July was the first anniversary of me moving into my building on 3rd Avenue. Moving into my own apartment was a huge step on my road to recovery. I was in the hospital from May until August 2015. Once discharged, I lived with my father and rehabbed three times a week. After a lonesome year of hard work, I moved back to Minnesota, to a much better support network, as many of my friends were in the medical professions. I lived with friends for over a year, and I ended up going to a transitional care facility in January 2018.
Being in transitional care gave me a lot of time to focus on acquiring the tools that would be required for me to live on my own. For the first two months, I had physical, occupational, and speech therapy every day. In February, I began going to the gym about three days a week to supplement what I was doing in therapy. Eventually the therapies ended. Legally, transitional care could not discharge me to the streets. So in March, I began the long process of waiting until they could help me find housing.
For the next few months, I was basically just a resident. The facility served three meals a day, but I had to find a way to fill the hours. To do so, I started going to the barbershop, the coffee shop, Target, happy hour. My goal was to get comfortable with scheduling, handling money, and moving around the community. I would often take my laptop along and just sit down and write. It was by repeating these movements countless times in public that I got used to knowing my surroundings and my rituals.
These little victories felt inspiring, but I was still going home to transitional care. I was living in a room that didn’t lock. I lived with a roommate. He was very nice, but he played his television constantly and seldom left the room because he was there for long-term care. I did have my own closet that I could lock when I came and went, so I could secure my things. This place was better than being on the street, but it wasn’t home.
Eventually, Hennepin County assigned a housing worker named Katie to me. She took me over to a high-rise one street over and four blocks up. It was still in the same neighborhood, but right across the interstate from downtown. I loved the location. Plus it had a large backyard where I could walk Mary. I immediately knew that this was where I wanted to live. This would be the next stepping stone back to full independence.
I filled out the lease on the last Friday in June, but it took over a month before I was medically cleared to move in. The first night I slept in my apartment was July 26, 2019. There was no one in the building who knew me. I didn’t have cable or internet. I had a phone, but it was having charging problems, so I couldn’t play videos on it. Mary was still staying with friends. So I had a long, lonely night. I had long wanted to be on my own again. But now that there was no one who could come to my rescue, I lay awake worrying.
My bed had not been moved in yet, so I slept on a mattress on the floor. It was hard to get down and even harder getting back up. When the blue light of dawn would come through the window, I would awaken. Since my left leg couldn’t bend, I would roll off the mattress, drag myself across the floor, and pull myself up onto the couch. All the while I had to pee, so I always worried that I wouldn’t make it, so I began sleeping with a latrine at bedside. If I wanted to shower, I would have to come in the front room so I could dry off and dress. Looking back on it now, it was miserable. But I had to reacquire the life skills to be independent. So having to do things the hard way kept my mind and body recovering at an accelerated rate.
Eventually friends brought over my bed and my dog. So I began sleeping comfortably and walking her outside. I began outpatient physical therapy and a gym schedule. My energy was low most mornings, but I knew I had to dress and get Mary outside. By the time I was back indoors, I was awake enough to shower, dress, and eat breakfast. I would still be a little sleepy as I went downstairs for my ride to the bus or the gym, But I would gradually come alive on the bus or in the cab. By the time I arrived, I was ready to give it my all.
These mornings were exhausting. I would fight through a workout, then come home, have lunch, and sleep until 5:00. Then I would get up, take my meds, and take Mary out again. I would do this one more time before bedtime. Over the next year, my energy, strength, and balance all I proved. Much it was from working out, but a great deal came from having to get up and get moving no matter how I was feeling.
Today I’m wide awake most mornings before 6:00. Mary and I go outside for about half an hour. I have time for meds, a shower, and breakfast with another hour to spare before my ride arrives. I have been released from physical therapy, so my ride usually takes me to the gym. I stationary bike for several minutes, then I lift weights for another hour. The exercises I do have gotten much more strenuous. So I seldom require naps and I now walk around indoors without a cane.
My goal for my second year living alone is to strengthen my left leg enough to stop requiring a cane for outdoor use. In addition to power, this will require dexterity. I wtasn’t be able to access muscles in my toes, ankle, and calf. This takes constant stimulation. Now when I go to the gym, I do so exclusively without my foot brace. Although this makes walking a little more challenging, it strengthens my ankle, makes me activate my toes during exercise, and forces me use my foot’s muscles to clear itself every time I take a step.
I have targeted the end of 2019 as the time when I want to stop needing the cane because I want my primary focus in 2020 to be gaining more use of my left arm. It has regained a lot of strength and mobility, but it requires far more neurons than the leg to work properly. I want to be able to give it as much attention as possible. Not requiring a cane will allow my right hand to work in tandem with it as well, so this would open up new avenues for employment and in daily life.
It was with this new sense of optimism that I welcomed my friend Allene as she visited from Wisconsin. It was Allene who found out about my stroke and put everything on Facebook while I was in a coma. She kept everyone updated as I opened my eyes, struggled to talk, and couldn’t hold a Smartphone. I even moved in with Allene and her roommate during my first year back in Minneapolis. Now that I was no longer in need of physical care, we were just meeting at a restaurant, telling each other about our future plans.
Of course Allene had to come by the apartment so she could see Mary. Mary loves every visitor she receives, but she gets doubly excited when she sees people she knew as a puppy. I watched her jump around and roll her little body all over Allene. It is so much fun watching Mary celebrate.
After a few minutes, we went outside. I looked at the steps leading to the upper patio and became ambitious. I wanted to walk all the way to the top using my left leg to step up to each step. Allene took Mary, and I began to climb.
Every time I stepped up, I could feel my quadriceps tindghten. My progress was slow a hard,. After I got to the landing halfway up, I started to feel it, but I kept going. As I neared the top of the steps, it took great effort every time I lifted my left leg. I even felt a twinge in my hamstring. Nonetheless, I was almost to the top.
As I stepped up to the last step, I felt my left leg start to give way. I quickly brought my right leg up. With both legs planted firmly beneath me, I was stable again. I admired the view as I stood confidently atop the hill.