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Laurie Trlak

Joyfully Counting the Cost

August 11, 2009 at 11:53 PM

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!

From Michael Divino
Posted on August 12, 2009 at 1:18 PM

I'm very happy for you! 

From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on August 12, 2009 at 2:24 PM

I'm so glad you're able to play again! 

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 3:21 AM

Congratulations.  I'm so happy that you can play again.  I suppose you are aware that the piano virtuoso Leon Fleisher, developed a rare disease which prevented him from using two fingers of his right hand.  He continued teaching, conducting, and looking for a cure for almost 40 years.  Finally he got carefully administered botox injections, and he now plays piano with both hands.  I'm glad that you didn't have to wait as long as he did.  I hope that there will soon be treatments for the other symptoms of MS.

I admire and appreciate you for speaking publicly about your handicap and for your persistence in finding the way to play your violin again.

I have a friend who is a dedicated pianist.  When she was a junior in college, she had a stroke which robbed her of fine motor control of the right side of her body.  She has taught herself how to do everything with her left hand.  She now plays the piano with her left hand only.  She uses one finger to play the melody and the other four to play chords.  I'm very proud of her.

From Drew Lecher
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 5:12 AM

 Congratulations, Laurie, and God bless you and keep you!

I pray a cure is found for this awful illness. One of my best friends lost his sister to it when she was in her late 20's.

From Laurie Trlak
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 12:07 PM

Drew, that's awful. Thankfully, fatalitities due to MS are rare, but they do happen. My form of MS is the much more common relapsing/remitting variety, which while not without its problems is manageable, especially now with more and more treatments available, and even more on the horizon. There is even hope for a cure in our lifetimes. 

To everyone, perseverance really isn't so strange; giving up isn't an option. We're violinists! If we were quitters, we wouldn't be playing these otherwise cursed instruments! LOL! 

From Laurie Trlak
Posted on August 13, 2009 at 12:16 PM

Pauline, I admire anyone who can learn to use her left hand for things. I have to admit, I have often wished this past week that I were left-handed. It would make many things easier! I find using my left hand so awkward for so many things. Perhaps this is an opportunity to start learning to use my left hand more. I'm one of those right-handed people who is so right-handed that I might as well have two right hands!

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on August 16, 2009 at 4:15 AM

I'm thinking about Jacqueline du Pre, the young virtuoso cellist, who had MS and finally had to stop playing when she couldn't feel the strings under her fingers.  She became severely handicapped gradually and died young.  What an awful tragedy!  I heard the news that she would not be able to play the cello any more while I was writing my doctoral dissertation on myelin formation in mice.  Myelin is a major factor in the pathology of MS, and that made me feel the tragedy even more deeply.  I'm so glad that you are not as severely affected as Jacqueline du Pre and that there are treatments which help you.

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