I cannot stress enough how hard I was working to make 2019 the year everything became more or less normal. In the gym, I always ended up doing more sets of each exercise than I had initially planned. I would plan to do three sets of a given exercise for the sake of time. But after I got started, the endorphin rush would feel so good that I would push myself harder.
It had been so recent that I had struggled to find the energy and drive to workout. Now my energy drive felt boundless. Where I had once needed the time on the bus and at least ten minutes in the massage chair to encourage myself to get moving, now I felt motivated before I stepped on the bus. From the time I left the locker room until the time I was finished, it took no effort to maintain my level of energy. Before I had been worried about how long it would take me to get started Now the only thing I worried about was running out of time.
I was now working out my leg at high reps and various angles. On leg press, I was using an extreme setting level. When I did this, not only did my hamstring get a good workout but I could also feel it in my calf too. I can’t describe how excited I was to feel this muscle group burn. I wasn’t able to move it voluntarily yet, but any time I could feel muscles below my knee working, it made me feel as if I would soon be walking with a more normal gait.
One of the first times I was really able to put all of this improvement to the test was a day I blocked out to go to two different Hennepin County buildings. The first place I had to go to was the thirteenth floor of the Government Services building. My CADI case worker had been unable to get my supplemental Go-to cards to me in the mail, so she arranged to have them sent to a government office. I agreed that this would probably lead to less frustration. My insurance premium would be due in March; since I like to know it as soon a government employee receives it, it occurred to me that I should stop by Hennepin County social services in the same trip. The easiest way to do this was to go with my ILS worker.
The day we went was cold and windy. I was relieved when we arrived at the Hennepin County Government Services building because the drop off was beneath the building and was shielded from the wind. I went inside and had to go through security and two different elevators. By the time I got to the thirteenth floor, I was starting to feel winded. The building is shaped like a gigantic letter H. I realized that I was in the wrong tower and had to go back down to the eighth level, walk across the bridge between the towers, and back up to the thirteenth floor of the other tower.
After I got there, some workers leaving the office told me that I should get into the elevator with them because their department was being moved to the fifteenth floor. They asked me my name and told me they would go into the office and tell them I was there. Before long, someone brought out two Go-to cards. With the cards in hand, I texted my ILS worker to meet me downstairs.
When we got to the social services building, I told my ILS worker to just drop me off. Since I was only dropping off a check, it would be faster if he just drove around until I was ready. The clerk asked me what I needed then sent me up to an accountant. When I got there, I wrote a check for three months’ worth of premium. I’d intended to pay through the end of May, but she informed me that this would cover me through June. Remembering how I had come into the year with my insurance accidentally cancelled, it felt good to know that half a year’s premium had already been satisfied. I walked out of the building thinking about how all of the running around had in no way left me feeling exhausted. I was on the way to taking control of life this year.
I had been practicing walking around the building without my cane for a month now. This was becoming easier every week. One of the reasons why I had wanted to start walking without the cane was that I wanted to be able to walk Mary unencumbered. So I decided to start trying to do this indoors as well.
This didn’t involve a great deal of preparation because I didn’t need anyone to help me zip my jacket. I could just throw on a t-shirt and leash her. I noticed that when I wasn’t leaning on my cane I walked much more upright. My pace was much better, so Mary didn’t have to slow down as much. I didn’t worry about falling. She enjoyed being out of the apartment. It went so smoothly that I made sure to find reasons to walk her around the building twice a day. With all of the walking, it won’t be nearly as frightening when it’s time to transition to walking without a cane.
I had been shopping standing up for years now. However, because of the inflexibility of my right leg, this was uncomfortable. My shin was constantly banging into the undercarriage of the cart. My endurance was fairly low, too, so I would get tired after a short period of time. Consequently, I still did most of my shopping in riding carts. But since I started putting in a lot of time on the treadmill, my form had improved dramatically, and I no longer got tired from a lot of physical activity.
So the next time I went grocery shopping with my ILS worker, I told him that I would be using a standard cart. This time, I didn’t have any problem with my shin hitting the cart. I also had more control of the cart. I had no problem handling it in turns or backing up. Only months before, this would cause me to lose my balance. I was safer and faster now. I finished shopping and checked out in less than half an hour, feeling so exuberant that I resolved to never use a riding cart again.
During this time, I was asked by the independent living nurse to give her my updated medications list for the year. She advised me that I could do this the next time I got a routine checkup. So I called the Allina Clinic and set an appointment for the next week. With all of the exercise I had been doing lately, I really wanted to see how my efforts had affected my health scores.
I checked in at the clinic the following week. When the nurse took my weight, I was 253 pounds. I wanted to be lighter, but I wasn’t disappointed. After the stroke, I had ballooned to 258. No matter what I had tried, I had not been able to lose the weight. The treadmill workout seemed to be helping me to move in the right direction. If I continued to intensify my program, it would be a productive year.
After I had been waiting for a while, the doctor came back and informed me that it wasn’t time for my annual exam yet. She asked me whether I wanted to be seen for anything else. I really couldn’t think of anything. She did listen to my lungs and checked my blood pressure. It was a little higher than I expected, but at 124/80, it was nothing to be alarmed about. I asked her if she could give me something to address my shoulder pain for about three weeks – just long enough for me to push past the period where mobility was severely curtailed. She advised that she didn’t want to prescribe anything that was potentially addictive, but she would check with my neuromuscular doctor to see if she might recommend anything and get back to me. I thanked her for her help and headed home, feeling optimistic about my health numbers.
My friend Manny had helped me out by buying food for Mary on a day when the wind chill had been too dangerously low to go out. Now I had money and wanted to pay him back. So I asked him if he wanted to go out to eat. We decided to go to Hamberguesas El Goedo, a Latin hamburger joint on the south side.
Since there was a winter storm warning that afternoon, we got together at 11:00 am. We made it to the restaurant before noon and placed our order. The seating at Hamberguesas El Gordo is mostly indoor picnic tables. These used to present a problem for me because it was difficult for me to lift my leg over the bench. I had worked out so much recently that my leg had grown a lot stronger. Lifting my leg high enough to clear the bench was so easy that it was as though I had never lost the ability to move it.
Manny is a much faster eater than I am. So although we talked about everything from politics to soccer, we weren’t there for very long. He thoughtfully wrapped up some of my leftovers for Mary and offered to bring the car around to the front of the restaurant so I wouldn’t have to walk down the block. I told him that it wouldn’t tire me out, but he cautioned that there was too much water on the passenger side. So I waited for him at the door of the restaurant. As the car pulled up to the curb, all I could think of was how I no longer worried that I would drag my foot and stumble on my way to a car.
The temperature didn’t drop significantly for the winter storm. We got a lot of large, watery flakes that made for a good cover of snow, but it wouldn’t stick around. Mary loves snow; I can’t stay out for too long if it’s very cold; so it was literally a perfect storm.
When Mary and I went outside, the sidewalk was already full of slush. Rather than risk falling, I pulled up a heavy ironwork chair to sit on. I could see a few droplets of water on it, but I didn’t have anything to wipe it off, so I just sat down anyway. Water seeped through my pants and underwear. I jumped to my feet. I tried to step sideways so I could wipe off the seat, but I tripped over the arm of the chair.
Before I knew it, I was lying down next to the overturned chair. My greatest fear was that I would fall in front of the building, let go of Mary’s leash in the process, and she would seize the opportunity to run off and end up being hit by a car. Looking down at my hand, I could see that it was gripping the leash more tightly than normal, as if by reflex. I used the chair to get to my knees and stand up. Then I righted it and sat down. Mary came over and hugged me. That was the day I mastered my fear of falling in the snow.