Before I Go

My trip to the South was soon only a week away. I always worry that I will forget something or miss my flight whenever I have to fly. In order to keep myself from forgetting something and to squelch the nagging feeling, I meticulously planned to busy myself with preparations each day.

The first thing I had to take care of was Mary. I had to secure a dog sitter and take her in for a check up. My neighbor Rob agreed to watch her and he even said he would help me take her to the vet. We rented a car and made a Friday appointment. This was the first time I was able to walk her from the car to the vet’s office.

While I was there, I upgraded Mary’s health plan to include dental care. I even had them trim her nails. Now she could jump up on people without scratching them. She could also breath in their faces without offending people. Because Mary is so affectionate, it’s important to make sure that everything about her is pleasant. Rob and I dropped her off and went to a nearby coffee shop.

We were almost finished with our coffee, the vet called to tell me that I could pick her up. When we arrived back at the veterinary clinic, the staff were fawning, telling me how wonderful she had been. My heart swelled with pride, It feels really good to have a dog who is healthy and pleasant. It gives me the reassurance that I am doing good things in life. Little things like this help me to sustain the momentum of my recovery.

After dealing with Mary’s health, it was time to take care of my own. While I didn’t have any pressing issues, I wanted to make sure my coverage was up to date while I was on vacation. I had scheduled a trip to the Hennepin County Service Center in order to pay my insurance premium in person. While I was there, the accountant told me that my insurance was paid through July. I paid the premium for two months so I wouldn’t owe anything until the month after I returned.

Now that I had achieved peace of mind regarding my health, I asked the accountant to transfer me to my service team so I could discuss payments owed to me. Medicare subtracts money from my disability payment each month, but I also pay an insurance premium, so the county is supposed to send me a reimbursement check. I began receiving this payment last month, but at the time the clerk told me about the payments, had indsheicated that she would try to get me a back payment for the time I hadn’t been aware of the reimbursement program.

When I sat down at the desk of the team member, he advised me that my medical insurance had been updated to reflect that I had paid my premium, I told him that I was there to discuss my Medicare reimbursement and that I wanted to know if there was a check in the system for the back owed amount. There wasn’t one, but the system indicated that I was entitled to the entire amount – almost $3000. He would put in a request. Meanwhile, my monthly check should arrive the following week. Since I would be on the road by then, I hoped to find a small windfall after I returned.

I walked out of the Hennepin County building feeling more confident than ever. My economic concerns were continuing to be less pronounced. Every month or so, some new bit of information seemed to surface that would make life a little more predictable. As I strode along, even walking was becoming easier. Where my left foot would normally catch on the carpet a couple of times, now I didn’t even have to think about lifting it to clear the floor. It was as though I had been walking around in a fog. Once it lifted, thinking and moving about in the world no longer required nearly as much effort.

Having dealt with the financial and health details that I needed to, I was now able to start taking stock of where my body was with regard to physical rehabilitation. The most glaring deficiency (to me) had always been in leg strength. There were problems with dexterity in my lower leg and arm, but having the brute strength to lift my leg high and step far would eliminate the issue of toe drag, thereby bypassing the need to activate the muscles of the foot.

I also had the ability to flex my toes. I would practice this exercises over and over while seated. Riding the stationary bike seemed to be helping my body to engage the muscles of my lower leg. I was also doing exercises like leg curls to target hamstrings. With all of the constant recruitment of the lower leg muscles, I could feel how much easier walking was becoming. It wasn’t as dramatic as waking up one day and having my left leg march the way it could prior to the stroke. But I was making progress toward never needing a cane.

It was in stair climbing that I had regained the most ability. For years I had struggled to find an exercise that would make this less of a struggle. I had tried quadriceps extensions, squats, and leg presses. While they contributed to overall balance and stability, none of these movements had the effect of making stepping up any easier. I would do them day after day, only to arrive at a high step and be forced to step up with my left foot.

Then one day I decided to try doing lunges. Lunges attack all the various muscles in each leg through alternate placement of each one in front of and behind your body independently. Moreover, by placing my left leg in front to rise from a kneel to a standing position, I was forcing my body to simulate climbing up a steep step. I could feel the effort in my quads, hip, glutes, and hamstrings with every single rep. It was so taxing that I often couldn’t complete one set of ten. But I would push myself until I felt my leg would collapse. Then I would sit down on the bench, panting and quivering.

I noticed a dramatic change shortly after I started performing lunges. When I came to a curb, I would try stepping up with my left leg. I would anticipate having to do so with great effort only to find that I had brought my foot significantly higher than I needed to. This excited me greatly. If I could lift my foot this high, I should try lifting it from the ground all the way onto the bus! The next time the bus arrived, I stepped up with my left foot, but my leg buckled when I tried to step up to the next step with my right foot. I quickly stepped down with my right foot so I didn’t fall.

For a little over a week, I couldn’t “step through” with my right leg. I would step up with my left foot, then have to bring my right foot next to it so that my body weight was fully supported. So I began aggressively doing lunges every workout, trying to focus more on using my left leg and taking my right leg out of the equation. Soon I felt as though only one side of my body was active during lunges, so I was lifting correctly. But after about ten days, I had no problem stepping onto the bus with my left leg, then stepping through with my right leg. Getting to my seat became one more exciting result of my workout.

After I arrived at the gym, it was time to gauge more of my gains. My arm had been severely limited in motion after my stroke. When I emerged from my coma, I couldn’t move it voluntarily. When others tried to move it for me, excruciating pain radiated from my shoulder. My muscles had atrophied from lack of circulation and use. It had taken years of stretching and weightlifting to get to a point where I could stretch my left arm above my ear. Now it was time to see how high and straight I could get it.

I began warming up my arm by doing lat pulldowns to loosen my back and shoulders, and straighten my arm. After each set, I would hold the bar as it rose, allowing it to stretch my arm and shoulder. Once my arm was extended to its maximum, I would slowly rotate it, getting an even better stretch at the joint. I would hold my arm at full extension, thinking of the years it had taken me to to be able comfortably lift my arm above my head again.

The last exercise I wanted to do was leg press. It was an exercise I loved doing, and I was now starting to add weight so I could build more brute strength. I stepped into place with my right foot. Now I had to step over the side of the machine with my left foot so I could lie down on my back and push the hip sled towards the ceiling. I lifted my left leg high and over the edge of the machine. Then I sat down to begin my first set. With every rep I kept thinking of how walking with my family again would feel wonderful.

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