Rhythm of a New Life

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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