Stretching My Legs

Towards the end of February, I really started to feel like Chateau was home. Although I was unable to go to the gym, and occupational therapy was not progressing nearly as effectively as I wanted, I was moving around the city with greater ease. Whether shopping at Target or blogging at Starbucks, I was becoming a fixture in the community. I was faster with paying for things; I packed and unpacked my belongings more quickly; I walked with more speed and dexterity. These were all the daily movements that the weightlifting and rehab were supposed to be improving, so only my ego was being disappointed.

As my comfort level rose, I decided that I could start going to less familiar places. People often assembled in the cafeteria for bingo, chapel, or snacks. None of these appealed to me, because I wanted to do something more active. I asked one of the interns if we could take a group field trip to the art museum a couple of blocks away. She told me that Chateau had discontinued the practice of having group field trips, but that they might allow her to escort me solo. She would just have to clear it with the administration.

They cleared her to take me, but transportation was the only issue. The facility refused to let her drive me because they didn’t want to assume liability. I considered taking Metro Mobility, but since they are a ride share program, one can never be too sure when they will arrive. Ultimately, we decided to share a Lyft. I paid for the ride there; she paid for the ride back.

It was a cold day, and I was still having a difficult time putting a glove on my left hand. So as usual, I only wore a parka and tried not to spend too much time in the cold. I had the intern take a few pictures of me outside the museum, then we hurried inside and checked our winter coats. The exhibits are largely organized by world region. Walking through them is like traveling to different corners of the globe. It was enchanting being surrounded by all of the exotic pieces juxtaposed with the stark Minnesota winter on the other side of the window. Rather than go through lengthy descriptions, I choose to whet the reader’s appetite with a few images of the artwork.

This was an exhilarating way to spend an afternoon. I could have wandered the museum all day when I was able to walk faster. There was no way I could see it all in one afternoon – especially not with a compromised pace. I wanted to see the whole museum someday without having to pause for breaks. The fact that I couldn’t at present could have depressed my spirits, but I opted to take it as one more in a growing list of challenges. It would become another stepping stone on the path back to a normal life.

Another of my more exciting trips in February was to see the movie Black Panther. Although I had never followed the character, I consider myself a comic book enthusiast. So I try to see all of the Marvel movies. Since the stroke, I typically only go to the movies with other people. Rather than ask any of my friends, I thought it would be a nice gesture to ask a fellow resident.

There was a leukemia patient who generally ate at the same table as I did. He usually brought books to meals and didn’t interact with the other residents. As many of the books he read were graphic novels, I asked him if he would be up for seeing Black Panther. His face lit up uncharacteristically and he began talking about how he couldn’t wait for the release. I told him that I’d been hearing about it nonstop and that I was dying to see if it was as breathtaking as advertised.

He was waiting for a bank transfer, so he didn’t have money. Another resident offered to lend him money for the movie, so I told him that I could pay for transportation with my Go to Card if we went by Metro Mobility. He gladly accepted the offers, so I set up a ride for a weekday evening and set the return ride for an extra hour later, so we could go out for a bite to eat afterward.

On the day of the movie, the bus took us a couple of stops in the opposite direction from the theatre. Luckily I had put in the appointment for twenty minutes before the show was listed to start. So even though we arrived late, the previews would still be running. We parked near by the door on the side adjacent to the street. However it was locked, so we had to walk to the other side of the building. There was snow and ice on the sidewalk, so I stepped methodically, mindful that a fall might prompt a call to 911, causing us both to miss the film.

The movie was everything I had heard it was: the array of colors was stunning; they did a competent job of developing accents and cultures; the political statements were highly relevant to the experiences of the Black Diaspora. The villain was sympathetic and had a well developed backstory too. It was a film that spoke to the comic book fan, the African American experience, and the larger audience as well.

Unfortunately, my companion had to leave and go to the restroom several times. I found out later that he had been having problems with his catheter bag. All the while, I had been a little jealous of the fact that he could walk normally and use both hands. It reminded me that you never know what another person is dealing with. He was out of money after paying for the movie and snacks, so I bought food. I could tell that he never goes out in Uptown. He kept remarking about how nice the area was and thanking me profusely for inviting him out. It often seems like life inside of the facility and life outside of it take place in two separate worlds. I was happy that I got to share nightlife with someone who normally doesn’t get to experience it.

Most days I still had speech and occupational therapy. After breakfast, the speech therapist would find me and we’d go to the dayroom to do my speech drills. During the months of January and February, everything steadily improved. My breath support got better, allowing me to speak longer phrases without taking a breath. My tongue grew stronger and could reach farther. My voice became so much less monotone.

When I was finished with speech therapy, an occupational therapist would try to take me immediately. These sessions would typically consist of therapist using e-stim to get my left triceps to work. They would measure the angle to which I could straighten my arm, give me a treatment, measure again, then help me to place the splint on my arm for the day.

I would walk around the building most of the day wearing the splint. It was at these times that I finally realized how much functional use I had been getting from my left hand. If I wanted to blog, I couldn’t carry my laptop backpack in my left hand. When it came time to eat, I found myself reaching for my plate with the hand that was in the splint. I even had to brush my teeth before I put it on, because I held my toothbrush in my left hand while I spread toothpaste on it. Over the past couple of years, my left arm had become a partner to my right hand again. This made me realize how proactive I had to be about using it, because I could only imagine the kinds of recovery strides I could make if I could only give it more to do each day.

As I went about my day, my arm and the fingers of my left hand would be stretched passively. The physical therapists would remove the splint before dinner. They would again take measurements of how much I could straighten my arm voluntarily. The progress could be frustratingly gradual, but it was consistent.

At the end of the month, the speech therapist announced that she would be discharging me. According to her, I had mastered my exercises and had progressed as far as she could take me. From here on, any further gains would be a matter of repetition. I read for her one last time, using as much inflection as possible. All the while I kept thinking of how I would return to the gym soon, where I would use squats to help increase my lung capacity.

A couple of days later, it was time for me to take a shower again. The CNA indicated that it would have to be a little later because she was busy at present. I had been doing a lot of exercising around the hall, and while I was only performing sidesteps, I was developing my inner thigh muscles, hamstrings, and abdominals. I reasoned that this would allow me to bend and stand more easily in the shower without losing my balance. So I told the CNA that I would not need her to be in the room to help me shower; I just wanted her to help me to set things up. She agreed that she did have time for that, and she went and prepared the shower.

A few minutes later, she came back with a hospital gown for me. I put it and my shower shoes on, and gave her my body wash and clean underwear to carry into the shower room. Once in there, I asked her to hand me my body wash and a couple of hand towels. I asker her to close the curtain so I could remove my gown and underwear, and hand them to her.

“You got everything you need?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay by yourself?”

“I feel really safe; you don’t have to worry.”

“Okay, I’m about to go help the patient in 205. I’ll be in there a while, so pull the cord when you’re ready to come out.”

I turned on the hot water and washed my face. After that, I lathered myself up several times. For the first time, I was able to bend down and wash my own feet. Next I reached up and took the removable shower wand down. I was surprised that I could reach it from a seated position, because it had once seemed so high. The warm water poured over my entire head, especially my ears and eyes. Then I rinsed off my entire body.

When I was finished with the shower wand, I stood up to snap it back into place. Standing was easy now. It was basically performing the same squat movement I did a hundred times a day. Standing felt so good that I lathered and rinsed several more times. I finally had the strength and balance to take real showers again!

I sat down and turned off the water again. Then I pulled the cord to call the CNA. I asked her to dry my back and underarms, while I dried my front side. She draped my gown over me. I then pulled on my clean pair of undershorts. After that, I stood up again and walked back to my room. I walked with a more erect and even steadier gait, as if my body itself was becoming aware of the things it could do on its own again.

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