After picking up my dog from the airport, Allene and I drove out to my friend Alan’s townhouse in Hopkins. Alan and I had had agreed tentatively to my living there for three months, but I needed to see whether the living space could accommodate my needs. Since I would largely be living in the basement alone, it would need to be easy to enter and exit, and I would have to be able to move around with minimal effort.
It turned out to be just what I needed: I would be staying on the bottom floor, which opened out into the garage. The floor had its own restroom with a stand-up shower, so bathing would not be a problem, nor would bathroom emergencies. There was a downstairs living room with a large flatscreen television and a bedroom. To top it all off, the laundry room was on the lower level, too. Everything I needed was easily accessible.
Alan’s girlfriend, Liz, owned a puppy named Charlie. Charlie was one month younger than Mary. He was the first dog she had ever been introduced to. They spent five minutes sniffing and inspecting one another. Then they started chasing one another as if they had been friends for decades. Mary has greatly benefitted from the fact that I only have introduced her to other dogs who have good owners. As a result, she has almost complete trust in dogs and humans. After thirty minutes, I told Alan that it was exactly what I was looking for. Mary and I moved in one week later, at the beginning of September.
Living at Alan’s was a new adjustment. Other people had previously taken Mary out for me each morning. Now I had to do it all by myself. Because she does not always come when I call her, I would have to keep the bedroom door closed until I could hook a leash onto Mary’s collar. The fact that I could barely stand made this exhausting. Additionally, my depth perception was off, so I had to grab her collar with my right hand then hold it with my left to stabilize it while I hooked the leash onto it. This often took several attempts, but it had to be done each morning so Mary would not use the bathroom indoors.
Once Mary had gone outside, I would feed her. Then I would go to the shower. Because it was a stand-up shower, I did not have to lift my foot very high to get inside. Once inside, I could lean against the rigid walls and shower. After I emerged from the shower, I would sit on the toilet lid and loop my underpants over each foot so I wouldn’t leave the restroom naked.
By the time I got back to the bedroom, Liz would normally have let Charlie out of his kennel for the day. Hearing him running around, Mary would start whining. Liz would yell down that I could let Mary come upstairs. I was always relieved when she took Mary on weekdays, because it meant that I could finish getting dressed in peace. I would generally try to get dressed in the living room because the bed was so tall that my feet couldn’t reach the floor. It was easier to put on pants and shoes by sitting on the low couches.
It would take me about ten minutes to get myself dressed. I could do everything on my own but put on a left shoe and tie my shoes. The muscles in my left foot wouldn’t allow me to work the shoe on, nor did I have two hands with which to pull it on. So I would call Alan or Liz an hour before my bus was scheduled to come. They would help me, then I would give myself at least twenty-five minutes to complete what should have been a five-minute stroll to the bus stop.
Before I left, I would have to pee as much as possible and check several times to make sure that I would have everything I needed, because once I left, there would be no turning back. The bus stop led up a small incline, across two roads, and up a flight of steps, with no place for me to stop and rest along the way or at the bus stop. I had to stand or walk the entire time until the bus came.
Once the bus finally arrived, I could pull myself up the steps and have a seat. This was a local Hopkins route, so it would only travel a very small circuit before depositing me at the Knollwood Shopping Mall in Saint Louis Park. But at least the bus shelter had a roof and a bench where I could relax until the Number 17 bus arrived. The 17 would go from Saint Louis Park into Minneapolis, through the neighborhoods of Uptown, Whittier, and Downtown, before finally dropping me off at my workplace in the Saint Anthony Main district.
The first day the bus dropped me off on Central Avenue, I realized that I had not planned out how to get from the stop to work. I took several wrong turns. I also had to walk down a steep hill just to get to the correct street. Once there, I still had to walk a couple of blocks. The whole affair drained my energy more than any workout ever had. I decided to take a shortcut through a building. Once I was inside, I heard someone call my name. It turns out, it was Matt, another friend from soccer. He told me that he could get his car and give me a ride the rest of the way.
I walked outside and leaned against a railing while I waited for Matt to bring the car around. I couldn’t have been more relieved. He told me that he could give me a ride back to the bus stop after work as well. And as I only worked Tuesdays and Thursdays, he was happy to give me rides between the bus stop and work. With that, the most arduous part of my commute was now eliminated. I still had the treacherous walk between the house and the bus stop – and most days, I dreaded not simply being able to drive it – but the walking I had to undertake was now much more manageable.
Once I started work, there were a few more hurdles. For one thing, I was still experiencing mild double vision. It had been subsiding, but I had never tried to read professionally. Since these were patient records, I didn’t want to screw up anything. To fight this problem, I would close one eye. This was not a serious problem, and I was soon reading with both eyes. The other problem was that I had to wear khaki pants to work. I had put on so much weight as a result of the stroke that I could no longer wear the same pants. Nonetheless, I reasoned that I would recoup the cost of the purchase with one day’s worth of wages. So I didn’t gripe about it.
Working for Sarah was a fun and stressless job. The staff was like a family. The break room was full of snacks, everyone was chatty, and Sarah gave everyone snacks and decorative socks each holiday. It was the perfect way to return to working. There were rules, but it didn’t feel like policies were being mandated by an impersonal human resources department. By the time the December holiday party came around, I felt as though I truly belonged.
It didn’t take very long for the new employee jitters to subside. At first, I didn’t look up from my computer monitor, because I didn’t want to misread files. Consequently, I became familiar with names and voices. Over time, as I became more comfortable with my scanning ability, my eyes began to roam around their environment more. I now became more familiar with the faces of my coworkers.
As autumn gave way to winter, the weather would make walking to the bus stop very hard. I knew that Metro Mobility was a bus service that catered to disabled residents, so I called them to get details on how to use the service. The representative told me that, once eligible, the bus would come directly to my front door and drop me off at the front door of wherever I was destined.
“How do I make sure I’m eligible?”
“Your doctor will evaluate you and fax a note to us.”
“What is the normal turnaround time for that process?”
“It takes about three weeks to go into our system from the day we receive it.”
Armed with an understanding of the process, I now knew I had to see a doctor. I had been working since September, and I earned more than $65 a month, so I knew that I qualified for medical assistance. My next phone call was to them county offices. They told me that my employer would need to submit records, and I would have to submit pay stubs and write a check for two months’ premium. I wasn’t able to afford the premium until October, but I went to see a doctor I as soon as it was covered.
This was the first doctor I had seen outside of Mississippi since my stroke. She gave me a routine checkup, but since it was out of the hospital network, I had to give her my complete medications list. It made me feel empowered to be able to recite which medications I was on and which times of day I took each. I had vowed that, if I ever suffered another stroke, it would not be due to high blood pressure. That meant being meticulous about my pill regimen.
Before I left, the doctor wrote me a referral for physical and occupational therapy. This was something I had eagerly anticipated. Because Mississippi is ranked last among US states in public health, I had really wanted to see what rehab would be like elsewhere. I had fantasies about walking around like normal and playing sports again, but I tried to temper these thoughts with a measure of realism. I had no idea what to expect, but I was ready to fight like hell through whatever exercises they gave me.
The doctor promised to sign my Metro Mobility request form. This was important, because my only options at present were buses and Uber. The bus was not that convenient, and Uber was expensive. On days when it was cold or rainy, or when I just didn’t feel like walking, I would call Uber and have them drive me directly to the bus stop at Knollwood Mall. This would eliminate all of the walking and it would shave almost an hour off of my commute. With the tip, this trip cost ten dollars. I couldn’t afford to do this regularly, but when I did, it felt like a holiday.
Two weeks later, it occurred to me to call Metro Mobility to see whether they had received the application from the doctor. The customer service representative told that, not only had they received it, but I had been approved. A letter had gone out in the mail; I just had not received it yet. From then on, each trip anywhere in the metro area would cost me a maximum of four dollars each way. I had been back in Minnesota for three months. I had housing, my dog, health care, a job, and transportation. A shot at a normal life was starting to look like an attainable goal as opposed to something I only dreamed about.