? Stay tuned.  The tension is killing me...

About the Author

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D.

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., was Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology at Cal State, Los Angeles.

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