I was now living with Mary and feeling healthy. Walking on grass was becoming easier and I was developing a lot of confidence. The following week I finally was ready to start outpatient physical and occupational therapy. This next round of physical rehabilitation was part of a five-year quest I was on to recover as well as possible after nearly dying of a stroke. I could finally start therapy at Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, the premier network in Minnesota for physical rehabilitation. I felt that Courage Kenny would present the best opportunity for me to get where I wanted to be.
When I’d started physical therapy in Minnesota two years earlier, I had told my therapist that my immediate goals were to start walking without a cane and to begin walking my dog on leash with my stroke-affected hand. Since that time I had become a regular weightlifter again. I could now easily grip and guide Mary’s leash with my left hand, and even though I wasn’t able to walk without my cane yet, I had developed enough leg strength that I was not longer constantly worried about falling. I wasn’t where I wanted to be in the recovery process, but I had come quite a long way.
On the first day of therapy they gave me my full schedule for eight weeks of physical and occupational therapy. This would cover all of September and October. The first day was all evaluation. After my physical therapy evaluation I was given a balance score of 41. My test the previous year had been 29. At 46 I would no longer be considered a significant fall risk. So my goal became to achieve 45 or higher by November. Then I could just maintain by lifting weights until January when I could begin another round of therapy under a new insurance plan year.
Physical therapy involved strengthening my legs, a muscle group that was easy to work since while standing or walking. Upper body was more difficult, as I had to constantly remember to engage my left arm. I had used it a lot opening jars, carrying my backpack, and in countless other daily tasks. I even used it at the gym while working chest, shoulder, triceps, and back. Yet I could not shake the feeling that I could never do enough. Not if I ever wanted it to be as normal as possible.
My life wasn’t all physical rehabilitation and taking care of Mary. I had really been looking forward to the release of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. While I have never been a cellphone snob, I had been forced to downgrade from the Note series to the less powerful S series two years ago and had never been satisfied. Now I had read that the Note 9 would be featuring an upgraded camera. I could easily justify the extravagance because I used pictures in the blog and I wanted to add a YouTube that would feature instructional videos on how people with physical impairments could safely lift weights. Eventually I planned to monetize these ventures, so I could justify purchase of a Galaxy Note 9 as a business expense.
I looked forward to its release with great anticipation. I had paid off my old device months ahead of schedule. I also focused on the writing of the blog so that I would have material that I might be able to go back and shoot footage for. I even began consulting friends who built websites for a living about camera angles and web platforms.
When August finally arrived, I went to the nearest Sprint Store. They told me that the Note 9 had not been released. Weeks of checking online followed, but it still hadn’t come out. I finally had my ILS worker to drive me to the store the last week of August. They affirmed that I could purchase one that Friday.
To inaugurate the phone and in order to augment recovery, I went to the gym that weekend. During my hiatus, my endurance had gone down a little, but my range of motion was much improved. I performed three leg exercises and two more for upper body, filming them all. I worked out for less than an hour and a half. Although I felt a little guilty about it, I didn’t want overdo it. Injury could mean sidelining myself from weightlifting and from physical therapy. As inspired as I was feeling after moving in to my own place, the last thing I needed was to be forced to slow down.
A couple of days later I went back to the gym, now ready for a full workout, This time I took shorter rests between sets. My balance had improved greatly, so I was no longer afraid to kneel down when I needed to climb onto certain machines. My pace quickened as I was able to walk faster from each workout station to the next. After 90 minutes, I was completely spent. I was disappointed in how short the session had been at first, but then I realized that I had done six exercises at high reps, at less than fifteen minutes per each exercise. I was back to my pre-stroke workout speed!
While I waited for the Metro Mobility bus, I uploaded stories and images about my latest workout. Physical rehabilitation has been a slow, barely predictable process. In order to keep myself from feeling frustrated or hopeless, I always document the tiniest of victories. Sometimes it’s the only way to be sure that I am still making progress.
My physical health was progressing quite well, and as it did, I began adding more of the routine tasks of independent living back into my life, including grocery shopping for myself again. On the first Saturday in September I had Metro Mobility drop me off at a grocery store. I whipped up and down the aisles, filling a motorized shopping cart with a week’s worth of food, because the drivers’ limit for assisting passengers was a maximum of four bags.
Although I had budgeted an hour and a half between drop off and pick up, I actually was finished with an hour to spare. I began driving the cart around through the front of the store, looking for places where I might take spontaneous-looking selfies of my first time grocery shopping. Then I ran into Jeff, a guy I knew from my soccer days. He told me that he now has a family and works with web design. I told him about the blog and offered that he might be able to help when I was ready to launch my fitness website.
After I was dropped of at my building, I called the assisted living program and had someone take the groceries up to my apartment. She offered to put them away for me, but I did it myself because there were so few items. I was proud that I was able to do all of this on my own. But I hated that I still needed to call downstairs to have people prepare anything for me to eat. I should at least be able to make a simple snack if I ever got hungry.
Since I had bought bread, jelly, and butter, I decided to try making toast. The most formidable part of this task would be opening the jar of jelly. I gripped it with my left hand and the top twisted right off. Next I took out two pieces of bread and popped them into the toaster. While the bread toasted, I took out a stick of butter. It was hard, so I sliced off thin shavings that would melt more easily when spread over hot bread.
Soon the toast popped up. I took it out and spread butter over each piece. The jelly came out in clumps, because it had just been opened. While I couldn’t smooth it as easily as I desired, I was able to spread a thin layer over most of the bread’s surface. I bit into the toast with pride and relief. If there ever came a time when the assisted living staff could not help me get food in a timely fashion, I could make something for myself.
I had mastered making toast quite easily. Now I began thinking about trying to make other things. My stove would not be connected until I was able to pass a cooking assessment with a certified testing kitchen. This left me with only a toaster and a microwave to use. Toast with butter and jam would provide starch, dairy, and sugar. I could get protein by heating up a can of beans.
Because my left hand still would not open on its own, I had to pry it open with my right hand. Even then it wouldn’t open fully. But unlike the first year after my stroke, once my hand was open, I could wiggle my fingers slightly. This gave me just enough voluntary movement to adjust my grip so I could hold the can opener properly. I twisted the crank with my right hand and soon there was a deep groove that ran almost all the way around the top of the can. I turned the can over and emptied the beans into a bowl. I could now prepare a simple meal with all of the food groups represented.
Now that I was lifting weights again, I told my therapists that I was ready for an even more aggressive program. We began using e-stim in my exercises. They showed me where I could place the electrode pads so I could begin a daily regimen at home. The occupational therapist helped to loosen up my shoulder through manual manipulation as well.
During my second week of therapy, I went for my third round of Botox injections. Unlike therapists I had seen in the past, the ones at Courage Kenny said that they wanted to keep doing e-stim after Botox to allow the Botox to penetrate the muscles even faster. Although I had always heard that one should refrain from using e-stim for a week or two after receiving Botox injections, I was at Courage Kenny because they were supposed to be the best in the state. I trusted their expertise.
I was scheduled for two therapy sessions per week. I embraced them enthusiastically. A year before, early morning sessions would have been a source of dread. Now I was getting out of bed at 7:00 to take my morning meds and to walk Mary. There simply wasn’t time for morning lethargy. So by the time my 9:00 taxi arrived to take me to therapy, I would have been wide awake for hours.
The hardest thing about leaving for therapy each day was hearing Mary whimper on the other side of the door as I waited for the elevator. Although she had often been left in solitude when I went to therapy two years ago, she had grown accustomed to having other dogs around. It was heartbreaking not being able to explain why I had to go so often. But every day I walked out the door was a day I spent working at becoming the active owner she deserved.