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A Symbiosis

It was summer, holidays. I was back from the hospital for a month and a half by now. I made a lot of progress but I didn’t dare to go for a stroll in town alone.
This morning, I decided to go for a little walk outside before I started my piano exercices. I went out in the garden. Calypso ran besides me. It didn’t rain, the air was chilly.

It was settled. After the scout campy of my sons, we will go for a relaxing time in the house found by Benoit and Stephanie in Bretagne near Dinard where I was part of the “Piano Festival” a few years ago. When I was a young married man, my musician friends and I had given the first performance of Frederic Chopin’s “Concerti for Piano” in a chamber music version – that is to say piano and wire quintet. I made the adaptation out.

I sat at the piano. This morning, I felt great. I made huge progress. The methodical and traditional “à la Michel” rehabilitee bore fruits. It was true I was so lucky to be a musician, a cellist since I was five but also a pianist and a violinist. Now, I just had to continue all my precise program tirelessly in order to patiently re-establish all the bounds between my brain, the muscles of my arm and my fingers. It was likely to be a long time but I was so motivated I didn’t step backwards the spent hours I repeated the same complicated exercices. I got a goal, a beautiful, motivating prospect and this was surely what the unfortunate, sad people missed when they were gathered in rehabilitation centers. Work they did there had to be great but I was sure the most important was to passionately rally the necessary energy in order to progress. Or you risked to settle a sick, assisted person, which was the worst prison in the world.

I had to succeed “in my own way”, it was vital to me. Even if I liked my role as an artistic director and a creative business owner (I am a member of the Movement of the Christian Leading Business Owners), I couldn’t imagine living otherwise than playing on stage and painting. It was this force and my Faith I fed everyday which always supported me.

I made my piano exercices all mornings and made progress I imagined during my insomnia. My right hand worked better and better. My fingers were less messy and managed to push the keys precisely. I will soon be able to accompany my sons, my students and the choristers. Like before! I had no other solutions.

I called my physiotherapist. Pierre Richard De croix was worried and surprised I didn’t give him any news for a few times. He came to see me the day after and found me working at the piano. He remained to the door for a while, listened to my scales and smiled.

“My rehabilitation has really begun well.” I told him.

He was a fifty-something –year-old, very lively music lover man. My wife and I knew him for years. This was why I agreed he cae to see me. At the beginning, I totally disagreed the specialists to come to see me and my needs. I agreed Pierre Richard to come only because we were not only medical acquaintance.

“You are ready yet to play Rachmaninov.”He joked. “But it’s a good beginning!”

I got up with difficulty and shook his hand. He knew my file and was surprised I was able to move by myself.

“How do you do to get here as quickly?”

“I have forced the machine in order it to obey me. As I’m very stubborn, it yielded. I think I do have to go to Romania in a year for the inaugural gala and play as a soloist Haydn’s “Double Concerto for Viola and organ”. I don’t have any time to lose if I want to be ready.”

He was stunned. I showed him I could walk alone without a cane. He glanced at me incredulously.

“If I understood well, you don’t need!”

I showed off.

“No, obviously!”

He burst into laughing and sat in front of me. We spoke about everything. I explained to him my troubles to write and held the brush. I added:

“The problem with people recovering from a stroke is they aren’t probably as motivated as I. I think you should quickly dive them into their old activities instead of rehabilitating them with a tennis ball.”

“Not everybody is a musician? You’re lucky and the general rule doesn”t apply to you.” Pierre Richard concluded.

He was right, but the rehabilitation would be more efficient if it was considered as a professional training, where you put sick people in their usual environment.

“Actually” he kept saying “everything is led by will and a huge motivation. You should work with sick people with this in mind, you’re completely right. I propose you some back massages and electrical stimulation session for your hemiplegic side.”

“Ok, I’ve got a note from my doctor about it. Perhaps there are other methods than the official medicine? I’m thinking about Asian medicine! I’m going to talk about it to the mother of one of my students in the “Academy of arts”. I want to give my classes from next November!”

“Maybe… Keep going, your case is a model. It could help a lot of patients.” The physiologists admitted but he remained skeptical about the “little academic” (kinesiology for example).

“It’s time to re-think the rehabilitation. I’m telling that while I’m still disabled. The way to get better is still long and surely fraught with pitfalls. But my long hours of reflection leads me to think common sense had to guide all actions.”

He glanced at me, a lot of questions in his look:

“I think you have especially not to assimilate sick people to helpless people.”

“I agree but it’s not as easy as it seems. Some general moves are essential to find a mobility which doesn’t let a big disability behind, hidden by some progress.”

Pierre Richard went away. I started my scales tirelessly. I was determined to follow what my common sense said to me. By dint of plinking, my left hand hurt. And the right one which followed its sister was not worth it. I felt like a kind of heaviness in my fingers as if they were made of wood. This feeling was difficult to express – even if I felt it so many times – was very unpleasant but didn’t correspond to something in particular. I managed – somehow – to play some complete scales. Passing my right thumb was still difficult because it was stubborn. It slowly found its first role on the keys. I worked quietly. Tomorrow, I will take a metronome so as to exactly measure my speed and make progress without rushing the recalcitrant fingers.

For the moment, I was going to walk a little. When it will be sunny, I will go to the Sentier du Bûcher. It was very narrow, framed by two close walls where I could lean on if I needed to. In order to reach it, I will have to walk through the street, walk for almost twenty meters on the pavement – which was a lot. Stumbling and falling in the garden was only unpleasant for clothes, it would be different to fall in the street in front of a car!

I noticed my rehabilitation was a full-time job and thirty-five per week were not enough. But I did have faith, I was sure God imposed me this ordeal for me to go further in myself realization. My artist calling pointed out I still had a lot to give, a lot of music to write, canvas to paint. My actions were always turned towards the others.

I wondered if I had not been a little presumptuous with the physiotherapist. What kind of things could motivate sick people to pick back up, to challenge illness and the murderous drowsiness hanging with it? I often felt this desire to let go, to take the time as it would come. I had inside me two influences: the one which pushed me to fight and the other which whispered my efforts were useless and I should enjoy the time being and not hurt myself. Agreeing my situation and recognizing it could be a sort of wisdom but also a renunciation.

I thought a lot about Romania. Rehearsing and playing with the prestigious orchestra and Professor Felician Rosa the three movements of Michael Haydn’s “Double Concerto for Viola and Piano” and the rhythm I was currently writing was not an easy thing. Could I remain standing enough time to play? Would I have good level I had played before to find my place in my quintets and the musical formations I used to play with? Because it was no longer simple, easy moves repeated tirelessly, the true music was beyond all these automatic reflexes – a delicate gesture describing a fugitive state, impossible to translate, in the given intonation. It was the role of the bow on a wire instrument. I was still far from correctly combining the pressure of the fingers on the baton, the impulse of the arm and its place in the space to play double stop. I will surely find my whole mobility but what was beyond this essential mattered so much! Would it be the worst punishment if I reached a certain level and I could not go beyond, understand what I had to say but not be able to tell it loud? My accident had happened in May and finally, it was not a bad thing. The ending summer forced me to move. I made much more progress because you wore light clothes and enjoyed sun.

Then, I made a big decision. I didn’t tell anyone even if for some days. I thought about it. It was time for me to find my place in the family and as soon as possible to re-find my old habits. This morning, I got up first at six as I used to do before the stroke. Florence jumped and asked me:

“Are you alright? What is happening? Why are you up so early?”

“I’m so fine, I need to get up.”

She didn’t insist, turned and let me handle things by myself with my rusted body. I was not very discreet but never mind. I stood up and got out of the bedroom. From now on, my care was reserved for this room. I made several round trips in the corridor and focused my attention on the moves of my right leg. It was always complicated to give it life. When it was almost unblocked, I went to the stairs. My pretty initiative had not to end with a noisy fall! I managed pretty easily to get down up to the turning in the middle. I tripped and lost my balance but I was lucky: my so ordinary clumsy right hand gripped the banister and avoided the catastrophe. I started again and focused on each of my moves.

I arrived to the landing. It was not a big deal but a very encouraging little victory. I was scared of going for it, for my first exercice of the day which caused so many troubles a few weeks ago. Now I had to go to work. I opened the dishwasher. I wanted to empty it and prepare breakfast for the whole family. I began with the plates because they were stronger than the glasses. One by one, don’t be too demanding! I took the first plate with my left hand, I turned to tidy it in the cupboard and in order to do it, I had to pivot the weight of my body on the right leg. I stumbled, the plate smashed on the ground. Huge noise, Florence should have heard it! It began really badly! New try: I took the plate with my right – always clumsy – hand. It was worse: my fingers tightened on the earthenware and with no reason, opened when I turned to the closet. New maddening noise. Florence arrived.

“You’re not going to break all the dishes!”

Calypso arrived, swung her tail and walked on the pieces of china.

“She’s gonna get hurt!” Florence grumbled.

I looked at her abashedly, like a child guilty of a mistake. I overestimated my skills. Nevertheless, I will do it again – secretly – because I was not free like big people anymore. I looked for the sweeper but as she saw me so clumsy, Florence took it from my hands.

The boys came and hesitated between joking and compassion. I did feel downhearted. The so hoped effect was ruined. Breakfast was silent, even though it was the first time the family was reunited so early in the kitchen. The boys emptied their bowls and went away one after another. Florence cleaned the table. I looked at her embarrassed.

When the house was empty, I got downstairs in order to exercise my fingers. I measured the regularity of my notes with the metronome. A critical ear showed me what I thought as little correct was – in fact – very bad. It was crazy how much you could influence yourself!

I tried my hardest and persisted in. The weather was stormy. A heavy heat weighed over my shoulders.