Epilogue (I Told You I Was Sick S:1 Season Finale)
It's been a minute since my last post. I guess that's a good thing. I've been busy getting my life back to normal.
While I was in the hospital, I found lots of "funny." Once I returned home, the reality of my situation seemed a bit grimmer. I was assured by my hospital doctors that I could expect a full recovery with occasional "flair-ups." "If you develop a fever, or get the flu, or overdo it, you may feel the numbness in your face creeping back. That's very normal. Don't be afraid."
The first week I was home, I had zero energy. Zero. I had to lie down to rest after blow-drying my hair. I could manage one "activity" per day: a visit to a doctor or a visit from a friend. I cried several times a day. Sometimes the tears just happened for no apparent reason. Other times I cried because I thought that the stroke had turned me into a one-hundred-year-old feeble lump on the couch. When I peered through the front windows in my living room and saw cars driving by, I wondered if I would ever again just hop in my car and skim along to the grocery store.
I wasn't in any pain (except for lingering should pain from my April rotator cuff repair).
My main issues:
dead dog tired all day long
numbness on the right side of my bottom lip and in my right thumb and two fingers
my handwriting was wonky which was very troubling to me as a former elementary teacher
my right foot tended to drag
my balance was questionable (Standing on one foot felt like an Olympic event. I grew up taking dance classes. Not being able to stand on one foot felt shameful.)
My second week home dawned brighter. Visits from friends boosted my energy and mood more than I ever expected. Alan escorted me on short walks up and down the sidewalk. We both listened for the shhh-shhh-shhh of my right foot beginning to drag signaling the end of our trek. To the mailbox one day. To the third house down on the right on another.
I went to physical therapy two days a week for about three weeks. I spent one hour in physical therapy working to smooth my gate and regain some semblance of balance. The next hour I worked with an occupational therapist on my right hand's fine motor and gross motor skills.
Occupational therapy was my favorite. What's not to love about taking dominoes out of their box and then replacing them all using only my thumb and pointer? My favorite was putting pegs in holes in a certain pattern using random fingers in tandem with my thumb. Did I mention that these were timed activities? Turns out I'm competitive only in sports involving dominoes and plastic pegs.
I squeezed so much therapy putty - thumb and pointer down to thumb and pinky. I suspect that the relationship between my thumb and pinky has been iffy for years. They do not play well with each other.
I spent part of one OT session using a ballpoint pen to trace over squiggly lines and zigzag lines the therapist drew out on a piece of printer paper. I thought to myself that a first-grade handwriting worksheet would have done the trick. I had regressed to the penmanship of a six-year-old.
Neurological PT looks different than orthopedic PT in some respects. At a neurological PT facility, people in all stages of mobility are supported by therapists with gait belts. During the first couple of visits, the therapist encircled my waist with a gait belt because she was worried that I might fall. By the time I started my therapy (a couple of weeks of insurance folderol) and scheduling issues), I was walking a mile a day all by myself. Well, kind of by myself. I found that the hiking poles I purchased for trekking in national parks looked way cooler than a cane. But, this therapist was a belt and suspenders and gait belt kind of girl. One shush of foot drag, and she pulled up on the back of my gait belt like I was a tree being felled in a forest. "I don't want you falling!" "I'm not going to fall." "Your foot is beginning to drag." "I know."
At the time of this writing, I am eighty-three days post-stroke. My life has now been divided into two epochs - pre and post. Most of my symptoms are much milder day in and day out. My right thumb has become a barometer for my fatigue level. When a bout of Post-Stroke Fatigue (capitalized because it is "a thing") moves in like a dense fog, my thumb buzzes with numbness. Also, my handwriting shrinks to the size of an 8 font. My hand feels separate from my body as I coach it to ease into my normal loopy, graceful italics. Like a defiant two-year-old, my hand simply ignores me and continues to misbehave.
This week has been a PSF experience of epoch proportions. For 3 days, I could not get off the couch. Walking across the house was a planned activity. "I think that when the little hand is on the one, I'll drag my carcass to my bedroom and take a power nap." On my way to the bedroom, I would carefully take inventory of everything I needed to carry - glasses, phone, iced tea, blood pressure cuff - so that I wouldn't have to walk back across the house. Yesterday, I got out for a while. Yesterday afternoon, I took a 2-hour nap. PSF is troubling...discouraging...maddening... However, if this is my biggest problem, I ain't got a problem. I could be in much, much worse condition.
Here's a good "Would You Rather?" question for dinnertime discussion:
Would you rather be so deeply exhausted every day that you moved at a turtle's pace and took two naps a day OR move at the speed of light (figuratively speaking) every day hurtling through your daily activities so fast that the world seemed blurry and distant?
It's an impossible choice. But thinking of the two extremes makes even a fast-paced or a slightly boring normal day seem like a dream.
I will end this report on my stroke experience with a photo that gets me every time. I took it because I don't ever want to forget that my health needs to be one of the top priorities in my life.
In the ER just before I was transferred to the stroke ICU, I removed my jewelry and gave it to Alan for safekeeping. It wasn't until I was back in Lubbock that it occurred to me to put my rings back on. There on the kitchen counter sat this specimen cup. A hospital jewelry box. My breath caught in my throat. It looked like some sort of crime scene evidence or something the morgue would give you after the unexpected loss of a loved one. A grim reminder.
That happened. I had a stroke.
About a week after returning home, I finally looked at my planner to see what all I had missed. Turns out that July 24, 2021 (the day that would mark the rest of my days as "post-stroke") was my eleventh Blog-iversary. I began blogging the year our youngest son flew from our nest and Meems moved to Lubbock. My Blog-iversary reminded me how much I enjoy writing and spending time with you. Here's to eleven more years come what may.