I Was in the Hospital, and All I Got Was…

This lousy…BEARD?

OK, it’s time for something lighthearted and funny.

It turns out that, while I was in the hospital, I grew a beard.

Not a full, manly, lumberjack-type beard. But a nice little lady-like bunch of hairs on my chin that the bearded lady in the sideshow might take a second look at.

Some people would say that it’s a result of my age. That I should expect to grow a stray chin hair or two at this time of my life. But I say balderdash!

I blame the carbs. All the carbs they fed me at every meal of every day at that hospital, even though I was on a “controlled carbohydrate diet.” I got five or six items to eat at each meal. And three of those items were starchy carbohydrates. Grits. Potatoes. Spaghetti noodles. Rice. Fruit, even candied fruit. Rolls. Cornbread. Deep fried foods. I guess having ONLY three items of carbs at each meal means they were somehow “controlled.” Is it any wonder I grew the beard? Obviously my body was afraid of all those carbs and it was trying to hide from them by growing a disguise.

The worst part of it was how obvious it was. Some of my friends have pretty bad eyesight, so they get a pass for not noticing it. But the nurses and techs were young! Their eyesight was probably pretty good.

Personally, I think they were running a pool to see how long the little hairs would grow. (One of them ended up being almost 2 inches long!) I wonder if anyone won the pool? I hope it was one of my favorite nurses. They should share their winnings with me!

Yes, I’m just kidding about the nurses running a beard hair pool. (They’re nice! And very professional! They wouldn’t do that!) No, I’m not kidding about the one almost 2 inches long. (So embarrassing!) They all died a quick and miserable death the day I got home from the hospital. I’m talking about the hairs, not the nurses!

Death to beardy chin hairs! At least on women. And especially on women in the hospital! I wonder how much it would cost to add a pair of tweezers or some depilatory cream to the little supply of personal care products you get at the hospital?

Do I see a business opportunity? Heh.

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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream….

This is another in a series of posts about things Strokees wish you knew.

Many people don’t realize that one of the most effective therapies following a stroke is sleep. Uninterrupted. Peaceful. Restorative. Healing. Sleep.

On those days when I’ve slept well the night before, I seem to make the most progress in physical therapy, and I seem to have the easiest time exercising. I also seem more clearheaded and able to handle more things at once.

On those days when I haven’t slept well the night before, I seem to stumble the most, sometimes fall down, and the more emotional and less able to handle things I seem to be.

Think of it this way. I can’t walk well these days. I can’t do strenuous yard work. I can’t spend a lot of time at the gym. I’m pretty much tired all the time. I may or may not be taking medicine that makes me feel out of it. I can no longer easily handle a bunch of things coming at me from different directions all at once, and I can’t really smell or taste much of anything anymore. At least for right now. So there really isn’t a whole lot for me to thoroughly enjoy these days. But one thing I can still do well is sleep. And I still really enjoy sleeping.

You see, my body is still healing, still waking up old connections, or making new connections, between my brain and those parts of me that don’t work so well anymore. After all, as of this publishing date, I’m only at 69 days since my stroke. So I’m still healing. Whenever you are trying to heal, you want to sleep. A lot. And that’s what Strokees, especially recent Strokees, need the most in order to heal.

We really love it when you call to check on us or stop by to bring us a present of homemade muffins or some homemade soup. We really do. And we want you to keep doing that.  Especially the muffins.

Just please understand that we may nowadays go to bed early, sleep late, or take a nap during lunch. We NEED that sleep. Just like a newborn baby, our bodies are adjusting and growing, healing. And just like a newborn baby, we need to sleep.

So please understand and please don’t get mad or offended when we don’t immediately answer your phone call, your text, your email, or answer the door; we’re probably engaged in “healing therapy” (sleeping) so we can ultimately recover as quickly and as fully as possible.

And please don’t stop calling, texting, emailing, or coming by. Especially with presents. (Don’t forget those muffins!)  We really love it when you do that.

Exhausted

Yesterday I had my first physical therapy session. It was a good session. If you think of the exercises I did during the session, it doesn’t seem like very much. I mean, a few squeezy things, a few stretchy things, a little leaning, a little walking – it should have been a breeze. And it was at the time. But I noticed at the end of it, when I was waiting for my Very Nice Neighbor to pick me up afterwards, I started slurring my words a little when I spoke. I do that since my stroke when I’m tired in the evenings. The last time I did that during the day was the day I came home from the hospital. I was so tired that day I cried myself to sleep.

So that was a warning that I overdid it at P. T., that I was overly tired.

Sometimes at night, actually more often than not, my right leg cramps up at bed time. It seems that just when I’m starting to relax, just when I’m starting to drift off, there goes my right leg in a full or at least a half-leg cramp. It’s really painful. And once that cramping starts, it can go on for an hour or two, every few seconds, until I finally fall asleep from exhaustion.

It was particularly bad last night. That must have been a second warning that I was overly tired.

This morning, I felt like I had been dragged outside during the middle of the night and beaten to a pulp! (No, I don’t really know what that feels like, it’s just a Southern expression.) I’m completely exhausted. And sore, too. I’ve been pretty weepy this morning as well. I’d always cried easily, and now, after my stroke, I cry at the drop of a hat. Or a cookie. Or one of those muffins I keep talking about. So today has been a weepy day. I’m just exhausted!

I know that yesterday was only my first physical therapy session. I know that I still have to build my stamina up. And that will take time. (But it WILL happen!) And I believe that once I have some stamina these sessions won’t wear me out so badly. But right now I’m really super exhausted. Exhausted and weepy.

Maybe tonight I’ll sleep well, and I’ll feel better tomorrow. I hope so.

Physical Therapy Begins

Today I had my first visit to physical therapy. It’s the outpatient kind. (I received P. T. in the hospital, but that was mostly walking practice in the hallways and work on my right hand/arm.) I got to meet my physical therapist (he’s a really nice guy!), and I got to see what a real physical therapy gym looks like. (It was big! And it was busy!) My Very Nice Neighbor took me to my appointment. Thank you, Very Nice Neighbor!

When I first arrived, I had to fill out some paperwork describing what was wrong with me, what I struggled with, which bits of me were the painful bits, and what I expected to be able to accomplish. Of course, I put that I expect to be able to fully recover as quickly as possible!  (Nothing wrong with positive thinking, right?)

So then I got to meet my therapist. (I forgot to ask him if he was OK with my putting his real name here.) He’s very smart, he knows what he’s doing, and he likes my sense of humor. (Important!) Also, he promised to try not to make me cry. (VERY important!) You see, like baseball, there’s no crying in physical therapy. OK, that’s a lie. There IS crying in physical therapy. Because some of that stuff hurts. Some of it hurts really bad! But as long as he’s TRYING not to make me cry, then that’s OK.

Today’s exercises were sort of a test to see where I stand physically, to see what I could do, and what I could not do.

The first exercise was sitting and marching my feet up and down for three minutes. Three minutes. That sounds like nothing. Like no time at all. But I thought those three minutes would NEVER end! The next exercise was squeezing a large foam ball between my knees. Another three minutes. Then my therapist wrapped an exercise band around my knees and had me pull my knees apart against the band, hold and release style. Bet you can guess how long I did that.

Then it was time to do some work on my right hand. He put my hand on the bench and held it down, having me lean toward it and then away from it, putting weight on it and then taking weight off. (Yeah, this one hurt.) Then I laid down on the bench, raised my knees up, and then raised my butt up and down, doing bridge exercises. Then I held a one pound weight in my right hand (there was a strap keeping it in place) and raised it up and down like Arnold Schwarzenegger doing bicep curls. Finally, I walked in a line using “The Stepladder” (that’s what I call my walker) and stepped over plastic cones with my right foot. (To myself I pretended I was Godzilla stepping over the measly little humans’ skyscrapers. Any wonder that I’m single?)

I came home completely exhausted, of course, ready for a nap. But I really have to say that today’s physical therapy was a success! I had no idea I could do some of those exercises. And I didn’t know that small plastic cones were so hard to step over! (Be afraid, tiny humans, be very afraid! All your skyscraper are belong to us!) All in all, though, a good time, and I’m looking forward to the next session.

I Had A Stroke – I Ain’t Deaf!

This is the first in a series of posts about things Strokees wish you knew.

“I had a stroke, I’m not deaf!” I want to say this a lot sometimes. Someone I know called me the other day and, for some reason, began shouting at me.

“HOW ARE YOU DOING!!! ARE YOU FEELING ANY BETTER NOW!!!”

Wow. I wondered where they were. Someplace really loud, obviously, to make them talk like that. Even though I couldn’t hear any background noise coming through the phone.

“Where are you?” I asked. (The gravel pit? A traffic jam? An active building site? On the weaving floor of a textile mill? Next to the track at NASCAR when the race is about to start?)

“I’M AT MY OFFICE, AND I JUST WANTED TO CHECK ON YOU AND SEE HOW YOU’RE DOING!!!”

(Your office? What the hell’s going on there? Are they drilling for oil there?) “What’s going on at your office?”

“NOT A THING!!! IT’S AS QUIET AS A CHURCH HERE!!!”

(For real??!?) “Why are you shouting at me?”

“I JUST WANTED TO BE SURE YOU COULD HEAR ME, YOU KNOW, AFTER YOUR, YOU KNOW, STROKE AND ALL!!!”

Well. Bless their heart. (I’ll write another post about what Southerners – and I’m Southern – actually mean when we say things like, “bless their heart.”)

“I’m getting better, and my hearing’s great, too!” I said that with a smile in my voice.

You don’t really mean to scream and shout at us. We know that. But we want you to know that even though we had a traumatic brain injury, and the brain is located in the head, and even though our ears are also located on our heads, our strokes did not affect our hearing. There’s really no need to shout. Our hearing’s just fine, thank you.

SO TONE IT DOWN A LITTLE, OK???!!!

And we are really glad when you call to check on us. So, um, please keep doing that.

Strokees? Strokers? Strokettes? Hunh?

The question has come up about what people who have had a stroke should call themselves. One suggestion I see a lot is “stroke victim.” I don’t really like that term, though, because it has the word “victim” in it. And I don’t like the word “victim.” Certainly what has happened to us wasn’t pleasant, or fun, or something to celebrate, but the word “victim” implies to me something that cannot be changed, something that cannot be overcome. And I really don’t like that idea. I’m determined to recover as much as possible.

So “Stroke Victim” is out. But what else is there? How else can we refer to ourselves? I’m all for being creative and unique. I would rather come up with something new to call ourselves.

Strokee? Stroker? Strokette? How about Strokic? Let’s take a look at these and see how they work. Strokee is interesting. The endings “-ee” and “-er” in English have meaning. The ending “-ee” means someone that something was done to or that something happened to. The ending “-er” means the one who was doing the something. Definitely Strokee would be appropriate. After all, our strokes happened TO us, not BY us. And Stroker, well, that’s a little racy. Better suited for adult-oriented material than for a little stroke blog.

So what about Strokette? Oh, come on.  I’m just trying to make you laugh here.  That’s just a play on Smurfette from the 80s children’s cartoon; if I join a new message board or something I’m going to pick Strokette as my username.

So that leaves Strokic. Like alcoholic. Now, I like that one. It’s different. Unique. And it’s a little mysterious, even. After all, what does it mean? Nobody’s ever heard that word “Strokic” before. And yet it tells you everything you need to know. For instance, the exasperated phrase, “I’m feeling very strokic right now!” says everything. Don’t you think?

So I think “strokic” is the new word I’ll use to describe how I’m feeling from now on, and Strokee is how I’m going to refer to myself and others in general. No “victim” here. Just someone that something happened to. I really welcome your thoughts.

— Virginia a.k.a. “Strokette”

The Storm

The Storm came December 18, 2016.  It was a Sunday.  A pretty Sunday morning with the sun shining and a bird or two chirping outside the window.  The cat was in “meatloaf” position nearby me on the bed, and I was lying in bed on my left side, having just woken up.  It was about 8:30 in the morning, and I had no premonition of what was about to happen in fewer than 5 minutes’ time.  I was clueless as to the storm, the violent and destroying storm, that was coming for me.

5 minutes….

It’s almost surreal, looking back on it now, that there was no obvious warning sign.  No boom of thunder.  No flash of light.  No klaxon sounding, no siren wailing (that would come later), no robot waving its arms and shouting, “Danger!”  No deep voice from on high saying, “My child, I am giving you a test…”

4 minutes….

My right arm simply felt “funny.”  Not funny as in hah-hah, but funny as in strange.  Funny as in kinda numb, like maybe I had slept on it wrong.  Just the upper arm.

3 minutes….

“My upper right arm feels funny.”  I actually said that out loud.

2 minutes….

I lay there for a minute and tried to make sense of how my upper right arm could feel numb when I had been sleeping on my left side.

1 minute….

I sat up on the side of the bed and put my feet on the floor.  I distinctly remember feeling nothing strange, noticing nothing out of place or different other than my numb-ish upper right arm.  In fact, I could feel the texture of the carpet under my feet.  Under BOTH feet.

STORM

I started to stand up.  Only I never made it much past “started to.”  All in an indistinct whirl, I heard banging noises as various parts of me hit into nearby pieces of furniture.  My vision was clear but struggling to find a focus point as I saw the items around me appear to move upward (caused by me falling downward.)  It was a storm of loud banging and violent movement that came without warning and made absolutely no sense.

And then there was silence.

The cat, who, like all cats, is a creature of habit and expects the same things to happen at the same time and in the same order every day, took off like a rocket and went somewhere else because she was definitely NOT in the habit of Mommy banging into furniture and falling down first thing in the morning.  For the cat, mornings habitually consisted of following Mommy to the bathroom and receiving a pat or two, some fresh water, and some crunchies (kibble), in that order.

And then there was more silence.

“That was funny.”  I actually said that out loud, too.  Look.  I’m a single woman who owns a cat.  Of course I talk out loud to myself.

Struggle

I attempted to recover my composure and get myself up.  Only my right arm was boneless, like it was made of jelly.  Pushing against it to help myself stand up got me nowhere.  My arm just flopped around.  Like a fish, a boneless fish.

My right leg, as well, was just flopping around.  Also boneless.  I couldn’t stand up.  I couldn’t even sit up.

Lying on the floor, I was boneless.  Flopping around.  Boneless fish.

More silence.

Realization

The wise men say that with silence comes awareness, and with awareness comes realization.

With the silence surrounding me, I began to take inventory.  I began to gain awareness.  I was lying on the floor.  I did not do that on purpose.  My right arm did not work right.  My right leg did not work right.  I couldn’t stand up.  I couldn’t get up.

More silence.

Where had I heard that before?  Something about your whole side not working.  Something on the news, I think.  Something on tv.

Silence.

Oh.

Oh no.

No, no, NO!  NO!  NOOOO!  Oh, my God.  Oh, my GOD!  OH, MY GOD!!!  Stroke!  Stroke!  I’ve had a stroke!!!!!

In the surrounding silence had come the realization.  The realization that I’d had a stroke.  The world had tilted. My life had changed.  Nothing was ever going to be the same again.  Nothing.  The Storm had come, without warning, buffeting me around and destroying me, and I didn’t know what I was going to do.  Whether I could do anything ever again.  Whether there was even any “I” left anymore.

After the Storm, on the floor.  Boneless, boneless, flopping fish!