It was clear that it was up to me to do the work that had to be done to recover from the stroke. While I knew that full recovery may not be possible, I optimistically announced to the Acute Rehabilitation Unit team I first met with that I wanted to walk out of there.
They said, sure, it might be possible. Little did I know how hard it would be.
At this point I was wheelchair bound, a state that would continue for a what seemed like a very long time – to this day 7 weeks later and it will go on. I had no use of my right hand or arm as they were paralyzed, and my right leg was very weak and dysfunctional.
The primary focus was to be on mobility, which meant that regaining use of my right arm was secondary. Mobility meant for example that I had to learn how to move myself from the wheelchair to the bed or to a chair, and vice versa.
That was hard work because I had no skills that I could use. My brain knew very well how these and other simple chores could be done, but the connections between my brain and my body were broken. My body could not do what my brain told it to do, so these tasks had to be re-learned from scratch. That went for walking, too.
There is a scene toward the beginning of the book Tuesdays with Morrie where Morrie is interviewed by Ted Koppel. Describing his illness he says, “Well, Ted, one day soon, someone’s gonna have to wipe my ass.” That moment had arrived for me, but I was determined that it would not linger.
So, the regimen started with a full complement of people working with me. Every evening the team would post the activities for the next day. The bulletin board would say that there would be physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT) and speech therapy (SC), but it didn’t say what we would do.
Theoretically physical therapy would teach me how to do things like walk and occupational therapy would teach me how to do things like brush my teeth. It turned out that there was a partnership between Janelle my occupational therapist and Sally my physical therapist in which they worked together to teach me to do most things.
Janelle and Sally weren’t the only people I saw. There were others too numerous to mention, and they were all wonderful people who wanted nothing more than to give me the best care imaginable. Among the nurses and their aides two who must be called out were two male nurses, Dave and Sky, characters that made evenings worthwhile fun!
The three weeks spent in the rehab are sort of a blur through which I learned many things. What the therapists were doing was giving me an idea of what was possible, what I could do. At the same time, they got a clinical idea of my potential and a way to evaluate me and give me a path forward.
There was one important addition – they understood my attitude. I approached the project of my stroke recovery as if it was life-or-death – the good life I had been living versus a life of semi-helplessness. That meant my answer was never “No,” but “Let’s try that,” or, “Let’s do a few more of them.”
I soon realized that I wasn’t going to walk out of there, but I was going to be in a position where I had a good launch platform to carry me to the next phase which was therapy at home. That meant that I could brush my teeth, dress myself, get transferred to a chair, and so on. I had some experience walking with a walker, and a good idea of what massage could do for my right arm.
I had learned to eat with my left hand, and I could even wipe my own ass – left-handed, of course. Most important I was happy because I had learned what was possible, what I could do and I felt that I would succeed.