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Tai Chi for Stroke Recovery 

I’m about 6 years post-hemorrhagic stroke. I am constantly looking for new ways to get therapy, which is beyond the traditional therapy. Traditional therapy has just gotten boring, and I tend to not keep it up at home. I like fun therapy!!

 Last year I did pool therapy, and I really liked it! It’s just hard to swim in the winter. I really wanted to do something different. 

 So last October, we joined our local Recreation Center, which also includes a Senior Center. The Rec Center has an indoor pool, every kind of workout equipment, and lots of exercise classes.

 After trying the pool, I just couldn’t keep swimming there because the water wasn’t warm enough for me. So I decided to try some classes. In the Senior Center!! Yup! I figured that would be my speed! The age for the Senior Center starts at 50, so I fit the bill!

 The first class I tried was Chair Yoga. It was fun! Very challenging for me! Apparently not too challenging for the 94 year old lady in class!! Actually all of the class could do the yoga! Except me! I’m not usually one to compare myself to others, but it was glaringly obvious that I was struggling in class. I’m also not one to give up, but it was just TOO tough! A little bit tough is good, but TOO tough is frustrating and not productive.

So, next I tried the Tai Chi class. I used to do martial arts, and my husband still does jujutsu and taiko drumming. I still feel surrounded by martial arts with our dojo friends, too. So Tai Chi is another martial art! I LOVED the first class! It’s physically challenging in a good way! I love the calmness that I feel in class. I work hard to get my right side to cooperate, but nobody knows that I’m trying hard! That’s a good thing! Any time I feel like I blend in with others, I feel great! When class is over in an hour, I feel so good!!! Tired, but good!!

 Tai Chi is slow. It can take years to “get it”! There are so many intricate details that one might not get for years. I love that!! That’s how it was in jujutsu! So that’s what I know to be true about martial arts. Tai Chi follows that philosophy. The teacher is really good! She believes that she is also the student. She doesn’t expect perfection. She expects us to try, and do our best that day. It’s Tai Chi for Diabetes, so it’s a slower class than her other classes, which is why I signed up. I don’t have diabetes, and neither do some of the other people in class, but I’m sure some have other issues, too.

 I’m so glad that I’ve found this class in the Senior Center. I look forward to going every week! It’s something that I know will always be a part of my life. I’m not sure that I’m physically stronger because of Tai Chi yet, but I’m pretty sure I will be stronger with time. Some day, I’ll try that Chair Yoga class again, too! Haha!

What Do You Learn When Things Are Easy

I seem to pick tasks that seem to be easy, but turn out to be difficult. Sometimes I forget that I still have disabilities from the stroke. Then I am quickly reminded, and my “easy” task turns into “therapy”. Besides, what do you learn when things are easy? Not much!
When I first came home from the hospital after the stroke, I was paralyzed on one side, and everything was a new experience in living life that way. I am stubborn, so I wanted to push through the difficulties without help. Ha! Initially, I needed help with everything. Within the first year, I was doing most things by myself. Some things better than others! Intense weakness has replaced the paralysis. When I would be doing something that was too hard, and someone would try to help, I would say that it was therapy for me and I had to keep trying. There were also times that I’d try to get Bryan or the kids to take over what I felt was too hard, and they would say “No, it’s therapy!” Haha! They never let me get away with quitting! They did learn that there are limits to that, though! They are still very helpful, and I am thankful for them!
What started me thinking about all of this today, was a recipe that I chose to make. I bought a new cookbook called “Quick and Easy Dump Cakes”. The title had me assume that all of the recipes in the book were easy. A dump cake is a cake where you dump a box of this, and a can of that, into a pan and bake. No mixers involved, and not very much measuring, either. Simple! So, I read every recipe, and decided to make apple bars. It wasn’t a cake, but a cake mix is used in the recipe. It sounded so good!!
Well, after I started cutting the hard butter into cubes, I was ready to be done, and I had just started!! Then, I had to use a pastry blender, which is a tool that cuts the butter into the dry ingredients to make them into a crumbly texture. My right hand very quickly gave out because of the shoulder and back action that it takes to do that task. So, my left hand took over. Then I thought, this is therapy. Back to the right hand to mix. Right hand, left hand, right hand. It was so hard to do!!!!
I finally got it to the correct consistency, and then I had to add an egg. Seems easy, right? WRONG! At this point, my non-swearing self wanted to start swearing! But, I always say that people can “feel” what you put in to what you make. So I bake with love, and people feel that love when they eat whatever I make. If I started swearing and getting frustrated, then people would feel that when they ate the apple bars. So I put on my happy face, said it was more therapy, and I got through it using both of my bare hands. Then I was really happy to be putting it in the oven!
They finished baking, cooled a little, and I had to try one. They’re pretty good, but not something that I’ll make very often. I think I’ll try a dump cake next time!
I like it that people can’t tell that I’ve had a stroke. But then it’s hard when I cant go somewhere, or participate in a function because of the stroke, and I feel like they don’t understand. I know my limits, and I can only do what I can do. My body quickly tells me, in one way or another. Sometimes it’s physically, and sometimes it’s internally. My blood pressure may shoot up with or without warning.
So, I plug along, and continue to find the therapy in things that are difficult. I remind myself, and now I remind you, what do you learn when things are easy? Not much! So, embrace the difficult things with a smile, and know that you are learning something. But know your limits, too!
I’m happy to be back on my blog, and I’m thankful that you’re reading it! Life is really good!!

Three Years Post Stroke

On March 14, 2014, I will celebrate 3 years of surviving a hemorrhagic stroke! Not a day has gone by without me thinking how lucky I am, and I’m so thankful!! Having a stroke has changed my life! I’ve said before how my life was instantly put into perspective. There’s no sweating the small stuff anymore. I’m OK with that! It’s all good!
My biggest challenge is endurance and strength. I can physically do most things, but maybe only for a second, minute, or an hour on a good day. My back and arm are so weak that they just give out. Having blood pressure issues on top of that, makes doing things a challenge. So I tend to look at my daily tasks as therapy. It’s all therapy!
Last year I did outpatient occupational and physical therapy for 3 months. I learned a lot, and I try to apply what I learned in my everyday life. I keep trying to stimulate my brain in all different ways. The bleed from the stroke destroyed that part of the brain.  So everything I do on my right side is a new pathway that was created in order to do that function.
My physical therapist had me doing a few yoga poses, but they were a little too hard for me. She wanted me to work on it. So I am going to try yoga again on the Wii. That will be worth some laughs!! Haha!
My husband received an invitation to a corporate event through the American Heart Association/ American Stroke Association. When he replied by phone to reserve his seat, they wanted to know what his connection is to them. So he told them about me and my stroke. Now they want us to speak about it to a group of people, and tell my story. How many people? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know! Haha! I am excited to do it, but nervous to speak to a crowd. Bryan has no problem speaking, and he will be talking the most. We have two events this month. Then there’s an event in Sacramento on September 18th and 21st that will be yoga, and a walk. I just found out that I’ll be demonstrating yoga! I really better get on that Wii now! Haha! I hope to see my friends and family there!
Once again I’d like to thank Bryan for being my amazing husband and caregiver. I have come this far because you have helped me, and you believe in me! You’ve been there for every step of this journey, and I appreciate everything you do! I love you so much!! I’d also like to thank my kids for being my inspiration every day, and for all the laughter! You both are just the best kids ever!! I love you both more than anything!! My mom and dad are also my strength. They have also done this journey and give me inspiration all the time. I love you both for everything! You’re the best! To the rest of my family, Bryan’s family, my relatives, and friends, I sincerely thank you for your caring ways, prayers, inspiration, laughs, love, and for playing computer games with me! I am eternally grateful, and I love you all!

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!

2 Years Since My Stroke

As I approach the 2 year mark since my stroke, I just can’t believe how far I’ve come! I also realize how much my life has changed from that fateful day of March 14, 2011. I survived a hemorrhagic stroke!

I know that I’m still a little traumatized from the stroke, because saying the date of March 14, 2011 makes me remember trying to answer the paramedics when they asked me the date. I could answer most of their questions, and I was surprised that they understood me! I could not say 2011, though! I tried and tried, but my brain wasn’t working too well. The funny thing about having a stroke, is you can still think, but to say anything is so hard! My speech was very garbled. I knew it was all wrong, but I couldn’t do anything about it! While I was in the emergency room, I remember thinking that I needed to talk slower, and then maybe I could be understood. It helped a little, I think. To this day, if I talk too fast, my speech gets garbled. I can catch myself pretty quickly, and correct it. If I’m tired or my blood pressure goes too low, I slur my words. The slurring speech is harder to correct, because that calls for enunciating! I don’t always catch myself slurring, or can’t change it, so in those cases I just quit talking and rest as soon as I can.

Most people didn’t see me in the beginning, and we didn’t really take pictures. I’m glad for that. Being paralyzed on one side is a helpless position to be in, but I always knew it would be temporary! I improved so quickly! Every day was exciting, because I couldn’t wait to be able to do new things! It was so fun when the therapists would come in my room, because I knew I’d do something that I hadn’t been able to do before. I looked forward to all of the different therapists that visited. I even had an occupational therapist that was almost blind! She was amazing!

I have great memories of being in the hospital! That seems like a strange thing for me to say, since I had a hemorrhagic stroke and was paralyzed on my right side (and I’m right-handed). But it’s true! I think I was so lucky in so many ways! I had no pain. Everything I’ve read about hemorrhagic strokes says I should have had a raging headache, at least! Nope, not me! So I know that my recovery was maybe a little easier, because I was happy and upbeat every day, just like I always was before the stroke. I remember nurses asking my husband and family if I was always this happy! The answer was always, “YES”! And I would laugh!

That’s not to say that therapy was easy, or getting back the right side was easy, because it wasn’t! It was a lot of hard work, that was pretty continuous throughout each day! I was so determined, though! When you think about the brain having to make new pathways in order to move the body, you realize that you have this chance to get it right, and the sooner the better! The brain is so complicated! I’m glad that I never had any doctor, nurse, or therapist tell me that I was not going to get everything back 100%. They all said that I had the greatest potential to get to 100%! I’m still working on getting there! I won’t stop trying!

Life is different now. I can do most things, but not for a long period of time. My house is not as clean as it used to be, and I’m okay with that! I look at chores as therapy. I have to do them, but only until it gets frustrating, and then I stop. I don’t sweat the small stuff! My life is in perspective. I know what is important, and what isn’t important.

Bryan and I want to start a foundation to help other stroke survivors, and we have a plan. Money is an issue for that, but in time I know it will happen. We both have a great desire to help others! I have so much to do in this life, but all in time, and that’s part of the plan. I’ll let you know when we start our foundation.

I’m going to walk in a 5k walk to benefit stroke survivors in our county. We put together “team Jan”, and anyone is welcome to join my team. It’s $20 to join, and you get a shirt. Let me know if you’re interested.

I wake up thankful every day! I go to sleep thankful every night! I live my life every day in a thankful way, and I truly appreciate my family and friends. Everyone had a part in my recovery. I couldn’t have done it without the support, good thoughts, and prayers from everyone. Bryan made the biggest difference, being there 24/7. He’s an amazing husband! He has done all of the therapy with me, always with a smile! My kids have been amazing, too! They don’t let me get away with trying to be lazy or tired! Haha! I have to thank them for that! Thank you all for these last 2 years of your patience and love for me! I wouldn’t be where I am without all of my family and friends! My life is awesome!

My Secret Thoughts

It’s Thanksgiving, and as I was getting ready this morning, I was thinking about the things that I think about every day. Most people, not even my closest friends and family, know what goes through my head every day.

After having a hemorrhagic stroke 1 1/2 years ago, I am realizing that my positive attitude has probably helped me through this. I always think good thoughts! I have always been that way, and I can’t imagine being any other way.

I remember being paralyzed on my right side, and realizing how much I had used that side before, and then I couldn’t anymore. When I was slowly getting it back, I was so thankful for every little thing that I could do with my right side. The one thing that I couldn’t wait to do again was hug! A real hug with both arms, squeezing tight! I remember when I could raise my arm a little bit, then higher, and higher! I remember my husband placing my arm up on his shoulder, to help me out. All of those little things that he helped me with, were really huge to me! He was so patient when I needed extra time to try something. I was so happy when I could get both of my arms around him! Then when I could give a squeeze too, well that was the best! My family was aware of when when I could hug, too! To this day, EVERY time I hug my husband, I am secretly saying thank you to God for being able to hug him with both arms.When I hug my kids, I say thank you for letting me be able to hug them tightly with both arms. Yes, I really do think this every time!

Even though I was able to get the use of my arm back, getting the use of my fingers has not been as successful. I still struggle with fine motor skills. It’s not so bad, though. The things most people can’t see, or can’t tell that it’s a struggle, are what I work on every day. Cracking eggs, for instance, is still challenging. I love to bake, therefore, I crack a lot of eggs! After I crack eggs, I smile because I did it!

So many times during the day, I’m thinking about how lucky I am. When I wake up in the morning, I’m happy! I know that it will be a good day, and I’m always hoping for the ability to do more than I did the day before. When I go to bed at night, I secretly say a thank you for a great day!

I know all of the things that most people take for granted, are the things that I am so thankful for. When things have been taken away, and there’s a struggle to get it all back, you can’t possibly ever take those things for granted again!

So, because it’s Thanksgiving and everyone is saying what they’re thankful for, I’ve been thinking a little more today about the things that make me thankful. I’m thankful for my life, my health, my family and friends, and for all of the little things that I can do that no one ever knows! If I hug you, know that I am saying a secret thank you, because it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve accomplished!

Happy Thanksgiving!