Amid all of the major steps forward in getting my life back together, there were several things – like moving, finding housing, securing social support, and gaining employment – that were vital to my survival. However, life is about the little slices of happiness that give us meaning beyond just stretching out the years of our existence.
My fist post-stroke job ended in June of 2017. I knew that I would be leaving town for the month of August, so while the weather was nice, and since I couldn’t start a new job immediately, I resolved to socialize Mary as much as possible. I asked my friends for an exhaustive list of restaurants that allowed dogs. This would be a great way to take Mary out to more stimulating environments, and I would be able to train her to sit still beneath tables.
My friend Willa was a schoolteacher. Since school was out for summer break, she had a lot of free time available, so she would take Mary and me out once a week. Once we got to the restaurant, Willa would let me out at the front door to get seated, while she walked Mary to the patio where I was.
Minneapolis is a wonderful city for dogs. Most of the waitstaff were kind to Mary. They would bring her water and treats to snack on. The first few times we took her out, she would try to chase dogs and small animals. When this happened, we would make sure that she couldn’t run off. After a while, she seemed to realize that this was not time to play, because increasingly, she would arrive at a restaurant and just settle down beneath the table. People would often stop by and pet her. I’m sure that she loved going out and getting the attention.
After leaving the restaurant, we would go out to the Stone Arch Bridge for a walk. I would walk a mile or two each time. This was better exercise than most of my physical therapy. It was exhausting, and I would need to stop several times to rest. Meanwhile, Mary would get all the exercise I felt like she had been missing as Willa walked her alongside me. My roommates never walked their dogs nor took them many places. I had been worried that Mary would miss out on stimulation and activity. Her formative years needed to be filled with play and new experiences. I always felt satisfied when we both returned home thoroughly exhausted. I was giving her the full life I had promised her.
Another person who helped me by going out with me every month was my friend Sandra. Sandra and I had been coworkers at the Star-Tribune. She could remember a time when I was active and constantly going out. She did not want me to start giving in to my feelings of often being tired. The need to rest could easily transform into general oversleeping and depression. Before long, I could find myself in an inescapable rut. To prevent that, she would regularly find interesting things to suggest. One day it might be a new movie; another day, it might be dinner or coffee. We never did the same thing on consecutive times out, but she always saw to it that there was a good mix of walking and sitting.
After the weather changed, we began including Mary on our outings. Sandra also has a dog, Rocket, so naturally I wanted to see if he and Mary would be good playmates. One Sunday afternoon, we brought Mary to Sandra’s house. She was excited to see another dog. Sandra started throwing a Frisbee all over the yard for Rocket. He would chase the Frisbee, and Mary would chase him. Rocket completely ignored Mary, but she got enough exercise just chasing him. As Sandra drove us home, Mary panted contentedly in the back of the car.
Sandra was another one of those loving Minneapolis dog owners who made the city a great place for Mary. She would regularly offer me pet supplies or suggest places where we could take Mary. If I have been a good owner to Mary, it is largely thanks to other people helping out, because there are far too many things I cannot do for her on my own.
Another of my friends, Dave, was someone I had known through soccer. We had never been that close my first decade in Minnesota, but we had become closer via Facebook while I was living in Mississippi. After I moved back to Minnesota, we met for lunch a few times each month. When I put a status on Facebook that my part-time job was ending in June of 2017, he responded by saying that he could hire me. Dave had recently started his own software business and wanted me to act as a project manager.
In addition to helping me with employment, Dave also agreed to help me with my blog, In August, he sold me a MacBook and helped me set up my site. For three months, I focused on writing a 2,000 word article each week. My eyesight had been failing me, plus I had always been a procrastinator, so I developed a lot of anxiety about writing. I would want to write, but I would wait until the weekend to start an article for publication the following Wednesday.
In early November, I would fly home to Mississippi. I stayed with Dave for two nights. During this time, he started building article links to the blog site. Where it had previously all been on one continuous page, it was now organized and easy to navigate. He also helped me start loading image files into the blog posts. I would spend the next few weeks in Mississippi uploading around ten pictures and videos to each post. I was also becoming more prolific with my output. My goal was to get to a point where I was writing four weeks ahead of publication. That way, if got back to Minneapolis and found myself overwhelmed with other things, I could copy and paste articles to my blog for a month before I had to write anything new. When I stepped off the plane in Minneapolis, all of the pressure to write had been lifted.
When I stop and think about it, a typical outing used to involve getting help out the door, down the walk, and into the car. After we got where we were going, I would need help getting into the restaurant and to a table near the restroom. Exhaustion and incontinence were always my chief concerns. And although I would typically enjoy myself, I couldn’t help but be preoccupied with the idea that I might not make it to the restroom in time or my legs might give out on the way back to the car. After I got home, I would always collapse.
Even after I started lifting weights, I had trouble gathering enough energy to go to the gym each morning. Metro Mobility was the service that gave me rides to work and to the gym. The have a policy of not allowing a passenger more than three no-shows in a month. A no-show is an occasion when the driver knocks on the door for five minutes, and the rider does not come out. The rider can avoid being charged a no-show by calling to cancel a ride at least one hour before it is scheduled. If the rider amasses three no-shows in a month, she cannot ride Metro Mobility for 90 days. Armed with this knowledge, I would set my alarm for two hours before my ride. Half the time, I would call and cancel my ride. The other half, I would put on my clothes and listen for the bus. Once I got on the bus, I would try to wake up, hoping that I wouldn’t be too tired to work out.
It was not until I spent October at my friend Karine’s that I really started to feel like working out more days than not. I had spent two weeks at Abbot Northwestern Hospital in south Minneapolis. At my time of discharge, they referred me to Sleepy Eye Medical Center for outpatient therapy. Knowing that I couldn’t walk or drive there, I had my friend Karine just drop me off before work. I assumed that I would have to spend all day there and be picked up after work. As far as moving around the community, I would probably just be limited in where I could go.
On the first day of therapy, I got there so early that they offered me an earlier appointment. I told the office manager that I didn’t mind waiting because I had to be at the medical center all day. She agreed, but she told me that I might want that option in the future. She called Heartland Express, the transit service for disabled Brown County residents. They explained that I could pay $1.50 per ride and that there were discounted tokens available at the drugstore. This would give me independent access to transportation, and at half the rate of a ride in Minneapolis.
Now that I had therapy and transportation lined up, I had to find somewhere I could work out twice a week in order to supplement the therapy. Since I had been discharged from therapy for lack of progress that spring, I wanted my therapists to keep reporting progress to the insurance company. I called the local 24 Hour Fitness and made sure that membership was free through the Silver Sneakers program. On the day I went there, I scheduled Heartland Express to drop me off and pick me up ninety minutes later.
The women working there were very nice. They immediately issued me a key fob that opened the door. Then they gave me a brief tour of the gym and let me work out. The gym was very small and didn’t have a large variety of equipment. Had I never suffered the stroke, this gym would have been perfect for my needs. However, I had only been back in the gym for less than half a year. I still needed to heavily modify my work out in order to see any significant gains. After I tried different exercises for an hour, I realized that this just wasn’t the gym for me.
Since Heartland Express could take me anywhere in the county, I decided to try finding a gym in the largest city. I found Anytime Fitness – New Ulm online. Whitney, the fitness club manager answered my call and told me that she would be waiting when I arrived. The gym in New Ulm was a lot more spacious with much more equipment. I was comfortably able to do four exercises on the first day. There were also even more workout stations I couldn’t wait to try.
The staff at Anytime Fitness were usually there when I was. They helped me with the machines and even shot videos so I could document my progress. After a couple of weeks, I progressed from two workouts per week to four. Sunday was the only day I didn’t have two hours of physical rehabilitation. By the time I left Sleepy Eye, I had regained much of my get-up-and-go. In addition to the gains I had made in strength and mobility, I had become capable of getting out of bed and dressing an hour before I had anywhere to go. It felt unimaginably good to be a morning person again.