Continuing with the two-year anniversary reminiscing theme, I asked Polly what was going through her mind during those first weeks after my stroke when she thought I would not walk again. As seems typical after stroke, no one told us much of anything, I guess because no one knew anything. When I was in stroke ICU, she could see that I wasn't even capable of sitting up, but she wasn't that upset, because she thought that when I got to the inpatient rehab facility, they would get me up and running laps around the hallways. But after a week there and I still needed two staff to help me transfer from the bed to a wheel chair, she drastically adjusted her expectations. Especially after the staff discussed with her that I might be a better candidate for a nursing home than a rehab facility.
Polly said that as she pushed me in my wheelchair around the hallways, and outside if the weather was nice, "I just kept repeating to myself that I can do this. If this is what the future will be like for us, so be it , I can do this." Polly believes in the power of prayer, so she said she prayed, "Please let me bring him home, in whatever condition he is in, just please let him come home so I can care for him."
Polly was prepared to be my caregiver, no matter how hard, no matter how long, no matter the cost to her. But thankfully she didn't have to face that future. I attribute my rapid recovery to characteristics of my stroke: hemorrhagic, small in size, no vital areas of the brain affected, but she believes that God intervened to deliver me from living out my days lying in a bed. I know what I believe, but I would never claim that I know the absolute truth.
Friday, October 25, 2013
October 21 was my 2-year stroke anniversary, and my wife, Polly, and I were reminiscing. She said, “Remember during the first days of inpatient rehab when I would push you outside in the courtyard area?” I told her I sort of did, but those early days were pretty foggy to me. But her mention of that time brought back memories of that place flooding back: the sounds, the smells, the atmosphere of it, the sensation of being in a wheelchair, the strange feeling of being in that place. I may not remember some of the details, but I’ll never forget that feeling.
Polly took time off from teaching, so she was there every day with me and stayed late into the night. I remember taking physical therapy and seeing her nearby and hearing her encouraging me. I didn’t realize at the time in what bad shape I was, but Polly did. She told me later that she would go into the visitor’s bathroom and cry after watching me try to walk. She never revealed to me how she felt, though. She said that after watching my struggles in the first weeks at inpatient rehab, she would come home and prepare for my homecoming by going online and researching hospital beds and wheelchairs.
Neither of us knew then, but I learned later by reading Peter Levine’s blog, that a characteristic of the hemorrhagic stroke I had was severe physical disability at the beginning, but rapid recovery. And that was exactly the course my recovery took. One morning in about the fourth week, Polly walked into my room and I pointed to a quad cane standing in the corner. She said, “You can use that?” When I said I could, even though I barely could, her face beamed, for that was her first hope that I would be able to walk again.
But now, after two years, I feel like I’ve reached a tipping point in my recovery to the point that I now consider myself a normal person with a slight physical impairment, rather than a disabled person trying to recover to normality. Polly often reminds me of what used to be. When I complain about my limp, she says, “At least you’re walking.” When I complain about the stiffness on my left side, she says, “At least you’re able to dress yourself.” It’s good to have the perspective of someone who’s been there and knows exactly how it was.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
I do a lot of things to keep myself physically fit. I lift light weights; I do crunches, planks, and modified pushups; I walk; I ride a stationary bike. But most of all I swim. I’m lucky that my small community has a large, well-equipped YMCA with a nice pool with three lanes always reserved for lap swimming. I try to swim at least three days a week, and I attribute much of my physical recovery to swimming.
I’m not of a mystical bent, but I can’t help but think, and feel, that water is healing. When I jump in, it feels to me that my body responds positively to it, that I have entered a nurturing, supportive environment. The spasticity that slows me so much when I engage in other forms of exercise has less power over me in the water. It still fights against me, but the water enables me to overcome it to the extent that I can go 12 lengths of the pool using my own version of a freestyle stroke. I don’t claim to do laps, since I have to catch my breath at each end of the pool, but I think before long that laps will be doable.
There was a therapeutic pool at my inpatient rehab facility, but my therapists never suggested I use it. I attributed that to the fact that it would be more difficult, and time-consuming, for the therapists to have to get in and out of the water with their patients. It’s my personal belief, though, without any research to back it up, that exercising in water would greatly benefit all stroke survivors.
In my opinion we don’t respect water nearly enough. It’s where we came from, and mostly what we are. When I swim I feel its resistance that strengthens me, and its support that assists me. For sure, it can be dangerous, even deadly, but if you don’t fight it, and instead respect it, it will respect you.
Near Lexington there is a rehab facility for injured thoroughbred horses where, by use of a crane, sling and harness apparatus, horses can swim in a circular pool. Something like that would be greatly beneficial to stroke survivors, I believe, but race horses are valuable in our society, while stroke survivors seem much less so.
Monday, October 14, 2013
I’ve blogged a few times about where I work and what I do, and my last post was about attending the Kentucky Affordable Housing Conference. The communications department at Kentucky Housing Corporation produced a video that was shown at the opening session. It includes scenes from around central Kentucky, including Lexington and Louisville and some KHC employees acting silly at our company picnic. Also included are highlights of two of our many programs, one that finances accessible and energy-efficient single family homes, and my program, the Olmstead Housing Initiative, which funds multifamily rental housing for people with severe mental illness. Here is the link to the video, which was put on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xex4LPBwkEU
Friday, October 11, 2013
Just got back from two days at the Kentucky Affordable Housing Conference in Lexington. Polly is on fall break this week, so she went with me. The conference was held at the Lexington Convention Center and we stayed at the Hyatt next door. The last time we stayed there was 14 years ago and the kids were with us. Hannah was nine, and Collin five. Polly and Hannah and a friend of Polly’s and her daughter went to a concert at Rupp Arena while I entertained Collin. The concert featured Nsync with Justin Timberlake before he was famous, with Pink the opening act before she was famous. Our stay there this time was much more peaceful. Our room was very nice, since the Hyatt has undergone a much-needed remodeling and updating in recent years.
A traveling exhibit about the Titanic was in one part of the convention center, and on Thursday Polly went to that and did some shopping while I attended the conference events. The workshops I chose to attend focused on accessible and energy-efficient residential design, which is becoming ever more important as energy costs rise and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases. Late in the day, I was a participant in a Q&A with private and nonprofit housing developers concerning rental subsidy vouchers for people with mental and physical disabilities that KHC is going to apply for if HUD ever reopens for business. We are excited about the housing opportunities these subsidies will provide people with disabilities. It’s one of the very few affordable housing resources left, so I was glad that developers seem interested in utilizing them.
Like most stroke survivors, I suffered some damage to my ability to process questions and formulate a quick response, so I was a bit apprehensive about taking questions from such a hard-nosed group. But everything went well, and now going on two years after my stroke, my mind seems as agile as it was pre-stroke. I even found myself on more than one occasion growing impatient with the lack of comprehension on the part of some individuals concerning concepts I considered fairly straightforward. Just like pre-stroke.
After the Q&A, I had a glass of Maker’s Mark, a fine Kentucky bourbon, at the conference reception, then went to our room where Polly was waiting. Since the weather was beautiful, we decided to walk to a nearby downtown restaurant for dinner, or supper as we call it here. We had been there before, but not for many years. Polly had a salmon dish, and I had smoked gouda and rigatoni with an alfredo sauce. Both were excellent. We both had wine: me, Pinot Grigio; Polly, her usual white Zin. I had grilled garlic bread with my dish, but we also got a small loaf of bread before the meal. And no rye bread here. This is Kentucky, so we got corn bread with sweetened butter. Polly does love her dessert, so we both had coffee, and split a huge piece of excellent cheesecake.
We don’t eat this much as a rule, so we were both stuffed afterward. I told Polly I might need to get a taxi back to the hotel. She looked at me with alarm, and said, “Really?” I told her I was just kidding, that I was fine, just so full I could hardly walk. That comment was something I would normally say before my stroke, and Polly would have known it was a joke, but you’ve got to be careful about joking about mobility impairment to someone who’s seen you go through stroke rehab. We walked back to the hotel and both felt better for it. There were activities for conference attendees that night, but neither of us felt like participating, so we watched a little TV and went to sleep early.
I got up the next morning, had a big continental breakfast while Polly slept in, then attended the morning workshop sessions, and was finished by noon. We toured the shops at the convention center for a bit, including the excellent Old Kentucky Candies shop, then drove back home. On the way back, we drove past the beautiful Keeneland horse track, but racing had already started and we knew on a beautiful day like that it would be packed. You have to get there early to get a seat, and neither of us wanted to stand.
It was a short getaway, but both of us enjoyed it. Having lived in this state my entire life, I take for granted its beauty and many charms. A trip like this one makes me realize how lucky I am to live here, how lucky I am to be alive, and how lucky I am to have someone to enjoy life with. It’s not quite the same as it used to be, though. The spasticity is a constant reminder of what happened, what could have been, and what yet could be. But until that time comes, life is well worth living.