The Puzzle of My Life

My first month back in Minnesota was supposed to be a trial run for the prospect of living by myself. I moved into a weekly motel in Burnsville. It was a studio apartment with a standup shower. I filled the refrigerator with water bottles and Meals on Wheels. Mary couldn’t live with me; I was a half hour’s drive from Minneapolis. There was no one to help me to track my blood pressure. There was no one I could even call to go for coffee down the street. Any human contact would come with a great amount of preparation and travel.

My daily plan would be as follows:

10:00 Wake up and take meds
Watch television
11:00 Go to the gym
12:00 Work out
2:00 Head home
3:00 Call apartments
5:00 Write
7:00 Watch news
10:00 Go to bed

I would not go to the gym every day, and I would do things such as visit apartments often. This was a schedule I wanted to adhere to, but the temperatures made it difficult to get appointments to see apartments, and I often felt lethargic. I’m sure there was some level of depression associated with my mood as well, because I generally felt overwhelmed and desperate.

Being back in the metro area meant going back to my favorite gym – L. A. Fitness. Being there always excited me. Several people I knew worked out there, and I liked the way the workout stations were arranged. Furthermore, this was the place where I had started lifting weights again. Eight months earlier, I had barely been able to lift anything. Now it felt like I could accomplish anything here.

On my first day back at L. A. Fitness, I used a locker for the first time. While I realize that this might come off as extremely trivial, using a lock while standing took a great deal more muscle coordination than I was used to. I stood up and tried to hook the metal ring of the open lock through the wall locker. When it didn’t catch on the first try, I lurched again. This time I felt my body start quivering beneath me. I sat down so I didn’t fall. After sitting there a few seconds, I stood up and successfully locked the locker. With my winter coat and wallet safely secured, I was now able to go out and effortlessly move about the weight room.

Out on the floor, I put my body through a general workout. As opposed to concentrating on one exercise or muscle group, I tried to spend a little time performing each exercise. My goal wasn’t to build muscle that day; it was to get as many muscle groups to “wake up” as possible. This would build stability and make my body respond better to future workouts. When I finished, I felt heavenly. My brain was coursing with endorphins. I walked back to the locker room to find that I didn’t have the coordination to hold my lock and insert the key. Another patron did it for me. Although I felt generally accomplished, I vowed to be able to lock and unlock my locker independently.

I had also set up physical and occupational therapy at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. Courage Kenny was formed when the Courage Center merged with the Sister Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. Two centers that specialize in physical rehabilitation pooled their expertise and led to what I had come to understand was the leading provider of rehabilitation services in the state of Minnesota. Naturally I was excited that I would be going there.

On the day of my intake evaluation, I came down to the main branch at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. They had me perform some basic balance tests and they tried to straighten my arm. I was disappointed because my blood pressure was higher than average and I was a bit shaky that day. I had wanted to dazzle them and be given a treatment plan that was heavy on exercise. Instead they wanted to have me practice simple everyday tasks. What I now realize is that I should have taken their plan as fine muscle training that I could compliment my gross muscle movements (weight training).

The long bus ride back to my motel added to my fatigue. It occurred to me that I would be spending a lot of time in transit if I wanted to do two things in Minneapolis in one day. I needed rest between appointments. What would have worked – had I been living in the inner ring of suburbs – would have been a mid-morning appointment followed by a couple of hours at home followed by a late afternoon visiting apartments. My plan wasn’t going to work with me living in Burnsville.

By Wednesday, I started feeling light-headed and congested. I still made it into Minneapolis that day. As lousy as I felt, I wanted to try lifting weights and eating a sub. I felt too sick to make it to south Minneapolis for coffee with a friend Thursday morning. I wished I’d had the option to go later that afternoon, but the ride service I use requires all ride requests to be in the system a day in advance, and they can’t flex existing rides to different times. I spent most of the day in bed.

I wasn’t feeling that much better the next day. I took my pills as scheduled and only ate Meals on Wheels. It had been a couple of days since I had taken my blood pressure. I was easily able to string my arm through the blood pressure cuff. The problem emerged when I was unable to rotate the cuff so that the stethoscope tube was over the crook of my arm. I wasn’t able to grip with my thumb and forefinger; instead my thumb would just slide over the cuff.

At this point there was no cause for panic. I was confident that I wasn’t dangerously hypertensive. At any rate, I knew that panicking would raise my blood pressure. Since I had no outings planned, I took a couple of low-dose aspirin and lay down for a nap. A few hours later, I woke up, took my evening meds and tried to relax. But worry began to creep in: What if my blood pressure slowly crept up undetected? I was in a situation where I could have a series of strokes days before anyone could break in and discover me.

In the past, I would have just talked myself down, then gone in to a firehouse or pharmacy and had my blood pressure checked. However, it was already after 5:00 pm – too late to request a ride for Saturday. It would be Sunday before I could go somewhere to have someone read my blood pressure. Another thing that had prevented me from calling 911 in the past was the fear of incurring an expensive ambulance bill. This was no longer an obstacle because my current plan paid out at 100%. I called 911.

When the paramedics got there, I didn’t try to go to the door to let them in. They came in with a key from the front desk. After they took my blood pressure, they told me that it was slightly elevated. Upon my asking, they recommended that I let them take me to the hospital for evaluation. Knowing that the alternative would be risking another stroke, I told them to take me in. I made sure take my phone and backpack. Wherever I ended up, I would have my wallet, checkbook, medications, computer, and chargers.

This was the first time I had been to the hospital in Burnsville, so I already felt a little disoriented. I believe that the triage nurse took my blood pressure then told them to move my gurney into the hall to wait for a room to become available. Waiting in the corridor was an extremely boring experience. There was activity going on all around me, but I could only lie there. Finally I had someone raise the back of the gurney so I could at least distract myself with my cellphone. This didn’t make the time go much faster, but it did mitigate the boredom.

Just as the charge started to get low on my phone, they moved me to a room. The staff hooked me up to blood pressure monitor and began running tests. They were courteous, even offering to charge my phone for me. It did not seem like my blood pressure numbers were too serious, so I began wondering how late it would be before I was released. I didn’t know anything about the layout of Burnsville, so I was hoping that a Lyft back to the motel wouldn’t be too expensive. Depending upon the time of discharge, I might even be able to stop and sit down for a bite to eat.

While I was thinking about all of these variables, the ER physician came in and told me that they wanted to admit me. She didn’t say whether it would be just overnight or for a few days. They had no beds in the hospital, so they would try Southdale Hospital in Edina. They came back and told me that there were none there, either. Next they tried University. I considered this location to be ideal, since it would place me in Minneapolis. However, they were full, too. Then I told them to try Abbott Northwestern. It was my hospital of choice anyway. They were able to find me a bed there.

After a few minutes, a couple of paramedics came and wheeled me out to an ambulance bay. From what I can remember, we didn’t get there by going through the bowels of the hospital. Instead we got there by going outside. I was worried that they did not allow me to put on my winter coat. They left me in my hospital gown and draped the coat over me. Thinking of how cold it had been, I worried that I would be painfully uncomfortable in the night air.


Yet I wasn’t. I talked with the gentlemen as they bought me to the ambulance garage and casually loaded me inside. Once I was inside, they began recording my blood pressure again. I talked calmly with the paramedic as the ambulance shuddered into motion.

My room at Abbott Northwestern was in the cardiac wing, which I believe was on the fifth floor of the hospital. Because I arrived there late on a Friday night, I had already missed dinner. I ate snacks from the ward, and I tried in vain to fall asleep before 3:00 am. I had just fallen asleep when someone woke me up early in the morning to draw blood.

Throughout the day, they monitored my blood pressure and ran tests. On the following day, I began seeing the physical therapist in order to work on my balance. I also met the attending physician. He agreed to write a letter to allow Mary to see me as my therapy animal. Interacting with the staff caused me to feel like a slacker. I had seldom applied myself in the classroom or the workplace. I could be doing so much instead of depending on the state for financial and medical assistance. But with the stroke, it seemed, a lifetime of seldom doing more than the bare minimum had finally come to a head.

A lifetime of consequences had brought me to this point. I would have to have a series of plans in order to put me back on track to the life I wanted. As desperate as my situation seemed, I had nothing but time to assemble the puzzle of my life. I hit the call light and asked the CNA to bring me my laptop. I switched it on and continued writing the story of my struggle.

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