Coming Home

After I had been back from Saint Louis for a week, we had a few days of severe winter weather hit. We were under a wind chill warning for three days from Tuesday to Thursday. So I canceled my trips to the gym and settled in. I really wanted to go to the gym those days, but I was still having a problem getting a functioning Go-to card. I consoled myself by thinking about how much time I would be able to spend with Mary.

Mary loves winter. Every chance she gets to go outdoors on a cold day is cause for celebration. I took her out and tried to stay out longer than five minutes, but my bare hands soon started to burn. We went back inside with Mary having only urinated. I was relieved, but I wondered how I would be able to pick up after her without falling down or developing frostbite.

When I got back to my apartment, I tried putting a glove on my left hand. I struggled with it for about fifteen minutes before I finally gave up. Since my left hand was closed naturally, it was permanently set to hold Mary’s leash. In fact, a glove would have made my hand too bulky to hold it anyway. The fingers, being closed together, also held in warmth. So I decided that it would be easier to keep my left hand bare.

Next I tried the right glove. It took some maneuvering, but I was able to get my fingers past the cuff and inside the palm of the glove. But when I tried to line up the liners with the finger holes, I couldn’t. I tried to take my hand out and realign my fingers. It still didn’t work. So I looked inside the large pockets of my parka and found my mittens. I pulled the right one over my hand. It fit a little too loosely, but it was tight enough for me to grip my cane. So I decided to test out how well I would be able to walk. I put Mary’s leash on and led her down to the basement.

When we got to the patio door, I could see ice on the pavement and dead leaves scraping along the ground. It was too dangerous to lead Mary out to the grass. There was a gentleman watching television in the community room. Since he was friendly with Mary, I offered him a dollar to walk her outside. If he took her to use the restroom, I could come out and pick up after her.

He took her out and led her around until she used the restroom. After she did, I went out to pick up after her. Suddenly, I couldn’t get my mittened hand inside the poop bag. I had him hold my cane while I tried to take off the mitten. Just then, an arctic blast of wind ran up the mitten, forcing me to change my mind. After a few minutes, he offered to pick up the poop himself. I was disappointed that I couldn’t do it, but I was relieved that it was being taken care of and went back in out of the cold.

The next day, my new personalized shoes arrived. I had designed these to be my active shoes. They were made of stretchy material so they could be worn over my new brace. The soles were black so they would be much harder to stain than my previous pair. I’d made the shoes themselves dark for the same reason. I’d had the words “NVR QIT” monogrammed on the heels in bright red. I had the same shade of red for the laces and the tabs, for a splash of color.

I could now put shoe buttons in my lighter shoes. That way, I would have shoes I could put on and tie myself if I was in a hurry. They wouldn’t be as tight as necessary, but I could put them on and take the dog out in the snow or catch a bus if I were running late. I would still have other people tie the dark pair. Then they could be snug for working out, extensive walking, and days of heavy rain, mud, or snow.

I took them out of the box and immediately put my new brace in the left one, so it could expand around it overnight. The next day, I put them on and went downstairs and had someone else tie them. Then I went to the basement community room to practice walking. I had only ever walked a few feet without my cane before. Now I would start walking across the entire room, ultimately mastering greater distances, ultimately leading to me not having to use a cane indoors at all.

The shoes were still brand new and therefore very rigid. The assisted living worker had also pulled the laces tight before tying them, so each step feltvery stable. I walked slowly to the door, turned, and walked back across the room. Walking felt so steady that I walked around the room several times I couldn’t believe how frightened I had once been of walking without my cane. I would still use my cane outdoors, on uneven floors, or in large buildings. But I no longer needed it for general indoor use.

The cold weather broke that weekend as the temperature began climbing above 0° again. Now I was able to take Mary out for longer intervals again. Each time we went out on the patio, I would try to let her stay out for fifteen to thirty minutes. I walked with her as much as I could. This would give her more time to play and explore; it would also generate more body heat for me. When I felt like resting, I would extend her leash to its maximum length and just let her have free rein.

One day while Mary and I were on the patio, another owner brought his dog out to use the restroom. The other dog was interested in meeting Mary, but his owner was nervous because the dog had recently been attacked by a larger dog. So I pulled Mary close to me so the other dog could do his business and go back indoors. The other owner walked his dog across the yard and back, but the other dog didn’t do anything, because he was now distracted and wanted to play. So they went back indoors.

After I thought they had gotten onto the elevator, I led Mary back indoors. To my surprise, they were waiting in the hallway. The owner wanted to let his dog meet Mary. They sniffed each other for several seconds. Then Mary started squatting and darting at him. Had she been off-leash, this is how she would have begun playing Tag. But we had to keep them far enough apart that their leashes didn’t become tangled. They still tried to touch one another as much as they possibly could.

Soon other people came out in the hallway to watch because they could hear how much fun the dogs were having. I was proud that we seemed to be providing joy for several other residents. After a little while, the other owner said he had to go, but he thanked me for letting Mary play with his dog. Mary is very enthusiastic, but also exceedingly gentle with infirm people and smaller dogs, so it is easy to experiment with her on the way to getting dogs or people to feel comfortable around dogs again. He asked if they could play again. Of course they can.

I was still trying to save money because I hadn’t received a functioning Go-to card for use on Metro Mobility. So I was trying to find ways to exercise around the building. Of course, I was getting a lot of it by walking Mary and walking indoors without my cane. Another thing I was doing was squatting as deeply as I could. All of this was helping with my balance and flexibility. But I was eager to start really working out again – especially now that I had new workout shoes. So I decided to start going to the gym again.

By my estimation, I had around $30 worth of credits remaining on each my two cards. These would get me to the gym several times over the next two weeks, at the end of which I would collect my first car payment. Even if that payment didn’t arrive on time, I had enough money in the bank to pay for several rides per week until I received another disability payment at the end of February. I wouldn’t owe rent in March, so I could elect to pay for even more rides. All of this would cover me if I were unable to secure a functioning Go-to card from the CADI company. Regardless of how everything else worked out, I would be able to get to the gym to work my accelerated leg rehabilitation program for the rest of the year.

I headed back to the gym that Monday. On the way to the gym, my CADI case manager called to inform me that they had finally been able to place my February credits on the permanent Go-to card they had sent me. They were working on trying to get the January balance placed on it as well, but that might take more time. Since I was already on a Metro Mobility bus, I had the driver scan the card at the next stop. It came up with a $125 balance. I was overjoyed. While this was nowhere near the amount I was owed, it would get me through most of March even with heavy use. I called the CADI case manager back and thanked her profusely. She kept reiterating that they were trying to load more, but I was no longer fixated on the issue. I was already concentrating on the workout program that I could now pursue.

The first exercise I wanted to try was the treadmill. While that had been a simple warmup exercise for me before I had the stroke, it would be a crucial way for me to correct my stride now. During sessions with physical therapists, they had always strapped me into a harness that was suspended from the ceiling. This would help me to lift my left foot each time I stepped and prevent me from falling. For the first couple of years, the therapist would still manually help me to lift my foot with each step, but eventually, I was walking on my own. After I began working out on my own, I began using the treadmill on my own without a harness. My foot would catch every few steps, even with me having to kick it out a little to the side for clearance.

Now that I was harness-free and had the new brace, I wanted to practice walking correctly. I was trying to force myself to put more weight on my left leg. Walking the treadmill would allow me to constantly have to advance the leg. I steadied myself on the hand grips and continued trying to lift with my glutes, quads, and hamstrings. It was hard work and demanded a lot of coordination. At the same time, I had to concentrate on not kicking my leg out to the side either. I was able to keep walking for five minutes before I finally had to stop, climb down, and rest.

It was a lot harder than I imagined five minutes would be. But this level of coordination, speed, and foot clearance was unprecedented for me. With time, strengthening exercises, and walking the treadmill each time I go to the gym, I’m sure that I will easily be able to walk for ten minutes by the summer. By the end of the year, walking a mile on the treadmill should be quite easy. I look forward to the day when I stop needing a cane altogether.

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