It has now been a week since I had Botox injections to stop essential tremor in my right wrist. The tremor had disrupted my playing to such a degree that bowing a long, smooth upbow was nearly impossible, and I was despairing of ever being able to play anything really worthwhile or difficult, like unaccompanied Bach, since double stops in particular were giving me such difficulty. Now that a week has gone by, the full effects of the toxin have taken hold; I cannot extend my middle, ring and little fingers more than about halfway above my palm. The muscles in my forearm which control that movement have been effectively paralyzed by the botulinum toxin. Simple actions such as grasping an object are nearly impossible. I have to manipulate my hand into a position so that I can get my fingers around the edge of the thing I want to pick up - or just use my left hand, which is quite foreign to me. In order to type, I am reduced to using just the index finger of my right hand, quite a come down for someone who has always prided herself on her typing skills. Everything takes longer to do, from signing my name to cutting food. It's a little frustrating, and for someone in the job market right now, a little worrisome.
BUT....BUT...But...The tremor is gone, at least for now. I can't express the joy I feel at being able to guide my bow again as it was meant to be guided, to feel the smoothness of the bow changes, the sureness of the staccato, to feel as though at last, at last! I have control of my bow again.
The past couple of years, dealing with the worsening tremor, have been a period of increasing frustration and darkness. Watching as my skills deteriorated I seriously wondered if I shouldn't just give up. All of my life i have thought of myself as a musician in one way or another, whether as a singer or as a violinist. But while I sing well, the violin holds a special place in my heart. I don't make any claim to virtuosity, but it is a part of my being. I am no master. I would like to master my instrument, but I fear it has mastered me, and I must obey its siren song to perfect its color and clarity, its tone and its nuance. I may never achieve my goal. Like most violinists, I am a perfectionist, because that is what this instrument, this harshest of all masters, demands. And yet, would any of us have it any other way? But today I can say that I can play once again, and that fills me with a joy that - well, if I have to explain it, then you probably wouldn't understand anyway.
So would I say that being able to play again is worth the price I'm paying, Yeah!
Well, the Topamax has helped somewhat. My neurologist ended up doubling the dosage, and it did reduce the tremor considerably, although it didn't eliminate it. This week I began Botox injections. The doctor inserted electrodes into muscles in my right forearm in order to determine which ones were "misfiring" while I was bowing upbow -- and yes, it meant bringing my violin to my doctor's office, which was a bit odd, and playing while I was there! She was able to isolate the muscles, and she gave me four injections into four muscles which she determined were the ones causing the worst tremor, the one in my wrist, which caused my bow to skip horribly. She said it would take about a week for the Botox to take full effect, but it's working already if my last two practice sessions are any indication. My only concern is that my worst fear, that my fingers might be paralyzed, could be a reality; as of this afternoon, I cannot lift my middle finger (so I guess it's not the finger that's paralyzed, but the muscle that makes it possible for me to lift it independently from the others, which is the point). I can bend it, but not lift it. All snickers aside (and I know what you're thinking) that may not be a problem while playing. I'll see, as I am about to go to my lesson. But it's a little worrisome. In any case, I hope it makes playing easier. So far my practice sessions have gone much better, although typing has been harder!, But then, moving my fingers on a keyboard is different from moving them on a fingerboard, especially since I don't use my right hand on a fingerboard!
Anyway, as I work on Campagnoli's Divertimento I, and on Veracini's Sonata in G Minor, I am finding that I have better control over the bow for the first time in a very long time. I hope it continues.
More entries: May 2009
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.