FAQ: So, Steve, how was Cuba ?


FUA (Frequently Used Answer): Horrible. No, it was very hard but well worth it.


I'll elaborate. The treatment was very straightforward, basic physio, just very intensive. After the first afternoon, I spent 7 hours in the gym each day, Monday to Friday, plus 9-12:30 on Saturday. Sundays were free so I could go to church. Thus far I have only told one lie.

After some experimentation with my right arm, my trainer Jesus (say it Spanish style, Hay-sooce; more later) decided to concentrate on my leg strength and coordination, and my balance; walking, basically.

I'd begin by lying on a "plinth", an adjustable, padded table. I'd been on plenty of these before, in the Homerton hospital gym and the RNRU; they had hefty hydraulic height adjustment and were the size of small double beds. The Cuban ones were pretty slim and had frames that were more like deckchairs, but they were OK.

Bending and stretching ensued, facilitated by Jesus. Then he strapped a 1.5 kg weight round each of my ankles and, depending on the exercise, shoved a cylindrical bolster under my knees or ankles. Now - these small setting-up actions were really crucial; they were the kind of thing I wouldn't be able to manage on my own, and if I tried I'd just waste all my energy and get frustrated. Having them done for me, however, meant that I could get straight into some proper, useful (tedious, repetetive) exercise.

Although it was 7 hours a day, it wasn't 7 hours of full-on effort. I'd do maybe 5 sets of 10-20 repetitions, depending on the exercise, with decent rests between sets. Jesus would indicate that I should start the next set with the word "Bam". We never found an exact translation; it seemed to encompass next, go, OK and get on with it. The whole thing was well judged so that I could keep going all day, but by 5:30 I was knackered.

At first I was wheeled between our house and the gym, but in the 4th week I walked; the distance was about 330m and over that week my speed increased from 0.6kmh to a paint-blistering 1kmh. In terms of quality, my best walking was in the gym, between parallel bars. Jesus put small wooden blocks on the floor, so I couldn't drag my feet, and to make the length of my strides more consistent. The bars allowed me to fall safely; I'd just tilt a little before my hip touched the bar and stopped me. The whole setup allowed me to walk with confidence; We don't have any video, but look at this:




Yeah, shorts and Rifts with socks. Shut up and observe the normal-looking gait.

Before we left, Marta lent us some learn-yourself-Spanish books and CDs, and a little speaking translator machine. HELLO, HOW MUCH IS A DOUBLE ROOM ? However, what with getting important stuff like visas, innoculations and shorts, we didn't learn a word, and we found that most of the staff at CIREN didn't speak English. The first words I got to grips with came from counting exercise repetitions. Remember the Offspring track Pretty Fly for a White Guy ? "Now he's getting a tattoo / Yeah he's getting ink done / He wanted a thirteen / But they gave him thirty-one": That one. Anyway, because of that song I always thought "Uno, dos, tres, quatro cinco cinco seis" so I always did one rep too many. Also, bagno means bathroom. It was very difficult working out how to say "How do you say How do you say ?"