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Five Years After My Stroke

It’s been a little over 5 years since my stroke. It seems like my right side is weaker than it used to be. My day-to-day activities aren’t enough to build up the strength in the muscles. The brain signals are probably weak to the muscles, and I feel it! So, the doctor has recommended pool therapy this time.
Bryan and I were thinking that pool therapy would be good for me, and we bought a 4 ft pool to set up in the backyard. We haven’t put it up yet, because there’s a lot of preparation to the yard that needs to happen before it can go up. So hopefully soon this can happen. 
In the meantime, I went to my first pool therapy session. It was so crazy! First off, walking into the pool, I realized that I had very little control of my right leg, once I was in water above my knees. I actually felt like it was right after the stroke when I was learning how to walk again. My leg was very uncoordinated, and I really couldn’t feel my leg! I spent a few minutes walking along the side of the pool in about 3 ft of water while my therapist finished with her other patient. At one point, I even wondered if I was having another stroke, because that’s how it felt! After her initial evaluation of me, we started to do a few exercises that she had to keep modifying because I just was unable to do them! She was very surprised that I couldn’t do them, and even at one point asked me if I walked with a walker or cane! Haha! No, I can walk, just not in the water! It was crazy, and so hard, that I just couldn’t believe it! It was a real challenge!
I will also be starting physical therapy in a regular therapy setting in a building. They call it “land therapy”! So one day a week for land therapy, and one day a week of water therapy.
I hope to build up my strength on my right side, and wake up the muscles that don’t seem to be getting the brain signal to work.
After we get our pool set up, I will use it daily, and do the exercises that I’m learning from going to therapy.
I enjoy going to therapy! It’s hard, and it’s very tiring, but I like it! It’s fun, in a serious way! It’s all about learning to strengthen your body, and all of the different and creative ways to make that happen.
Therapists are awesome! In the 5 years since my stroke, I’ve had quite a few Therapists, and they all have done things differently. It’s so interesting! I like to have fun, but seriously do the work. I love how they see all of the little things with the muscles and the way the body moves. They see the details, while also seeing the whole thing.
When I was growing up, we almost always had a pool. I love the water! I’ve always been a good swimmer, and have felt very comfortable in the water. This new water therapy has shown me that I have a long way to go, to feeling comfortable in the water. I have a new goal now, to get to where I feel good and coordinated and comfortable in the water. It’ll happen! Hopefully soon! It’s all good!

My Fourth Strokiversary

Well, not only is it Pi Day, but it’s the 4th Anniversary of my hemorrhagic stroke. It’s my “Strokiversary”! I’ve come a long way in 4 years! Today, for me, is a day to celebrate, almost like a birthday. I felt like my life changed 4 years ago, and I started my new way of life.
Life for me is really good! I wake up thankful, live each day in a positive way, and go to bed thankful every night. I don’t take things for granted, and I don’t sweat the small stuff. I no longer get to worry or stress out on things. I have very reactive blood pressure, and very quickly can be reminded of that if I get stressed.
Since my stroke was caused from high blood pressure, it is the one thing that I can’t let get out of control, or I could have another stroke. I will do everything in my power to avoid another stroke. So, I avoid stressful situations. I have additional prescriptions that I can take if my BP goes too high, and it can bring it down 40 points in about 20 mins. There are side effects, so I don’t like having to take them, but when necessary, I do what I have to do.
Aside from the blood pressure problems, I basically have right-side weakness, and balance issues. My back fatigues very fast when doing the same task for a short while. Then I will feel like I can’t hold my head up. I can walk about 1 to 1 1/2 miles. The bursitis in my hips is bad. My bicep, tricep, and trapezoid are very atrophied, which causes problems trying to keep my arm up. My hand is weak, with thumb and forefinger very weak and uncoordinated. Writing is still a challenge, and still can’t write cursive. Speech can be jumbled if I talk too fast. Short-term memory issues, but not too severe. Those are my basic physical challenges, which is why I tell people that I am about 80-85% back to normal. Usually I don’t talk about what I CAN’T DO, I focus on what I CAN DO. Most people just looking at me can’t even tell I’ve had a stroke. I love that! But I get asked all the time, “What is still wrong with you?”. So that’s it in a nutshell. If you really watch me do something, you would see the problems, especially if you spent a day with me.
My husband sees it all, and is very protective of me because he knows what happens when I try to push it. I respect him for that, and love him so deeply. He has helped me with my recovery immensely. He is a very good person, and I am thankful  to have him for my husband. We will celebrate our 30th Anniversary this year!!
My kids are wonderful people, and I love my time with them every day, whether in person or on the phone. I have an amazing family and relatives, and the best friends a person could ever wish for.
This year Bryan and I want to start our foundation for stroke recovery, so stay tuned for that!
I have a nice life. I don’t focus on my deficits, but still try to work on strengthening the different body parts by doing creative things.
Today, I will make a pie for Pi Day, and I will have a glass of champagne to celebrate my 4th “Strokiversary”. Cheers!

My life is in perspective and positive

When I experienced having a stroke, that moment changed my life forever! Initially, every moment was spent on survival. Even though I wasn’t consciously thinking that, reflecting back I realize that I was in survival mode. I know that I had a choice to live or die, but I can’t recall the moment that it happened or the details to that experience. Later on, improving my condition became my focus.
I have always had the ability to find the good in the bad, and to always see the bright side of things. I believe that being positive is the key to making possibilities happen, when the odds are against you. I also believe that not knowing how bad the outlook is, is a good thing. I also am thankful that I never had any doctor, nurse, therapist, family member, or friend, tell me that anything with my recovery would be impossible. It seemed as though I was surrounded by positive people! I never knew, until much later, that the odds were against me! I always knew that I’d improve! I knew it!! There was no doubt, because I didn’t know to have doubt. I beat the odds!!
My life was instantly put in perspective the moment that the stroke happened. I am always aware of what is important in life now. That feeling doesn’t go away. Not that I wasn’t aware of that before the stroke, but now it’s the focus of my thinking and actions. There’s no other way to be, as far as I’m concerned. There’s no “sweating the small stuff”. If something can’t be done with love, then it shouldn’t happen. Life is about love and happiness. Yes, I can still get mad or frustrated, but I quickly let it go. It is not worth it to have stress, because stress affects the body and health. We are in control of ourselves. I won’t do anything to jeopardize my health, or anyone else’s health.
I view my life now as a gift. I want to help other stroke survivors, and people who need a touch of positive in their life when faced with a long recovery. As my strength and stamina continue to improve, my thoughts are shifting into helping others, and how to go about doing that on any scale. Getting back on my blog is a start.
My husband is my rock, and he is amazing! He has helped me most with my recovery, because he has been there almost 24/7, and knows what it takes to do life now. My kids keep me humble and laughing all the time, and they are always on my mind. They are so positive and happy, and I appreciate their fun personalities. My family and friends give me strength to keep pushing forward.
I have a deep sense of calm, and I look forward to my future and old age. I will do it one day at a time, with a smile!

Brain Chatter During and After a Stroke

I want to talk about brain chatter, to maybe make people aware of what might be going through someone’s mind during and after a stroke. Witnessing a person having a stroke can be scary. Every stroke is different, so you never know what will happen. I will tell you my story of my brain chatter, but it may or may not apply to others. However, it’s knowledge that can’t hurt to know.
Most of you know the story, and for newcomers, please read the first story of my blog for details. Basically, I was at The Fairmont Hotel for a luncheon for my dear sweet friend’s 90th birthday. I was the only 48 year old attending with all much-older women, and I was the one carried off on a stretcher! Haha! Funny now, and it was kinda funny then, too!
When the stroke started, my face drooped on one side. I was thinking that something was wrong, but was also fascinated by how much one side of my face could sag. I could feel it!! I never saw it. When I got up to go to the restroom, I wasn’t walking right. In my head I was thinking ~ uh oh, this isn’t good. When my hand couldn’t make my phone work, I thought ~ this is a stroke, and I need help so I can get to a hospital for one of those shots to reverse strokes. If I was really thinking right, I would have put the phone in my left hand, and could have dialed it. I saw David, who is the son-in-law of my friend the birthday girl. I called him over, and when I started talking I didn’t recognize my voice and slurred speech. Fortunately, he had been with his dad during his stroke, and recognized the same speech and slurring with me. While I was sitting and waiting for the ambulance, I actually thought ~ how funny that I’m the youngest one at the party, and I’m leaving in an ambulance! I also thought ~ wow, I’m so calm! I thought that a LOT! I had a history of having my blood pressure go up when it was being taken at the Dr office, and I was thinking ~ huh, I don’t think my BP is going to go up this time, because I’m so calm! Well, my BP was already at least 285/185! I didn’t know it, and didn’t feel it.
David was keeping my husband and parents abreast of my condition, by phone. He was also very calm. The waitress sitting with me, who was a nursing student (and I thought ~ what are the odds of that happening) was also calm.
When I got in the ambulance, I asked where my purse was. Haha! My purse has everything in it! I could win the old Let’s Make A Deal show when he’d ask the ladies at the end, for odd things in their purse! David had it, and was sitting in the front seat. I was thinking how nice he is to stay with me. Speech was worse at this point, so I was choosing to not talk. I wasn’t thinking too much, either. My brain was quiet, without much chatter going on.
In the ER, there was so much commotion going on with nurses and DR’s doing their jobs. I was thinking ~ hurry up and give me that shot! Well, then they told me that I don’t get the shot. It was a hemorrhagic stroke, and my brain was bleeding. They prepared me for possible surgery. In my head I was thinking ~ no, I don’t need surgery because it stopped bleeding. Why did I think that, I don’t know. When I told that to the nurse, she acted like I was crazy, and said that I couldn’t know that. I still kept thinking it, and guess what, I was right!
I still didn’t think too much. I mostly thought about things in reaction to what was going on.
When I realized that I was paralyzed on my right side, it felt like I was moving my right side, but I wasn’t! I thought ~ this is what people feel when they lose a limb!
In the days following, my memory was a little weird. I couldn’t always remember words. Bryan was a great mind-reader, and he would fill in the blanks. I remember thinking things, but couldn’t say them. In my head, I was fine. Then to put things together, was a challenge. But I knew that words weren’t coming out right, because in my head I was thinking clear! I learned to slow down my talking and I could be understood better.
The brain chatter was there, but not constant. My new world was pretty quiet. I think that’s why I needed it quiet in my room. I needed people to be calm. No visitors, especially no high energy people. I was so aware of people’s energy! It could be instant overload! And it showed in my blood pressure!
I mostly had patient nurses. They were so happy with my progress, and were mostly very helpful. I never really stopped talking, and I think that helped me. My stroke was in the left basal ganglia which mostly controls speech and coordination.
I’ve read other stroke stories where people can’t talk at all, and they are treated like they are dumb, or babies. I’m here to say, the brain still thinks! The problem is getting the thought from the brain to the mouth! That’s where it goes haywire! Sometimes, the information isn’t in the accessible brain area, so relearning things is the only option. I’ve experienced that, too. Thank goodness for the ability to rewire your own brain!
It’s important to treat stroke survivors with calm, patient energy. No need to talk in a condescending tone or manner. Chances are, they’re still thinking normally, but can’t make the words happen. Have patience! The brain still knows things! In a lot of ways, it knows and feels even more that ever! Never underestimate the stroke survivor!

New Occupational Therapy

Today I finally had my 1st occupational therapy (OT) appointment at the new place where I’m going. The therapist is a nice lady, who has years of experience, including 5 extra years of schooling to specialize in hands. The main purpose of OT is to help get back the ability to do the things in everyday life that one could do pre-stroke. The list includes things like brushing teeth, getting dressed, cooking, baking, eating, writing, all kinds of fine motor skills, and being self-sufficient. They also help you with the skills needed to work again.
Today, the first thing that she did was go over paperwork that the physical therapist had me fill out in the beginning. The way I answered the questions, she thought I didn’t need to be there. For instance, the question was can you brush your teeth? You had to answer by checking a box from 1-5, with 1 being very little, to 5 meaning yes I can without help. I answered 5. Well, today she asked the question differently than the written directions. She asked if I could brush my teeth the way I did before the stroke. My new answer was a 1. I now use my left hand to brush my teeth. Right-handed doesn’t really work. She said ahh-hah! So, we re-did all of my answers!! No, I can’t do a lot of basic functions with my right hand. I’ve learned to do them with my left hand. Sometimes not very well left-handed, either! Haha!
I guess that’s one of the post-stroke challenges. Looking fine, healthy, and self-sufficient, so everyone thinks all is fine. Until the tests start. No more fooling! She honed right in on my deficiencies! These therapists see everything! My arm dropped when I was concentrating on getting the pegs in the holes, and after I finished she asked me why my arm dropped. I didn’t know it dropped, but it’s one of my challenges doing hair, so I wasn’t surprised. We’re going to work on that, too!
Don’t get me wrong, I like being self-sufficient, and looking like I’m fine. I just want my right side to contribute to the tasks!
She got out a small saucepan and whisk, and had me pretend to whisk something as fast as I could. It was very hard. It reminds me of when I make scrambled eggs, and how hard it is to blend the eggs before pouring them in the pan. Evidently there’s a muscle in the hand and wrist that controls this movement. There lies the problem! A lot of my deficiencies are because of that specific muscle! That muscle is the one that causes carpal tunnel. I don’t have carpal tunnel, it’s just that muscle was affected from the stroke. The brain is not getting the signal there, like it was before the stroke, so it doesn’t move properly. She will have specific exercises for me to hopefully wake up that muscle.
She asked about specific issues doing hair. I told her about those, and she wants me to bring in some of my hair equipment. She’s hoping to help me get improvement. Maybe she can help me to be able to do my own hair too.
My right tricep is almost completely atrophied. She explained that is has to do with the muscles around it that stiffened up from the stroke. I do a whole lot of compensating with other muscles in order to move certain ways. The problem with that, is I can’t stay doing that long term.
So, I came home with a stretchy band to do some specific exercises. She’s no-nonsense and serious, so I know she’ll kick my butt, and I have to be ready! This is going to be an intense 6 weeks! I need it, and I’ll get all I can out of it! I’ve already seen improvement from physical therapy (PT) after a few weeks, so I’m hoping I’ll see that with OT as well! My little side stepping exercises in PT where my right foot crosses behind the left, is now at the point where I can pick up my foot to cross it!  I was initially dragging it across. It’s these small improvements that are exciting to me!
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Back to Therapy

Well I’m back in physical therapy, and maybe even occupational therapy, too. 2 years post-stroke. My new neurologist is pretty amazing. He did a whole physical evaluation, you know where they press your arm and you have to resist, etc. Strength tests, I guess you’d call them. I’m pretty strong in most places. The needle pricking test was interesting. There’s still a lot of areas on my right side that are numb! I didn’t even know. I knew certain parts of my face were numb, but I had no idea that my arm and leg have numb spots, too! The bad part is my upper back. Not numb, it just doesn’t move very well on the right side. It’s because it was paralyzed for so long, it’s just very weak. My scapula is kind of frozen. The Dr was amazed at my range of motion, but I have no strength to hold the positions. There’s so much atrophy on the right side of my upper back. I guess that’s why I feel like I can’t hold my head up! He is afraid that it will just get worse. So the Dr put me back in intense therapy twice a week. It’s with different a therapist than I had before. Nothing against my other therapists, he just wanted me at the facility that he is used to sending people.
I enjoy therapy! Yes, it’s hard and tiring, but it’s really fun! She’s finding all sorts of things that I need to work on. I find myself saying a lot, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea that I couldn’t do that”! Haha! Putting one foot in front of the other heel to toe, closing my eyes and touching my nose, touching each finger to the thumb, I fail them all! Haha! Good thing I don’t really drink too much, and never drive after!! She’s also found that my abs don’t work on my right side, and I have no feeling there, either. She stretched out my right side, and I felt a pull in my hip and my armpit, but not my side! Interesting! So I need to be careful when doing stretches.
She gives me fun exercises to do at home. And I do them several times a day!! I can do them while I’m outside with the dog, in the shower, in bed, or watching TV. I told her that I was able to do the hula-hoop last week at a family party. She was shocked! We laughed, because she said that she hasn’t been able to hula-hoop since she was 13 yes old! Katie and I did it a lot through the years, so I knew I could, and I did! My therapist told me to go buy a hula-hoop and do that at home too! So I will, and that will be fun, too!
Next week I have an evaluation with the occupational therapist. They want me to go to get help with my fine motor skills. She can also help with the scapula issues. I hope to get help with my writing, too.
The neurologist referred me to a specialist at Stanford Hospital, who he thinks is going to know my blood pressure problem, and maybe why I had the stroke. That appointment is in a few weeks. Should be interesting. I’m very thankful for all of the good doctors that I’ve had. And all of the good therapists, too! Life is good!

Puppy Therapy

When I decided that I was ready for a dog, after putting my sweet 15 year old dog down in July, I had a list in my mind of what I wanted in a dog. I wanted to rescue an older female dog who was sweet and gentle, and who would want to hang out with me. The dog would have to be very nice, and definitely not a puppy! When I started visiting shelters and various dog organizations, all of the dogs had major issues that I didn’t feel prepared to deal with. I stayed searching, knowing that I would “know” my dog when I saw her.

When I was at the shelter in Santa Cruz, I saw this cute little dog, and knew it was mine. When I looked at the tag on the cage, it said 2 month old female Terrier mix. For some reason, I thought it said 4 month old. She’s actually 3 months old. Anyway, it was a puppy!! I looked back at the dog, and just said, “Well, I guess I’m getting puppy”! I never fight the feeling of knowing that there’s a bigger plan at work for me, and I just have to trust that intuition. When we went back inside to fill out papers and get a session with the pup, they informed me that someone had just called and put the dog on hold for 2 days. I wasn’t even allowed to have a session with her, because technically they owned her now that they put her on hold. So we left.

On the way home, I told my daughter that if that little puppy was meant to be ours, then she will go off hold, and we will get her. Once again, I had to trust that feeling that I know what is right, is what will be. The next night at the time the shelter closed, I called them. The puppy had just gone off of the hold  status. They opened at noon the next day, and I was there with my mom shortly after noon. I was able to get a session with her, but while waiting, I had a lady come up to me and ask me if I had my heart set on her, because she was also interested in her. I told her that I did. I realized that if I had arrived 5 minutes later, I wouldn’t have gotten my dog. When I finally was able to meet her, she leaped into my lap! Well, that’s exactly what my last dog did, and I knew this was definitely my dog! My PUPPY! It was “meant to be”!

So, we’ve had “Nilla” for about 2 weeks now. I’m in love with this little dog. Even though I never wanted a puppy, she’s so perfect! She’s very friendly, happy, playful, rambunctious, smart, and so loving. She takes at least 2 naps a day, and so I do, too! Haha!

I have realized that Nilla is actually providing therapy for me! I am her main playmate, therefore, we are outside a lot! She loves to fetch, and actually even brings it back to me! Throwing the toys, I use my right hand, which is the side affected from the stroke. She doesn’t care if I throw it weird or crooked. One of the exercises that I’ve done in therapy is to throw a small ball against the wall and catch it. So, I do that with Nilla. She has a Frisbee-type of toy that is definitely a challenge for me throw, but I do it! Squatting down to be at her level is therapy. Getting up from that squat is even better! I do that a hundred times a day, I bet! It’s got to start getting easier!

A weird thing that has affected my right side is rhythm. What I mean by that, is when you knock on a door there’s a rhythm to that knock. I don’t have that rhythm on my right side. To tap on my legs to call the pup over to me, is therapy, to get the rhythm down. Tapping my foot to call her over, I work on the rhythm. If I go slow, I can do it. If I try it  fast, it’s all confusing. But Nilla doesn’t care, and that’s what’s so perfect! Prying her little jaws open to get grass, dirt clods, rocks, and other things out, is therapy. I make myself use my right side to get the various items out! I also make myself find reasons to tap my fingers, hand, or foot.

I am thankful for my little puppy! I never thought I’d get a puppy, but I am so happy that I did! She makes me laugh so much every day!! She helps me out, without knowing that she’s helping me with things. She is constant entertainment for all of us! She’s learning the rules, and getting better every day. I am glad that I have the time to spend with her, being consistent, and turning her into the best dog ever! She’s helping me to be the best that I can physically be, and I’m hoping that maybe I can get that rhythm back! Life is so good!