The Pain Is Temporary

With the new year came time for another Botox treatment. In June, I had decided to try having the doctor inject me in the scapula. It had loosened up my left shoulder enough to make it possible for me to do many things, including squats and raising my arm above my head. That had worked out so well that I got to a point where I no longer needed injections at that site. The muscles stayed unclenched on their own through constant use. Now I was ready to try another body part.

When I originally suffered the stroke, I had been bench pressing. Now my left hand was stuck in a permanent crook. I was unable to straighten it. As a result, I was unable to do chest and shoulder presses. If I could get to the point where I was able to crank my left hand backwards, then pushing weight against my palm would gradually allow my hand to reach more extreme angles. My hand wouldn’t be the same as it was before the stroke, but it would help me to start strengthening my chest and arm again.

I did have anxiety about a couple of things. I was worried that there were so many nerve endings in my wrist that the injections would really be painful. I also feared that the procedure might not work to help my wrist start working again. Then what? A lot of my commitment to physical rehabilitation was predicated upon the hope that I could continue to improve. I didn’t know how much I could sustain my drive if I began to see things level off.

When it was time for the injections, the doctor assured me that the pain wouldn’t be a concern. The injections would actually go into the wrist flexors farther down the forearm rather than into the wrist itself. These muscles are not located within the wrist, but they are responsible for extending and contracting it. This helped to allay one fear. The other would take time. The doctor said that I probably wouldn’t see the effects of the Botox for about a week. So there was no point in getting worked up about it.

The doctor also gave me my routine injections in my biceps and calf. I had continuously been seeing progress in these body parts in the gym and out in the community. While I wasn’t experiencing dramatic changes in these, I was maintaining my determination to keep advancing. As long as I used this same mentality when working with my wrist, it wouldn’t be too daunting to keep working at it. As usual, I turned my eyes away from the needle, ignored the momentary pain, and just thought about the future.

One reason why I had been looking forward to the Botox treatment was that there was a family get-together planned for the weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It was going to be held in suburban Saint Louis, and the Botox would take effect the week I was flying out. It would be exhilarating to see my family for the first time in half a year. I would be wearing a superior leg brace, new shoes, and would have just gotten Botox shots. Since the last time they had seen me, I had leapt forward dramatically.

I knew it would be a tight fit to try to finance a flight or a bus trip. However, I had just sold my car and might be able to afford a cheap ticket. I went online and priced each method of travel. Each would cost me over $200. This wasn’t an extremely expensive amount, but it was more than I had anticipated. I began thinking of the ways I could spend the money to get ahead of my finances. This seemed like a plausible idea at first. Otherwise I ran the risk of prices going up.

After a couple of weeks brooding over the decision, I called my father and told him that I probably wouldn’t be coming. He sounded profoundly disappointed. He told me how much he had really been excited about seeing everyone. I tried to convince him that it was better for me to stay home because it was the more responsible option. This was to no avail. He beseeched me to call my brothers and ask them if they could help me find any specials. I was still skeptical about whether I could afford anything they did find, but I promised that I would call.

I called my brother Ivory to ask about lodging. He told me that, since many of his and his wife’s children would be there, there would be no room for me. My brother Jonathan and he were looking at discount options for area hotels. I admitted to Ivory that I probably wouldn’t be able to afford to come, even with the discounted flight and hotel, but he promised me that he would continue planning things as though I were still coming. That way, I could still decide to come at the last minute and not incur any financial penalty.

I hung up the phone, convinced that I still wasn’t going to Saint Louis. My dad called me a few days later to ask whether I had made any progress. Since I hadn’t, I promised to call Jonathan that weekend. Dad said that since he hadn’t gotten me a Christmas present, he would help me to finance the trip. When I talked to Jonathan that weekend, he told me that he and Ivory had used their reward points to get a hotel for Dad and me. He found and booked a flight for me in a matter of minutes. Now that I had a free flight and hotel, I had no reason why I couldn’t go. I was overjoyed at the prospect of seeing everyone, just like Dad was.

The day after I went to the doctor for my Botox shots, I took Mary to the vet for her six month checkup. It was a blustery day. During the short walk from the car to the front door, I decided to leave my parka unzipped. It acted like a sail, almost blowing me over several times. A year before, I couldn’t have even walked Mary safely to the front door on a day when the wind was calm. Now I could maintain my own balance and control of the leash on a day when conditions were nowhere near ideal. On the walk from the car to the building, I had to focus on walking and controlling the leash. After I was safely inside, I was able to take stock of what I had accomplished: I had never walked Mary to the door of a vet’s office before. It felt really good to be able to do it on a day like this.

About an hour later, I received a call from the vet. Mary’s checkup went well, and her health was good. I had expected them to tell me this, but I always have a nagging worry. I do what I can to keep Mary active and let her out often, but I tend to feel guilty about her not having another dog to play with. Perhaps I’m being silly; perhaps it’s a legitimate concern. What I do know is that it’s counterproductive to my recovery and mental health to stay in my apartment every day. I try to leave the building each day, if only to walk around while running errands. I only want Mary to be physically and mentality healthy too.

Once we were home, I spent the afternoon playing with Mary and petting her. I also took her out in the backyard more over the next few days. Any day the weather cooperated, I wanted to give her a lot of physical activity. I could continue doing physical rehabilitation at a high level through the winter and spring. By the time of her next six month checkup.

With little money on my Go-to cards, I didn’t want to travel too much. I also wanted to be able to do as much for myself as possible so I wouldn’t spend time in therapy learning to do things I could learn myself. So I began trying to master as many things as I could on my own, focusing on the practical things I often didn’t think to try doing on my own.

The first task I committed to was fully opening my microwave meals. I had been eating these for two years. When I first began eating them, my manual dexterity in my left hand had been so lacking that I needed other people to open them for me. That wasn’t much of a problem when I’d had roommates. Now I was living on my own, so I was responsible for opening them myself. The trays were difficult for me to grip with my left hand, so I would usually tear off the film just enough to eat. But some of it was always left clinging to the tray In January, I began tearing it completely off. I figured that this would help me to use my left hand more.

Another thing I did was to stop waiting for help with my shoes. Before I had shoe buttons in my original shoes, I would always wait for the staff to come up and tie them before I left the apartment. Now that I had new shoes to fit over my new brace, I was unable to tie them. I didn’t want to trip over the laces or ruin them by stepping on them, so I started tucking the laces into my shoes then going downstairs to have them tied. The shoes were very snug and the brace kept my foot exceedingly stable, so I quickly developed confidence wearing them untied.

One of the things I had agreed to let the building staff do for me was laundry. They would take my laundry down to the laundry room, then bring it back to the second floor to fold it after it was clean. It would often sit overnight in the second floor office. This would make me impatient, as I usually had run out of towels by then. I went down to the second floor the first week of the new year and carried my laundry back upstairs myself, struggling not to trip as I carried the bag with my left hand. When my laundry was ready the second week, I put the strap over my shoulder. I was able to carry it the same as if I’d never suffered a stroke.

The last major thing I had to address was my eyesight. I had suffered double vision to varying degrees since my stroke. One of the things that was recommended to me was to limit my time looking at small screens. I didn’t want to stop working on my blog, so I couldn’t eliminate using my laptop. But I did start spending a lot less time on my cellphone. I began scanning the lines of every room I was in. My eyes would trace the edges of corners, windows, and doors. I also watched team sports on television, and always tried to keep my focus on the ball. These techniques didn’t cure my vision, but they definitely helped the eyes to work better as a team.

As the first full week of the year drew to a close, I was ready to tackle physical therapy and my trip to Saint Louis. I had seen three New Year’s Days since almost dying of a stroke. Each year had seen me take quantum leaps in my recovery. But this was the first New Year’s Day I felt like I was already in full stride. 2019 promised to be amazing.

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