Going Home: August 2, 2013

DAY 158: AUGUST 2, 2013.  My personal Independence Day.

STATUS CHECK: I had a wheel chair but I used a walker to get around. All the paraphenalia from my stroke (traech, feeding tube, pic line) was gone.  I was on a blood thinner and a statin.  I was weakened with poor balance but I was independent. Hallelujah.

I was going home. I couldn’t wait. I was so excited.  Paperwork, good byes, and waiting.  Finally the hospital released me and I was free.  My best friend Mike drove me home. It felt surreal as I entered the blistering Texas heat and got into Mike’s truck; not in a wheel chair, but sitting in the car seat. I was ready to start the next chapter in my life. When I got home, it felt surreal, but familiar and comforting.

I was living alone for the first time in five months, which presented new challenges.  I had to be responsible for taking care of myself. If I fell, I had to get back up on my own. I had to make my own meals, shop for groceries, feed myself, arrange transportation, etc…With independence came work and responsibility.

I got around the house using my walker.  I zip-tied a chair to the side of my bed, to give me something to hold onto when I pulled myself upright in bed.  Then I would stand upright and get my walker.  And of to the bathroom, I went. I had ordered an elevated toilet sheet, since getting out of a low toilet seat was problematic.  I then brushed my teeth and washed up.  Then I would make a phone call to my parents at 7:30, a ritual i continue to this day.  Originally this was a means to signal to my parents that I was okay.  That I hadn’t fallen and injured myself.  So the phone call was a signal that all was well.  For breakfast, I would have something simple like yogurt and applesauce. Then I would feed the local tribe of feral cats.  That was the start to my day.

The next order of business was to tackle my medical bills.  Thankfully my insurance company was great, but I still had to deal with a lot of bills. This involved lots of phone calls. My voice was weak and a little garbled, so talking over the phone required extra effort and patience.  It was generally frustrating and thank God I could refer them to my insurance company if there were any disagreements. I would only do two calls a day because they were usually an emotional and physical drain.

I had my first fall at home.  I was opening the door and it was stuck.  I gave it a tug and I lost my balance.  Down I went.  Fortunately, it was onto some empty cardboard boxes which softened my fall.  I was alone and as I laid there, I thought “This is the test. Can I get back up?”  After much effort, I was able to roll myself over onto my stomach and maneuver myself back up onto my feet.  Well that was a close call, but I survived without injury.

I began my outpatient rehabilitation at Hospital C.  I did it three days a week.  I would take a cab.  I would have one hour each of physical, occupational, and speech therapy. My therapists continued to be great. I was truly blessed.  My occupational therapist was Nancy.  Her focus was to work on my right shoulder and get it limber again.  My physical therapist was Michael.  He focused on general strengthening, stamina and balance.  John was my speech therapist, where the focus was getting my voice stronger and clearer.  As time went on, I continued to get stronger and more flexible with more stamina and better balance.

I went for daily walks with my walker.  I purchased a new type of walker.  It had four wheels and a seat to sit on when I got tired.  It was more manueverable and using it felt more like walking.  I would try to go for a half hour walk every morning.  A couple times a week, I would go for a hour long walk to increase my stamina.

The one thing about my house that concerned me was that there was no handrail on the front porch.  I was afraid I would lose my balance coming down the steps and injure myself from the fall.  My friends, Eric, Mike and John installed one for me.

I won my Rotiserrie Baseball league.  Sweet!  The Spencer Park Howlers are champs.  It went down to the last day, but the Howlers won by a nose.

Originally I was taking a cab to therapy, but I was able to get into a handicapped transportation service provided by the city of Austin.  it was a Godsend.  Originally I went in a wheelchair on the bus, But I evolved into using my walker to get to van. I would use the service to go to therapy 3 times a week, get groceries, do laundry, doctor appointments, etc. It saved me so much money over cabs.  Thank you Austin.

My second fall was more serious.  I was was getting ready to go to bed and I kicked off my sweat pants while standing and lost my balance. Down I tumbled with a thud.  Nothing broke my fall this time.  I struggled to regain my footing and eventually tumbled into bed, exhausted.  This resulted in bruises that looked like angry thunderstorms on my butt and side.

I graduated from speech therapy first.  It was decided that I had progressed to the point that I could continue my therapy on my own.  Another milestone.  My voice was still weak and I had trouble enuciateing some words, but I could be heard and understood  from 20 feet in a somewhat crowded room.

I continued on with my physical and occupational therapy.  After therapy, I would be exhausted.  One of the goals of a therapist is to push you to your limits.  So by the end of the day, I would drag myself to my ride.  All this physical exertion would make me very tired and sleepy.  When I got home, I would take a nap. It was being an infant, requiring lots of naps.

One of the things I did at therapy was biofeedback. Bob was the therapist.  He hooked me up with electrodes.  Then I would do simple exercises and the electrical activity in my arms or legs were measured.  The strength of the signal increased slowly but surely over time.

As time went on, I would walk without a walker.  A belt was attached around my torso by the therapist to help the therapist support me in case I lost my balance.  I walked straight legged and a little wobbley, but I walked.  Eventually I went outside to walk on uneven ground.

One of the lingering problems has been ’empathetic’ crying.  I used to lean toward stoicism, but now I had lost a lot of control of my emotions.  Even romantic comedies or songs could reduce me to tears. I could also get very agitated in conflicts.  My voice would rise to a peculiar pitch. But conflicts were rare, except when I dealt with bill collectors.

My third fall was my worst.  I was using my four wheeled walker  for my morning walk.  My front wheels hit a crack in the road, which caused them to pivot and stop abruptly.  My momentum carried me  over the handlebars onto the street.  I scrambled up to my feet as fast as I could and got off the road. I thought I had broken my wrist, but it was just sprained.  I was more careful after that.

Therapy carried on with the difficulty of the routines ramping up.  By the end of the session I was exhausted. Physical Therapy focused on walking, balance, stamina and strength.  Occupational Therapy worked on the dexterity of fingers and hands and flexibility.  I was also getting driving instructions from Bob.  It felt weird to drive again, especially in Austin’s hectic and stressful traffic.

One of the adjustments to my new life was the change of my social life.  I was not married and my family lived in Wisconsin.  Ninety per cent of my socializing was in the workplace.  Therapy had replaced my workplace. And now that I was back home, I spent a lot of time alone.  Loneliness is a common problem with stroke victims.

As days turned to weeks, and weeks to months, my out-patient days drew to a close.  I was given tests to verify my progress and good-byes and well wishes were exchanged.  My thanks to Michael, Nancy, Ronnie, Casey, John, Bob and Bob.  It takes a village and they were my village.  I felt like I was 60% recovered, which was fantastic. It is hard to put a percentage on recovery because there are so many components.

I would do therapy on my own (cardio and stretching everyday and engage in conversation as often as possible).  I am independent, happy and free. And grateful. I left out-patient on January 17, 2014.  My doctors tell me I am a miracle.