The Year Ahead

I was thoroughly enjoying the weekend with my family. The love, banter, food, and gifts were more holiday wonder than anything I had experienced since I was a child. What truly made me happy was being able to actively participate. When we had all been together before, my eyesight, mobility, and voice had been so compromised that I didn’t really feel like I was a part of things. Everyone did their utmost to include me, but I always felt like my physical problems placed a thin barrier between the rest of the family and me. I felt as if I was doing something just short of living.

My sister-in-law, Sharon asked me if I should be using my cane around the house. I explained that I no longer used it that much indoors. My new brace afforded me much better balance. It was so stable that it could stand up by itself. In fact, using the cane was detrimental to my gait, because it caused me to lean to one side. There was very little chance of me falling in the new brace. All that was really necessary with the new brace was to get hours of practice walking in it.

When sitting or standing, I had always struggled to plant my left foot firmly under me. I would often have to use my hand to hold my leg in place. Now all I had to do was step down, and my leg was already stable from heel to knee. This newfound ability wasn’t just due to wearing a new brace. I had also put in hundreds or hours in therapy gyms and weight rooms. Exercise, the new brace, and new shoes were combining to make all uses of my leg more natural again.

Dad, Briana, and Trystan left that afternoon; Candace eventually put Parker down to sleep; and before long, the adults were sitting around talking. This was satisfying because my voice was no longer breathless and monotone. It was no longer a struggle to speak in complex sentences. The last time we were all together, I had mostly sat back and listened. That had felt so alienating, so lonesome. But with the return to weightlifting had come the ability to take in greater volumes of breath. As I sat there laughing and talking, I felt much more like my natural self.

I was set to fly back to Minneapolis the next day. I got up two hours before I was set to leave so I could wash. There was no special shower in the room, meaning that I would have to step over the tub wall to get inside. This was something I’d normally accomplish by sitting down on a shower chair that had been placed inside, then swinging my legs over the wall and into the tub. Since I don’t travel with a shower chair, I had avoided the shower altogether, preferring to wash up in the sink. But since it was a travel day, I wanted to be as clean as possible. So even though I was alone in the room after Dad drove home, I wanted to try it.

Sizing up the shower, I saw that it had a grab bar, and very low tub walls. It would have been easy to sit down on the edge of the tub and swing my legs inside, but it was too narrow for me to sit on. Then it occurred to me that I might have achieved the balance and leg strength to reach the grab bar from outside the tub and step into the tub. Once I was safely inside, I had enough strength in my left arm to hold onto the grip bar while I washed myself with my right hand.

In order to tamp down the feeling of urgency that can lead to a fall, I tried to give myself an excess of extra time. I had packed most of my suitcase the previous night, so it would be impossible to forget anything. Even if groggy, I would remember to pack my CPAP and dirty clothes. I had Ivory pick me up just after 9:00 for a 12:40 flight. So even accounting for the drive and delays with ticketing and security, I was sitting at my gate two-and-a-half hours before takeoff.

I was flying Southwest Airlines, so I was able to select a seat in the front row, meaning that I would have all the leg room I needed for my stiff foot and oversized shoes. I used my stroke affected hand to hold one side of the safety belt. It took me a few tries, but I was able to snap it closed. I stared out the window feeling satisfied. I was already quite independent when it came to air travel. Any additional motor ability I recovered would was welcome but no longer vital.

The day after I got back from my trip, I had my first occupational therapy session. One thing I noticed right away was how easily I was able to climb in and out of the taxi. Walking to the therapy department was no more difficult. I checked in feeling excited and full of energy. My left leg had been coming along so well. Now I would have the opportunity to focus on rehabbing my left arm. I watched the clock with anticipation. After almost an hour, the occupational therapist came and led me back to the therapy gym.

When we were in the gym, I told the therapist that I had recently received Botox injections in my wrist flexor muscles, hoping that the process would help to loosen my wrist. She told me that she wanted to make a splint for me that I could use to exercise my wrist. She took measurements of my hand, cut up a piece of plastic-like material, bent it into shape, then allowed it to cool.

After the splint had cooled, the therapist helped me to fit it onto my hand and tie it into place. Then she held out a plastic rod and asked me to grip it. Next she told me to lift up the rod. Finally she told me to release it. I tried to pull my hand open, but I couldn’t. Then she told me, “Don’t try to force your hand open. Just grip, then release your grip.” I relaxed my hand, and the rod fell to the floor.

She took the rod away, then handed me a broom. “Now we’re going to try with this.” The broom handle was longer and thinner than the rod. “Now do the same with this.” I gripped the handle, picked it up, and dropped. “Now I want you to put it back on the ground before you release it.” I picked up the broom, then struggled to hold onto it as I brought it back down. Letting it go was easy. But when I tried to lift it again, I strained. I picked it up and put it back down. She had me do this a total of ten times. I was only a little tired, but my fingers were moving more at my command.

She showed me how to fasten the splint to my hand, then had me put it on myself a couple of times. After checking for inflammation, she told me that she wanted me to perform the grip-and-release exercise twenty times each morning. I could progress to thirty reps, but the idea was to not leave it on so long that it would irritate my skin. This was something I could commit to easily. She told me that she would bring a list of more exercises for me to do the next time. I was still lifting weights on my own, and I was excited to add fine movements to my repertoire.

The last thing we worked on was trying to grip the broom and sweep properly. The last time I had tried sweeping, my wrist had been too stiff to do much. To my surprise, now I could reach and sweep in a wider arc. It occurred to me that I should try sweeping a little every evening. Not only would that help me to master the mechanics of a household chore, but it would help me to regain flexibility and control in my wrist.

Occupational therapy was the first item in a week full of appointments every day. I had so much to do that I asked Laurie if she could just keep Mary for a day or two longer. She was busy with work and school anyway, so she said that would be fine. This was good because I had been sleeping much better when I didn’t have to wake up for medications or to let her out at 7:00 every morning. This also freed me up to organize my business and schedule for the rest of the month, as well as finish getting my blog back to the point where I was four weeks ahead of publication. If I could accomplish all of these things successfully, 2019 would be set up to be a manageable year.

Wednesday was my first payday of the year. As soon as I woke up, I paid part of my phone bill and ordered my second pair of oversized shoes. I expected to be getting heavy use out of my gym for the next year, and I would be using my phone for blogging and producing exercise videos. So I justified these as business expenses. My CADI case worker was still unable to get me a functioning Go-to card, so I also put money on my rechargeable Go-to card. Finally, I wrote a check for another month-and-a-half of rent. This would make it possible to get to the gym through the end of the month, and my housing would be satisfied through March.

Thursday was the day I had set aside to have lunch with my friend John. We try to share a meal every month. We hadn’t eaten together since November, so I held firm to that date. I took a Metro Mobility bus to his office. Then we set out for the Mexican restaurant that was catty-corner from his office. Unbeknownst to us, there was a wind chill advisory. The wind blew so hard that it was a labor to cross the street. With every step, I had to clench my thighs and ignore how cold I felt. My speed had increased over the last month, but you couldn’t tell because I was slowed by the weather conditions. As I entered the restaurant, I was bursting with pride at how far my hard work had brought me.

Friday was the day I had to go to Saint Paul for my court date. It was another day with a dreaded windchill. As I walked into the Ramsey County Courthouse, I was humbled by a massive statue that looked like a cross between a Viking and an image from an Atlas Shrugged cover. Security directed me to my courtroom, and I went in to let them know I was there for my hearing. The hearing officer could see that I was physically impaired and sympathized that I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t transferring the title on a car with unresolved tickets. He agreed to waive the parking ticket. I thanked him profusely and called Metro Mobility for an early ride home. My week had been a successful one, and I was ready for the months ahead.

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