Another Year of Gains

I spent all of New Year’s Day preoccupied with the fact that my insurance had been canceled erroneously. Since I couldn’t contact anyone at the county to clear up the matter that day, I figured that I could go with my ILS worker the next day. On the following morning, I called Ucare to see whether anyone had called from the county to resolve the billing error. When they told me that there had been no update, I proceeded to go to Hennepin County Social Services.

It was a cold day, but there was no ice or snow to speak of, so the footing wouldn’t be bad. This meant that I could wear my old brace and be comfortable, as my new shoes wouldn’t be arriving for another week. When I got to the building, there was only a short line. I got to the front quickly and told my story to the clerk. She said that she would bypass a stop and send me immediately to my team.

Contrary to my expectation, they didn’t call me right away. When I first got to the second floor, the room was relatively abandoned. But it slowly began filling up. I saw several people who had arrived after me be called before I was. I stood up a couple of times, wondering whether I should go back down to see if there had been a mistake.

After waiting for thirty minutes, I finally was able to talk to a county worker. I told her the short version of how I’d been billed by the insurance company during the seven months I was inpatient. The worker told me that she had just received an email and had reinstated my Ucare insurance. It had happened so seamlessly that I could scarcely believe it! I asked her whether she could tell me where I was in my billing cycle. She told me that she couldn’t, so I told her that I could follow up with a call to the billing department later.

My ILS worker and I went to a coffee shop for an hour, since I had nothing else to do for the day. I called to find out when my insurance premium was due again. The billing representative told me that I had over two months’ worth of credit, meaning that I wouldn’t owe anything until March. I decided to make sure that I was at least a month ahead of my other bills by March. Then I could make a triple payment to insurance. By June, I could be two months ahead of everything. This would allow me to travel during the summer.

I went home to have a brief nap. A knock at the door woke me up. When I was finally able to get there, there was a UPS box at the door. The custom Nikes I had ordered to accommodate my new brace had arrived a week early.
Nike is the Greek goddess of victory. She is also a companion to the goddess Athena. So I designed the shoes as an homage to Athena – grey and olive green. Grey is the color of her eyes; the olive tree is her symbol. The left shoe is inscribed with my initials. The right one says “517” for the month I started lifting weights again.

Because I spend so much time in athletic clubs and physical therapy gyms, I wear training shoes quite a bit. I purchase a couple of pairs of shoes a year. Since last year, I’ve been designing customized pairs with inspirational messages on them. I feel as though the messages push me to try harder than most stroke victims. This doesn’t make me better than anyone else; it just makes me the best I can be.

I wondered how long it would be before I could break in the shoes well enough to wear them with my brace. They were long, but they still ran narrow for the brace width. I put the brace on my left leg, then pulled the shoe over my toes and instep. The hardest thing is getting shoe heels over the wide plastic heel of the orthotic. I used my thumb and index finger to gradually pull the shoe open around the brace. It seemed like it would take an hour if I was going to get it on at all. Then just like that, the shoe slid into place.

Since I didn’t have shoe buttons in them yet, I tucked in the laces and went down to the nurses’ office to have them tie the shoes for me. Once they were tied, I began walking around my apartment, enjoying how much more stable I felt. I also walked Mary down to use the bathroom before I took them off for the night. After I removed the shoes, I placed my brace in the left shoe to stretch it out overnight. I was truly excited about having shoes I could wear with my new, more stable brace.

I had a ride to the gym scheduled the following morning. I was chomping at the bit to wear my new brace and get started working out, but I knew that I really shouldn’t do so with my current footwear. My old shoes were actually too small for the brace. The new shoes needed to be broken in, but I didn’t need to be working out in them with my new brace on less than 24 hours after I received them. I canceled my ride to the gym and just wore the new shoes and brace around the apartment building.

My friend Manny sent me a text asking if I wanted to go downtown to watch the Liverpool-Manchester City match that afternoon. This would accomplish two things: It would give me a chance to practice walking around in the new shoes, and I would continue my recovery by going on my daily outing. I also just wanted to go out to be social, so I told him that I would definitely go.

When we got to The Local Irish Pub, Manny couldn’t find a parking space nearby, so he dropped me off in front. A couple of years earlier, I had been nervous about being dropped off at the same corner. The tiny curb incline was a challenge because of how badly I was dragging my left foot. I had done so much physical therapy in the intervening years that I wanted to gauge my progress by visiting a place I hadn’t been to since I’d first moved back to Minnesota.

I was there ostensibly to see the match, but I was more preoccupied with marveling at all of the things that my body had become capable since the last time I’d visited The Local. My left glutes and hamstring had once been so weak that I couldn’t sit on a bar stool. I had stopped having to sit at low-top tables exclusively over a year ago. Walking had once been so arduous that I would arrive at a restaurant, sit down immediately, and only get up to go to the restroom. Now distance was no longer a barrier between my current spot and other tables. My double vision had once been so bad that, even after it cleared up some, I had needed to close one eye to watch sports. Now I could open both eyes and watch like a normal patron.

City won 2-1. Manny and his friends are Liverpool supporters, so they were a little dejected. It didn’t bother me. I was enjoying the ambience. I could speak intelligibly, move about the room without effort, and not have to try to appear to be having fun while secretly counting the minutes until I could go home and rest. It was a relaxing time out. I didn’t have a solitary concern. Going out was starting to feel like it was supposed to again.

Over the next couple of days, I got as much time as I could walking in the new shoes. Finally I felt like I was ready to try working out in them. After the issues with my health insurance, I assumed there might also be a miscommunication with my Silver Sneakers membership. So rather than risk going to L. A. Fitness and not be able to use the club, I booked a ride to Planet Fitness

I woke up before 5:00 on Saturday morning. On days when I wake up so early, if I get out of bed immediately, I tend to feel tired by 9:00 or so. When this happens, I often feel tempted to cancel my rides. But today, I was eager to try the new brace. I had experienced drowsiness over the last couple of weeks, but I felt this was just due to my recently having been sick. If I could just get into the gym and get a couple of reps, momentum would take over and I would be back to my usual high level of energy. So instead of canceling the rides, I hung out in bed until 7:00. Then I got up and began moving around.

Fifteen minutes before my ride was scheduled to arrive, I put on my jacket and headed downstairs. My ride was a few minutes late, but when she got there, I climbed inside the SUV and began to mentally prepare to workout. Once she dropped me off at the gym, I still wasn’t ready to lift weights yet. So I spent my first twenty minutes in the massage chair.

Once I was ready to workout, all of the machines I wanted to use were occupied. So instead I decided to use the treadmill. I wasn’t planning on a lengthy session; I wanted to see how my stride was improving. My older brace held my foot in a fixed position that was perpendicular to my leg. The current brace was hinged at the ankle to allow more movement. It would allow for more foot clearance each time I stepped. With the old brace, the most consistent way to keep my toes from scraping the floor had been to flare my left leg out to the side. With the new one, I could now step forward with each stride.

The next exercise I tried doing was squats. I like doing squats because in addition to building leg strength, they help me to stretch out my shoulder and get my heart rate up. One thing I noticed was that since my lower leg was no longer in a fixed position, I had the flexibility to squat more deeply. I was also able to work with twice the amount of weight. Because the exercise was so easy, I had no idea how hard my body was working until I stopped to rest. I sat down on the weight bench feeling tired but mentally energized. With the new brace, I would be able to push my lifting capacity once more.

The final leg exercise I wanted to try was seated leg press. I knew that being able to bend my ankle would make it easier to do this, too. I was able to activate my leg muscles from a deeper angle. This would ultimately translate to being able to bend over farther and to more easily pick myself up if I fell. I pushed my leg to do more weight and higher reps for each of my four sets.

I left the gym excited that day. The new brace would allow me to really push myself. This meant that my progress wouldn’t fall off in 2019. I was also planning to try strengthening my ankle by sometimes working out with no brace at all. The many ways I could now diversify my leg recovery swirled around in my head. This would be another year of tremendous gains.

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