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.