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.

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.

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.