I was happy to have Mary living with me again but worried about how much stimulation she would be able to get while living with me. She had become accustomed to living with dogs, going to dog parks, and even having people around. Now she was moving into a high-rise apartment building where I would be the only one sharing a living space with her. I couldn’t drive her to a dog park, get down on the floor and play with her, or even let her off-leash to run around in the backyard. Any stimulation would have to come from outside sources.
Mary wasn’t the only dog in the building, so initially I was excited about her potentially finding playmates. However, all of the other dogs were chihuahuas or other tiny breeds. I don’t think there was a single other dog that weighed more than fifteen pounds. While Mary would happy to play with anyone, the owners didn’t seem to want their dogs roughhousing with any dog that weighed over 200% more than them. Mary would whine and bark whenever she saw or heard another dog, but I couldn’t let her approach other dogs if the owners were afraid of a dog fight. I felt so dejected for Mary, because I have yet to meet another dog more affectionate and friendly than she is.
One way I worked around this issue was by letting anyone who was curious pet Mary. Most people who make observations about Mary tell me how attractive she is. She has a striking coat and she looks very healthy. I introduce her by name and inform them that she loves people. Mary walks up to them and does not make aggressive movements. So unless they are afraid of dogs, they tend not to get nervous around her.
Mary seldom barks at people, but when she does, it’s generally to protect me. When she first moved in, she would bark at new assisted living workers when they came into the apartment to give me my morning meds. All it took was for me to take the pills from them and put them in my mouth. After that, Mary knew that she could trust the person, and she would quickly start wagging her tail and walking up to the person. She would also bark to alert me if someone unfamiliar came out to the patio. She just wanted to keep me safe.
The minute she walked back inside, Mary knew she was in an area where people were supposed to be. She let her guard down and became very amiable. There were often people hanging out in the basement community room. They began asking to pet her each time she came back inside. Mary quickly made a lot of friends. Just like when I had lived at Chateau, people learned her name before they learned mine. I was happy to see her getting a lot of attention. It was emotionally health for her and for the residents. It renewed my desire to have her certified as a therapy dog.
I was going to therapy twice a week now. At the gym I was enjoying all of my old exercises, while I was being challenged by different ones at the rehabilitation institute. One of the primary causes of the stroke had been that I had not been doing enough cardiovascular exercise. To offset this, my physical therapist began having me ride a recumbent stationary bicycle. During the first minute she cranked up the resistance, making it harder to peddle.
Sweat began pouring out of my forehead. She clipped a heart rate monitor onto my finger. “I want you to keep your heart rate above 100,” she instructed. It was difficult, but if I concentrated hard, I could keep my heart rate up. She pointed to a card on the wall that showed physical exertion levels. “You want to keep your output above 12.”
“I can do that. I just need to play some music.” I stopped pedaling so I could pull my cellphone out of
my pocket. Once I had selected something, I was able to work at the rate they needed me to.
I was on the bike for ten minutes, then she told me I could stop. I could tell that my body was working hard, because I could feel my heart thumping. It felt really good. If I could exhaust myself like this every time I went to therapy or lifted weights, my body would continue to heal. As a side effect, I would lose a lot of weight, too.
My occupational therapist wanted to help my hand stay open. She stretched my hand flat and taped it to a board that was similar in size. Known as a “paddle”, it forced my hand to stay outstretched while I performed movements that would normally cause it to close. Most of them were designed to straighten my arm. We were trying to get my triceps to overpower my bicep so I could begin using my left arm proactively. The work was hard and I could barely use the muscles she was asking me to use. It could have been frustrating, but I could tell that I would get somewhere if I kept pushing.
At the end of the session, I told her that I needed to do something to resolve my vision problems. My leg and arm were becoming more useable through constant exercise. Constant use and breath control were helping my speech return to normal. It was only the double vision that was lagging behind. She suggested that I see an eye specialist. When I told her that I had had several eye exams, she advised that I should consult a neural ophthalmologist.
I had to get a referral for this specialist, but I was assured that he would be the best person to see because he specialized in treating people who had eye problems that were brought on by neurological events. This doctor was located on the University of Minnesota campus. My appointment was at 8:00. I had two eye exams before I saw the specialist. When it was time for me to see him, he had me look through several refracted lenses until he determined my problem.
The stroke had caused me to have difficulty focusing. He could correct this by prescribing lenses that would allow me to use only my stronger eye. However, the problem was a compound one. It also caused my eye to drift from what it was attempting to focus on. Instead of me seeing an image that was fixed, the image would drift vertically. Before writing the prescription, he warned me that prism lenses could cost over $300. I told him to go ahead and write it. Eliminating each of the several variables causing my eyesight problems was easily worth a few hundred dollars. He advised me that after I tried out the glasses, I could come back in a few weeks to see what we could do about getting me a prescription for reading glasses.
I left his office feeling optimistic. It might not be a perfect solution, but it was one that would improve my life. For over a year I had been closing one eye to read or to focus on one thing. I had done this so often that it was becoming second nature. I was even doing it when it was not necessary, and it was causing the double vision to become worse, because my eyes would have to begin trying to focus all over again whenever they were both open.
I was working hard to resolve my physical issues Now it was time to deal with my county services. My trip to the Hennepin County Services building was prompted by my receiving a bill for $300 in the mail. This was a bill for a spend down, which is a monthly deductible that one needs to pay before health insurance starts paying. I had never been responsible for paying this, because I began working a job the first month I was back in Minnesota. I decided to go down to the Hennepin County building to handle this in person.
The following Monday I went back to the services building. Since I was so early, I did not have to wait very long. When I explained my issue to a case worker, she discovered that someone had entered part of my information into the system, but my application was not completed. She told me to bring in a check for three months of insurance premiums and a payment stub for August, and the mix up with my insurance issue would be straightened out. She also loaded several months’ worth of food stamps. The last thing she did was make sure that a case worker would come out to my apartment to help me reapply for a metro Go-to card and Meals on Wheels. I thanked her profusely for her assistance and left feeling confident that life would continue to get better.
Now that I would no longer be spending so much of my disposable income on food and transportation, I went by the DMV to purchase new tabs for my license plates. While I was there, I told the clerk that I wanted to register to vote. All I needed to do was purchase a new state ID for $15. This would give me the new ID that was in line with TSA standards so I could fly legally. I would also be assigned to the correct polling place.
Before my trip to the Hennepin County building, I had felt overwhelmed when thinking of all of the things I needed to run around documenting. This was often how I felt with things after the stroke. But all I needed to do was to figure out which issues I could handle in the same place. That made everything seem simpler.
On the last Saturday of September, my friend Manny sent me a text message asking if I wanted to go to a Minnesota United match that night. As I remembered that the United match in March had been the first time I had walked around a stadium without needing a wheelchair, I grew excited. It was also thrilling that the control I had regained over my body made me stop fearing being vulnerable to crime.
Since it also happened to be the autumnal equinox, I wore my fall jacket. This was the first time I had worn it in half a year. It was remarkably easy to put on, and the zipper was so small that I was able to hold it on its track and zip it right up. Within five minutes, I was ready and out the door.
When Manny pulled up, I was waiting on a bench in front of my building. He always tended to run late, so I didn’t want to compound the issue by making him wait for me as well. United were still playing on the University of Minnesota campus, so he was already going to be slowed by traffic and parking. When we got to the stadium, Manny let me out on near the Will Call window, then went to park. As I walked up closer, I saw that Will Call was located right by the handicapped entrance. So once he got back, there would be no delay between picking up our tickets and entering the stadium.
By the time Manny walked up, we had already missed kickoff and one goal. We took the elevator up a level to the main concourse. When we exited the elevator, we had to walk around a third of the stadium to get to our seats. There were a lot of families, so I had to dodge children while maintaining my balance and trying to keep up with Manny. I did all of this while trying to keep up my end of the conversation.
United were ahead 2-nil by the time we got to our seats. They scored another by halftime. I honestly did not care that I had missed part of the match. My eyes could easily focus on play; my legs could carry me safely through the stadium; my mouth and lungs could keep up with challenging conversation. All of the things I was working on could still come together to make memorable hours.