JEFF SHATTUCK MUSIC

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• The Cerebellum Blues Story: Chapter Five, Tremors.

In preparation of my album launch, which should happen in May, 2011, I'm recapping how I got back into music. In this chapter:

Tremors / Trying to find a reason to be hopeful / Hopes dashed / Noodling


I don’t remember the exact day — I’ve blocked it from memory — but maybe a month of so after my accident I felt a bolt go through me from feet to head right as I woke up. Or maybe a shiver is a better word. Or like a pang of guilt. Regardless, from that day on, I have struggled with Parkinson’s-like tremors from the waste up. At first, they hit hardest whenever I stood up, often forcing me to sit back down and try again. Over time, the tremors moved from my waste, where they would affect my entire upper body, up into my shoulders and neck, causing my head to shake from side-to-side, sometimes violently enough to send my glasses sailing. I hate it. It hurts.

With my brain injury repercussions now including vertigo, trouble walking, tremors, nausea, massive and frequent headaches, fatigue, depression, no appetite and a strong aversion to alcohol, I started to pester my main doctor for more diagnosis/treatment ideas. He was very frank with me, but somehow not discouraging (this would change), as he helped me work through ideas for getting better and consistently reminded me that new theories about the brain showed it to be plastic and that it could recover from injuries far worse than mine. Whether he believed what he was telling me or not, his enthusiasm gave me hope and when you have a life-changing injury, hope is the strongest medicine.

My dad was also eager to help with ideas for how I might get better, too, and phoned up a very rich, very connected friend of his, who was able to get me an appointment with one the nation’s top neurologists. Surely, this guy would be able to diagnose me and put together a treatment plan that would have me well in no time, right? Hah. When Catherine and I (plus her parents, who were visiting from the east coast to help out) arrived at UCSF to see this dude,  I was a wreck. The date was 4/10/2006, so I was still really struggling with the effects of my brain injury and even though there as a promise of help at hand, I just wanted to go back home and go to bed. I truly can’t put into words how physically bad I felt, but awful will do. Soon it would be a whole lot worse.

The doctor put me through the standard battery of brain injury tests (touching my right finger to my nose, now my left, tracking the doctor’s finger, performing a grip test, etc.). The final test was to have me walk down the hall, which I desperately did not want to, then turn around and walk back. The relief of being able to sit back down after this was immense. Then the doctor delivered his diagnosis: I was lucky not to be worse off and I would most likely not get any better. I would be told something similar later on, but at this point, I was still, I think, somewhat in shock from the injury itself and I don’t remember feeling as defeated as such a diagnosis should have made me feel. I don’t know, I was just happy for the appointment to be over and to be heading home and back to bed.

After UCSF, we were all down. But not out. More queries to my doctor encouraged me to try acupuncture, yoga (not right away!) and even massage (my neck muscles were killing me thanks to all my tremors). Would these things cure me? No, but they would do no harm, so why not? But first, physical therapy. My sessions started on 4/13/2006 and were originally scheduled to go for three months but ended up going for about six. The focus was gait training, and I would spend most of my hour-long sessions walking on a treadmill and being observed by the therapist. I was fitted with a safety harness (good call) and in time graduated to other kinds of exercises, the best of which was Dance Dance Revolution, a stroke of genius by my therapist.
PT was a big time commitment, and my parents and Catherine shared driving duties for my three-times-a-week sessions, which tapered off to once a week by September.

By May, I was still feeling mostly awful most of the time, but I was well enough to be going for regular walks and spending more time on the couch than in bed during the day and to pass the time, I started to read a lot, plus noodle more and more on my guitar. The noodling was like it had always been — a few chords, some riffs, some licks — and I thought very little about it. I would noodle for a bit, get bored or sick or both and then stop. Nothing obvious seemed to have changed, really. I still had mostly lousy timing, I still hit more wrong notes than right and I still didn’t have a lot of ideas for songs. If the future was going to be different for me musically, it was going to be news to me. Good news, as it turned out.