Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Recovery from My Stroke

June 20, 2007

It has been a year today since my stroke - and what a year it has been!

I still have some effects from the stroke, but they are minor compared with what they said at first. The diagnosis was based on the severity and location of the stroke. They said that I wouldn't be able to talk, to walk, or to be able to take care of myself. I started proving them wrong when I came out of the coma and said "Hi sweetie" to my hubby. 4 days later I was assisted by the therapist to walk out of my room and back, with a walker.

From there, it was no stopping me. All my doctors and therapists have told me that I have done more than they ever thought I could. I think part of it is that I am a stubborn son-of-a-gun; part was that I have a wonderful support system from my great hubby, through my family and my cyber-friends, and lastly, because no one told me that I had limitations!

I’ve gone from hardly being able to type a sentence (and that alone took almost an hour), to typing with a “hand and a half". I have changed a lot – from a person who mostly thought of herself & what she wanted, to someone who looks beyond herself to family & friends. From a person who would rather not visit family, to someone who looks forward to seeing her kids, grandkids, and the rest of the family.

I think about the line from the movie Wall Street “Greed is Good" and re-write it to say “Life is Good". From my research into strokes and stroke survivors I am an exception to the rule – Most stroke survivors have many effects that can’t be “fixed". I’ve gotten away with limited use of my right hand, a right eye that doesn’t see properly, and some memory & complex comprehension problems. Not too bad after all.

To everyone who said a prayer for me, and sent good thought towards me, thank you! It is great knowing that so many people were (and are still) thinking about me.

February 27th 2007

February is one of "those" months for us. Between January 31st, and the end of February we have: nine birthdays, 3 anniversaries (one is Mike and mine), and of course Valentine’s Day. And I think we are missing some birthdays in there.

I knew something was up when we were at Safeway and he told Brandon and I to "go shopping". Then the phone calls between Mike & Shannon, and Mike and Karen. I kept wondering what they were planning. None of them are good at keeping secrets so I was sure I could figure it out. WRONG!

Mike almost gets me flowers for Valentine’s Day, but I tell him to get them the day after because they are much cheaper. About a week before, he was asking me what type of flowers everyone liked. What I didn’t expect was 3 dozen long stemmed red roses, delivered ON Valentine’s Day. They were beautiful, and lasted a long time.

Back to the surprise….

Brandon & Karen showed up, and we all drove to ??? - I had no idea, but since Mike didn’t print out directions, we got lost (who’d thought?). I knew there was a specific time we were supposed to be somewhere, but that was as far as I knew. Finally we take out Mike’s cell phone and have it tell us directions. We arrived at where we were supposed to, and I still didn’t have any idea. Turns out we went to a Mystery Dinner!

Other than to IHOP and the local corner restaurant (and with family), I had not eaten out since the stroke. I didn’t know if I would make a fool of myself. I am the person that eats her salad with her fingers (thankfully without dressing), and usually wears part of her meal. I didn’t make a fool of myself, but it was difficult to eat my salad with a fork. It was fun spending time together with Shannon, Jaye Cee, Brandon and Karen.

The diet….well….the food is "okay", nothing to write home about. Some of it doesn’t taste good to either fine of us. But we get to go to the website and change out what we want, so that is good, plus we can exchange the things we don’t like. I think that drinking all the water that we should is the hardest part for me.

BTW, Mike ended the month by losing 10 pounds and I am down 15 pounds!

January 2007

Happy New Year (a bit late, but the thought was there).

The month started out with a visit to my main rehab doctor. He was concerned that my shoulder was still causing my pain, and that was causing me to not want to exercise it. We upped the meds and he gave me a couple of shoulder exercises to do. While I was pretty much okay with the exercises, I wasn’t too thrilled to have to do them with weights.

But following doctors orders (and my stubbornness) is what got me this far, so I set up a place to do "yet more" exercises. Sometimes it seems like all I do all week is exercise, sometimes I like to go get my blood tested so I have a break.

Through all of this I looked to my hand being able to "get back to normal". I finally realized that may not be in the cards for me. I had to accept that this may be the best it can get for my hand at least). That was tough for me, to tell myself that it was okay to not be perfect.

Funny thing though, once I finally, truthfully accepted it, I started seeing minor changes in my hand. It was as though my hand was saying "Don’t count me out yet!" Where I had to use a pointing device to type, I now can type with five fingers (and a thumb). I can’t hit the 100wpm that I was able to do, I can type pretty well. I really BIG change – when I first came home I couldn’t remember where the keys were on the keyboard and had to type one letter at a time so I could see the keyboard.

Mike and I finally decided to really lose weight – since the stroke I have gained a bunch of weight and now it is really effecting my walking. We decided to go on NutriSystem, expensive, but I feel it is worth it. We start the diet in Jan 26th.

Till next time…

December 2006

I am really bad in keeping this (and you) up-to-date, but I am going to try to catch up. I seem to not only telling you about my recovery so much, but telling about how my life is going. I guess it tells how much I have grown is the last 6 months, and how much I value life and family and friends.

Christmas, or more to the point, shopping for Christmas. Imagine going shopping when you aren’t able to carry packages, can’t pull one of those "little old lady" shopping carts, and your backpack doesn’t hold much. Add on trying to figure out how to get there on the bus, and you get a rough idea of I was facing.

Celebrating Christmas is a big thing for me, not only the reason for Christmas but the opportunity to tell your loved ones how much the mean to you. Especially getting special/appreciate stocking stuffers for everyone. We do a name drawing for the main gifts, but I still get to do the stockings. So, I got my son to come over and help me do the shopping (but he doesn’t drive), so off on the bus we went.

You got to love the site of us, an over-weight 5 ft 11 inch Mom walking with a cane, along side her is her 6 ft 3 inch son that is also over-weigh, and wearing a brown trench coat looking like he would flatten anyone who bothered his mom.

Because I get tired quickly, we had to do a couple of trips to the mall. But we like spending time together, and have the same sense of humor. In walking through the mall, I would tell him what I was looking for, or who I wanted to get stocking stuffers for, and he would help me find it. Or we would spot something that would be "perfect" for … at the same time and would try to tell the other about it

Then there were the two trips to the $1 store – we both go nuts in that place. In fact I needed a few last minute things at the $1 store, so Mike, my son and I hit the $1 store a couple of weeks before Christmas. I knew exactly what I wanted and planned to go quickly in and out of the store with the 4 things I needed. We went in, and Mike went nuts, grabbing things from the shelves and putting them in the cart, spotting things that one of the kids would like, etc. My little $5 trek to the $1 store was over $100!

We had our Christmas the Saturday before Christmas because it was the only time we could all be together. The tree was buried with presents, Shannon was taking a video of the day, and we were all having a blast! Then, while Mike played Santa, the Stockings were given out. This surprised everyone because they thought I wouldn’t do stockings this year. I couldn’t break tradition just because of a stroke.

Speaking of tradition, every year for Christmas I make my version of Cinna-buns. While I couldn’t do the actual making of the buns, I could teach David to make the buns under my watchful eyes. He sifted, he stirred, he kneaded the dough, and he looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy covered with flour, cinnamon and eggs.

Back to the presents . . . Mike’s people at work gave him a $150 dollar gift certificate for Safeway, and he got a $25 gift certificate for each of the kids – so we sort of broke the "buy one gift" rule. In fact we REALLY broke it when he started handing out the "Big gifts". I decided to clean out the BIG gift box, and decide who each gift fit.

And watching Kris with his presents was great, but was also overwhelming for him. Note to self, buy only one gift for Kris next year.

In my opinion, I got the best gifts. Shannon got me special scissors I can use to be able to do my scrapbooking, which I really wanted. Then Mike gave me the best gift, he found a Guillotine paper cutter that has a guard between the blade and the cutting surface. Between the scissors that Shannon gave me, and the cutter that Mike gave me, I could scrapbook again.

Christmas Eve was spent with my family. Everyone was happily surprised at how well I was, and how much I could do. I did miss the "sit on the front stairs having a cigarette" with "the girls", but I like being a non-smoker now. As usual, the food was wonderful – Mom made Prime Rib and a ham for dinner. In fact, she had so much left over, that she gave us enough that we had it for lunch and dinner for 2 days!

David and I made "goodie trays" for everyone. I just wanted to make sure my family knew how much they meant to me. I didn’t expect the amount of excitement those goodie trays brought! I got hugs & kisses (some with teary eyes) from everyone. I know my family likes and appreciates hand-made gifts, but I really didn’t expect this.

For the rest of the holidays (including New Years) Mike and I just relaxed and spent quiet time together.

November 2006

A lot was happening with my health in November. I had a couple of occasions when the right side if my body went totally numb for a couple of minutes. Luckily Mike was there to support me (literally). I had to go see a neurosurgeon to be evaluated, and with what we were telling him, he said it was probably seizures and that was common in stroke patents. He put me on (yet another) medication – we will see if it works.

This new ‘development" has me a little worried about our upcoming trip, but you know me – I won't let a little thing like this keep me down.

For Thanks giving we drove up to Washington to see my Step-daughter and her family. We have promised to visit them for the last 3 years for Thanksgiving. Since finding I can deal with long drives after the trip to Arizona we decided that this year we would make the promise good.

We left on Monday night and drove to Corning, CA. There is a great hotel there that has Jacuzzis in the room that we like to stay at. They also have a casino next door, but we were stopping there because it was on the way to Washington. I had a nice relaxing soak in the Jacuzzi, and then went to bed. After breakfast we hit the road.

The weather was overcast and was threatening to rain, but we started off on our trip. The sun peaked out from the clouds on and off, but the threat of rain was still there. We knew that we were heading into "rain country" (also known as Oregon and Washington) and that the sunshine wouldn't last long. We weren't far into Oregon when the rain hit.

BTW, do you know that at the gas stations in Oregon, the have attendants who pump your gas and actually clean your windshields? It was like a trip back in time to see that. We are so use to pumping our own gas that we didn't know what to do. Sitting there in the car watch people doing the gas and windshield just felt very strange.

We were going to stop at Mike's brother's house to visit and perhaps stay the night. But it was raining pretty badly, so we decided to go as far as Portland and then have some dinner and get some sleep. The place we stayed at was Beautiful – right o the river with a nice view. The best part of this place is that they had feather beds. We had never slept in a feather bed so we didn't know what to expect! When we lay down on the bed, it as like the bed reached around and hugged you. Very nice and snuggly. The hotel sells feather bed set for around $1100.00 dollars. Let me tell you, it was worth the price, we were tempted to buy one!

When the wake up call came, neither one of us wanted to leave the bed, but we had promised the kids that we would arrive around 3:00 so we hid the road. The weather kept being cold and wet and the drivers knew only one speed – S L O W. These folks should be used to driving in the rain! Anyway, we made a brief stop in Gig Harbor to drop off some CDs to Scrappin Path (which they sell for me). Then we were back of the road to Lynnwood, WA.

We took the kids out for dinner and we all had a great time. Then we talked a while at their house till the "sleepies" caught up with me.

We were staying at a Comfort Inn about 5 minutes from the kid's house. The place was very nice; we had a two room "suite". They provide a wonderful all-you-can-eat breakfast for free. This isn't a "continental Breakfast", this is a full brown breakfast – all types f bread and muffins, Yogurt, Hash browns, pancakes, waffles, French toast, eggs cooked just the way you want them (or an omelet), and much more. We ate "light" because we knew we would have a wonderful Turkey Day dinner later.

We played Dominos until dinner was ready. And what a great dinner it was. The turkey was so tender it fell off the bone, but it wasn't dried out or anything like that. We all ate until we were over full, but happy. Then we watched the Turkey Day Parade that was recorded earlier in the day.

Friday we went down to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks to see what they were about, and to see the salmon runs (which I really wanted to see). It was interesting to learn why they made the locks, and how it was done. We got to see the locks in use because a lot of boats were going to and from Puget Sound and Lake Washington

Later we played Dominos again, it is a fun game to play because you can chat while playing and not detract from the game (at least the way we play it!). Mike B. BBQ'ed chicken, ribs and streak for dinner. He REALLY wanted to BBQ, even in the VERY cold night air. I like to BBQ in the winter too (even in the rain), but when it is 20 something out, it isn't worth it to me!

We said our goodbyes and left for our hotel rather late. It was hard to leave but we knew we had a two day ahead of us, and we didn't want to get caught in the storm that was heading for Washington. We drove down to Portland and then headed out to the coast. It was raining but mostly on and off for the whole day.

Late Saturday night we decided to stop in Crescent City. We found a nice hotel (witch a HUGE in room Jacuzzi). We were up and going pretty early Sunday morning. The trip was lovely (if you looked past the rain, the wet and the cold). Finally about Santa Rosa the rain stopped and we were able to enjoy the rest of the trip.

To sum up the trip – NEXT time, we do this in the summer so we can see some of the sights along the way, and visit my Brother-in-law (and his wife) along with my Father's cousins.

Well, this was gotten pretty long, so I will continue the story in a few days

November 16

Even though I am able to do a lot of things again since the stroke, a lot of things have changed. I find that I find wonder at the little things; the bird that is trying to get the worm out of the ground right outside the patio doors, the squirrel that was sitting in the bird feeder looking for food, the way the leaves are moving in the breeze. I see a "Life" album coming out of this, full of phonographs and poems in my future.

Lately, my right hand has wanted me to use - strangely it wants to be used when I am on the computer when I am writing emails, or working on my graphics. On one hand it is great that my right hand wants to work, but it sure takes me longer to write emails. As for my graphic work, I get frustrated sometimes because my right wants to do the mousing and it just isn't ready to do the fine work that is required yet.

As I am writing this I am realizing how much I have learned to use my left hand on the computer. If you told me 4 months ago that I would be able to do my graphic design work with my left hand I would I said you were crazy. Now I am able to design and edit graphics with my left hand almost as well as I could with my right hand before the stroke.

I continue to be amazed and fascinated by the human brain, and its abilities. The doctors told Mike (my wonderful husband) that given the location of my stroke and its severity, I would be wheelchair bound, unable to talk well, and basically unable to take care of myself. No one ever told me (she said grinning), I have done more than anyone thought I could. And I WILL get full use of my right hand and shoulder, which is the focus of my exercises right now.

With Thanksgiving approaching, we are getting ready to take a driving trip from CA to the state of Washington to visit my step-daughter and her family. I expect the trip to be a bit tiring, but the scenery will be wonderful. I love going on driving trips because you get to see so much of the world between point A and point B.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

October 25

I've been so busy with my therapy appointments, setting up our vacation plans, and getting my business back up and running, that I have been neglecting my weekly updates. I have a lot to tell you; hopefully I can remember everything . . .

I have been trying to re-teach my right hand to do more since my hand started to able to do more things. Part of my problem had been an almost constant pain in my shoulder and upper arm, when I used my arm. I finally got my doctor to give my shoulder an x-ray and give me something to help the pain. At this point, the pain in my upper arm has gone away, and the shoulder pain has lessened. I now can do such things like wash my hair with both hands, fold the sheets, fold blankets, and more.

I've been using my left hand to sign everything since the stroke. Last weekend, I discovered that I can use my right to write again! Now, it isn't the most legible writing, but I am writing – in script even!

And one of the most exciting things, I now can type with a "hand and a half". I'm not fast but I am able to type and getting better every day. I am also starting to do my graphic work again, it is a slow process because I don't have the dexterity to make all the small detailed movements but I am getting there.

I can also cut my own food, as long as it is not "hard food". That means that I can cut things like pancakes, waffles, sandwiches, etc. So nice not having to ask Mike to cut my food when we go out for breakfast.

We made a driving vacation trip from October 6th to 15th. First we drove from home (Union City, CA) to Arizona, for a family reunion. Everyone was happily shocked when I got out of the van and walked unaided (no cane or anything) into the park. We spent 4 days in Arizona, driving to and from our hotel in Laughlin, NV every day. Naturally we stayed at a casino (What? You expected me to give up video poker just because of a stroke? Not a chance!) and drove into Kingman, AZ each day.

Then we drove to Escondido, CA to visit my brother-in-law & his wife for a couple of days. We played Pinochle and just spent some time talking and relaxing. Then we drove to an Indian Casino to see a show and spend some quiet time together out of the car. We wound up missing the show because we got talking at dinner and lost track of time. Text day we had breakfast, pool side in the nice relaxing breeze.

Next on out trip was a drive along the coast, up to Solvang, CA. It was a stopover point that we planned on the trip to visit a casino and relax again. Turned out it was a good stopping point for the night, because Mike had lost his regular glasses when we made a coffee stop earlier in the day. Our "gambling fund" was lasting better than we expected, so we played a bit of video poker at the casino and went to bed. The next morning we continued out trip towards home. About this time, we found out that the landlady was replacing the pipes in our place over the weekend. So we decided to stop home, do some laundry, and go to Coring, CA where we knew there was a very nice hotel that had a whirlpool bath where you could relax and watch TV or a movie.

After we arrived, we played a little video poker (did I mention that this hotel was next to an Indian Casino?), then I took a nice Whirlpool bath (Wonderful, and great for my shoulder, arm and hand.). The next day we played some table games and some video poker then went to our room to rest. While Mike did some work on his laptop, I took a long nap. Next day, we had breakfast and came home.

This was the first time Mike and I have taken a "real" vacation since we have been together! We are already planning the next one, which will probably be driving to Washington to see out kids. Now that we have found that I don't have any problems on long drives (as long as we stop every hour and a half for walking breaks), we can make more trips. And now that we have found that I can still play video poker (I didn't know if I still had the ability to remember the correct cards), and if the budget allows, we can take trips to Reno. One of my goals is to be able to play in the next Video Poker tournament at Harrah’s – the next one is in mid-December, so I have a month to get my hand working well.

September 12

Little things mean a lot - and goes for re-training your arm, hand and fingers. This past weekend I learned to hold and use a spoon again with my right hand. Up to now, I have been eating left handed (which I was doing pretty well at), but now I can feel like a partial right handed person again.

I was walking around the house without a cane for the last month or so, but was using the cane whenever I went outside. I am walking well now that I can walk in the yard and out front without the cane. I will still use the cane when I go "out" for security and support when I get tired.

September 1

From the comments I get from all my therapists and doctors, I am still doing stuff faster than most people. At this point, I am doing a lot of the household chores (laundry, dishwasher the dishes. etc), but I can't sweep the floor or vacuum the carpet because I don't have the strength in my right hand yet.

My speech therapist is impressed with me and how well I am doing. I have some difficulty with things like naming things within a said classification (example: name five things that are hard and slippery), sometimes I have to think for a little while to get enough answers. But for the most part, the therapist has to get my "homework" out of the "advanced" book.

I am able to get back to working my company on a limited basis. If you would like to see what I am doing, just go to my Bit of Memories site, ( which is my business

August 10

Started speech therapy on Friday - I speak pretty well, but have trouble remembering some things, so this is going to focus on that. For instance, I use the microwave many times a day to heat my coffee and almost every time, I have to stop and remember to press "cook, 45 seconds, and start". On other things I remember them without any problem - like how to do laundry, or make a bed or how to organize.

My hand is doing a little more every day, but it is being stubborn and not wanting to learn to use the thumb and pointer finger other than to do very light grasping. But I work on it every day and make have the hand do things like pulling on my socks and such. It takes longer to have my "bad" hand to the work, but it helping to re-teach both my hand and my brain to re-wire itself.

August 5

I am slowly getting more use of my thumb and pointer finger. At this point, I can touch my thumb and pointer together, make the thumb move independently, and am able to make a fist. Now we are working on getting the fingers to start moving sideways.

July 28

I am slowly getting better. A couple of days ago, I was able to start moving my thumbs to actually press a mouse button. Doesn’t sound like much, but it is a step in the right direction. I will try to do an update on a weekly basis too keep all my visitors updated.

July 21

This week I started doing some things around the house like doing a load of laundry (can't fold yet though), and filling the dishwasher. It is the little things that give me the encouragement sometimes,

July 14

Three weeks ago, life decided to give me a challenge, on June 19th I had a stroke. I was in Kaiser for a week, and then went to Kaiser's special stroke faculty for two weeks. I got home a week ago, and have a lot of work ahead of me to learn everything that once came naturally to me - like computers and graphics.

I am slowly re-learning to type and do email - but it will be some time before I am able to do much at the computer.

See you later,