Learning the Splint

After I got home with my splint, I got help putting it on. Then I went up to my apartment and hung out with Mary while I let my arm grow accustomed to wearing it. I knew it would take a week to grow accustomed to it, so I resolved to keep it on until my arm grew sore. I sat down on the couch and began petting Mary as I waited for the splint to start pinching. After one hour, I still felt fine. So I decided to wear it for a total of two hours.

After two hours wearing the splint, my arm wasn’t sore or bruised. I was happy with the result but eager to speed up the rehabilitation timeline. It had taken almost two years following my stroke to start lifting weights again. It had taken longer than that to go from the point of barely working out to where I was now. My next great stride would be after I regained the ability to straighten my wrist and elbow. Only then would I be able to do all of the various upper body exercises again.

As with my upper leg, once I was able to start working my chest, shoulders, and triceps in earnest, I would be able to better assess where I was. Having the ability to tell how much strength I had lost would allow me to formulate workout plans with the ultimate goal of rebuilding these muscle groups. And because I had transportation, gym memberships, and time, all that was required of me were diligence and patience. I decided to accelerate the orientation period with the splint so that I could begin wearing it overnight on Sunday rather than waiting until Wednesday.

On Saturday I had nowhere to go. So I decided that I might as well put the splints on for four hours. I called down to the assisted living office and asked them for assistance. They told me to wait about half an hour. After I hung up the phone, I started thinking about the fact that my ultimate goal was to regain my independence. If I were ever going to do that fully, it would require that I master the ability to put the splints on by myself. So I grabbed both of them and tried to put them on before the staff person arrived to help me.

I put the wrist splint on first. Since I had already been using it for over a week, it took me no time before it was strapped into place. The elbow splint was the more complicated part; it fit unevenly over the wrist splint. Then I had to apply the two large straps over the triceps and wrist respectively. The hardest part was strapping the elbow pad in place. That required threading two small straps through buckles that were positioned right next to the hinged elbow joint.

Now that the entire machinery was on my hand, I imagined that I was a cyborg. Playing with the mechanism to loosen or lock my arm into place felt like a game. I extended my arm then locked the splint. Next I unlocked it, took it off, and set up my phone camera. Now I took a video of myself putting the splints back on. First the wrist, locking the elbow splint at a 90 ° angle, the fishing all of the straps into place. I unlocked the elbow splint and extended my arm, and locked it again. I happily called down to the assisted living office and told them I no longer needed help with my splint.

I was very pleased with the results of the elbow splint. Even if it was slow for my liking, I could see the improvement in my arm almost immediately. The elbow splint straightened my arm so much that I started to notice that my wrist was still severely bent. You wouldn’t notice it when I when I was wearing the two splints with one another. But if I was wearing the elbow splint alone, my wrist was very crooked. It was so bad that the plastic end of the splint often dug into my wrist.

I was really worried about this because my arm started becoming really sore overnight. The elbow splint didn’t fit neatly over the wrist splint. So I would feel a pinching in my forearm. I would try to endure the pain by fidgeting with it. But it would hurt so much that I would have to try and twist it every ten minutes or so. After an hour, it would still be agitating me so much that I would finally just remove the wrist splint just to get some relief. But even that was only temporary. I would end up just removing the elbow splint too.

While this helped me sleep through the night, it was obviously not the permanent solution I was looking for. So the next time I went to occupational therapy, I asked the therapist whether it was time to adjust the wrist splint. She told me that it wasn’t; but she did want to look at whether it was time to adjust the elbow splint.

In order to do this, she had me stand up and let my arm hang to the side so she could measure how straight I could get it. She told me not to force it; just let it hang by my side for a few minutes, and it would relax and straighten further. After a couple of minutes, she adjusted my elbow splint from level 2 to level 3, then she had me stand so she could measure the angle. When she measured, my elbow was 10° more straight. She assured me that I would see even more improvement over the next few weeks. This renewed my enthusiasm. If my elbow could go up one level every few weeks, I could graduate to level 7 by May. During that time period, my wrist splint would eventually be straightened. I could have the range of motion to be bench pressing again before summer!

Once I started sleeping in the splints regularly, I could appreciate the impact right away. As I’d been doing for a year, I would rise and take Mary out to use the restroom. In the past, this required a great deal of alertness and concentration because my grip wasn’t as sure due to my body feeling half asleep. Sleeping in the splints allowed me to wake up with my arm muscles already more relaxed. Not having to wait for them to loosen meant that I could dress immediately and go outdoors.

Mary loved being out early. The trails of the nocturnal animals were still fresh. Some of the creatures were still lurking. Mary would dart and pounce without warning, jerking on the line. My arm had enough give that it could better extend, lessening the tension on the leash. At the same time, my grip had gotten stronger and I was able to rotate my wrist more easily. So walking Mary early in the morning actually became a joy. I could go out and let the cold morning air rejuvenate me, secure in the knowledge that I could effortlessly control Mary’s leash.

Most days now, when I was finished with my morning duties, I went to the gym. Whereas in the past, I had to sit in the front of the bus in order to use the safety bar to stretch my arm, now my arm was already stretched from being in the splint all night. I could sit anywhere in the vehicle and enjoy the trip. This made for a much more relaxing ride. I could engage in conversation or watch videos on my phone. I didn’t have to go through the effort of preparing my body for the workout.

The brief time I’d been using the splint even made my workouts better. Since my arm wasn’t so tight, I was able to flex my bicep more. This allowed my arm to go down farther on each curl. It also let me curl more weight on the way up. The movement was still stiff and very limited, but there was enough progress to keep me striving for more.

My next exercise was triceps extensions. Because my range of motion would increase with the strength of my triceps, it was vital to keep engaging this muscle group. It is important to remember that at one time I couldn’t even bring my arm behind my head with help because my arm was so tight. Now my focus became to push the dumbbell back until it cleared my head, then to let it dip down as low as possible. Then I could slowly lift it up and over my head in a controlled motion. I was only able to go up to a 15-lb weight, and the movement was still jerky. But just like with bicep curls, the goal was to keep performing the exercise a minimum of twice a week so that everything I was doing would come together, resulting in greater arm flexibility.

The last thing I had to do that day was legs. I would be performing lunges and squats. As always, I had to use the Smith machine. I slid my arms over the bar and let it come to rest across my back. My left arm and shoulder were so pliable that I was able to go right into a deep squat. I no longer had to worry about the balance and spacing of my arms; I could concentrated solely on the placement of my feet and the work of my leg muscles. As I went down as low as I could, I felt the toes of my left foot come alive. They wiggled, gripping so I could maintain my balance. As I pushed upward, I felt my calf heat up as energy moved through it, contributing to the lift. Every muscle and every piece of equipment I added was working toward the goal of making my body whole again.

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