Back to Life

Having a stroke at a time when I was working two jobs spelled a drastic change in income. It meant going from a position of always having disposable income to one where I was constantly having to choose between food, transportation, and having a social life. I would go grocery shopping as soon as I received my disability payment. I would try to keep the bill under $100, since I was simply trying to supplement my Meals on Wheels. The $75 monthly metro Go-To card was good for around two or three weeks’ worth of rides. This constantly left me worrying about money the last half of the month.

Over the past three years, I had found ways to cut some of these expenses. For one thing, the county assigned someone to help me with basic tasks like cleaning, showering, cooking, and dressing. I taught myself how to do these things for myself during my first year back. So I was able to use these hours for transportation needs. This eliminated my out of pocket costs to go places.

Since I wasn’t driving my car, I sold it in December of 2018. I took the down payment and paid my rent and phone one month in advance. I set up the sale for three additional installments. With these payments, I was able to stay comfortable, though it inevitable that my expenses would catch up with me. But because I really wanted to make it to the semi-annual family get together, I bought my ticket and trusted that something would work out.

A month before my vacation, I had to go to the county services office to drop off paperwork for my medical insurance. While I was there, a clerk asked whether I had been receiving my Medicare reimbursement checks. When I told her that I didn’t know what she was referring to, she explained that, because I was paying for a Minnesota insurance plan, Hennepin County would reimburse me every month for the amount Medicare was withholding from my disability payment. I asked her if I could get any retroactive repayment. She told me that she could probably do that. Now I felt pretty confident. I could enjoy my vacation, confident that there would be a check or two waiting when I returned.

My return flights went smoothly. I got everywhere I needed to go early and safely. When I landed in Minneapolis, I waited for the other passengers to exit the plane before I did. Then a wheelchair agent sped me to baggage claim, where we discovered that my luggage was still on the ground in Dallas. This might have upset me in the past, but I was at ease. I went out to the curb to wait for my ride. Although my CPAP machine was still in Dallas, I slept more peacefully than I had in years.

The next morning, I began the process of getting everything back to normal. The first thing I did was get up and check the mail. The Medicare reimbursement checks from Hennepin County were there. Not wanting to risk disaster, I tucked both checks inside my wallet. I went immediately back to my apartment, where I got dressed, called a cab, and went directly to the bank to deposit the checks.

After I came home from the bank, I called up to the dog sitter on the fifth floor and made arrangements for him to bring Mary home. An hour later, he walked into my apartment with her, and she bolted towards me, licking and rollingall over me. It was so genuine and unabashed. I felt so loved. Whenever I am going to be out of town, I ltry to lessen her anxiety by leaving her with someone who will do a lot more with her than I’m able to. But it’s always rewarding when she shows me how much she missed me.

To help with the transition, I left Mary’s travel crate in the middle of the floor. I left it open with her toys inside. She was free to come and go as she pleased. I wanted her to realize that she had her own space. This was her home and she should feel comfortable. It would reassure her that everything around her was stable. This was probably more about my guilt, but showing consideration doesn’t harm anyone.

Taking care of Mary and me had been a struggle for me since I had moved back to Minneapolis. Whenever I went out or ordered food for delivery, I had constantly worried about whether all the money would run out before the end of the month. Now I was in the position where I no longer had to worry about money. If I so desired, every penny for the next three months was disposable. I would work to get farther ahead, but I didn’t have to. I felt so relaxed.

I decided to take myself out for sushi. My favorite Japanese restaurant in the area would open for happy hour at 5:00. I called a cab and timed it to get me there after they were open. I ordered several rolls and sake, satisfied that I easily had enough cash or credit to order whatever I wanted. The most difficult part of the evening would be walking up and down the steps to the restaurant’s door, which tapered in a way that presented challenges in aligning my feet. When it was time, I stepped carefully up and into the restaurant without an issue. I was walking into a new realm in the journey of my recovery.

That weekend, the Nerds of Color were getting together at Mall of America to see the movie, Joker. I’m not a big fan of the Batman franchise or its related characters. However, I wanted to keep pushing my recovery. Going to a movie at the mall would mean that I would have to do a lot of walking. It would also entail having to search and navigate new terrain, since I had never had to go through the valet entrance. I would also be challenged to practice speaking and scanning with my eyes.

I called Metro Mobility and told them what time the movie started. I agreed to have them drop me off about half an hour early, but after thinking about it, I realized that this might cause me to be late for the movie. Since I had no idea how to get from the bus to the theatre, I decided to have Metro Mobility drop me off two hours before showtime. That would give me plenty of time to get lost or to stop and rest while still getting to the cinema on time.

When Saturday came around, I went down to the lobby to catch the bus. When it arrived, I told the driver that I had never taken Metro Mobility to the mall and that I didn’t know the way to the entrance. He calmed my fears, reminding me that he would be walking me to the entrance. If he got me safely inside the mall, I could wander around safely until I found the cinema. The bus got me there even earlier than I had planned. I had to walk over a hundred yards to get to the front door. This would have felt daunting before, but now that I was no longer dragging my left foot, I made good time.

Once inside, I saw the courtesy desk where they rent out wheelchairs. The last time I had been to the mall, I had rented one. Not only did I not require one today, but I was also unescorted. I asked the security officer where the nearest elevator was. He pointed to it, noting that it only went up to the third floor. Once there, I would need to walk to an elevator that could take me to the top floor.

I arrived at the third floor food court. It was massive, and I had no inkling where the elevator might be. I scanned the room, feeling helpless, before finally deciding to just start walking toward the restrooms. When I made it to the restrooms, I saw a custodian. I asked her where the elevator to the fourth floor was. She seemed to point me to somewhere at the edge of the food court. After several minutes, I made it where I thought she had been pointing. The door did not lead to an elevator. I wanted to cry. But soon the same custodian appeared and pointed down the hall. “It’s on around there.”

Now I had to walk down a long walkway, past several stores. This would have worn me out a few months ago, but I was in better shape and I was determined. I was very slow, but soon I arrived at a corner with escalators. I asked a worker in one of the stores where the elevators to the top floor was. He directed me down another corridor, but I recognized now that he meant the main elevators. I remembered what they looked like from visits years before my stroke, but I didn’t know I was so far away from them.

I took a deep breath and made my way in the direction of the main elevators. It didn’t seem nearly as far now that I knew exactly where I was going. Before long, the massive glass elevators came into view. I walked up to them felling triumphant. I pushed the UP button. It seemed to take forever to finally arrive. When I got to the top floor, I followed the signs for the cinema, around three turns and down several long corridors. And it was here that I finally started to feel a little tired. It just seemed like I would never get there.

Then I finally saw the theatre counters. I needed to sit down, but there were no seats. I had paid for my ticket through someone else, so I worried that I wouldn’t be able to go in and sit down. I walked up to the counter and asked the attendant if there was somewhere I could sit until my party arrived. He told me to just go right in.

The cinema was very fancy. There was a bar that stocked everything. I pulled out my phone and checked the time. It was still 90 minutes before the start of the movie. I ordered a beer because I hate sitting somewhere and just taking up space. I didn’t have to worry about the price of the beer. Money was no longer my primary concern. I couldn’t believe how quickly I had made it there, either. I was entering a new phase in life – one where I wouldn’t be obsessed with time, endurance, or money.

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