Update: 30 Days Post Hospital Discharge

This past Friday was March 10th. That makes 30 days since I was discharged from the hospital. So it’s time to assess what’s changed since then.

THE POSITIVE

Some things have improved since I was discharged. Some, actually, faster than I thought they would. Here’s the list:

1. Stamina. My stamina has improved greatly. I can now stand, with my walker, for 10 minutes at a time or longer. I can now walk around, also with my walker, at least 10 minutes at a time.

2. Gait. My gait is also much smoother now. I still look a bit like a drunken clown when I walk, but only a bit. I am still walking to a waltz beat, though – walker…right leg…left leg.

3. Speed. I seem to be speeding up. I mean, a slow turtle can still pass me by, yelling, “Eat my dust!” (It’s true – happened the other day, in fact), but I am faster than the snail next to me.

4. Balance. My balance has improved so much that I no longer constantly feel like I’m going to fall. Only occasionally. In truth, I haven’t actually fallen since my first week back home. In my last fall, I was lucky enough to spin around a little bit and fall onto the bed instead of onto the floor.  (As a joke, I claim that the Russian judge gave me a 9.7. Heh.)

5. Speech. I am able to do a whole lot more speaking before I become fatigued now. This is a massive improvement over what I was able to do when I first left the hospital.

6. Dexterity. Last week I was able to chop an onion! Now, I didn’t chop all of it by myself. What I did was peel it by hand and chop off about one-third of it. Then I cut it into smaller chunks and let the food processor do the rest of the work. It made me start thinking of cooking again. I used to cook everything from scratch before my stroke.

THE NOT-SO-GREAT

1. Right Knee. My right knee is not improving. In fact, it seems to be much worse. The muscles around my knee are wasting away even though I am spending longer and longer both standing and walking. This has me really worried, because my knee has to be strong for me to continue any improvement. My PTs are helping me with this by exercising my knee and giving me exercises to do at home between sessions.

2. Right Arm. My right arm comes and goes. Sometimes I’m able to raise it higher than at other times. Sometimes I’m able to hold it up longer than at other times. My PTs have started very limited electric stimulation of my tricep, but I don’t have a stimulator at home. So I’m trying to find more exercises that I can do at home to strengthen my tricep. Just FYI, my bicep is strong enough. That’s what is causing my arm to contract. I don’t need any strengthening of my bicep right now. My tricep muscle is what assists in straightening my arm. So I need more work on that.

3. Right hand. My right hand remains very weak. Often it hurts, even when I am wearing my brace at night. Also, it’s still swollen because I’m not able to make and then open a fist. My PTs have given me some exercises to do with my right hand. This is going to take some extra work to wake my hand up.

4. Speech. I still get very tired very fast in my tongue. This affects my speech. Also, my facial droop gets worse toward the end of the day when I’m fatigued or if I didn’t sleep well the night before.. So I still struggle with words like “exercise,” “fifty,” and others.

5. Strength. I use a jar-opener thingy to help me open the lids on glass jars. Usually I use my piece of refrigerator drawer mat around the jar to keep it from just spinning around while I’m trying to open it. But if the jar lid is tight, I have a lot of trouble. Earlier this week I was completely unable to open a jar of pickle spears. This is a tragedy, as I love pickle spears! Kosher dill pickle spears, of course. It seems I still don’t have the strength to open pickle jars yet. Sad.

So I have a lot to be grateful for. I’ve made some pretty big improvements in these 30 days. But I am still struggling in some areas, and a few areas seem worse. Overall, though, I’m pretty pleased with the progress I’ve made over these first 30 days out of the hospital.

How has your recovery progressed?

Oh No! Cheese Dilemma!

If you know anything about me, you know I love cheese. I have loved it all my life, just about any kind of cheese. Cheddar, feta, swiss, provolone, bleu, mozzarella, parmesan, cottage, cream, farmer’s, cheese, cheese, cheese!

Since I have been home from the hospital, I have gotten some Sargento colby jack cheese sticks. I love almost everything about them, except they are VERY hard to open! The plastic packaging of each cheese stick at the ends is sealed together so tightly that I can’t pull it apart with my only working hand. I have to use a sharp pair of scissors and cut the dad-blamed thing open! There’s nothing worse than being faced with a delicious snack that you can’t eat! My cheese stick might as well be locked in a bank vault somewhere, as hard as it is to get to. It just sits there, on my table, mocking me and all my earnest but ineffective attempts to open and eat it!

So yesterday  I decided there was another way to win this battle of me versus my cheese stick. I just called the Sargento company. The rep who answered the call was very nice. She seemed sympathetic to my cheese plight and said she understood my problem. I suggested that a LOT of people would want their cheese sticks to be easier to open: Strokees, disabled people, those with arthritis in their hands, those whose joints are painful, small children, anyone without strong hands or good dexterity, and new mothers and fathers with a baby on their hip. And not only that, I suggested that Sargento could advertise this to get more sales – “now easier to open!”

They are sending me a coupon or two as a nice little thank you. (I would have preferred a pound or two of their cheese, but I guess one can’t have everything.) And thank you, Sargento, for seeming to listen to your customers’ needs!

So, if at any time in the future, you see Sargento cheese sticks being advertised as “easier to open” you can thank me and go buy plenty of it, knowing you’ll easily be able to enjoy it’s cheesy deliciousness now.

You’re welcome.

(NOTE:  Even though I wrote this post in a not-so-serious tone, I really did call the Sargento company yesterday, they really did listen to my problem and my suggestion, and they really did promise to send me some coupons. They seem to be a very nice company. I’m looking forward to enjoying more cheese.)

Ouch! Hugging Hurts!

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

I am very fortunate to come from a part of the United States where people are naturally, genuinely, friendly. Around here, people want to know who you are and how you are. So when you meet someone new, or even meet up with old friends, usually they want to shake your hand or hug you when they say hello. There’s just one problem with that.

You see, now, as a result of my stroke, the whole right side of my body is very sensitive to touch. Overly sensitive, in fact.

When I was still in the hospital, and I would need to get up for various reasons, including to use the facilities, one of the nurses or nursing techs would put those hospital socks on my feet first. You know the kind of socks I mean. They are nice and warm, and they have skid-proof stuff on the bottom of them. I love them.

But the problem was, when they put the sock on my right foot, it felt like the sock was burning – on fire. And that feeling would travel all the way up my right leg and on up my right side. Kind of a creepy feeling, like sandpaper. Or like a small electric shock traveling up me (which is really what it was.) VERY uncomfortable. Rather painful.

And the nurses/techs were completely unaware that this could be happening to me, the result of having had the stroke. They weren’t trying to hurt me. They were just puzzled how putting on a simple sock could hurt. If I wasn’t experiencing it myself, I would be puzzled about that, too. My physical therapist “PT Guy” says that this kind of resulting over-stimulated feeling is actually pretty normal after a stroke. What he doesn’t know, however, is how long it will last. I really hope that it goes away soon, or at least eases a bit. I don’t want to have this super-sensitivity the rest of my life.

So I have it in my right foot. But I also have it in my right arm, and especially in my right hand. If someone touches my hand more than just very lightly it hurts. If someone brushes up against my right side while they are trying to hug me, that hurts too. I can only think what it is going to be like the first time someone grabs and tries to shake my right hand. I wonder if I’ll be able to keep the pain off my face. I wonder if I’ll be able to turn away before the tears come.  Right now I’m afraid of someone wanting to shake my right hand.  I’m even a little scared of being hugged on my right side.

These are wonderful, warm, friendly people here. I’m warm and friendly, too. Lord knows I wouldn’t want to scare them or upset them! I think I need to do some research about this over-sensitivity. I think I need to know what I can do to make it better, if at all possible. If I find out anything, I’ll write another post about it

I don’t want anyone to be afraid of hugging me or touching me. I just need to know if there is anything I can do to make the hurt stay away.

I would love comments and suggestions. In particular, how have you handled this?

Dealing With Daily Life – Eating

This post starts a new series of helps for daily living with stroke.

If you have had a stroke, or if you know someone who has had a stroke, and you are left with only one working hand (just for now, in my case – remember, I’m determined to completely recover!) then you know how hard it is to try to get food items out of a can, to eat everything on your plate, to butter toast without having to chase it all over the table, challenges like that. It’s really exasperating (aka “It’s strokic!”) to have to struggle with simple tasks of daily life like eating. It’s bad enough having to unseal bottles when you have to put the bottle in between your legs and your only working hand is not your dominant one.

Since I’ve been out of the hospital, I’ve found myself forever chasing pots, pans, bowls and plates of toast all over the table with my “working” hand. I didn’t know what I could do about that. You see, I’m single. This means I live alone (except for the cat, of course). I haven’t yet been able to teach the cat how to cook. So it’s all been up to me to figure things out. And preferably as inexpensively as possible.

I wanted something that would grip the table as well as whatever container I was futzing with at the time, to keep it from moving around. But I didn’t want something permanent, and I didn’t want something so sticky that it would be impossible to work with. I also didn’t want to spend $25.00 or more on it.

First I googled, and I eventually came up with a baby’s place mat. I saw some of these online, and they were about $10.00 each. But the good thing about them was that they were made from silicone, could be washed or wiped off, and were intentionally made for a baby who is first learning how to eat. Just like me. Learning how to eat again.

Later on, when I was talking to my friend Susie and telling her about the baby’s place mat, she came up with a fantastic idea. “Why not use that rubbery shelf liner?” Brilliant! Really brilliant! I have a roll of that stuff already, and I even have a piece about 12″ x 12″ that is a refrigerator drawer mat. That’s one of those things that goes in the bottom of a refrigerator produce drawer to keep your produce off the bottom of the drawer and keep air circulating around it (and I think I paid a buck or two for it.) That liner is grippy without being glue-y, can be kept clean, is food-safe, and doesn’t adhere permanently. Perfect!

So this is what I’m using to keep cans steady, prevent bottles from falling over when I’m opening them, stop plates of toast from moving around, and hold avocados in place so I can cut them. I haven’t tried anything hot on it yet, like a pan or a pot, because I’m afraid it might melt and ruin the bottom of the pot/pan, not to mention my kitchen table. But it has been really useful so far, and is a big, big help. You should try it.

Thank you, Susie, my brilliant friend!

I’d really love to hear what you’ve come up with to help resolve this problem. What do you do?

Physical Therapy – Part Deux

Yesterday was my second physical therapy session. I’m supposed to have two sessions a week, but this week I had a transportation problem. I’m dependent on other people to drive me places at this point in my recovery. I had a ride to therapy, but no ride back home. I have this resolved now, so from now on Tuesdays are covered. Thursdays are always covered, thanks to my Very Nice Neighbor.

So at yesterday’s physical therapy session, I met my new physical therapist. Oh, don’t worry, I still have PT Guy (I met him last week – that’s the name he wants me to use for him here in the blog). But now I also have a new guy. I told him about the blog, and I asked him to pick the name he wants me to use here for him. He picked, “PT Adonis.” Heh. I think it fits.

What’s so great about PT Guy and PT Adonis is that they are both very interested in working with Strokees. That’s really cool. Physical therapy for folks recovering from stroke is different from therapy for other conditions.  Not only are Strokees having to strengthen physically, like other folks, but we also have the result of a brain injury that affects how our bodies work and react to things.  Both of my PT fellows understand this and are willing to work individually with Strokees.  I couldn’t have gotten luckier with my PTs!

The highlights from today’s therapy session include: pushups on my stomach to exercise my right arm (this was really hard!); right leg exercises crossing over my body and ending up at the side (this was even harder – my right leg wanted to wave around today and not behave!); bridge exercises (I like those – they’ll be good for flattening my tummy, and who doesn’t want that, right?); practicing standing and sitting while keeping my body straight up and down, without leaning over to the left like I normally do; and stepping over cones with both feet, including taking large steps to practice lifting my right leg from behind me (be afraid, measly humans and your skyscrapers!). That last one was the hardest. It’s going to take the most work to become easy for me to do.

So, just like the last time, I think today’s physical therapy session was a success. I’m looking forward to seeing what is going to happen next Tuesday.

And now for something completely differ-…..uh….the serious part of this post. I know that I have made two posts already about my physical therapy. Really, these posts are just making a reminder for myself of what I’m doing in PT and also creating a record so that in the future I can go back and see how far I’ve come. PT is something I must do every day, though. It’s something I have to make time for, something I have to schedule for. (Sometimes I can’t respond to your text or email or answer your phone call because I’m trying to get some PT in.  Sorry.  I’ll get back to you, I promise!)  This means I am doing most of my physical therapy on my own time and in my own home. Only doing two PT workouts a week is not going to do me any good. I say all the time, “You have to do your PT!” And I mean that. I have to do it every single day. That’s the only way I’m really going to recover the use of my limbs and have normal, or close to normal, use of my right hand and arm and normal, or close to normal, walking ability. So even though I don’t make daily posts about PT, I’m trying to do it every day.