We drove to outpatient physical therapy in Flowood. It was also a Methodist Rehabilitation Center provider. I was still not making my own medical decisions at the time, so I was just of the opinion that someone else was supposed to always tell me what the next step was in the treatment process. My trip to outpatient therapy was made with a sense of duty and the hope that maybe these people could tell me when it would be time to walk again.
I went to the waiting room, still in the wheelchair. (Whenever I went anywhere in the wheelchair, I was strapped in by a seatbelt.) Dad handed me a clipboard to fill out and sign intake paperwork. Although I still had difficulty staying within the lines on the forms, I was proud that I was finally developing the eyesight and fine motor skills to be able to fill out forms on my own again, because I had not been able to just two short months before.
When I was called back to the gym area of the outpatient facility, I marveled at how much more spacious it was than the one at the hospital. It had a larger floor plan with even more workout stations. To the rear, there was a tall staircase, leading to an upstairs area. I wondered how long it would be before I was climbing those stairs myself. I couldn’t wait to get started.
The first thing I had was occupational therapy. The lady who conducted it, Pam, had me do exercises with e-stim that would help me to use my triceps and fingers. E-stim moved my fingers a little and helped my triceps move forward a little bit, but it didn’t let me open my hand completely or extend my arm. Moreover, once the electronic stimulation was not being provided to my muscles any longer, I couldn’t control them at all.
We finished our session with me lying down on my right side in front of a small, portable table in front of me. She asked me to place my left arm on top of the board. Now I had to push my arm forward for a few seconds. I couldn’t believe how much my shoulder still hurt. I tried to extend my arm for as long as she wanted me to perform the exercise, but it was still almost intolerably painful. She had me try doing this for several cycles, a few seconds at a time. When we were finished, I was relieved. I always worked as hard as I could during occupational therapy, but I was always happy when it was done, because it had never completely stopped hurting.
Pam had me sit up and transfer to the wheelchair when she was done with me. She strapped me back in and asked if I was able to wait unattended until the physical therapist was ready for me. I told her that I could. Having to have people ask whether I was okay to sit unattended while safely strapped into a wheelchair was infuriating. I wasn’t upset with the medical professionals. They were only doing their jobs. I was frustrated that a body that had been very athletic refused to respond to the commands I gave it.
Next, the physical therapist came to get me. Her name was Christa. Christa took me to one of the mats and told me that we would be doing more standing exercise in this phase of therapy. She unbuckled my seatbelt, put a gait belt around me, and helped me transfer to the mat.
She walked over to the closet and came back with a box and something that looked like a stick plant.
“Now I need you to stand straight up.”
I made myself as erect as possible.
“Now I need you to bend at the waist and put the rings in the box on each of the tree branches.”
She placed the box of rings on the mat to my right. The tree was positioned just in front of me and to my left. This meant that I would have to twist to the rear and right, then twist in the opposite direction, to my front and left. This was a lot more difficult than it looked. My body felt shaky, and Christa had to reassure me a couple of times. But I didn’t lose my balance, and ultimately, I was able to get all of the rings out of the box and onto the various branches of the tree.
After this was done, Christa had me reverse the process, taking each of the rings off of the tree and placing them back into the box. This part of the exercise was a little easier, but I was exhausted by now. I was sweating, and my body had started to cramp up. So when I was finished, Christa had me sit down on the mat. I rested for a few seconds, then she helped me to transfer back into the wheelchair and she pushed me back toward the front of the room.
We ended up in front of a large computer screen. She keyed in some information, then had me stand up. “In a second, you’re going to see some numbers and letters spinning around on the screen. I want you to hit them in numerical and alphabetical order. So, 1, A, 2, B, 3, C, and so on. The little cards will disappear every time you hit the right one, until they are all gone.
She restarted the display. Numbers appeared arrayed all of the screen in a disk pattern. The disk began to spin. Knowing the order and finding each of the individual numbers and letters was not a problem. My eyesight was still clearing up, and there wasn’t anything wrong with my cognition. I didn’t hit the wrong item very often. When I did, it was because balancing and moving my arm quickly enough were a challenge. After one interval, she had me repeat the exercise so she could record the higher of my two scores. After I completed the task, she had me sit back down in the wheelchair to wait for the speech therapist.
The speech therapist was named Robin. She wheeled me into an office for our session. I was expecting some voice work, but after talking to me for a few minutes, she decided that we should focus on cognitive tasks. First, she had me try Sudoku. I had never had anyone explain to me how Sudoku was played. Once she told me the strategy, it became quite compelling. In fact, after I completed one puzzle, we downloaded a Sudoku app to my phone so I could play it when I was at home.
Robin also had me try a computer version of Mahjong. I hadn’t played the game in years, but this version was easier for a person with vision problems because it highlighted the tile selected, allowing you to see your choice before you selected its mate. I was not able to solve the Mahjong game on the first couple of tries, but it became quite addictive. Before the session ended, she helped me to download this app, too.
I actually enjoyed speech therapy more than I thought I would. The various games we played were quite stimulating. It was exciting developing several strategies for each, the trying out each to see which allowed me to finish the game in the shortest amount of time. At home, I would spend hours playing each one. They had to be helping the problem-solving regions of my brain.
When we got home, I had the challenge of getting up the steps while exhausted. The two steps were not a problem, but stepping up off of the landing and across the threshold was a bit of a puzzle. The surface I had to step onto jutted out a little too far. It meant that I would have to take a large step to get safely onto a firm floor. However, my left foot could get trapped beneath the ledge, if I took a giant step with my right foot.
Dad stepped inside the house and got the wheelchair ready. Then he stood up to brace me from falling. Confused, I tried alternately placing each foot on top of the step first. This was proving to be quite the logic puzzle. Finally I realized that I should step up the way I had been taught: step up with the right foot, then pull the left foot up from behind.
When I tried this, my left foot became trapped. I fell forward into my dad, and we both came crashing to the floor inside. I lay on the floor feeling horrible. My body was durable, but I was frightened that I might have injured him. However, Dad revealed that he was unharmed. Now I sat on the floor, catching my breath and mentally preparing to get off the floor.
When I was ready, I had him position the chair right in front of me. Then I had him move my left foot so that it was flat on the floor. I was now able to push down on the floor with my left foot and the chair seat with my right hand. After a few brief seconds, I was able to raise myself high enough to quickly twist myself back into the seat. I was panting, but I was safely off the ground. Now I rolled myself back to my room.
* * *
One of the most depressing things about the stroke was how much weight I piled on. Although I had never been skinny, I had always been active. So my weight had stayed below 225 pounds. During the period I was confined to the hospital, I had slowly gotten up to 258! After I was released from the hospital, I had experimented with calorie control. First, I tried eating smaller meals. Then I tried eating healthier meals. But nothing seemed to be working. I became afraid that I might eventually gain even more weight and die of complications due to diabetes or heart disease.
I started lifting weights again in May of 2015. My weight didn’t change at first. But after about a month, I discovered that I had lost five pounds. Encouraged, I increased the frequency of my workouts to four times a week. Before long, I was below 150 pounds. I kept up the intensity, and I was down to 140 by the end of June.
The more weight I dropped, the more my blood pressure came down. My health was starting to seem like something I could control. So I made two resolutions. One, I would try to be down to 220 pounds by the end of the year. Two, I would try to convert to a pescatarian diet while I was in the South for the month of August. I reasoned that the pescatarian part would be easy because most of the restaurants in the South would have catfish or seafood offerings. And since the food would be good, I wouldn’t miss land food.
One of the first things I did after I got back to Jackson was go to Planet Fitness. I was able to design a good routine for myself. Also, I made sure to only eat at restaurants that had seafood on the menu. I spent the rest of the month working out and catching up with friends. I had not seen some of them since high school. I also was enjoying how much better I was able to move about. Indeed, the month of August 2017 was the best time I had experienced in the South since childhood.