Stay very still for three months.
January 24, 2015 3:11 PM   Subscribe

How can I keep a friend who can't move her neck or shoulders as she's recovering from surgery from going stir-crazy?

My dear friend K just had very scary surgery to remove a tumor from her spine, right at the top of her neck. She's got titanium rods where part of a vertebrae should be, and a really badass zipper-like incision straight up her neck into her hair.

Her recovery is going well so far but she can't really do anything. Reading for very long takes neck movement which she can't do because of her neck brace. She shouldn't be moving her neck or shoulders very much anyway because of blood clots and other troubling possibilities so early in her recovery. (It's been a little over a week since the surgery.)

She's dealing well with the pain. It's the boredom that's the problem. They've got a tv on the wall in her room so she can watch plenty of things without movement or needing to sit somewhere with the wrong posture, but she's not really a tv and movies person. She loves reading, sewing, drawing, playing video games, playing with her cat, and going out to do things with other people, all of which she shouldn't be doing right now. It'll be at least three more weeks until she can safely do most of the things that need shoulder and neck movement, and then it'll only be for short amounts of time.

I thought maybe comic books would be good, because you can read them quickly and go through them at your own pace, good for taking accidental naps in the middle of. (And I have a huge backlog of good ones she's never read, like all of Fables.) But holding a comic book at the right angle is bad for her right now.

She's not really into music, but she enjoyed Welcome to Nightvale, so maybe some other long-running narrative podcasts?

She's very crafty and hands-on and loves to make costumes. She originally thought she'd be able to get really good at knitting chainmail but that requires too much shoulder movement and strength right now. Crochet and knitting normal yarn, which I could teach her, takes too much movement and she's not interested in it.

If you have any suggestions for things to try, or tips for recovery from a surgery like this and living with this particular brand of limited mobility, please share them! She's living with her parents right now, and they're very helpful, but also gone at work a lot of the day. I have plenty of flexible time to spend with her, but just talking with her isn't helping her deal very well.
posted by Mizu to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What about audio books? There are subscription options where you get a whole bunch of credits at once to use whenever you like, rather than one per month or whatever. Also, public libraries have both CD-based and downloadable audio books, if you're willing to do the pick-up or set-up for her.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:13 PM on January 24, 2015 [6 favorites]

Maybe a special laptop desk for browsing in bed could help? This one is from Japan, but I just saw a new one in the U.S. somewhere the other day (can't remember where, unfortunately...).
posted by three_red_balloons at 3:23 PM on January 24, 2015

Have you thought about a book holder? They have these things like hospital bed trays/carts that have little notches for propping up a book. Maybe if she doesn't have to hold the book up it'll be easier.
posted by phunniemee at 3:25 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

If this was me I would want something to project ebooks on a nearby wall/ceiling/adjustable screen/idk such that I could turn the "pages" easily from bed but not have to hold anything up or move my head to read.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:35 PM on January 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

The way you're describing reading working makes me think that if she had an e-reader with side buttons for page turns that she would be able to stay still while reading--I've been able to do that because my hands don't have to move at all to turn the page, I just had to press with my fingers. If she could get ahold of one of the older Nooks, that might work. You can strip the DRM from Amazon books fairly easily using Calibre and then put them in the proper format onto the nook. The Kindle Voyage also has buttons of a kind but it would be much more expensive. Alternatively, if you managed to hook a computer up to that TV, I bet she would be able to use a Kindle app on that computer to read through books on it only having to press the space bar to advance.

Audiobooks are wonderful and have helped me read far more than I was previously able to by letting me do things like chores and community while listening to a book and if you guys went for Audible and MeMailed me the kinds of books she likes to read I might be able to make some suggestions (I have a hefty library at this point).

Podcast wise, I've always found the Judge John Hodgeman podcast engaging to listen to. Escape Pod does short story sci fi as does Strange Horizons.
posted by foxfirefey at 3:35 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

If she likes Doctor Who or any of the other properties they handle, Big Finish audio dramas could be very absorbing.
posted by wintersweet at 4:46 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Has she met with an occupational therapist? They can assess her and recommend safe ways of adapting her movements to support her activities, including the use of devices. The hospital should be able to offer information on how to find one. Some of them operate out of private practices and can do home visits - your friend can contact the OT professional body in her state/province for a list of providers. (I'm not sure how it works out insurance-wise, it might be out-of-pocket.)

Can she touch-type? If so, I'm wondering whether she might be able to get some use out of a wireless keyboard to control her computer and play games, using the TV or a projector as the display. I have and love the Logitech K-830 *, which works with both PCs and Macs (even though the software and documentation don't mention Macs). It has great key spacing for medium to small hands, imo. Maybe your friend could play around with different ways of positioning the keyboard.

If she wanted to try that, I would guess that her arms would have to be supported to reduce stress on her shoulders, though. The trick would be figuring out the angles that caused her the least strain, and choosing the right supports, which is an OT's expertise. It's worth having that insight, because a lot of the products online kind of suck (especially the cheaper ones), and figuring it out through trial and error can be expensive and maybe painful. Maybe the right set-up for her arms could support at least some basic crafty-type activities, too.

*Their popular cheaper one, the K-400, sucks, because it has the right shift key in a weird place, making it hard to comfortably touch-type without looking down.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:19 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Your poor friend! My heart goes out to her. I was recently in a similar position after injuring my neck/spine. I had to lie flat on my back for a week in hospital without moving my neck or shoulders until we knew what the extent of the damage was, and it almost drove me crazy. Now I am back home, but in a halo brace so a lot of activities I took for granted are more difficult.

Things that helped me:
- The hospital loaned me some "Prism" glasses, which reflected things at a 90 degree angle. This meant that I could read and use a phone or tablet lying down, without straining my arms/eyes/neck. This made all the following suggestions a lot easier.
- Quality books. A kindle was much better than a book since the page-turning mechanism is the press of a button/screen, and has less chance of folding up on you.
- Podcasts. I listened to This American Life, Escape Pod, Podcastle, The Bugle, Freakonomics, Radiolab, Serial, 360documentaries.
- A tablet would be the perfect way to read comics, if you have a way of getting them on.
- Computer games. I downloaded a lot of games on my ipad, a mix of quick puzzlers and some with more long-term playability. Some I enjoyed more than others: 80 Days, Paint it Back, Framed, Threes and 2048. It was also the perfect time to bust out my old Nintendo DS and play absorbing, non-time-sensitive games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing.
- Having all of these close at hand on one of the tables that goes over the bed was a small thing, but helped a lot because I didn't have to continually ask people to bring them to me, or stretch to find them in a way that might be harmful.
- Once your friend is able to be a bit more active/able to get out, I really encourage you to visit her, invite her to things, and arrange transport for her when possible. One of the hardest things for me at the moment is that I can't drive, and feel very isolated because I live far from my friends. I can count on one hand the number of people that have come to visit me at my home, and while I have made an effort to catch up with other people at a place more convenient to them, it requires asking my poor parents/sister/boyfriend to take an hour out of their lives to drop me off and pick me up. So I haven't organised many things, and feel left out of other things. I know that it's not personal, but I am disappointed at how easily I seem to have been forgotten. Please don't let that happen to your friend! I really treasure the people who have made an effort to come and visit me/stay in touch.

You are being a very good friend to your friend, and I'm sure she will appreciate it. All the best to her and I hope the rest of her recovery goes well.
posted by roshy at 7:16 PM on January 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

If you can set up a book holder with a tablet and a wireless mouse possibly with on screen keyboard you have the entire internet at your disposal. The actual placement of it might be difficult but a 10 in tablet should be light enough to rig up somewhere out of the way. Since her arms ate assumingly lying down and she's only making small wrist movements it might be allowed by the hospital.
posted by Liger at 7:35 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm going to avoid any practical or medical considerations since you know her situation much better than I do. I'm just brainstorming from an entertainment and boredom-busting perspective:

Could you do little, fun curation packages of entertainment for her? Like I think the thing that would make me most bored in her situation is that I'd be feeling like "OK, what movie should I watch? [5 min later] Found this stupid movie, guess I'll watch it. [1.5 hours later] Movie over, what now???"

But if the entertainment is more directed, or packaged, it would be like a fun multimedia learning experience! Just taking examples from some recent things I've consumed:

- American Splendor Package - You could get anthologies from Harvey Pekar's early comics from the library. She goes through those, then you watch American Splendor together. Then she could read Our Movie Year and Our Cancer Year. You guys could talk about what Harvey Pekar-esque comic you'd make about her current situation. You could watch YouTube clips of Harvey's appearances on Dave Letterman.

- Hugh Laurie / Stephen Fry Package - You could get a bunch of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster audio books for her. She listens to the stories then you could watch the Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry show together. You could then go off in any Hugh Laurie / Stephen Fry tangent – Q.I. would be fun to watch together and play along.

- Sherlock Holmes Package - She could play the (low-key) mystery computer game . She could watch the fun/stupid movie and then go through the great Sherlock TV show. You could get her a bunch of Sherlock Holmes audio books she could listen to throughout.

So, yeah, these are just examples - if I was in your friend's situation and my friend delivered a package of entertainment every week or two and it was like all together for me, I'd be super happy:

Entertainment Package of the Week!
1. Listen to these audiobooks on audible
2. Watch this movie on Netflix - call me and I'll come over and watch
3. Read these other books - they arrive via Amazon
4. Watch this TV show on Hulu

You're a very wonderful friend for considering this! And a speedy recovery to your friend.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 9:43 AM on January 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

+1 for the usefulness of occupational therapists: interfacing the material world to atypical bodies is their specialty.

Various manufacturers sell "computer tablet floor stands": here's an Amazon selection from $50 to $200. I haven't put my hands on any of these, so can't give you a real-life recommendation. You do want a stand that moves around easily and yet won't roll when touched. The legs must be low enough to fit under whatever chair she's going to be sitting in after the first month yet small enough that everybody isn't tripping over them.

I speak from relevant personal experience: My arms are weak enough that I use a bookstand for anything heavier than a magazine. I know I can turn pages on my iPad with voice commands. There are also very sensitive remote switches which some folks use to control their computers and their wheelchair seating and synthesized speech. These can be activated by a head tilt or a toe twitch or a knee squeeze (Stephen Hawking's uses an eye-gaze sensor). Here's a discussion of iOS access with a Bluetooth single switch .
posted by Jesse the K at 9:51 AM on January 25, 2015

Massages. Fans on your face. A different view, if for some reason she can't get out. Boredom isn't just mental. Anything to make the body feel different or have a change in environment.
posted by serena15221 at 7:35 PM on January 25, 2015

Can she move her legs? Could she play with some kind of large-ish keyboard thing and try to tap out songs by ear with her feet?
posted by WeekendJen at 12:09 PM on January 26, 2015

Some e-readers have an auto-scroll feature, or a way of rigging one up, so she could set it going and then sit very, very still.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:12 AM on January 27, 2015

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