Walking was becoming easier for me as 2018 wore on. I had recently completed two months of physical therapy and was now actively involved in a heavy leg workout regimen. My left leg was getting stronger and stronger. Now I was going to be getting a new leg brace. This brace would have a hinged ankle, so my foot would bend more naturally when I walked. Not only would this make walking easier with the brace, but it would hopefully retrain my body to step properly when I wasn’t wearing it. So I went in to pick up the new brace a week before Christmas.
When I arrived at the orthotics company, the office worker asked whether my insurance had changed, because my Ucare plan had shown as inactive. Since I had almost an hour until my appointment, I told her that I would just call Ucare myself. I called and verified with the CSR that my insurance was still active. As a precaution, I asked her to send out a duplicate member card, in case there had been a change or a misprint that caused the error.
The orthotics specialist soon arrived to take me back to the exam room and she brought in the orthotic. It looked sturdy; the base of it would extend along the sole of my foot, granting much more stability with each step. The brace hadn’t been fully customized yet, so the base had to be shaved back until it no longer extended beyond my toes. Once she shaved it down, we attached it to my leg. It was bulkier than my current brace; I would need to buy a pair of shoes that were a size larger. But for now, I was wearing my most elastic shoes, so we were able to stretch it over the brace. Then I went out into the hallway for a walking trial.
Every time I stepped with my left foot, I did so evenly and safely. I no longer had to think about how to step properly. Not needing to concentrate so hard on walking would make it easier to let my mind wander without risking a fall. As with any new equipment, walking felt a little strange, but I could tell that I would be walking even better with time.
The other thing I noticed was how erect my posture was. Before I had walked with a slight bend in my back, because I was worried about losing my balance. Part of that had been caused by my knee buckling because my foot was at a fixed 90º angle from my leg with the old brace. The new brace would absorb the shock of each heel strike, allowing my upper body to retain a more natural posture. I was excited about where my steps would take me.
I now had completed my last scheduled medicine service for the year. However, I had been ill since Thursday, so I still needed medical attention. Ordinarily I would have gone to urgent care, gotten a breathing treatment, and gotten some prescriptions. But that would have meant having to schedule a ride for a different day. The orthotics company was located on the same campus as the hospital and outpatient physical therapy clinic I used, so I just had a staffer grab a wheelchair and wheel me over to the Emergency Department.
The ER physician listened to my lungs and noted right away that my chest was tight and I was wheezing. She ordered a steroid pill and a breathing treatment for me. t took two treatments, but the medicine slowly began loosening up my lungs. The physician also ordered a chest x-ray. So after the treatments, they wheeled me back to the radiation room.
When I stood up to take the x-ray, the radiation tech asked me to reach forward and hold onto a bar with my right hand. She told me I didn’t have to use my left hand as well, as it was stroke affected. Knowing how much flexibility I had regained in my left shoulder, I told her to guide my left hand to the bar so I could spread my chest properly. She took two images then asked me to turn and grasp a bar above my head with my right hand. I used my left hand to grasp it too so the machine could get a clear image. I was so proud that I was able to move my arm and shoulder well enough to assist with medical procedures again.
The radiation technologist brought me back to my room, where the physician listened to my lungs then prescribed a third and final breathing treatment for me. After the treatment, the nurse had me blow into a peak flow meter. She had hoped that I would score a 300, but after multiple puffs, the highest score I achieved was a 250. But I was no longer wheezing and I felt strong again. They gave me prescriptions for Prednisone and Nasocort, then I was discharged.
When I got back to my apartment building, I had to get my keys out of my bag. As I was opening the door, I heard someone ask, “Excuse me, did you used to play soccer?”
I looked up and answered, “Salat, right?”
“Man, you go a good memory.”
I filled him in on the stroke and everything that had happened since. It felt really good to be able to walk and balance as well as I could. I did not want Salat to pity me. As far as I saw it, this was still a temporary status. It was like having a job that I was presently unsatisfied with. As long as I was progressing towards something else, my present situation didn’t define me.
That night I went down to the basement to work on my blog. While I was writing, I heard my pal Michael call my name. I had met him while I was inpatient at Chateau. He had been the one to order my American Indian Movement shirt, which I happened to be wearing at that moment. This is the thing I have always loved about the Twin Cities: since I moved here, I have regularly bumped into people I know. This is especially good for me as I battle my impairment. Having familiar faces is good for a brain that has been so jarred by trauma. Seeing people sporadically also encourages me to keep pushing myself so others can notice my progress whenever they run into me.
On the following day I had to spend two hours with my ILS worker. I was still too sick to lift weights, so I had him take me shoe shopping. Since my new brace was a lot bulkier than the previous one, I would need to buy a new shoe to wear over it. I wanted to figure out what size I would need.
We first tried a Foot Locker near my building. The store clerk could only find one shoe larger than the one I was wearing. My ILS worker and I tried as hard as we could, but we could not get it over the brace. I asked the clerk if he was sure that they didn’t carry larger sizes. He told me that the company didn’t routinely even ship size 12s to his store. I would need to go to a mall store for a better variety. I was mildly disappointed, as I hadn’t planned to do much walking that day. However it was my first day with my new brace. This would be a great chance to start becoming accustomed to it.
I decided to try Southdale in the suburb of Edina next, the closest mall . I wanted to avoid going somewhat that might entail a lot of extra walking since I didn’t know if my leg or my shoe would give out. When we got there, I saw that there was now only one athletic shoe store remaining.
We tried on several pairs of Nikes, but we couldn’t get them over the ankle of the brace. The clerk advised us that Adidas made a wider shoe. So we tried several of those, but they didn’t fit either. Then I just sat there wondering how my current shoes could stretch over the brace when other larger ones would not. The clerk offered advice about a model that would stretch better. I went to nike.com and found that they were still available. I realized that I could even design another customized pair, since they would still cost less than $100. In a few weeks I would be able to walk even better. I couldn’t wait to start working out in the brace.
That Friday, I had a follow up appointment for my recent trip to the ER. The receptionist at the front desk of the clinic looked up my appointment and told me that it was actually scheduled for the following Friday. I started to become upset, worrying about all the logistics of a missed ride and having to schedule a new one. It really would not have been that complicated, but since the stroke, I get temporarily overwhelmed when minor inconveniences occur. The receptionist assured me that she could easily find me another appointment with a different doctor. My concern was that it would be so late that it would conflict with my scheduled ride home, but she got me in over thirty minutes earlier than my original appointment.
My lungs were much better. My blood pressure was also back to normal. I gave blood for a few lab tests as well. Needles had once been cause for great anxiety when I was younger. Now they didn’t bother me. In fact, I felt so healthy during this visit that I was very relaxed and talkative. It felt so good to feel normal again.
The doctor didn’t adjust any of my medications or prescribe any new ones. She told me that I could return to normal physical activity whenever I felt like it. Although I was eager to get back to the gym, I gave myself through the weekend to rest up. I had finally begun feeling good again. There was no need to push my body too hard when I was starting to enjoy life again.