Reordering My Steps

After almost a year apart, I was overjoyed to finally be living with my dog Mary again. She had lived in so many different households that I sometimes wondered if she even recognized that I was her owner. Also my balance issues were such that I had always required other people to walk her. I was intimidated by the prospect of having to take care of her myself, but my post stroke existence needed to be about pushing myself to do more than I thought I was capable of. Whether it was going on road trips soon after I left the hospital, traveling by myself, moving back to Minnesota, or lifting weights again, I had never waited for any medical professional to advise me, “Now it’s time to try this.” Moving Mary into my apartment would be no different.

When the week finally came, I started having cold symptoms. I had a stuffy nose, sore throat, and I felt lethargic. I slept with a CPAP machine that had not been cleaned in a couple of months, so I figured that I might have gotten a respiratory infection from it. So I had the nursing staff sterilize the mask and tubing. After this was done, I slept better for the next two nights and the infection cleared up a little.

However the first morning I woke up and took Mary out, I felt awful. I did manage to get her out and back in without falling over. But I felt so weak and lightheaded that I went immediately back to bed. I felt horrible because Mary had to be bored. She had been living with other dogs for two years, so she had always been able to play all day. Now I would be her primary source of entertainment. I was failing her.

One thing I did want to commit to was making sure she didn’t use the restroom indoors. So I wanted to walk her three or four times a day. I decided to walk her at 7:00, 1:00, and 5:00. That would coincide with my having to go to the nurse’s office for medications. Then I could take her out again at 10:00 before going to bed.

I was able to take her out at 7:00, but when 1:00 came around, I went down for my meds without Mary. I swallowed my pills then went back to bed. At 5:00 I knew I had to walk her. So I climbed out of bed and dressed. Before going outside, I stopped by the office to get my meds. When she saw me, the nurse could tell instantly that I was sick. She recommended that I go to an emergency department. This sounded like a good idea, but Mary had just moved in the night before. I wasn’t sure what to do with her, particularly because I didn’t know anyone in the building. The nurse agreed to take her out for a walk so I could contact someone.

I texted Kevin, who had been keeping Mary the last couple of months. When he didn’t respond right away, I also contacted two other people. The nurse came back with Mary and asked if I had found anyone to keep Mary or to take me to the hospital. This caused me to feel desperate. But then I saw that it wasn’t even 5:15. I breathed a sigh of relief and pointed out that most of my friends were probably on the way home. I could call 911 and also make arrangements for someone to pick up Mary within the hour.

By the time I reached the hospital, Kevin had called his wife Katie and Katie was in my building lobby. I had not planned to ask them to come get Mary because I wanted to first see whether I would be admitted to the hospital. I also hadn’t authorized anyone to be let into my apartment. However since Katie was already there, I called the nurse’s office and advised them to release Mary to Katie. This would give me a few days to recuperate with no responsibilities, secure that Mary would be in an air conditioned house with a playmate.

The doctor advised that I had probably caught a virus that was going around. She gave me a breathing treatment and a five-day prescription for prednisone, then released me. So after fewer than three hours, I was in a taxi heading home already feeling 50% better.

The follow up appointment was very productive. The doctor extended my prednisone by two days. She also issued me a home nebulizer. It had been my difficulty breathing that had stopped me from doing a lot of cardiovascular workout, and that had helped to precipitate my stroke. Now I would be able to instantly treat my asthma at home when I couldn’t breathe. This would save me a lot of trips to the hospital. When I left the clinic that day I was feeling about 75% normal.

Since I wanted to be back to 100% before I attempted taking care of Mary again, I left her with Kevin and Katie. During that time I concentrated on catching up on blogging and seeing more doctors. I wanted to get my referrals and schedules for things like physical therapy so I wouldn’t be running to a lot of appointments after I got Mary back. I dealt with mild throat congestion and some weakness, but that had cleared up by Thursday. I was ready to try taking care of her again that weekend, so Kevin brought her back to me on Sunday.

Since my stroke, I had not driven regularly. Instead I had relied on public transit and ride share programs to get around. One of the ways the cost was offset was that Hennepin County issued me a Go-to card. This was a card I could use for buses and Metro Mobility (ride share for disabled citizens) that would be credited $70 each month. While I was living at Chateau my Go-to card had not been reloaded, as people living in inpatient medical facilities don’t qualify for food and transportation support. I had saved some money for the move and transition, so it did not bother me my Go-to card failed to arrive on time. But after I had been living in the building on 3rd Avenue for almost a month, I began worrying about my transportation costs.

Just before Mary came to live with me, I had met the Independent Living Solutions (ILS)worker charged with helping me with any personal needs. Since I didn’t require help with dressing, bathing, eating, or anything around the house, I decided to use him exclusively for rides. I reasoned that, since he would be coming by twice a week for two hours a day, we could run all of my errands and do all of my grocery shopping. We could also go to the gym or coffee shop one day per week. As long as we did that, I would only need to be responsible for one or two rides a week. That plan would bring my transportation cost down to $60 – an amount I could afford even if my Go-to card never came.

I was having unexpected difficulty dressing myself, an issue stemming from the surface I needed to sit on. I needed to be on something like a couch or a bed that was wide enough for me to get my left thigh onto, because that was the only way I could put a shoe or sock on that foot. So a simple chair wouldn’t work.. It needed to be high enough off the ground that the brace on my left leg would be able to stand erect, because it ran from the sole of my foot to over my calf. Otherwise I would never be able to strap it in place. However if the surface were too high, I couldn’t bend over to pull on my pants or my right shoe.

I still lacked a lot of flexibility when it came to bending down, so every time I tried sitting on my bed to get dressed, I worried about slipping off. It was fairly easy to pull on a shirt and pants, but once I put on either sock, I couldn’t get enough traction to finish dressing. This was a bit frightening. So I got into the routine of putting on all of my other clothes from my bed, then I would take my shoes, socks, and brace out to my love seat in order to finish. Ideally the love seat would have sat a little bit higher in order to make it easier to put on my brace, but at least I felt safe while completing the task of dressing.

I continued dressing like this for two weeks – starting in the bedroom and finishing in the living room. Then one day I finally grew tired of carrying clothes back and forth. There had to be a way to put on everything in one room. So I sat on my bed and pulled on my pants first. Then put on my right sock and shoe. Now I would not lose traction when I sat up and put on my left sock. This worked like a charm. It went so seamlessly the first time I tried it that I almost felt stupid for not thinking of it before. But this is how it is with a stroke or anything else where you have to make such fundamental adaptations when before you could have taken the same processes for granted. You don’t immediately gain a new way of attacking the problem. You often do it over and over until you become intimately aware of each tiny part of the process, then you can break down and reorder the steps.

Once Mary was safely back at my apartment, I was more resolved than ever to start taking her for walks again. The first afternoon I took her out early, because I wanted to get used to walking in the backyard while it was still well lit. I put her leash on her and led her out the basement door. Now I walked over to the edge of the patio and let the leash out so Mary could run around and play.

Mary was curious about all of the smells, sights, and sounds. The yard was alive with squirrels, rabbits, bugs and birds. I felt a desperate urge to unleash her and allow her to run around. Eventually she did her business. I carefully walked out onto the grass, bent over and scooped it up. After I threw it away, I walked Mary to a different section of the yard and let her explore again.

My initial intention had been to stay mostly on the patio, only letting Mary go out a little way onto the grass. After a couple of months of physical therapy, I would have enough confidence and balance to venture out farther myself. However by the end of the week, I had grown a lot more relaxed from having to walk her three times per day. So on Saturday I just decided to try it.

Stepping off the patio was the easy part. I was used to the ground near the concrete. It was fairly level. However, Mary was interested in exploring the bushes and trees near the sound wall. I cautiously allowed her to lead me in that direction until I came up to an acute slope. Gingerly I placed my cane out and felt the ground in front of me. Then I stepped forward with my left foot. Finally I brought my right foot forwad. Although I’d harbored visions of tumbling downhill, the yard here was more flat than it had seemed in my mind. The ground beneath my feet was never as daunting once I allowed myself to try.

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