After a great night’s sleep, I woke up before 7:00. I was the only one awake in the house. This made me feel accomplished because I had so much more energy than the last time I had been here. In the past, I wouldn’t wake up until after 10:00. Dad would bring home food, then I would get out of bed at 11:00. I seldom had the drive to work out. When I did, it was normally in the evening, after I had marshaled my strength. I had been so weak and sluggish back then.
Today, getting out of bed and getting started didn’t take much effort. I was used to getting up to take Mary outside around 6:00. Then I would take my medications at 7:00, shower, dress, and eat. I had planned out a morning schedule during the spring and placed it in a Word document. Back then, I battled my fatigue by meticulously calculating everything ahead of time so that I would have a reference to keep me ahead of schedule. I had sleepwalked to the bus for a couple of months. But by the time I got to the gym, my body would be awake enough to complete a basic workout.
As time wore on, I found myself waking up on my own much more often. Instead of still feeling drowsy as I walked to the bus, I would be alert after I climbed out of the shower. This became increasingly simpler as the weeks wore on. Soon, I was completely awake by 7:00. Most days I was still going to the gym, but sometimes I was off to a medical appointment or to run errands. It was comforting to know that I would be fully engaged in no matter what I had to do that morning.
On an average day, I got dressed, packed my laptop, and went to the local coffee shop to work on my blog. Packing everything and walking to the car was simple, as my mind was alert. When I arrived at the coffee shop, I was able to get right to work. No writer’s block, no anxiety. Writing was something else I had conditioned myself to do through tireless commitment. So as I had been doing, I set aside three hours, went somewhere that I couldn’t leave without a ride home, and resolved to write a minimum of 500 words.
When I was done, I had to use the restroom. Unlike in the past, I got up with no worry of theft or injury. Leaving my cane at the table, I walked the few feet to the restroom. Having confidence in my balance had contributed to my general sense of security. So I no longer felt the need to pack up all my things and carry them with me. I hit SAVE, left the laptop plugged in, and walked off to the men’s room. My laptop was still sitting there when I came back.
I had gotten some writing done my first day back in Jackson. So I felt like it was starting out as a productive vacation. The next morning, I went to the gym. The last time I had worked out in Jackson had been during my first few months back in the gym, so I had hardly been able to do much. I had progressed so much during the last two years that going to the gym was no longer a chore. Working out was fun again.
The first time I arrived at the gym, the steps were shorter than I remembered. So as I had been practicing, I stepped up onto each step with my left leg, letting it support my body weight in order to keep building strength. As always, I began my workout with twenty minutes on the stationary bike. The pedals on these were set farther back, so I had to find an employee to help me fit my foot in the left stirrup. But after that, it was easy.
At both gyms in Minnesota, my ankle tends to pop slightly at the top of the pedal cycle. It doesn’t hurt; it just snaps forward as the pedal starts to go back down before popping back up when my heel is in a position to be parallel to the floor. On the Mississippi bikes, this doesn’t happen because the pedals don’t bring the feet as far forward. When I first got on, I wondered if I was going to feel like going for ten minutes. But the motion was so smooth that I was soon at 5 minutes … then 10 … 15 … 20. I could’ve gone on indefinitely, but I didn’t want to tire myself too much for weightlifting.
I didn’t feel like I had really worked that hard, but I got off the bike sweating much more than normal. I felt I should take it easy before I moved on to leg weights. I scouted around the room and found the row machine I used to use down here. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed these row machines. Because the weights were positioned near the floor, they seemed to work my back much differently than the overhead row machines. As with any lat row, I concentrated more on trying to extend my arm, then flexing my triceps as I pulled the grip towards me.
When I was ready to do legs, I found the personal trainer. Since I was starting with lunges, I didn’t want to lose balance. I also thought it was a good idea to have an expert check my form. He positioned my feet more narrowly than I had been doing. He also had me bring my left foot forward more. As I dipped, I could feel my hamstrings working harder; then the quadriceps went to work as I stood up. By the time I got to ten reps, I was sweating profusely. Then it was time to switch legs
With my right foot now forward, I shifted my weight to the toes and ball of my left foot. As I dipped down, I went almost to one knee before driving myself back upward. This was important for reestablishing standing and walking form in my feet. For years after the stroke, my toes involuntarily curled under. By exercising on my toes, I was forcing them to work and bear weight while bent in the opposite direction. I was also trying to activate my calf and strengthen my ankle. If I wanted to learn to walk well, it would be squats that would get me there.
Dad and I went out to lunch, during which I realized that we were down the street from the first hospital where I opened my eyes. I asked Dad if we could go by there, and he took me by after we had finished eating. Just seeing the hospital from the outside brought back a torrent of memories. I recalled being unable to speak and filled with despair. Would I ever walk again? Would my left arm ever stop hurting at the slightest touch? Would my double vision ever go away? Would I ever speak again?
I had Dad pull up in a parking space so I could get out and take a picture. It was just as hot as the day I’d left the hospital. But now I was able to stand under my own power. I had just come from the gym, where I was working my left arm. I was speaking to Dad about what I needed from him. And while I was uncomfortable with my voice, people understood every word. Every day was a struggle to get back to normal health, but, I was so far from where I had been.
After I was finished taking pictures, we went home. I was so sweaty that I was ready to take a shower. Showering at home was something I was never able to do alone. Although I did have a shower chair here, the tub walls were high and narrow. This meant that only part of the chair could fit inside the tub. We extended the legs of the chair as far as we could, but they couldn’t reach the floor because the seat straddled the tub wall. Only one side’s legs could touch the floor at once, so Dad had to stabilize it while I climbed into the tub. Once I was seated on the bench, he would have to help me lift my left leg over the wall, too. This was depressing, but it was the only way I could bathe two years ago.
Now that I had built up so much leg strength and coordination, I was ready to see if I could bathe on my own. I stripped down to my undershorts and had Dad hold the shower chair steady. With him steadying the chair, I sat down and swung my legs over the side. Now I told him that I could do the rest on my own. With him gone, I stripped naked, showered, and dried off. When I was ready, I swung each leg back onto the floor. Then, holding onto the doorknob for balance, I stood up. I pulled on a fresh pair of undershorts, then strode back to my room.
I sat down on the low bed and put my clothes on. This was a great start to three weeks that would see me move on to even greater things.