After I arrived home from Texas, I had a month left until the end of year. My trip had revealed that I could do so much; I was excited at how much progress the year would show in its entirety. I wanted to keep my momentum, so I knew it was crucial that I remain healthy. Any illness or injury could sideline me from regularly going to the gym. Since I had some concrete goals that I wanted to meet, I did everything I could to prevent running into issues that might complicate things.
The Monday after I got off the airplane, I went to my clinic for a flu shot. Because I have severe asthma, I fall into the high risk category for respiratory illnesses. People who fall into this group are highly encouraged to get annual flu vaccinations. Before my stroke, I was sporadic in how often I followed this recommendation. The stroke happened after I had gradually become less active because running caused my lungs to hurt. And that was while I was healthy. If I became sick, I would need to spend more time out of the gym, so it would be twice as hard to spark motivation.
My mom had died of a severe asthma attack before her time. So when I woke up in a hospital bed having almost died of a stroke, it made me fearful. Someone close to me had also advised me that people who have already suffered a stroke are more likely to have another. After this, I was afraid that I might have a stroke while I was inpatient. Once I was discharged, I insisted on buying a blood pressure machine. I probably worried Dad to death, asking him to take my blood pressure several times a day.
When I would go to outpatient therapy, they would often hook me up to cardiovascular exercise machines. There was always a heart monitor attached, too. The physical therapist would instruct me to try and keep my heart rate above 100 beats per minute. I worried this would cause me to have a cardiovascular event. This was something I thought about for about two weeks, but I kept my concern to myself. Then I realized that I was in a controlled environment. The staff wouldn’t tell me to do anything dangerous. And if some emergency did occur, they could quickly recognize it and get me into an ambulance. So I stopped worrying and pushed myself to stay at 102 bpm.
I was in outpatient therapy for over two years, so when I started doing cardiovascular training on my own, I was used to keeping my heart rate up. I pushed myself on Nu-step, treadmill, recumbent bike, and upright stationary bike. It quickly got to a point where I was doing a minimum of 15 minutes on any of these before I started lifting weights. By late 2019, my weight was down and my energy was up. I got my flu shot so these trends would continue.
I’d always had high anxiety regarding needles. But when I was in the hospital, they had to draw blood from me so often that it just became a normal thing. On top of that, I discovered years ago that I wouldn’t feel as much pain if my arm was more active. The amount of exercise I had recently been getting made me eager to try it. As usual, I turned my face away from the needle and asked the nurse not to tell me when it was about to go in. She kept talking. I barely felt it. I told her that it was the best stick I’d ever had.
Now that I felt that I had done everything I could to not get sick, I had to go in for CPAP machine supplies. With as much as I was demanding of my body most days, I knew it would need oxygen to repair itself overnight. It was also important that my brain was getting restorative sleep. It would be a lot more difficult for me to build new neural pathways if my brain was starved of oxygen, so it was vital that I had a functioning CPAP. Otherwise I might stop breathing several times each night.
On the day I was supposed to pick up my supplies, the medical taxi dropped me off and left. When I got inside the building, I was sure it was the wrong place. Since it is a large medical complex, I always put the street address and suite number of the office in my calendar. I pulled out my phone and confirmed that this was the wrong address. I called the taxi company and reported that there had been a mistake. She told me that I had been dropped off at the correct address. Mildly frustrated but still an hour ahead of schedule, I went up to the suite where I’d received my foot orthotics and informed the office manager that I’d been dropped off at the wrong building and needed to know where to go to get CPAP supplies.
It occurred to me after some time that the person who had taken the appointment had given me the wrong address. Thinking back, I remembered that she’d had to guess the building number. Once we’d figured out that I needed to be in the building across the street, one of the orthotics reps went down with me to make sure that I got across safely.
The rubber stopper on the end of my cane had become old in the two years I’d owned it. The metal cane shaft had worn through it and scraped the ground so loudly that the rep walking me across the street mentioned it. When I reached the durable medical equipment office for my appointment, I asked the rep, “Before we get started, do you have rubber stoppers for canes and walkers?” She took my cane into a backroom and came back with a new rubber stopper affixed to the tip.
The representative sat down and showed me how to change and clean all of the CPAP machine components. She also convinced me to go with heated tubing and to buy a can of wipes. I’d recently been getting sore throats and lung infections, so I changed the filter and she gave me a new humidifier chamber. I thanked her and took everything home. It was still noon, but I wanted to try out the “new” CPAP. I fell asleep and didn’t wake up for three hours. It was the best sleep I’d had in over a year.
If I was going to stay on top of my health, I was going to have to keep all of my appointments, take my prescriptions, and use every piece of equipment they recommended. In order to be able to afford to stay current on everything, I would have to keep my medical insurance. The plan I was on required providing documentation twice a year. Because I was always fearful of documents being lost in the maul, I would always take everything to the county services building myself. This also allowed for all of my documents to be entered into the computer system on the same day.
I gathered all of the pertinent documents and took them to the services building on Wednesday, December 18th. My premium was paid through the end of the year; I reasoned that I had plenty of time in case anything was processed incorrectly. I went down to the county on the following Friday to pay my insurance premium for January and February. While I was there, I found out that the worker from the previous week had not registered the paperwork in the system. The team member I was talking to assured me that she would get everything resolved.
That Monday, I had my quarterly Botox injections. Ordinarily I receive a text message from the taxi company the night before an appointment Their automated voice system would tell me what time a cab would be dispatched if there was one scheduled. But this tine, the expected text message never arrived. I called my insurance company’s medical transportation line to confirm my ride to the doctor’s office. The representative told me that my insurance was inactive. Because there was so much to straighten out in very limited time, I called Metro Mobility and scheduled a same day taxi. No matter what, it would be a guaranteed ride to my appointment.
Now that I could get to and from the hospital, I wanted to make sure that my insurance was active. Since it was only 7:30, I called the automated line to confirm that all of my documents had been received. After listening to the muffled voice recordings three times, I was still unsure, so I waited until 8:00 and called the insurance company for clarification. Their outgoing message said that they were closed. This was frustrating, but my appointment was only three hours away. I called back every few minutes, finally reaching a representative who told me that the county had just updated my insurance file a few minutes ago. She offered to transfer me to the transportation department. I told her that it wouldn’t be necessary: I didn’t mind paying for a ride as long as I knew the service was covered.
Botox injections were he most important part of my visit. However, I was more concerned with my weigh in. For the three and a half years following my stroke, I had been 258 pounds. My goal had been to come in at under 240 by the end of the year. Loosing twenty pounds would have been ideal, but my goals were 240 by 2020, 225 by 2021, and 215 by 2022.
I stepped on the scale and it said 239. I felt such an amazing rush. I was increasing flexibility, gaining strength, and losing weight, all under a program that I was designing as I went. The path of recovery held a lot of mystery and surprises, but the potential was inside of me.