New Challenges and Familiar Faces

Now that I was coming to the end of the period where I needed to go to occupational therapy every week, I tried to focus and get the most out of every session. I would start by going downstairs to the lobby thirty minutes before my taxi arrived. After the taxi dropped me off at therapy, I would walk carefully to the front, not wanting to stumble in front of other patients and professionals. After I was checked in, I would sit in the waiting room, listening to music and stretching my left arm in anticipation of doing as many exercises as time would allow.

One morning as I was coming in, I thought I faintly heard someone call my name. My music was blaring loudly in my ears, so I kept walking, imagining that I was hearing things. A few seconds later, I heard someone say my last name. Now I was sure that I wasn’t hallucinating. I looked around and saw someone coming towards me. It was Katie; the county housing worker who’d helped me find and move into my apartment.

She introduced herself as though she thought I didn’t know who she was. This seems to happen quite often – a person sees me in a public place and thinks that I don’t recognize her. I think it’s just a symptom of the stroke. My eyes are slow to focus, particularly when I turn my head quickly. I probably looked confused because my eyes will dart around to help me to maintain balance. I feel awful when people think I don’t recognize them. I hate how disappointed they look, and it makes me feel like I don’t have adequate control over my facial muscles. I feel like I’ve failed other people and myself.

Katie hugged me and told me that she had been following my progress in my blog. She was very proud of how far I’d come and how hard I was still working. It’s times like these that keep me taking pictures and videos every time I go to the gym. There are still many mornings when I feel drowsy. I’ll look out the window and see the snow coming down, and just want to roll over and go back to sleep. But knowing that I have an audience and people who follow my progress gives me the motivation I need to get to the gym. If I don’t post videos, there’s no proof that I braved the cold that day. I can’t let people think that I didn’t give it my all that day.

Whether it’s the gym, socializing, or therapy, I try to be enthusiastic with whatever I do. I plan what I want to put my body through each day. I try to have my phone on hand so I can document a lot of it. In addition to the blog, I want to eventually start a website that demonstrates how people can exercise after catastrophic injury. I want to write a memoir about my experiences. My ultimate goal is to become a motivational speaker and stroke educator. I see it as my role to help people learn to avoid and overcome strokes.

That evening, my friend Allene came over from Wisconsin. She had tickets to see a show in Saint Paul, so I told her that she could crash on my couch. Mary is always delighted whenever she stops by. Instead of sleeping in bed with me, Mary prefers to spend the entire night hugged up next to Allene. In Mary’s mind, anyone who walks in the door is primarily there to visit her. No one fights her on that assumption.

I normally feel like a liability when Allene comes to town. In the past, I couldn’t walk that far without getting tired, and even after I had gained a lot of leg strength, it still took a tremendous amount of time and effort to climb into her SUV. So I would have to wait for her to go and park her car or to go pick it up. Then, whenever it was time for me to climb inside, I would have to tiptoe, scoot backwards into the seat, and shimmy until my left leg was inside. I cannot tell you how frustrating this was for me. I would constantly think, What if we had to leave in a hurry?

But by this visit, I had come quite a long way. I was leg pressing 80 pounds and mounting the stationary bike with no assistance. When Allene drove up, the only reason why I stayed at the building instead of going with her to find parking was that I wanted to grab a shopping cart so I could help her unload her bags. I knew that my speed and strength had improved so much that I could take her things up to my apartment and be back down before she arrived at the front door.

When Allene and I got back to the apartment, Mary was so excited to see her that she came bounding out of the apartment. Mary waited for her to sit down on the couch and climbed into her lap. Since Allene had recently injured her ankle, she was in a walking boot. She elevated her foot on my stool, giving Mary enough room to nestle against her all evening.

They were still asleep when I got ready to go to the gym the next morning, but even if they hadn’t been, Allene was in no condition to work out. It wasn’t a very chilly day, so it didn’t take a lot to warm me up. Rather than doing a lot of heavy weight, I concentrated on keeping my heart rate up. I took very little time to rest between sets; the idea was to keep my body hot and sweating all the time. I kept my body moving right up until my ride came to take me back home. I climbed up the steps feeling like a warrior.

That evening, we went down to the suburbs to take a friend of Allene’s out to eat. Allene had known her since she was an adolescent next-door neighbor and had taken her under her wing, eventually helping to guide her through the college admissions process. When I had tripped and fallen during my first visit back to Minnesota, each of them had taken one of my underarms and helped me back to my feet. The parking lot today was cold and icy, but I took great pride in walking across it. They were there if I needed support, but I was determined to show them that I could make it on my own.

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