After several days recovering from lung and ear problems, I was finally at full strength. I went down to the gym ready to start pushing myself hard again. When I got down to do leg press, I started warming up with a 10-pound weight. I breezed through two sets of 25. Since that was unbelievably easy, I decided to try 35 pounds. This was more weight than I had done on just my left leg since my stroke. I pushed and the weight went up slowly. It wasn’t terribly difficult, so I repeated it nine more times. When I finished, I was panting and proud.
Leg press was scheduled to be my last exercise of the day. I kept pushing myself, I could probably do another set. But not having gone this hard in years meant that my leg might be too weak when it was time to bend down and pick up after Mary. But it worried me more to think about how slow my recovery had been. So I rocked back and did another set. My leg gave out after eight reps, but I was satisfied with myself.
My leg didn’t feel weak once I finished the workout and cooldown,or during the ride home But as soon as I got home and ate lunch, I suddenly felt drained. I went to bed and slept for two hours. I might have continued sleeping until after dark, but someone woke me juMst after 4:00. When I realized how late it was, I decided to get dressed, go downstairs to get my 5:00 pill, and take Mary out.
Since I knew it was going to be cold outside, I pulled on my shoes and grabbed one of my winter jackets. The fingers of my left hand hadn’t regained their dexterity, so I would have to have them tie my shoes and zip my jacket downstairs. I was about to leave my apartment and get on the elevator, but I remembered something I had to get. I whirled around and started toward the bedroom.
I moved so quickly that I forgot how loose my shoes were. I started falling to my right, corrected instinctively, but then fell to the left. This time, I couldn’t catch myself. I came crashing right down on top of my modem. For a second, I couldn’t move. I caught my breath and rolled over on my back. My side hurt, but there was no blood, and I didn’t think I broke anything. I rolled over and crawled to the bedroom so I could stand up, using the bed for stability. Once I was back on my feet, I went downstairs to get help with my shoes and jacket. I planned to take Mary out for the evening, then I could go to the hospital if I needed to go.
My biggest worry was that I would fall over while trying to clean up after Mary. It hurt to walk or even to breathe, so I felt as though it wouldn’t take much for me to lose balance. Squatting down put immense pressure on my rib cage, so any movement could shock my muscles enough to give out. I kept imagining myself fallen over helplessly in the backyard, waiting for someone to help me up.
I formulated a plan: I would try to make it through the night. If I could, I had an appointment with my ILS worker. He could just drive me to the hospital. If I didn’t stop hurting that night, I could call 911. Regardless of when I decided to go, I needed to take Mary out for the evening. She couldn’t make it through the night if I went into the hospital indefinitely. As long as she went out at 8:00 pm, I could make arrangement to have someone take her out in the morning.
I hooked Mary’s leash on and walked to the door. Before leaving the apartment, I did three practice squats. Once I was satisfied that I could bend down safely, I led Mary outside. Walking was still painful, so I didn’t venture out onto the grass. Instead, I sat at one of the patio table and let her wander around on her own. We stayed out for fifteen minutes. This was long enough for Mary to do everything she had to. I took her back upstairs and took off my jacket.
I checked myself all over to see whether I had any injuries. My lower left side still was on fire. Each time I breathed, it hurt so much that I gasped. I noticed that there was purplish, congealed blood over my left ear, but I didn’t notice any deep cuts. My neck hurt slightly when I turned my head to one side. Nothing felt too serious, so I went over to get ready for bed. I climbed into my bed and rolled over on my back. It hurt to breathe, so I tried not to breathe deeply or move around at all. I let the CPAP machines do most of the work. My sleep wasn’t restful that night, but I did sleep.
I woke up before 6:00. My side still hurt, so I didn’t want to move around too much. I stayed in bed until 6:30. Then I slowly got dressed. That’s when I noticed that my right thumb hurt too. It was so sore that I needed someone to help me button my jeans. The assisted living worker came up with my 7:00 meds. After taking my meds, I took Mary out for her morning walk. Once I was back indoors, I felt loose enough to take a shower and dress myself. Now all I had to do was wait.
My rib cage was still hurting when my ILS worker arrived early in the afternoon, so I asked him to drive me to the hospital. I didn’t feel as though I was in any danger; I just wanted to get any testing done so they would be able to give me something to alleviate the pain. I also wanted to get all diagnoses out of the way so I could be discharged before 5:00.
The triage nurse was from northeast Wisconsin. He saw the yellow on my hat and warned me that he couldn’t treat me if it was a Vikings hat. I told him that it was a Pittsburgh Penguins hat, but I could bring in something with a Vikings logo next time. When he told me his hometown and graduation year, I asked him if he knew a couple of people who had gone to college with me. He said that he didn’t, but that really wasn’t the point of my question. I have several friends in health services. It is my aim to make people’s shift as stress free as possible. You tend to get better care when stopping by your room is a pleasant experience for someone who is routinely overworked.
I weighed in at 242.5, fully clothed. He said that he would list me at 240 even. I decided to call myself 241 so it would give me incentive to keep working. My systolic blood pressure was in the 140s, but that was probably due to walking a lot and from the stress of pain. I assumed it would come down after I was resting in a room. They sent me back out to the waiting room. I was relaxed now: any time I make it to a medical facility, I know I’m somewhere where treatment is only a few feet away, so it puts me at ease.
It was a busy day in the emergency department, so it took them about an hour to get me to a room. Someone eventually came out wheel me to radiology. When we got there, he wanted to start by x-raying my left elbow. Because I hadn’t been sleeping in my arm splint, we couldn’t get my arm to lay flat. He ended up taping my arm down to the table. It was very tense at first, but it relaxed eventually, and he was able to get the pictures he needed.
The next thing he needed was front and side pictures of my ribs. Although this might have been difficult a year ago, I was now able to stand up and walk without requiring a cane. At various times, he asked me to turn, walk away, or walk toward the panel. I was never in any danger of losing my balance. I could have stood, turned, and walked as much as he needed me to.
When they finally took me to a room, the medical assistant put a robe on my bed and left, telling me that I could put it on in private. At first, I was a little upset: someone else had always tied the gowns on for me because the stroke had made tying them myself impossible. Now I realized that this was an opportunity to try doing it for myself. I put the two lengths of string in my left hand, looped one end around twice, and pulled it tight. Now I slipped my left arm through the sleeve, and pulled the gown over my head.
The doctor came in shortly. She told me that my x-rays were negative. She gave me a prescription for ibuprofen to deal with the inflammation. I went home and took it easy for the next few days. I got to spend more time with Mary, but by that weekend, I was back in the gym. My life was so much more manageable because of all the time in the gym. I wasn’t about to let a little thing like bruised ribs keep me from attacking my goals.