I cannot stress enough how hard I was working to make 2019 the year everything became more or less normal. In the gym, I always ended up doing more sets of each exercise than I had initially planned. I would plan to do three sets of a given exercise for the sake of time. But after I got started, the endorphin rush would feel so good that I would push myself harder.

It had been so recent that I had struggled to find the energy and drive to workout. Now my energy drive felt boundless. Where I had once needed the time on the bus and at least ten minutes in the massage chair to encourage myself to get moving, now I felt motivated before I stepped on the bus. From the time I left the locker room until the time I was finished, it took no effort to maintain my level of energy. Before I had been worried about how long it would take me to get started Now the only thing I worried about was running out of time.

I was now working out my leg at high reps and various angles. On leg press, I was using an extreme setting level. When I did this, not only did my hamstring get a good workout but I could also feel it in my calf too. I can’t describe how excited I was to feel this muscle group burn. I wasn’t able to move it voluntarily yet, but any time I could feel muscles below my knee working, it made me feel as if I would soon be walking with a more normal gait.

One of the first times I was really able to put all of this improvement to the test was a day I blocked out to go to two different Hennepin County buildings. The first place I had to go to was the thirteenth floor of the Government Services building. My CADI case worker had been unable to get my supplemental Go-to cards to me in the mail, so she arranged to have them sent to a government office. I agreed that this would probably lead to less frustration. My insurance premium would be due in March; since I like to know it as soon a government employee receives it, it occurred to me that I should stop by Hennepin County social services in the same trip. The easiest way to do this was to go with my ILS worker.

The day we went was cold and windy. I was relieved when we arrived at the Hennepin County Government Services building because the drop off was beneath the building and was shielded from the wind. I went inside and had to go through security and two different elevators. By the time I got to the thirteenth floor, I was starting to feel winded. The building is shaped like a gigantic letter H. I realized that I was in the wrong tower and had to go back down to the eighth level, walk across the bridge between the towers, and back up to the thirteenth floor of the other tower.

After I got there, some workers leaving the office told me that I should get into the elevator with them because their department was being moved to the fifteenth floor. They asked me my name and told me they would go into the office and tell them I was there. Before long, someone brought out two Go-to cards. With the cards in hand, I texted my ILS worker to meet me downstairs.

When we got to the social services building, I told my ILS worker to just drop me off. Since I was only dropping off a check, it would be faster if he just drove around until I was ready. The clerk asked me what I needed then sent me up to an accountant. When I got there, I wrote a check for three months’ worth of premium. I’d intended to pay through the end of May, but she informed me that this would cover me through June. Remembering how I had come into the year with my insurance accidentally cancelled, it felt good to know that half a year’s premium had already been satisfied. I walked out of the building thinking about how all of the running around had in no way left me feeling exhausted. I was on the way to taking control of life this year.

I had been practicing walking around the building without my cane for a month now. This was becoming easier every week. One of the reasons why I had wanted to start walking without the cane was that I wanted to be able to walk Mary unencumbered. So I decided to start trying to do this indoors as well.

This didn’t involve a great deal of preparation because I didn’t need anyone to help me zip my jacket. I could just throw on a t-shirt and leash her. I noticed that when I wasn’t leaning on my cane I walked much more upright. My pace was much better, so Mary didn’t have to slow down as much. I didn’t worry about falling. She enjoyed being out of the apartment. It went so smoothly that I made sure to find reasons to walk her around the building twice a day. With all of the walking, it won’t be nearly as frightening when it’s time to transition to walking without a cane.

I had been shopping standing up for years now. However, because of the inflexibility of my right leg, this was uncomfortable. My shin was constantly banging into the undercarriage of the cart. My endurance was fairly low, too, so I would get tired after a short period of time. Consequently, I still did most of my shopping in riding carts. But since I started putting in a lot of time on the treadmill, my form had improved dramatically, and I no longer got tired from a lot of physical activity.

So the next time I went grocery shopping with my ILS worker, I told him that I would be using a standard cart. This time, I didn’t have any problem with my shin hitting the cart. I also had more control of the cart. I had no problem handling it in turns or backing up. Only months before, this would cause me to lose my balance. I was safer and faster now. I finished shopping and checked out in less than half an hour, feeling so exuberant that I resolved to never use a riding cart again.

During this time, I was asked by the independent living nurse to give her my updated medications list for the year. She advised me that I could do this the next time I got a routine checkup. So I called the Allina Clinic and set an appointment for the next week. With all of the exercise I had been doing lately, I really wanted to see how my efforts had affected my health scores.

I checked in at the clinic the following week. When the nurse took my weight, I was 253 pounds. I wanted to be lighter, but I wasn’t disappointed. After the stroke, I had ballooned to 258. No matter what I had tried, I had not been able to lose the weight. The treadmill workout seemed to be helping me to move in the right direction. If I continued to intensify my program, it would be a productive year.

After I had been waiting for a while, the doctor came back and informed me that it wasn’t time for my annual exam yet. She asked me whether I wanted to be seen for anything else. I really couldn’t think of anything. She did listen to my lungs and checked my blood pressure. It was a little higher than I expected, but at 124/80, it was nothing to be alarmed about. I asked her if she could give me something to address my shoulder pain for about three weeks – just long enough for me to push past the period where mobility was severely curtailed. She advised that she didn’t want to prescribe anything that was potentially addictive, but she would check with my neuromuscular doctor to see if she might recommend anything and get back to me. I thanked her for her help and headed home, feeling optimistic about my health numbers.

My friend Manny had helped me out by buying food for Mary on a day when the wind chill had been too dangerously low to go out. Now I had money and wanted to pay him back. So I asked him if he wanted to go out to eat. We decided to go to Hamberguesas El Goedo, a Latin hamburger joint on the south side.

Since there was a winter storm warning that afternoon, we got together at 11:00 am. We made it to the restaurant before noon and placed our order. The seating at Hamberguesas El Gordo is mostly indoor picnic tables. These used to present a problem for me because it was difficult for me to lift my leg over the bench. I had worked out so much recently that my leg had grown a lot stronger. Lifting my leg high enough to clear the bench was so easy that it was as though I had never lost the ability to move it.

Manny is a much faster eater than I am. So although we talked about everything from politics to soccer, we weren’t there for very long. He thoughtfully wrapped up some of my leftovers for Mary and offered to bring the car around to the front of the restaurant so I wouldn’t have to walk down the block. I told him that it wouldn’t tire me out, but he cautioned that there was too much water on the passenger side. So I waited for him at the door of the restaurant. As the car pulled up to the curb, all I could think of was how I no longer worried that I would drag my foot and stumble on my way to a car.

The temperature didn’t drop significantly for the winter storm. We got a lot of large, watery flakes that made for a good cover of snow, but it wouldn’t stick around. Mary loves snow; I can’t stay out for too long if it’s very cold; so it was literally a perfect storm.

When Mary and I went outside, the sidewalk was already full of slush. Rather than risk falling, I pulled up a heavy ironwork chair to sit on. I could see a few droplets of water on it, but I didn’t have anything to wipe it off, so I just sat down anyway. Water seeped through my pants and underwear. I jumped to my feet. I tried to step sideways so I could wipe off the seat, but I tripped over the arm of the chair.

Before I knew it, I was lying down next to the overturned chair. My greatest fear was that I would fall in front of the building, let go of Mary’s leash in the process, and she would seize the opportunity to run off and end up being hit by a car. Looking down at my hand, I could see that it was gripping the leash more tightly than normal, as if by reflex. I used the chair to get to my knees and stand up. Then I righted it and sat down. Mary came over and hugged me. That was the day I mastered my fear of falling in the snow.

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It was now the first week of March. I had been pushing myself in the gym because I wanted this summer to be a much more active one. I planned on walking Mary across the Stone Arch Bridge and on city sidewalks; I wanted to be able to go around the metro area to blog at different coffee shops; I wanted to do some sightseeing and to be able to walk around without feeling tired. So I had to exert my body in the gym at every opportunity. It had been, after all, this kind of dedication in the gym that had led to my being prepared to face the early days of physical rehabilitation.

I made sure to pair leg press and squats during every leg workout. I also forced myself to walk at least a tenth of a mile on the treadmill every time I went to the gym. This dramatically improved my posture. I noticed that I was walking with a narrower gait, but I was no longer worried about falling over. Every step felt natural because the treadmill had forced me to continuously place one foot in front of the other. It was something other people noticed whenever I walked around the building.

The assisted living staff had begun stretching my shoulder every day as well. It was excruciating, but it was something that had to be endured if I ever wanted to be able to use it regularly. I went to the gym every other day. To assist with loosening my shoulder, I would try to perform at least one upper body exercise. I felt as though my range of motion was gradually improving, but I had no metric to measure how well this was really working. It could all have been taking place in my head.

One day I decided to go down to the basement to work on my blog. I packed my laptop into my backpack as I normally did. Since I usually require assistance to put on my backpack or to remove it, I have to carry it in my hand. This time I decided to see if I could do it myself. It slipped right on. When I got to the basement, I was able to slip it right off. This was thrilling. Not only did it mean that my shoulder was more functional, it also meant that I would never need help with the backpack again. I could take my laptop anywhere I needed to, and I could carry it hands free.

I didn’t want to merely improve the flexibility of my shoulder. It was my goal to eventually be able to start building muscle in it again. At present, all I could do was manipulate it. But that was enough to get started. If I just began trying to lift weights with my shoulder now, I might start to see a modicum of results by, say, Summer.

So the next time I went to the gym, I performed a couple of my normal back exercises. Then I pulled a bench over to the Smith machine and set the bar just above shoulder height. I walked up behind it, grasped it with my left hand, and sat down still holding on. This stretched my shoulder ever so slightly. From this position, I turned slowly in either direction, stretching my shoulder just a bit more. After I was satisfied that I had loosened up considerably, I started performing shoulder presses.

I placed each hand on the bar and tried to pull myself forward to create separation between it and my upper back. My shoulder was too stiff to move much, so I sat there for a moment, letting my shoulder stretch gradually. When my body was ready, I pushed the bar up. It scraped the back of my head even as I attempted to lean forward. My left arm wasn’t doing much, but I still tried to engage it. After I had pushed as hard as I could, the bar still had not cleared my head. I was disappointed, but I pressed nine more times. I rested when I was done, then I tried two more sets of ten reps each.

I was never able to move the bar much higher. By the final set, I was barely moving it at all. But I told myself that every bit of movement was contributing to the overall pliability of the joint. If I tried to perform shoulder presses every time I came to the gym, I would see a difference before long. Once the shoulder was more moveable, I could begin adding other shoulder exercises to my split. Before long, I would be working out my shoulder again. None of this was guaranteed to be successful, but it gave me a long-term goal to focus on and helped to keep the frustration at bay.

As I stated before, the goal of all this work was to be able to lead a normal life. So when I ran into my friend Joo-hee at the gym and she invited me to her monthly Sunday dinner, I jumped at the chance. I knew she had stairs inside her house and many steps from her sidewalk to her front door, so it would be a challenge. I now had something more immediate to work toward for the next two weeks. I switched my workout focus back to legs, making sure to get a minimum of four sets every time I did leg press or squats. I knew it wouldn’t make the stairs a non-factor, but each rep would help.

During this period, my workouts became so intense that I found myself having to cancel some sessions. My body had overtrained and required additional days of rest. During this time off, I would run errands or spend more time with my dog. I noticed that I could spin more easily and move my left leg in more directions. As I had suspected, the constant exercise was having effects on my leg without me trying to work on every conceivable motion.

The day finally came for dinner. I told the Metro Mobility driver that I needed to be dropped off in the alley behind the house to avoid the many steps, but he pulled up to the front of the house anyway. There was still a lot of snow on the sidewalk, so I had to turn sideways to sidle across to the steps. When I got to the steps, I saw that there was a handrail, but it was only on the left side. Since I needed to be able to hold it with my right hand, I told the driver that I would need to go up backward, while he held my left arm.

I was nervous, but I trusted him to support me and watch where I was going. So it now just became an exercise in patience and precision. It was a matter of stepping up and back with my right leg, then binging my left foot next to it. I carefully balanced much of my weight on the handrail, but it was made of unvarnished wood, and I didn’t want to lean on it too heavily. After an interminable number of steps, we finally made it to the house. Joo-hee greeted us at the door, and I went in and sat down on the couch. I hadn’t felt so relieved in months.

Joo-hee has a policy of removing ones shoes in her house. This meant that I couldn’t wear my brace either, because it is too slippery to wear alone. This didn’t worry me, as I often walk around my apartment barefoot. So I removed my shoes and brace, secure in the idea that I wouldn’t trip and fall if I was careful. I was the first guest to arrive, so I joined Joo-hee in the kitchen, where we caught up on what was going on in each other’s lives as she prepared food.

Joo-hee believes in doing as many things as possible as a community. Cooking is no exception. So after most of the other guests arrived, she began passing out ingredients so we could make steamed buns. We began talking about life and politics as we all rolled our pieces of dough and folded them around fillings. Then we would pinch them closed and hand them to Joo-hee, who placed them in a steamer. This was difficult work to do with one hand, so after Joo-hee helped me to pinch closed two dumplings, I retired to the living room couch.

Soon it was time to have dinner. Most of the other guest had brought side dishes, so there was more than enough food. I enjoyed fried tofu, chicken and glass noodles, and dumplings. I no longer was cognizant of how I was socializing. My eyesight was clear and I didn’t have to work at the strength or quality of my voice. I enjoyed the food and felt like I was just another guest. It felt wonderful just being at ease with myself.

One thing I am always aware of wherever I go is where the restroom is. My incontinence is gone now that it has been over three years since my stroke. However, I still like to use the restroom at least once if I am anywhere for longer than three hours. That way I know that I won’t need to use it again until well after I have to be back at home. As it became closer to the time when my ride was scheduled to arrive, I made my way to the restroom.

Joo-hee’s restroom is on the second floor. There was a handrail on my side as I went up, so I wouldn’t require help going up. It was a rather steep staircase, so I asked Joo-hee to walk up behind me, keeping a hand in my back to prevent me from falling backwards. Coming down would be more difficult. There was no handrail on the right side until I got halfway down. To keep from falling downstairs, I sat down against the wall next to the staircase. Then I swung my legs around and placed my feet on the second stair from the top. Now I scooted down the stairs, always keeping my feet two stairs below my butt. When I made it to the handrail, I was able to stand up and safely walk down the rest of the way.

I had just sat down on the couch and put on my shoes when Metro Mobility called, alerting me that my ride would be there in ten minutes. I got help tying my shoes and zipping my jacket. When the driver appeared at the door, I had him to hold my left elbow even more securely than the first driver had, as I really feared falling forward.

Using the handrail on my right side and the driver on my left, I walked slowly down the long flight of steps. When we got to the sidewalk, I breathed a sigh of relief. My left leg had grown stronger in the past few weeks, so I was able to place my right foot on the bottom step and step over it with my left on the way to my seat. As trivial as this now seemed to me, it had until recently been an ambitious feat of strength.

I sat down and buckled myself in. Then I pulled my left foot back so it was out of the way of the bus steps. These were just two more things that I had recently been unable to do without great effort or help. I rode home feeling inspired that I was beginning to enjoy the ease of life again.

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As February drew to a close, my life started to feel monotonous. I was going to the gym a few days per week. We were getting a lot more snow. I was no longer in therapy. My days were broken up between lifting weights, taking Mary outside, and writing for my blog. I was motivated, but I was also feeling kind of empty. Even my writing started to feel uninspired. So I had to get myself on a schedule that would help me to organize my mornings. That would help me to mentally focus.

I had communicated with assisted living to start having my stretches done daily by staff. I asked them to do this in the morning, so I could be ready to go out for the day. The staff brings me my morning medications at 7:00am, and although that would have been an ideal time for stretches, I was advised that the staff had to dress and feed other clients between 7:00 and 10:00. So the time they could get around to me wouldn’t conflict with my scheduled rides, I asked if they could help me with my range of motion exercises at 6:30.

Having a dog meant that I would have to let her out even earlier. Otherwise I ran the risk of her having an accident while waiting to go out after my range of motion treatment. This entailed me committing to getting out of bed at 6:00 each morning.

The first day I tried this, I was very tired. I dragged myself out of bed, dressed, and put on the shoes with shoe buttons so I wouldn’t need help tying them. I went downstairs so security could zip my parka. Mary peed immediately, then I went back up to my apartment so the assisted living worker could come in to do my range of motion stretches.

No one had stretched my shoulder aggressively in years, so I wasn’t prepared for what it would feel like. It was painful. Even with the amount of exercise I was doing every week, I still didn’t realize how tight my shoulder was. Each time he raised my arm above my head, I wanted to cry and tell him to stop. But I knew if I endured the pain, it would subside a little more each day. The goal was to recover as much muscle function as possible, so I knew I would have to go through a little pain each day, just as I had the first year after my stroke. There had been a time when I could barely use my left arm, but perseverance had gotten me to the point where I could lift weights again.

When he was finished, I had him attach electrodes to my forearm, so I could perform e-stim on my fingers for 30 minutes. After I was done with e-stim, I was still a little sleepy. So I decided to take a nap for an hour. After the nap, I took a shower. The shower was the thing that finally helped me to completely wake up. As I got dressed, I decided to type up a daily schedule in Microsoft Word. In the future, I wouldn’t have to plan out anything before 1:00pm again. As long as I was half-awake, I could sleepwalk through my tasks until I was on the bus to the gym.

I wanted to supplement tthe passive range of motion stretching with active movement. I was already doing a modest amount of exercise on this region of my body. Now I resolved to target it more intensely. I began by devising a more traditional training split. I would go to the gym a minimum of four days per week. Two days would be spent at Planet Fitness; two days at L. A. Fitness. The two days at Planet Fitness would focus more heavily on building leg strength. The two days at L. A. Fitness would feature upper body movements. There would, however, be some carryover. At L. A. Fitness, I would also use the treadmill and perform one leg exercise per session. At Planet Fitness, I would do at least one exercise that would stretch my shoulder. This way, each body part I was trying to rehabilitate got some attention most days of the week.

My two consecutive weeks of going to the gym four days in a row had increased my endurance, so I was able to rest for shorter intervals between sets and perform more sets. Thanks to this, I started doing four different exercises on my upper body days. While these exercises were meant to target the back and chest, they also had the effect of adding greater flexibility to my arm and shoulder, since you are using those body parts whenever you pull or row.

I usually performed lat pulldowns, lat rows, and chest flies during every upper body session. However I felt like even these exercises were only providing passive exercise. They allowed my shoulder to be manipulated more easily. And while that was good, I wasn’t actively using the shoulder. Before the stroke, I had been able to shoulder press 80-lb dumbbells. I hated not being able to even bring my hand to my ear. If I ever wanted to be able to raise my left arm above my head again, I knew learning to lift weights using my shoulder again would be crucial to my progress.

When I examined the issue more closely, the problem was not that I couldn’t raise my shoulder. I could bring my shoulder to a position where I could at least begin lifting; I just couldn’t rotate it so my palm was facing forward. This had seemed like a hopeless situation for years. Then it occurred to me how much my triceps used to burn after a good shoulder workout. If I could get my arm into the correct position for shoulder presses, I could probably regain strength in my arms too, thereby regaining rotational capability.

The next time I went to Planet Fitness, I used the Smith machine to perform squats. Before starting, I set it up to perform shoulder presses. I knew my left shoulder would be extremely tight and might just be along for the ride for several months. But even if I couldn’t gain much strength from the exercise, I could continue to loosen up the joint. I pushed up on the bar. It was even more difficult than I’d anticipated. I pushed harder. Now I could feel my left arm quivering as it strained from effort. It was all I could do to get the bar above my head, but I pushed for nine more reps. Then I managed to do three more sets of ten. I wasn’t able to do that much on my first day, but I would attempt shoulder press every day I went to Planet Fitness and reassess in three months.

I had recently committed to walking on the treadmill every time I went to the gym. I wanted to start walking for five minutes per day; to expand that to ten minutes per session after a couple of weeks; then ultimately to be walking for a mile by the end of the year. By the time I was at a mile, not only would any amount of walking I needed to do be easy, but I planned to be transitioning away from using a cane altogether.

When I started on the treadmill, I had a couple of body mechanics issues that made it difficult to walk for more than a few minutes. I couldn’t lift my leg very high and I couldn’t extend my left arm. Because I needed to pick my foot up off the ground to move it forward, I had developed the habit of kicking it out to the side to compensate. Although this would achieve the desired goal of advancing my leg, it made for a very unstable stride. The weightlifting was meant to address this by building brute strength. The treadmill would force me to constantly coordinate all of the muscle groups, leading to a more natural stride. I quickly improved, but I would get tired after five minutes and have to stop.

After I had been trying to work at this for a week, it occurred to me that I wasn’t brining my leg up high enough on a consistent basis. I was already working my quads, glutes, and hamstrings. By a process of elimination, I surmised that I needed to strengthen my hip flexors. They had shown me how to do this in physical therapy. I would lie on my back on a raised surface with my legs extended over the edge, so my feet could rest on the floor. Then I would lift my knee as high as I could.

I began by doing ten reps at a time and worked my way up to twenty. After I was able to do this much on the edge of my bed, I began doing it in a seated position. This way, I could exercise my hip while I was watching television or sitting next to Mary on a couch. It only took a couple of days of working my hips before I could see the difference on the treadmill. Because my foot didn’t drag nearly as often, I was able to keep walking for ten minutes. I felt thrilled. I wanted to do more, but I decided to get off the treadmill and go lift weights.

For the next week, I committed to ten minutes on the treadmill. That was so easy that I pushed myself to fifteen. At this point, the only thing stopping me from walking longer was the tone in my left arm. Because the arm was still severely constricted, I couldn’t hold the machine handle and continue to walk normally. Although I was tempted to just use my right arm and walk for a mile or two, it was important to keep using both arms. It would align my gait, keep my fingers engaged, gradually straighten my arm, and help me when I was doing things like pushing carts and carrying boxes.

I paid rent for March a month in advance so I would be able to buy things I needed for the year. My ILS worker and I went down to a department store to pick up jogging pants, jeans, and a belt. The last two times I had shopped at this store, I had required a wheelchair. Although I would be walking this time, I was concerned at how slow I would be and how exhausted the trip might leave me. I also was wary of incontinence. It had been months since I’d had anything resembling a restroom emergency, but I still worried about how difficult controlling myself had been right after the stroke.

My ILS worker dropped me off in front of the store and went to park the car. I made it inside quickly and noticed how easy it was to walk back to the men’s department. We found all three items in my size and made our way to a fitting room. I already knew the jogging pants would fit, so it was only necessary to try on the belt and jeans These were easier to pull on and fasten than I had anticipated. Not only did I not end up having to use the restroom, but after I put my clothes back on, I still had an hour to spare.

It was still morning when we drove home. Moving around was becoming easier every week. This was going to be the first year when trying to live life would not be physically taxing.

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I had begun pushing myself in the gym in early February by going four days in a row. My reasoning was that by forcing myself to work out while physically depleted, it would increase my all-around fitness and spur faster rehabilitation. These periods were so intense that I found myself taking two days off in between periods. The first day would be dedicated to rest and recovery. I would typically hang out in the building, blogging and spending time with Mary. I would try to go out on the second day and find ways to move around. It could entail running errands, grocery shopping, going out for coffee, or running errands – anything to keep my muscles moving. Otherwise, I worried, they might tense up.

My friend Sandra called me up to invite me over for dinner the second weekend of the month. On the Saturday she came to pick me up, we still had not decided on anything. We decided to go for Indian cuisine at the restaurant that is routinely rated as the best of its kind in the Twin Cities. It had been snowing all month, so when we arrived, we couldn’t find parking nearby. All of the strenuous work I had been putting in gave me a great deal of confidence. Walking through a few yards of snow was barely an afterthought now.

Once we made it inside the restaurant, we could see that the dining room was already filling up. The hostess led us to one of three tables that weren’t already occupied. There was so little room that I had to twist and sidle around people to get to my table. I could easily tell that my stability and balance had increased since I had been there last July. By the time we got to our seats, I felt accomplished, as if I had just made it through the obstacle course at a therapy gym.

Sandra and I had not seen each other since we had gone to see Ron Stallworth last autumn. So much had happened since then. We had both traveled; I had been released from physical therapy and had received a new brace. There were also a lot of exciting changes to the national political scene. It felt relaxing to just enjoy Sandra’s company without being distracted by the prices on the menu. I had even become better at managing my economic situation.

Soon our dinner came. I had my favorite – Rogan Josh. It wasn’t as hot as I normally like it, but I didn’t mind. The company and the food made the evening. Soon there was live music and the restaurant filled up. My double vision cleared up, allowing me to take in everything around me. For a person who had so recently suffered deprivations of all five senses, having them engaged so fully all at once made for an intoxicating night. Normally I go home with a few leftovers, but I felt as though not eating the entire meal would be like leaving something of the evening behind.

The next day was another day off from the gym. Instead of leaving the building, I went down to the basement to work on my blog again. Before I began writing, I wanted to practice walking without my cane. I had recently decided to stop using my cane while in the building, so I had no problem walking back-and-forth across the length of the room. Now I concentrated on walking along the straight lines of the floor. I had worried about my ability to walk a straight line before, but even this wasn’t a challenge.

Next I decided to try balance exercises. The first one was spinning around in a circle as fast as I could without losing balance. I went clockwise. Then I went counterclockwise. This was simpler than I thought it would be. So I tried to step sideways several times. This was something I had only ever tried while holding onto a bar. I worried that I might fall while attempting this. But I didn’t trip or fall. So I shuffled back in the opposite direction, and that wasn’t difficult either. Now I felt reassured that I was on track for not needing my cane at all by the end of the year. I sat down to write, feeling quite satisfied with the progress of my leg, but now I couldn’t stop thinking about how to advance the progress with my arm.

The following day I went back to the gym. I focused on upper body exercises. Between each set, I would hold onto handles and stretch my arm. My ultimate goal was to gain a maximum amount of strength and mobility back in the arm. Although this felt like a long shot, I had only recently wondered whether I would ever use that arm again.

One of the things that I knew would help was having assisted living perform range of motion stretches on me each morning. There had been a standing order for the staff to do this before. But during the last several months, there had been few stretching sessions. I had lost my exercise book and some staff members refused to adhere to my requests because they said that the order was not for the hours they worked. To resolve this, I went to the hospital and had an occupational therapist and a doctor to write me new orders including explicit times and repetitions for the exercises.

Once the orders arrived, I informed that staff that I had them, but I would be giving them to management. She immediately began telling me about how she wouldn’t perform the exercises. I told her that I didn’t wish to discuss it; I would talk to management about how to set it up. She reiterated that she would not do them. I told her that I just did not want to discuss it with her. She left my apartment, exclaiming that she didn’t want to argue with me. This was all I had been saying in the first place: I would give the doctor’s orders with management. She could have the conversation with them.

I felt as though I should still be doing something at home to stimulate use of my left arm. One thing that was obviously helping was walking Mary. So I began to walk her around the building. I would even take her outside when she didn’t need to go. This increased the amount of time I was actively using my hand. During these walks, I also practiced varying my grip and moving my individual fingers. It just seemed like common sense that I should keep working my fingers and sending feedback to my brain.

When I wasn’t walking Mary, I found a way to exercise by myself in the basement. I would stand over a chair. Then I would bend down and grab it by the arm or the back. Next I would pick one side up off the ground and set it back down. I would perform twenty lifts per set until I had achieved a hundred reps.

This wasn’t a strength building exercise; it was intended to redevelop my fine motor skills. When I first began the exercise, I would have to guide my fingers into place. But after the first day, I was able to place my fingers using nothing but the muscles of my left arm. Lifting and pushing the chair down also sparked feeling in the rear of my arm. So I was getting some rudimentary use out of my triceps. Between sets I would sit and lean on my left arm, while rotating my wrist and moving my fingers much as I could. The idea was to keep working as many of the muscles as I could. I don’t have any idea how much any of this helped, but I felt better than if I had merely been sitting around not using my arm.

I had been working diligently to get my blog to the point where it was four weeks ahead of publication. Once I was satisfied that I had a month’s worth of posts ready, I would feel as though I could safely start to focus on other things. One thing I wanted to spend more time doing was walking Mary myself. I knew how much she enjoyed going out every day, and I wanted her to associate going outdoors for fun with me. We were also in the midst of the snowiest Minneapolis February on record. Knowing how much Mary loves snow, I also knew that I had to get over any fear I had of falling down.

The first few times I tried walking her after a snowfall, I was worried about my footing. But after taking her out several times a day, I realized that I had developed much better balance over the last few months. The tip of my cane slipped sometimes, but my feet never did. All I needed to do was be careful and take my time. Having recently mastered bending down to pick up after her in the snow, I was quickly losing my fear of walking her in all elements. I began looking forward to the days when the weather would change and I could start walking her several blocks by myself.

Having courage outdoors gave me more courage in the gym as well. The whole time I had been working out again, I had relied on other people to help me set up exercise stations, because I didn’t want to lose balance and fall. Now I began setting my cane down so I could move weights and benches around with my right hand. I was unsure at first, but once I was sure I could count on my left leg, moving equipment around no longer seemed daunting. I focused on placing things where they needed to be.

As opposed to constantly staring down at the floor, I felt comfortable looking at the machines and where I was positioning things. Before the stroke, I had always been meticulous about setting up every exercise. That had been how I had mentally prepared for each set and how I’d remained focus throughout a workout. Not thinking about my feet now allowed me to regain that hyper focus. This contributed to more intensity in the gym and made me efficient. For the first time since the stroke, I felt more like I was working out as opposed to just rehabbing.

In addition to being able to count on my leg to maintain my balance, I noticed that it was growing much stronger. Whereas I had once required help to lift my leg into position for various exercises, I had eventually developed the ability to lift my foot into place on my own, but not without great effort. During the first two months of the new year, I had regained the ability to rapidly raise and reposition my foot. I was now also able to do exercises with my leg bent at even greater angles. I was really excited about going to the gym again. Every workout session from now on would feel increasingly as though it was just another day at the gym.

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One night in early February, I was in the basement writing my blog. I had been working on it for several hours and started to get tired. After I finished writing, I packed up my laptop and went up to my apartment to sleep for the night. As I stepped off the elevator, my earbuds slipped from around my neck and fell to the floor. One end fell down into the opening between the elevator car and the building. I tried to step on the cord to keep the whole thing from falling down the shaft. But I couldn’t move my foot that quickly and still maintain my balance. I watched in horror as the earbuds fell completely down the elevator shaft.

I was quite upset, as I used my earbuds almost constantly, because I was always in environments with lots of noise. I lived in a large apartment building; I had to go to the gym or a medical appointment almost every day; I was normally on a noisy bus for over an hour each way. So I was worried that I would be miserable while trying to enjoy videos and unable to focus while writing. I hurried into my apartment and called customer service.

When the operator picked up the phone, I explained the issue to him. He started quoting that my insurance plan didn’t cover accessories. I explained that I was not looking to file an insurance claim; I needed warranty, because I was replacing an accessory that came with a phone that was less than a year old. There appeared to be a language barrier, as he didn’t address my objection. He merely quoted the same script to me again. I became frustrated and told him that I would just go to the Sprint Store. After that, I hung up. Less than minute later, the representative called back to say that he was still trying to help me. Now I was angry. I yelled, “You’re not helping!” I hung up on him again. This time he did not call back.

I was supposed to spend a couple of hours with my ILS worker at the gym the next morning. I asked him to drive me to the Sprint Store instead. I knew that I might be required to send in the damaged earbuds to complete a warranty claim, but I told the salesperson my story and hoped for the best. She averred that I could not file a warranty claim on lost equipment, but she told me to wait a few minutes while she went to the rear of the store. A couple of minutes later, she returned and handed me a new pair of earbuds. So I didn’t even have to wait a week to receive a pair from Samsung.

I had come prepared to buy a set of wireless earbuds if I couldn’t get the original pair replaced. Since I was so thankful, I decided to purchase a pair anyway. That way, the salesperson could get commission from the sale. Then I could use the pair with the cord exclusively with my laptop. I could store them in my laptop backpack, where they would never fall out. I could use the wireless ones with my phone, since they wouldn’t get caught up in seat belts and gym equipment. And I would always have a replacement pair.

After I got back home, I shaved my head for the first time since my stroke. This meant so much for me, because it was something I had done regularly before the stroke. It had always taken a good amount of planning. First, I would have to line up all of my hair care products in front of a bathroom mirror. Second, I would put my head into the sink and massage it with warm water. Next, I would spread shaving gel all over my head. The fourth thing I would do is shave off all the hair I could see. Finally, I would hold a mirror behind my head and shave the back. This always felt like more of a purification ritual than a mundane task. So I looked forward with a great deal of anxiety to shaving.

I sat down in front of the mirror and poured warm water all over my head. Then I massaged shaving gel all over my scalp. Shaving the part of my scalp that I could see was pretty easy, and soon I was looking at a clean head. Now I opened a new razor and began blindly shaving the back of my head. Since I couldn’t hold a mirror in my left hand, I waited until I was done. Then I used my cellphone to snap a few pictures of my head. I studied the images, then placed my head back in the sink and rinsed it off. I put gel on the parts I missed and shaved again. I repeated this two more times and finally, I was satisfied.

I rinsed off my head and dried it off with a towel. My scalp felt clean. My entire body felt completely energized. Remembering that it had been the hair growth that had made me realize that I had been in a coma for almost two weeks, I felt as though I was overcoming one more effect of the stroke.

We had a snow storm that night and it lasted through the next morning. I had a trip to the gym scheduled for that day. It would have been easy to stay in, but I prefer going to the gym on days when the weather is bad. Keeping my balance is always more of a challenge, so my muscles start working as soon as I step outside. By the time I step into the gym, I’m fully awake and my body is already burning calories. Contrary to earlier, I require no warmup to get me going. My mind was also very alert. So I was able to plan my workout in my head. Another good thing about bad weather days is that the gym tends to be fairly empty. So unlike other days, I was assured of being able to use every machine I wanted in the order I desired.

I started on the treadmill, which is always the most difficult exercise because the toes of my left foot drag. As I try to advance my foot, I concentrate on lifting with my hip and quadriceps. It takes all of my effort to clear my foot. Then I quickly step forward and down. It’s always a chore, but the idea of the treadmill is to keep repeating the motion until it becomes automatic. I’d never thought about how much coordination is involved in stepping before. Walking on the treadmill will eventually return me to a state where I don’t have to anymore.

I had been wanting to ramp up my leg workouts because my goal is to no longer require a cane by the end of the year – a goal that will require building a great deal of strength and endurance. So instead of stopping at five minutes on the treadmill, I pushed it to ten. I planned to push myself to be walking a mile by the end of the year, but this was good for early February.

For strength building I had been doing squats or leg press followed by a couple of other exercise. In order to increase my workload, I had recently begun doing squats and leg press during the same workout. This way, even if I only worked with light weights during the second exercise, I was working near capacity. Whereas before I often felt as though I was just going through the motions and thereby wasting time, now I felt fully engaged again. By the time I finished, I was panting and sweaty. I felt depleted and could barely lift my leg. But I was happy, because I felt as though I was accomplishing something again.

I had the stroke while I was bench pressing. Lifting weights has never been much of a problem. But because of my high blood pressure and my asthma, I have always found it hard to do cardiovascular exercise. After the stroke, I realized that cardio was a must. So I decided to add another cardio exercise to my workout. I went over to the cardio machines to see what equipment they had besides treadmills and stationary bikes. Then I noticed a solitary Nu-step machine. The Nu-step was a machine I had used in every physical therapy environment I had been in since my stroke. Ordinarily the physical therapist would have to lift my left foot into the stirrup, strap it in, and extend the handles toward me because my left arm could not fully straighten. But I was now able to lift my own foot into the stirrup and extend my arm enough to reach the handlebar without any adjustment. I sat back and peddled for fifteen minutes. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. It made me feel like meeting my goals for my left leg wouldn’t be insurmountable.

As usual, Mary was always delighted with the heavy snow. It was something I viewed with anxiety. I didn’t want to slip and fall, but she had to go outside three times per day. The first time I walked her outside after a snow storm, she peed immediately, then started rolling around and playing in the snow. Soon she started sniffing and following scent trails. I kept dreading when she would do more, causing me to having to bend down and pick up after her. But she never did. After around twenty minutes, I grew cold and we went back upstairs.

Five hours later, we came downstairs again. This time, Mary did have to do Number 2. When she had finished, I stood up and slowly walked over to where she had done it. I had a mental image of myself falling face down into it, but I tried not to worry about it. I carefully positioned my feet. Then I bent down to pick it up. Because the snow was light and powdery, I was able to scoop the bag beneath some of it, so it was easy to get everything into the bag. Then I stood up and walked over to the garbage can, holding the bag in the same hand as my cane.

Over the next few days, it snowed several times. Snow slowly became something I dreaded less. I began to notice that it was much easier to clean up after Mary in fresh snow. Not only was it easier to scoop up, but if there was enough for my shoes to sink down into, it would help hold my feet in place so I didn’t worry about falling over. With me not having to worry as much, I could allow Mary to stay out much longer every time I took her out. And of course she enjoyed the extra time immensely. After cleaning up behind her, I would pull up a patio chair and let out her leash so she could explore. I could just sit and watch her dart back and forth as I tried to imagine the wonders that raced through her mind. Winter dog walking had become a peaceful activity now that I no longer had a fear of the future.

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After I had been back from Saint Louis for a week, we had a few days of severe winter weather hit. We were under a wind chill warning for three days from Tuesday to Thursday. So I canceled my trips to the gym and settled in. I really wanted to go to the gym those days, but I was still having a problem getting a functioning Go-to card. I consoled myself by thinking about how much time I would be able to spend with Mary.

Mary loves winter. Every chance she gets to go outdoors on a cold day is cause for celebration. I took her out and tried to stay out longer than five minutes, but my bare hands soon started to burn. We went back inside with Mary having only urinated. I was relieved, but I wondered how I would be able to pick up after her without falling down or developing frostbite.

When I got back to my apartment, I tried putting a glove on my left hand. I struggled with it for about fifteen minutes before I finally gave up. Since my left hand was closed naturally, it was permanently set to hold Mary’s leash. In fact, a glove would have made my hand too bulky to hold it anyway. The fingers, being closed together, also held in warmth. So I decided that it would be easier to keep my left hand bare.

Next I tried the right glove. It took some maneuvering, but I was able to get my fingers past the cuff and inside the palm of the glove. But when I tried to line up the liners with the finger holes, I couldn’t. I tried to take my hand out and realign my fingers. It still didn’t work. So I looked inside the large pockets of my parka and found my mittens. I pulled the right one over my hand. It fit a little too loosely, but it was tight enough for me to grip my cane. So I decided to test out how well I would be able to walk. I put Mary’s leash on and led her down to the basement.

When we got to the patio door, I could see ice on the pavement and dead leaves scraping along the ground. It was too dangerous to lead Mary out to the grass. There was a gentleman watching television in the community room. Since he was friendly with Mary, I offered him a dollar to walk her outside. If he took her to use the restroom, I could come out and pick up after her.

He took her out and led her around until she used the restroom. After she did, I went out to pick up after her. Suddenly, I couldn’t get my mittened hand inside the poop bag. I had him hold my cane while I tried to take off the mitten. Just then, an arctic blast of wind ran up the mitten, forcing me to change my mind. After a few minutes, he offered to pick up the poop himself. I was disappointed that I couldn’t do it, but I was relieved that it was being taken care of and went back in out of the cold.

The next day, my new personalized shoes arrived. I had designed these to be my active shoes. They were made of stretchy material so they could be worn over my new brace. The soles were black so they would be much harder to stain than my previous pair. I’d made the shoes themselves dark for the same reason. I’d had the words “NVR QIT” monogrammed on the heels in bright red. I had the same shade of red for the laces and the tabs, for a splash of color.

I could now put shoe buttons in my lighter shoes. That way, I would have shoes I could put on and tie myself if I was in a hurry. They wouldn’t be as tight as necessary, but I could put them on and take the dog out in the snow or catch a bus if I were running late. I would still have other people tie the dark pair. Then they could be snug for working out, extensive walking, and days of heavy rain, mud, or snow.

I took them out of the box and immediately put my new brace in the left one, so it could expand around it overnight. The next day, I put them on and went downstairs and had someone else tie them. Then I went to the basement community room to practice walking. I had only ever walked a few feet without my cane before. Now I would start walking across the entire room, ultimately mastering greater distances, ultimately leading to me not having to use a cane indoors at all.

The shoes were still brand new and therefore very rigid. The assisted living worker had also pulled the laces tight before tying them, so each step feltvery stable. I walked slowly to the door, turned, and walked back across the room. Walking felt so steady that I walked around the room several times I couldn’t believe how frightened I had once been of walking without my cane. I would still use my cane outdoors, on uneven floors, or in large buildings. But I no longer needed it for general indoor use.

The cold weather broke that weekend as the temperature began climbing above 0° again. Now I was able to take Mary out for longer intervals again. Each time we went out on the patio, I would try to let her stay out for fifteen to thirty minutes. I walked with her as much as I could. This would give her more time to play and explore; it would also generate more body heat for me. When I felt like resting, I would extend her leash to its maximum length and just let her have free rein.

One day while Mary and I were on the patio, another owner brought his dog out to use the restroom. The other dog was interested in meeting Mary, but his owner was nervous because the dog had recently been attacked by a larger dog. So I pulled Mary close to me so the other dog could do his business and go back indoors. The other owner walked his dog across the yard and back, but the other dog didn’t do anything, because he was now distracted and wanted to play. So they went back indoors.

After I thought they had gotten onto the elevator, I led Mary back indoors. To my surprise, they were waiting in the hallway. The owner wanted to let his dog meet Mary. They sniffed each other for several seconds. Then Mary started squatting and darting at him. Had she been off-leash, this is how she would have begun playing Tag. But we had to keep them far enough apart that their leashes didn’t become tangled. They still tried to touch one another as much as they possibly could.

Soon other people came out in the hallway to watch because they could hear how much fun the dogs were having. I was proud that we seemed to be providing joy for several other residents. After a little while, the other owner said he had to go, but he thanked me for letting Mary play with his dog. Mary is very enthusiastic, but also exceedingly gentle with infirm people and smaller dogs, so it is easy to experiment with her on the way to getting dogs or people to feel comfortable around dogs again. He asked if they could play again. Of course they can.

I was still trying to save money because I hadn’t received a functioning Go-to card for use on Metro Mobility. So I was trying to find ways to exercise around the building. Of course, I was getting a lot of it by walking Mary and walking indoors without my cane. Another thing I was doing was squatting as deeply as I could. All of this was helping with my balance and flexibility. But I was eager to start really working out again – especially now that I had new workout shoes. So I decided to start going to the gym again.

By my estimation, I had around $30 worth of credits remaining on each my two cards. These would get me to the gym several times over the next two weeks, at the end of which I would collect my first car payment. Even if that payment didn’t arrive on time, I had enough money in the bank to pay for several rides per week until I received another disability payment at the end of February. I wouldn’t owe rent in March, so I could elect to pay for even more rides. All of this would cover me if I were unable to secure a functioning Go-to card from the CADI company. Regardless of how everything else worked out, I would be able to get to the gym to work my accelerated leg rehabilitation program for the rest of the year.

I headed back to the gym that Monday. On the way to the gym, my CADI case manager called to inform me that they had finally been able to place my February credits on the permanent Go-to card they had sent me. They were working on trying to get the January balance placed on it as well, but that might take more time. Since I was already on a Metro Mobility bus, I had the driver scan the card at the next stop. It came up with a $125 balance. I was overjoyed. While this was nowhere near the amount I was owed, it would get me through most of March even with heavy use. I called the CADI case manager back and thanked her profusely. She kept reiterating that they were trying to load more, but I was no longer fixated on the issue. I was already concentrating on the workout program that I could now pursue.

The first exercise I wanted to try was the treadmill. While that had been a simple warmup exercise for me before I had the stroke, it would be a crucial way for me to correct my stride now. During sessions with physical therapists, they had always strapped me into a harness that was suspended from the ceiling. This would help me to lift my left foot each time I stepped and prevent me from falling. For the first couple of years, the therapist would still manually help me to lift my foot with each step, but eventually, I was walking on my own. After I began working out on my own, I began using the treadmill on my own without a harness. My foot would catch every few steps, even with me having to kick it out a little to the side for clearance.

Now that I was harness-free and had the new brace, I wanted to practice walking correctly. I was trying to force myself to put more weight on my left leg. Walking the treadmill would allow me to constantly have to advance the leg. I steadied myself on the hand grips and continued trying to lift with my glutes, quads, and hamstrings. It was hard work and demanded a lot of coordination. At the same time, I had to concentrate on not kicking my leg out to the side either. I was able to keep walking for five minutes before I finally had to stop, climb down, and rest.

It was a lot harder than I imagined five minutes would be. But this level of coordination, speed, and foot clearance was unprecedented for me. With time, strengthening exercises, and walking the treadmill each time I go to the gym, I’m sure that I will easily be able to walk for ten minutes by the summer. By the end of the year, walking a mile on the treadmill should be quite easy. I look forward to the day when I stop needing a cane altogether.

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My first week back from Saint Louis was a very productive one. I had something different to do every day. After I came home from a Friday court date in Saint Paul, my friend Allene came over to spend the night. Since Mary loved Allene, I asked Allene to help me to go pick up Mary.

Although we had originally planned to get dog food first, it was a cold evening, so we went directly to north Minneapolis to get Mary. When Allene loaded Mary into her SUV, Mary climbed out of the rear and immediately into the driver’s seat. Allene came around to the driver side door and coaxed her back into her own seat. Then she drove back to my apartment.

On the way, Mary kept climbing up toward the front, trying to keep her head between the two of us. While this was normal attention seeking behavior for her, she continued being clingy after we got home. As expected, she was very affectionate towards Allene. But while I normally expect her to ignore me when other humans are in the room, Mary routinely came back to me every few seconds. Not only was she affectionate with me, she climbed up each time to nuzzle with me. I t was the first time that I felt like she really missed me while I was away.

Mary slept with Allene that night, giving me another full night of undisturbed sleep. I woke up refreshed the next morning. Knowing that Allene likes to sleep in, I went down to the basement at 9:00 am to work on my blog. Although Mary initially wanted to follow me out of the apartment, I found it much easier to leave her behind because she had someone to keep her company.

Normally it can take me a great deal of effort to get started on a blog post. But I had had such a fulfilling time with my family that it was easy to build and sustain momentum. Ordinarily I try to write around 2000 words per installment. I break those up into manageable amounts by dividing that into 1000 words per day; 500 words per sitting. After 90 minutes, I had written 800 words. I felt so charged that I decided to write another 100 words. Then I packed up my computer and went back upstairs to my apartment, where I found Allene and Mary still snuggled up in bed.

Allene and I ran a couple of errands, then went out for dinner and coffee. That evening, she packed up and left to spend the night with a different friend. I went downstairs to work on my blog some more, expecting to write until I had written about 1200 words. Momentum took over again as I relived all of the wonderful hours of my trip. Before long, it became obvious that I would be able to finish the installment for the night. I emailed the rough draft off to my editor, then I went upstairs to spend the rest of the evening snuggling with Mary.

I no longer was in physical therapy for my left leg. On the one hand this was frightening. It reminded me of the Spring of 2017, when I was released because I was not making progress. At the time, I had felt lazy and unproductive, so there probably wasn’t much of a point in working with me. At present, I was energetic and motivated. I had the ability to attempt any exercise they asked of me. Being told that I no longer required therapy could mean that I was ready to do a lot on my own. But it could also mean that they didn’t want to expend resources on someone who wasn’t expected to get much better.

As long as I was solely in charge of my recovery plan for my leg, I decided that the primary focus should be on walking without a cane by the end of the year. I already was walking around my apartment without my cane. It was still recommended that I use it outdoors or in public places. As a result, I carried it with me when I walked around the building. The easiest thing I could try doing was to walk around the building with no cane.

It might be a little nerve-wracking at first, but it was familiar terrain to me. There was less chance of me falling, because my brain wouldn’t be forced to negotiate strange rooms. And if I did fall, the people around me had come to know me over the half year that I had lived in the building. They knew my habits and medical history; they could learn my exercise goals, and they would be able to get me to my apartment if I needed to rest or retrieve my cane.

I went downstairs without my cane and walked slowly from the elevator to the community room. It was empty, so I turned on the television. Then I started walking around the tables, taking very small steps so as not to lose my balance. I had often stumbled when I tried this before. There was nothing different about the way I was walking today. The only variable that had changed was that I did not have my cane. I seemed to have gained confidence from knowing that I was no longer reliant on it.

Mastering small spaces was simple. If I stumbled, I could catch myself on a table. The real challenge would be walking across open areas without falling. So I got up and walked from the table to the door. It was only about thirty feet, and I was terrified of falling the whole time. But my foot didn’t catch, and I didn’t fall. I made it all the way to the door and back safely.

Now that I knew I could walk without much of a problem, the next thing I wanted to do was monitor and correct my gait. So I set my cellphone on a chair and took video of myself walking back and forth from the chair to the door. When I watched the video, I saw that I was leaning noticeably to my right. I was obviously worried about shifting too much weight to my weak leg. But I knew how much I was working to strengthen it. My leg was capable of a lot more than I was demanding of it outside the gym. So I set up the phone again and started walking again. This time I tried leaning more on my left leg. After I watched this video, my posture was much better. I walked a few circuits around the room to make sure that the movement habit crystalized in my brain.

I had occupational therapy on Monday. The therapist told me that he was given a list of things I needed help with. He also asked me if there was something specific I wanted to address. I told him that I needed a set of shoe buttons so I could put on and fasten one pair on by myself. He told me that Courage Kenny carried no shoe buttons. I assured him that I had gotten my last two pairs of shoe buttons there. So he went around looking and finally found a pair. We put one button on the inside of each shoe, as opposed to two in each shoe. This would make it a lot simpler to “tie” these shoes.

Next I had him help me place the electrodes for e-stim on my arm. I told him to trace the area with a permanent marker and take pictures of them. Then I could go home and practice putting them on myself. I only needed him to do this on my upper arm, because I could easily place them on my forearm already. I wasn’t getting much of a response from e-stim in my upper arm, but just going through the exercises on a daily basis would be important for making sure my muscles stayed active every day.

The last thing I asked him for was a sheet for each stretching exercise the staff needed to perform on me at home. He got a booklet of occupational therapy movements and put a mark next to each exercise he wanted me to do on a daily basis. I took them home and gave them to the assisted living staff. They scheduled the overnight staff to perform the stretches every morning when they brought my medications. This was perfect for me, because it would allow me to be limbered up to go out into the world.

I was burning with excitement to get back into the gym and start fully implementing my own rehabilitation program. There was only one thing holding me back: the company administering my CADI waiver had not been able to provide me with a Go-to card. I had been trying in vain to get an $80/month card so I wouldn’t always need to use my own money to go places. I knew that I would burn quickly through the Go-to card provided for me in about half a month, but that would still keep my personal transportation costs under $70/month. Without the card I was paying around $150/month to go everywhere I needed, or just trying to eliminate rides to save money.

Since I was making no headway resolving the issue with CADI, I decided to go directly to Hennepin County to complain. Ideally they would be able to get me a new card. At worst they would be able to communicate with the old CADI company or help me to find a new one. Knowing that I had court on Friday and occupational therapy on Monday, I set my ride to Hennepin County for Tuesday.

Tuesday turned out to be the first of three days of deadly wind chill warnings. People were advised not to leave their houses unless it was deemed absolutely necessary. I briefly considered canceling my ride, but after six months of paying for my own transportation which routinely left me broke, I felt I needed to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. February began on Friday, and I wanted to begin the second month of the year knowing that I could afford to commit to my recovery plan.

I wouldn’t have to spend more than a minute at a time in the bitter cold, so I really wasn’t risking anything. My Metro Mobility ride arrived on time, and before I knew it, I was already at Hennepin County. There was almost no one there. I didn’t have to wait in line, and soon I was in an office, telling my story to a team member.

The team member admitted that he couldn’t resolve my problem but said that he would put me in line to speak to a social worker in the building. I told him that I had nowhere to go for over two hours, so I was here to speak to whomever I needed to in order to find a solution. He handed me off to an assistant social worker, who listened to my story then escalated my issue to a regular social worker.

I told my story for the fourth time that day. The social worker listened intently and took many notes. When I finished, she asked me if I would like her to call or email the CADI case company. I advised her to do both. The phone call would likely go straight to voicemail, so this would leave two forms of notification. The social worker left a voicemail then began crafting a lengthy email. In it she detailed all of the times I had requested the cards, the fact that several had arrived without any value, and the fact that I had shown her a picture of what it looked like when the scanner indicated that there was no value.

When the social worker was finished, she programmed her number into my phone and assured me that the conundrum would be straightened out. I even told her that, now that I no longer required a PCA to dress and shower, I would be willing to use the original contractor – the one I’d used when I lived in the house in south Minneapolis. All they would need to do additionally was order a Go-to card that worked.

I wanted to be compensated for the time I had been paying for all of my transportation. I didn’t see why they could not provide me additional ride credits. Nonetheless I wasn’t going to complain as long as I received a functioning permanent Go-to card. We wrapped up about an hour before Metro Mobility arrived to pick me up. The wind was whipping, already dropping conditions below -40°. I was relaxed as I walked to the bus. It was the most secure I had felt in months.

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I was thoroughly enjoying the weekend with my family. The love, banter, food, and gifts were more holiday wonder than anything I had experienced since I was a child. What truly made me happy was being able to actively participate. When we had all been together before, my eyesight, mobility, and voice had been so compromised that I didn’t really feel like I was a part of things. Everyone did their utmost to include me, but I always felt like my physical problems placed a thin barrier between the rest of the family and me. I felt as if I was doing something just short of living.

My sister-in-law, Sharon asked me if I should be using my cane around the house. I explained that I no longer used it that much indoors. My new brace afforded me much better balance. It was so stable that it could stand up by itself. In fact, using the cane was detrimental to my gait, because it caused me to lean to one side. There was very little chance of me falling in the new brace. All that was really necessary with the new brace was to get hours of practice walking in it.

When sitting or standing, I had always struggled to plant my left foot firmly under me. I would often have to use my hand to hold my leg in place. Now all I had to do was step down, and my leg was already stable from heel to knee. This newfound ability wasn’t just due to wearing a new brace. I had also put in hundreds or hours in therapy gyms and weight rooms. Exercise, the new brace, and new shoes were combining to make all uses of my leg more natural again.

Dad, Briana, and Trystan left that afternoon; Candace eventually put Parker down to sleep; and before long, the adults were sitting around talking. This was satisfying because my voice was no longer breathless and monotone. It was no longer a struggle to speak in complex sentences. The last time we were all together, I had mostly sat back and listened. That had felt so alienating, so lonesome. But with the return to weightlifting had come the ability to take in greater volumes of breath. As I sat there laughing and talking, I felt much more like my natural self.

I was set to fly back to Minneapolis the next day. I got up two hours before I was set to leave so I could wash. There was no special shower in the room, meaning that I would have to step over the tub wall to get inside. This was something I’d normally accomplish by sitting down on a shower chair that had been placed inside, then swinging my legs over the wall and into the tub. Since I don’t travel with a shower chair, I had avoided the shower altogether, preferring to wash up in the sink. But since it was a travel day, I wanted to be as clean as possible. So even though I was alone in the room after Dad drove home, I wanted to try it.

Sizing up the shower, I saw that it had a grab bar, and very low tub walls. It would have been easy to sit down on the edge of the tub and swing my legs inside, but it was too narrow for me to sit on. Then it occurred to me that I might have achieved the balance and leg strength to reach the grab bar from outside the tub and step into the tub. Once I was safely inside, I had enough strength in my left arm to hold onto the grip bar while I washed myself with my right hand.

In order to tamp down the feeling of urgency that can lead to a fall, I tried to give myself an excess of extra time. I had packed most of my suitcase the previous night, so it would be impossible to forget anything. Even if groggy, I would remember to pack my CPAP and dirty clothes. I had Ivory pick me up just after 9:00 for a 12:40 flight. So even accounting for the drive and delays with ticketing and security, I was sitting at my gate two-and-a-half hours before takeoff.

I was flying Southwest Airlines, so I was able to select a seat in the front row, meaning that I would have all the leg room I needed for my stiff foot and oversized shoes. I used my stroke affected hand to hold one side of the safety belt. It took me a few tries, but I was able to snap it closed. I stared out the window feeling satisfied. I was already quite independent when it came to air travel. Any additional motor ability I recovered would was welcome but no longer vital.

The day after I got back from my trip, I had my first occupational therapy session. One thing I noticed right away was how easily I was able to climb in and out of the taxi. Walking to the therapy department was no more difficult. I checked in feeling excited and full of energy. My left leg had been coming along so well. Now I would have the opportunity to focus on rehabbing my left arm. I watched the clock with anticipation. After almost an hour, the occupational therapist came and led me back to the therapy gym.

When we were in the gym, I told the therapist that I had recently received Botox injections in my wrist flexor muscles, hoping that the process would help to loosen my wrist. She told me that she wanted to make a splint for me that I could use to exercise my wrist. She took measurements of my hand, cut up a piece of plastic-like material, bent it into shape, then allowed it to cool.

After the splint had cooled, the therapist helped me to fit it onto my hand and tie it into place. Then she held out a plastic rod and asked me to grip it. Next she told me to lift up the rod. Finally she told me to release it. I tried to pull my hand open, but I couldn’t. Then she told me, “Don’t try to force your hand open. Just grip, then release your grip.” I relaxed my hand, and the rod fell to the floor.

She took the rod away, then handed me a broom. “Now we’re going to try with this.” The broom handle was longer and thinner than the rod. “Now do the same with this.” I gripped the handle, picked it up, and dropped. “Now I want you to put it back on the ground before you release it.” I picked up the broom, then struggled to hold onto it as I brought it back down. Letting it go was easy. But when I tried to lift it again, I strained. I picked it up and put it back down. She had me do this a total of ten times. I was only a little tired, but my fingers were moving more at my command.

She showed me how to fasten the splint to my hand, then had me put it on myself a couple of times. After checking for inflammation, she told me that she wanted me to perform the grip-and-release exercise twenty times each morning. I could progress to thirty reps, but the idea was to not leave it on so long that it would irritate my skin. This was something I could commit to easily. She told me that she would bring a list of more exercises for me to do the next time. I was still lifting weights on my own, and I was excited to add fine movements to my repertoire.

The last thing we worked on was trying to grip the broom and sweep properly. The last time I had tried sweeping, my wrist had been too stiff to do much. To my surprise, now I could reach and sweep in a wider arc. It occurred to me that I should try sweeping a little every evening. Not only would that help me to master the mechanics of a household chore, but it would help me to regain flexibility and control in my wrist.

Occupational therapy was the first item in a week full of appointments every day. I had so much to do that I asked Laurie if she could just keep Mary for a day or two longer. She was busy with work and school anyway, so she said that would be fine. This was good because I had been sleeping much better when I didn’t have to wake up for medications or to let her out at 7:00 every morning. This also freed me up to organize my business and schedule for the rest of the month, as well as finish getting my blog back to the point where I was four weeks ahead of publication. If I could accomplish all of these things successfully, 2019 would be set up to be a manageable year.

Wednesday was my first payday of the year. As soon as I woke up, I paid part of my phone bill and ordered my second pair of oversized shoes. I expected to be getting heavy use out of my gym for the next year, and I would be using my phone for blogging and producing exercise videos. So I justified these as business expenses. My CADI case worker was still unable to get me a functioning Go-to card, so I also put money on my rechargeable Go-to card. Finally, I wrote a check for another month-and-a-half of rent. This would make it possible to get to the gym through the end of the month, and my housing would be satisfied through March.

Thursday was the day I had set aside to have lunch with my friend John. We try to share a meal every month. We hadn’t eaten together since November, so I held firm to that date. I took a Metro Mobility bus to his office. Then we set out for the Mexican restaurant that was catty-corner from his office. Unbeknownst to us, there was a wind chill advisory. The wind blew so hard that it was a labor to cross the street. With every step, I had to clench my thighs and ignore how cold I felt. My speed had increased over the last month, but you couldn’t tell because I was slowed by the weather conditions. As I entered the restaurant, I was bursting with pride at how far my hard work had brought me.

Friday was the day I had to go to Saint Paul for my court date. It was another day with a dreaded windchill. As I walked into the Ramsey County Courthouse, I was humbled by a massive statue that looked like a cross between a Viking and an image from an Atlas Shrugged cover. Security directed me to my courtroom, and I went in to let them know I was there for my hearing. The hearing officer could see that I was physically impaired and sympathized that I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t transferring the title on a car with unresolved tickets. He agreed to waive the parking ticket. I thanked him profusely and called Metro Mobility for an early ride home. My week had been a successful one, and I was ready for the months ahead.

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The weekend finally arrived for me to fly. As I have explained before, the stroke left me with a profound sense of life being beyond my control. This was exacerbated whenever I had to fly somewhere. It didn’t express itself as anxiety about plane crashes; since I had almost died of a stroke, dying in a plane crash had become the least of my worries. I was in constant fear of logistical errors, like arriving at the airport too late, forgetting to pack something, or running out of money while out of town. These were the only miscalculations – I felt – that could throw my vacation into chaos. So I arranged for Metro Mobility to have me arrive at the airport for a noon flight.

I had my friend Laurie pick up Mary at 9:00 Thursday night, and I packed my suitcase on Wednesday, so all I had to do on Friday was take my luggage downstairs and await my ride to the airport. The bus arrived just before noon and dropped me off at the scheduled time. However, rather than dropping me off at the door to ticketing, the driver informed me that he would have to drop me off across the street. I would then have to take an elevator down one level and cross by tunnel. This was distressing news to me. I told the driver that was too much walking, so we found the only airline ticketing agent in the area and she radioed some from my airline to come and get me.

As I sat there waiting for a wheelchair agent, my impulse was to panic. What if I missed my flight? What if someone stole one of my bags? No, I reminded myself. You are in the most secure location in the area. There are cameras everywhere. And this is why you gave yourself so much time: you are right near ticketing, and you still have over two hours until takeoff.

The wheelchair agent helped me to move quickly through ticketing and security. I didn’t have to remove my shoes or brace. That expedited the process. The only article of clothing I needed to remove was my jacket. So all I really required was time to empty my pockets. After a quick trip through security, I got coffee and was at my gate with 90 minutes to spare. I spent the time relaxing by watching videos and staring out the window, daydreaming about family.

This was the most enjoyable flight I’d had since my stroke because I now had much more control over my body. For instance, I had once required being in a wheelchair the duration of my time in airports whenever I traveled. Now I had the balance to get out of wheelchairs when I arrived at the terminal and sit in the more comfortable regular seats. During layovers, I would pick up food in the terminal and dine once I was seated at my gate. I particularly enjoyed myself when the local cuisine was known for something special.

When I landed in Saint Louis, my brother Ivory picked me up from the airport. When he offered to help me with my luggage, I proudly declined the offer. I wanted to show him that I could load my bags in the trunk by myself. This was a basic task for most people, but it showed how much I had regained in strength and coordination.

Ivory drove me back to his house, where his wife, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s wife were already hanging out. This was the first time we had all been together since we had all gone to LSU’s Tiger Stadium together. My brothers relived what they had gone through when I was in my coma. Jonathan told me how when he’d asked about my condition, a nurse had advised him to begin planning my funeral. Ivory told me that my father was so distraught that Ivory had never heard his voice sound so soft. It gave me a sort of morbid pride to know how dire everyone had thought my situation was, and to have surprised them all by beating the odds.

A couple of hours later, Dad finally arrived with Ivory’s daughter Briana and her young son. Two of Ivory’s kids were also there, and so were two of his wife’s. They had planned a belated Xmas celebration for the following day. It felt like everyone in the house was truly part of the same family.

We had a few hours of family time that night before Dad and I retired to our hotel. It wasn’t far from Ivory’s house. But when we checked in, I realized that our room was as far as it could from the front door. In the past, this would have been cause for distress. But like so many things I had discovered on this trip, it was no longer anything I even had to think about.

I woke up the next day around 4:15 am. After about an hour, I went back to sleep. Some time after 7:00, I woke up again. Still a little sleepy, I allowed myself to go back to sleep. I finally got out of bed around 9:00 am. I felt great. It was the first time in months that I hadn’t had any compelling reason to get out of bed before I was ready. Responsibility was probably why I had not been getting enough sleep. Even when I wanted to sleep in, my mind felt obligated to get me out of bed.

Dad planned to drive over to Ivory’s at 11:00, so we went to the front of the hotel for the complimentary breakfast. Dad and I always talk national, Mississippi, and Jackson politics when we’re together. From there, our conversations deviate to topics as varied as religion, society, and popular culture. But they are always laced together by humor and intellectualism.

I was really eager to get to Ivory’s house. People often ask me whether my family is close. I always wonder how I should answer. We are not close geographically, nor do we talk on the phone a lot. But we know one another thoroughly, and we always have great time together. I often contrast this with families who spend a great deal of time together but are often argumentative or resentful toward each other. It isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition, but this amount of direct interaction and independence just seems to work for us.

I decided not to use my cane indoors for the majority of the trip. This would give me a real chance to learn how to balance while walking in the new brace. It would also help me to decide if my new shoes were the optimal size before I bought another pair. Walking safely with the new shoes would solidify my plans to be aggressive with my 2019 workout plans.

One thing I noticed was how much I tended to lean to the right when I walked. This surprised me because it only happened when I stepped with my left. I wondered whether I was starting to rotate my hips again to gain foot clearance from the floor. That should be unnecessary, since the new brace lifted my toes for me every time I lifted my foot. It took me almost a day of analyzing why I was doing this before I realized that I was instinctively compensating to counterbalance the weight that walking Mary added to my left side. This was a reminder that it would be necessary to exercise my legs in as many different ways as possible in order for my body to walk naturally under varying conditions.

When Dad, Briana, and I arrived at the house, it was buzzing with activity. I went to the living room and sat down on the couch. Briana’s brother, Donavyn, was helping her son, Trystan, to build a tower out of blocks. It was several feet tall and very thin. They had to rebuild it a few times, as the slightest vibration would send it toppling. This would upset Trystan, but Donavyn would quickly redirect him by enlisting his help to rebuild the tower. After it fell a couple of times, Donavyn suggested that they build it against the wall. This was simple child’s play, but my mind was already in the mode where it tends to notice any display of problem-solving skills at work.

Ivory and Sharon had managed to keep their Xmas tree up for over a month. Now they piled all the presents under the tree and corralled all the kids. Of course everything was oohs and ahs, as the children opened a multitude of presents. They played a little with each thing before Sharon handed a gift to my one-year-old niece, Parker, and directed her to bring it to my dad.

Candace and Jonathan gave Dad a blanket containing all the names of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Sharon and Ivory gave me a Lego Star Wars set. I hadn’t expected to receive anything. I had not been more than lukewarm about coming in the first place. Now an overwhelming feeling of warmth came over me. The room was awash in love. I sat there feeling as though I had stumbled into the most positive home in the city. The sky outside was dark, and the wind was howling. The world inside was bursting with magic.

After we were finished opening presents, I asked Candice to bring Parker to me, so I could hold her. When she was born, my left arm had been so immobile that I could only look on as everyone else held her. I had just begun lifting weights at the time, so I only had rudimentary control of my stroke affected arm. Then I’d dedicated myself to hard work in the gym. I had seen her again last summer, my arm had become strong enough to help me balance, but I had to hold her with my right hand. I’d rededicated myself to new, more strenuous upper body exercises. Now that I held Parker again, I was able to do so with the arm I had been told that I might never be able to use again.

We stayed at Ivory’s house until after midnight. When we got back to the hotel, I fell asleep immediately. It was such a wonderful weekend that I hadn’t even been aware of how much my body was working. I slept a long, untroubled sleep, and woke around 9:00. I was feeling so refreshed that I got dressed and went over to the desk. In the glow of the morning, I sat down to start writing about my amazing weekend.

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I had a ticket to see my father and brothers in Saint Louis. It was quite important to me to be able to move around easily. I also wanted to set up everything for my continued rehabilitation plan after I got back. If I could time everything and keep up the intensity in the gym and in physical therapy, it was going to be the best year yet for my recovery.

I had been fighting to get my insurance and Go-to card issues resolved recently because these were the two greatest barriers to my plan. I needed insurance to pay for physical and occupational therapy. Insurance would also pay for a roundtrip taxi ride to any medical appointment. After several phone calls and visits to Hennepin County Social Services, my plan was verified active. After that, I went for my Botox injections the following Monday, then received referrals to physical and occupational therapy.

While insurance had been resolved, I still was not able to get to the gym on a regular basis because I still hadn’t received a functioning Go-to card in the mail. Every roundtrip with Metro Mobility cost between seven and nine dollars. Sometimes I would pay my way for these, but my CADI waiver was supposed to cover an $80 monthly Go-to card. This was a manageable situation under normal circumstances. But now I had been waiting for a new Go-to card for six months. I had become so frustrated with the process that I was only dealing with my CADI case manager’s supervisor. She finally told me that she could get me a new Go-to card with $120 on it for January and February. It would arrive the Wednesday before I flew out, so I canceled all of my rides until that week.

With as much time as I was now spending around the apartment, I dedicated myself to spending more time outside with Mary. I started taking her out in the backyard three or four times a day. Unless it was too cold, I would try to keep her out for twenty or thirty each time. I no longer asked for help walking her, so it fell on my shoulders to pick up after her.

I discovered that this was much easier with my new brace. The first time I tried bending down to pick up after her, I expected to feel a little shaky. But I felt my left leg holding as steady as my right leg. It was as though some was holding my foot in place. I went right down and back up like it was nothing. When I got ready for bed that night, I noticed that the brace could stand up by itself. I also thought about how often I was doing intense leg exercises in the gym. I was coming into 2019 already possessing the tools I needed to take basic care of Mary.

On the Monday of my physical therapy evaluation, I got up early and got dressed. I had so much free time that I decided to try tying my own sweatpants. I had tied sweatpants before, but this pair was a challenge. These were older and tended to sag. So I had to use my stroke affected hand more to help pull on one of the loops, as opposed to just holding onto it. I expected it to take several tries, but after I slowed down and concentrated on each step, the process was simple. My fingers didn’t feel as clumsy as I thought they would, and soon I had a sturdy bow.

When the cab arrived, I backed onto the seat, rolled backwards, grabbed my left thigh, and pulled my leg inside. Once we were at the hospital, I was able to swing my legs out, stand up, and stretch. I pivoted and grabbed my cane. Then I strolled inside. I could tell it going to be easy getting in and out of cars.

The physical therapist began by timing me walking. I noticed that I didn’t have to force my foot to strike the floor correctly. My toes also didn’t drag when I brought my left foot forward, so I didn’t feel the need to kick my left leg out to the side. Consequently, I didn’t struggle to maintain my balance. Without all of the distractions, walking didn’t feel like a chore. We walked back and forth down the hall. When the therapist finished timing me, she told me that my time had gone from 12 seconds to 9.

We walked back to the therapy gym. There she had me do several more tests, like sit-to-stand drills, standing on one foot, and spinning around in each direction. I was surprised and delighted by how much easier it was to stay upright. It had been impossible to perform some of these exercises during my last evaluation. Now it was effortless. When I was done, the therapist tabulated my score. I scored a 46. She told me that I no longer required physical therapy. Whatever program I had developed on my own was clearly more effective.

The next day, I had my occupational therapy evaluation. I actually felt like I still needed some occupational therapy. Unlike physical therapy, which has to do with the legs, I couldn’t just naturally get occupational therapeutic movement by walking around. Occupational therapy was needed to address my arms and hands. I especially wanted to learn to use my wrist again. The doctor had injected my wrist flexors with Botox the week before, so it was ready to be stretched to more obtuse angles.

The occupational therapy evaluation involved general stretching and measuring. The therapist was trying to see how well I could actively and passively straighten my arm, wrist and hand. I told her that I wanted to learn how to perform daily tasks like sweeping, washing dishes, and carrying boxes. She said that she wanted to design a four-week program for me. This was perfect for me, because I would be able to compliment it with my own exercises, stretches, and e-stim treatments.

My life was becoming less stressful by the week. However, there were still little inconveniences that seemed to crop up from time to time. These things would startle me whenever they emerged, as I would begin wondering how I was going to fit the new bill into my other list of monthly payments. This happened once when my friend Wendall – whose address I had once used to replace my Minnesota state ID – texted to tell me that I had received a parking ticket at his address.

I had him open it and read it to me. It was $150 for having an obscured license plate. Since I had updated my address when I registered for a new ID a few months ago, I wondered why I was even receiving DOT mail at Wendall’s address. Knowing that I needed to resolve the issue quickly, having just sold the car, I asked Wendall if I could meet him and get the ticket.

Wendall and I met on a cold Friday, at a coffee shop in south Minneapolis. He and I had been coworkers when I originally moved to Minnesota. He had been a member of a writer’s group I had once formed. We stopped working together, then went through a period when we seldom saw each other. After my stroke, we began talking more. He took an interest in my story, even volunteering as an editor when I started my blog. Upon seeing me again, he remarked at how far I had come in the 2.75 years it had been since the first time he had seen me following my stroke. I told him about my plans to engage in even more aggressive exercise in the next two years. We even talked about getting together to work out some time.

Wendall couldn’t stay long, but gave me the ticket. It was a final notice and had to be acted upon the day I was set to fly to Missouri. I wondered if they would be willing to set me up on a payment plan. I could probably afford to pay $50/month. I was preoccupied with the ticket all weekend. What if they wouldn’t take payments? I might have to move things around, but I could pay the $150 as soon as I was paid from the federal government. When I called the following Monday morning, they indicated that they could accommodate my request for a hearing. We scheduled the hearing for the Friday after my flight home. I had been proactive enough to still have options of what could be done about the ticket. Even if I had to pay it, I would be able to do so without it upsetting my other expenses.

I had to see my ILS worker the Wednesday before I flew out, so I decided to go to the gym. Having someone there to assist me would allow me to experiment. I wanted to start working out on the treadmill and with and without my brace in 2019. It was my hope that a year of constantly putting my leg through new challenges would lead to my not needing a cane at all by the end of the year.

I began walking the treadmill on Level 1. Although this wasn’t a high setting, it was faster than I had been used to doing in physical therapy. In therapy I had always used a harness to keep me upright. I had sometimes required the therapist to manually help me to advance my foot. With the new brace, it was easier to do it on my own. It was still a lot of effort keeping up with the speed of the belt. I strained each time I stepped with my left foot. By three minutes, my lower back was starting to hurt. So I powered through two more minutes and stopped. I had only meant my time on the treadmill to be a warmup, but my body felt like it was in the middle of a serious workout. I had to take a breather before I continued with my workout.

I had tried working out one time with my new brace. It had gone exceedingly well, because the orthotic offered my foot more flexibility. Unlike with the original brace. I could move and reset my foot if I didn’t feel comfortable in my stance. This took essential pressure off of my back, allowing me to lift more weight at higher reps. I did two sets of 15 reps. Then I sat down and removed my shoe and brace. My ILS worker fitted the shoe back onto my foot and tied it for me.

I stood up and tested the weight. I slowly squatted and came back up to a standing position. What I’d anticipated was for tone to surge through my left leg, temporarily straightening it, as it did when I was performing squats in my old brace. But tone never kicked in. As I went through 12 reps, the exercise just became increasingly more natural. For the first time in years, I could feel my toes and heels working against the floor. I was convinced that my feet and ankles would recover at least some strength and function if I kept this up a few days a week over the next year.

The final exercise I wanted to try was seated leg press. I didn’t even want to put my brace back on for it. Since I wouldn’t need to fight gravity, I wouldn’t require using the brace to establish stability. I normally set the seat back to level 7 because my leg couldn’t bend very far. Without the brace, I was able to set the seat on level 5, thereby increasing the level of difficulty. As usual, I did my first set with both legs. Then I dropped my right leg and did another set single-legged.

I performed three rotations before exhaustion made me stop. My left calf felt a little sore. This excited me, because I was finally starting to feel the muscles below my left knee at work again. If this was any indication, 2019 was going to be another year of exciting advancements.

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