What’s all this TDU stuff about?
1. What does TDU stand for? Tongue Display Unit
2. What does it do? A person without a working vestibular system cannot sense where they are in space. What the TDU does is relay a pattern of information to the tongue through stimulating sensations establishing a horizontal frame of reference to where the body is in space.
It took some time to begin trials with the TDU “live”. By that I mean conducting trials where its sensations on the tongue were introduced as a consistent element in the trials. The wait took until 2002. The live trials synchronized with a protocol to explicitly communicate how the trials were to be conducted. I had no idea how the protocol was determined, what was in it, or how it was going to be used. In my mind I was there as a “subject” without bias or knowledge of what to expect. I was subject blind, guided by Mitch and Yuri as they followed the protocol.
Our work finally reignited and the research continued, or rather, I feel began. Returning to the lab, I found the equipment resembled the same we used during the maze experience, only without the joystick, thank God. However, there was an addition of a new part, a rather strange looking green construction helmet that had several holes and pieces cut out of it. I liked to refer to the helmet as a “hat”. I asked what the hat had to with the TDU. For one, it was a component of the TDU. Then I learned that inside the hat, attached on the top and in the middle, was a built in miniature “accelerometer”, something that worked like a carpenter’s level and could sense movement. The holes in the hat were to reduce the weight of it.
Knowing what the hat was about, I was asked to put it on my head. Mitch and Yuri suggested that I explore how the accelerometer linked to movement of my head and body to get a feel for how it worked. Sitting with my butt against the back of the chair I rested my forearms on its side arms. I experimented with it and discovered that when I moved my head or body forward or backwards an “x” on a monitor in front of me would move in the same directions. The same happened when I moved my head side to side and even in a circle. In addition to the “x” on the monitor was an outline of a little box. I engaged in a process of getting the “x” in the box. I was grounded by the feel of the chair but my shaky head made the “x” wander where it wanted. After a lot of practice I got the hang of it and worked the “x” closer to the box, it was shaky and not really inside of it, but I was I closer. I played this game for a long time again thinking to myself how the equipment in front of me and on my head was supposed to help with balance, it all seemed rather silly to me. I did, however, gain a complete understand how my movements told the accelerometer what to do. One thing accomplished.
After playing with the movement revelation and keeping the hat on, I was asked to scoot up to where my butt was on the edge of the chair, something I avoided like the plague. In that position I was asked to pull my back up as straight as I could, my head aligned with my back and, centered between my shoulders. This certainly was not an easy task, after all from my waist up I was a noodle with a wobbly head. In keeping with the task I was given, I put a grip on the chair and stretched my back upwards as far as I could and tried my best to keep my green hat head centered and still. This was so unnatural and actually put a lot of strain on my muscles because for years my posture was bent forward, wobbling every which way sitting or walking, with my head dangling and bobbing like a bobble head doll. Now that’s attractive, huh?
Working hard to hold the position I was in, I was asked to place my feet flat on the floor and place my knees and legs in a position where they touched each other which added to the strain on my body. To make matters worse, in that position I was told that I would be letting go of my grip on the chair so I could cross my arms and place my hands on my elbows, yea… easier said than done –another layer to the already ridiculously physically demanding position I was in. I was told that in this position my mission was to get the “x” in the box. Okay then… So, with hat on, in the controlled position Mitch and Yuri placed me in, they said – let go. I let go of the chair and within seconds went into a full out wobble, one that began with my head then traveled its way down until from the waist up I wiggled around like the wet noodle I described. It didn’t take long until my upper body drooped forward, with my head hung down to where my chin was just inches from my chest, I instantly went for a grip on the chair. Like I said, the position was ridiculously challenging.
For many years I often found myself in challenging situations that ignited the noodle mode. Each time I instinctively grabbed for whatever I could reach, even people, if I didn’t connect to something, even a touch with my finger on a table, my connection with the wobbly world around me disappeared and I literally felt like I was being sucked into outer space. When I couldn’t find something stable, I went into panic mode and I’d begin to flail about like one of those toys when the bottom was pushed in the character on top would wiggle around. When the button was pushed in all the way the character crumbled down and became a puddle of pieces. I played with one of those when I was I kid, who knew I’d end up copying those kinds of moves!
Luckily, this time in my panic I remembered the side arms of the chair. I gathered my wits about me, with one hand pushed myself off from the edge of the table in front of me where the TDU equipment was, worked my way back to an unsteady upright position, slid my butt back off the edge of the chair to repositioned into my reality. That whole experience scared the crap out of me, and of course that damned “x” went nowhere near the box. This experience knocked me up the side the head trying to connect this nonsense to balance, other than to torture me. After a rest I was asked to return to the agonizing controlled position to give it another try leading to many more tries stretching my noodle to its limit. With each attempt more and more of my vigor disappeared. I was exhausted and we called it a day.
In spite of my body’s reaction to the trials, I felt committed to the cause. I did everything I was asked to do and made suggestions to consider and implement as we continued additional trials. I was well cared for and attention to my well being was apparent yet the major focus of the research was on me getting that damned “x” in the box. My miserable attempts to keep my head and upper body still enough to accomplish the “x” mission were noted and recorded. It was then I began to understand that research is all about proving a theory, and I was the major component to bring their theory to life. It was that day I became a theorized subject of constant examination.