The Tree Branch

One day, when I was five or six years old, I was told by my mum not to go out, but my sister decided that we would go out and play on a tree which had a swing hanging from a horizontal branch. My sister had the idea, so she was first up on the branch and she had the baby on her arm. I had to get up there as well, but I had to use the swing to climb up. I couldn’t do it, so she was holding the baby with one hand and was trying to pull me up. I fell. I broke my left upper arm and dislocated the shoulder. For three days I was in pain but I didn’t dare tell. One day, I had to put my hands up in the air for Mum to get my dress on, and I couldn’t do it. Then she knew something was wrong, and in anger ripped the dress from the shoulder down and there it was, black and blue. 


In 1972, in London, I was working in the fur trade, making heavy mink coats. One coat had about a thousand mink in it. When I had hung it up, I couldn’t move, my left arm was stuck. So the forelady had to come and move me. I was taken to the fracture clinic in London, and they said they ‘didn’t know what had happened but it was the result of a childhood injury’. I was put in a collar and given traction and heat treatment to the neck. There was awful pain down the arm into the hand. I didn’t sleep for seven nights, though I was on DF118 (a very strong painkiller). Even that worked only for two hours; I was in continuous pain. I am black, but my skin was whiter than the sheets because I could not sleep and because of the pain. I could move my arm but the pain was really, really bad. There was not much more they could do for me. I got hands-on therapy and did all sorts of exercises with a stick and things like that, and eventually it did get easier. It took quite some time to get back to normal. They said I had to give up the machining because holding my neck bent forwards all the time wasn’t doing the neck or the arm any good. 


They would have written me off as medically unfit but I couldn't face that, so I gave up the machining, and went to work in a hospital. I moved to Leicester and everything was fine. Then suddenly it was changed from a hospital to an old people’s home.

One day in 1992, another carer and I put somebody into a chair, and when I went to turn back, I was standing but I could not feel my legs whatsoever and had pain in my lower back. So, off I went to the infirmary, and the doctor said that the problem was in my neck. There was pain down the left arm again. So I had all sorts of treatment and it got better again. 


From then on my back got really and truly bad. Sometimes I was standing and, apart from pain, I couldn’t feel my legs. So they sent me for an MRI which showed spondylolisthesis at the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae. They decided to retire me, and I decided to relocate to Barbados in 2002. One night in 2003 I woke up with excruciating pain inside the left shoulder blade, and I realised that my left arm was completely paralysed. I couldn’t move it, I couldn’t raise it. I had lots of pain. The fingers were floppy, there was no feeling in them, and the palm was hooked. Within about three weeks, my fourth and fifth fingers improved but the first two fingers and thumb were still not right. In about 2009, I fell down, broke the ring finger and dislocated the little finger. The front was twisted toward the back. The pain was so bad that when I saw it, I just grabbed it and spun it around back into place. It was four months before I actually got to have another MRI, and was diagnosed with a brachial plexus lesion. 


I had the same paralysis until this year. When I went to see the physiotherapist, they gave me no hands-on work, just a paper with hand exercises and no follow-up. So I asked my doctor to refer me to an occupational therapist. He said to me ‘go to Boots and explain’ and they would sell me a splint. 


I kept visiting the GP and was eventually referred to an occupational therapist. She made up a sort of splint to match the shape of the hand and to help straighten it out. Well, she did as much as she could, but it didn’t do a lot. She gave me a bottle to pump with the hand. At first, I couldn’t do it, but eventually I could. I went to stay with my daughter because at that time I couldn’t dress or do anything for myself. I bought a wax machine and a TENS machine. I bought a hand grip exerciser but I couldn't use it. Then I started going to a Chinese acupuncturist. I had cupping; I had massage. These things helped a little with the pain but not with the movement. This went on for eighteen months. The acupuncturist said I would have to have a break, so after nine months’ break, I went again. I began to think it was a waste of money, and I started doing lots of things myself with it. I even made a sling and used to make it pull the arm up and down. I used to do all sorts of things to try to improve matters.

I worked in the hospital’s geriatric department and I was familiar with rehabilitation, because I had to take patients down there from the ward. I did all the rehabilitation things I saw being done on my patients, and I worked on the hand myself. Before I had Alexander Technique lessons, I went to an osteopath, but unfortunately, although she helped me with my back there was nothing she could do with the hand. Well, I told her not to worry about the left hand as it seemed hopeless, but I needed help as I was getting a lot of pain in the right hand. She said to me the right hand was overworked and there is nothing more she could do for me. I went and had more cupping and acupuncture and then went back again to see the osteopath about a year later, and she said to me, ‘I’m sorry, there is nothing I can do for you, but if you are willing, I will send you to somebody who will sort you, because the whole of your back is out of line’, so that’s when she recommended a teacher for Alexander Technique lessons. 


I looked in the mirror and saw the bodily misalignment for myself. Although I had only nine lessons in three months, I could see that my head was straighter. I could see the difference in the mirror. I still have the pain in my left arm, but the pain in the right hand is much less. Before the lessons, the fingers of my left hand were deformed. They were all bent and wouldn’t straighten. After three lessons they were straight. The index linger is not one hundred percent, but the thumb and the little linger are. The sensation is a lot easier in the fingers, but not in the shoulder. The little finger and ring finger are still numb. I am used to that (that happened when I broke the fingers), but I have got some feeling back already. 


The usage of the whole left arm has changed. I am able I could not grip with my left hand. Since I have had the lift my hand and I can comb my hair, where I could not comb my hair at all because the left hand would not reach up. At mealtimes I

was cutting everything up with my right hand and then taking a fork to eat with my right hand. Now I am eating with a knife and fork. If I wanted to wash my tights, I used only the right hand, but now the left hand can do everything that the right hand can, not as well or as strong, but it is cooperating: the two hands work together. Before I had lessons, I couldn’t peel potatoes because my left hand couldn’t hold the potato peeler or potato. So I didn’t peel potatoes, I washed them. But now, I choose whether I want potatoes in their jacket or I can peel them. I chop up beans and do a lot of things that I couldn’t do before. 


The Technique has made a lot of difference psychologically. I was frustrated most of the time, going to the hairdressers to have my hair done because I could not style it or put it up. Now I can. It helped me to be able to dress myself: I couldn’t tie my laces, pull a zip with my left hand, or manage buttons. So it has helped me to do things in general, and I feel better about myself, about how I look and how I care about myself.