Apr 27, 2013 10:13pm
About eight months ago, I had a loose plan to take a few months off work this year. Maybe I’ll write a book, I thought, or draw that comic I’ve been sketching out for years. Plus, maybe do a bit of foreign travel with Julia. After all, I’m not getting any younger; I need to finally DO all those things I think about in the back of my mind.
Of course, never in my wildest imaginings did I think that I would be learning to walk again this year instead.. or learning how to put on my pants.. or learning how to take a bath.. or learning to draw a crude stick man again.
It is remarkable when something comes along that changes your perspective on life in an instant. It doesn’t happen often; maybe when you finally find that special someone, or perhaps the birth of your own child. Those things make you feel the wonder and magic of it all. But what about the death of a loved one? Or a serious illness? Those things make you feel how flimsy and arbitrary it all is. How quickly it changes.
The trick in this life is being able to feel the joy of existence even when things go wrong, which requires that you find beauty in little things. This is not always easy.
Yesterday was the 4 month anniversary of my stroke, and I went out to dinner with Julia and her dad, Don, who has traveled from Seattle with Julia’s step-mum, Susan, to help me with my exercises for the past month. I keenly feel the incredible slowness of my physical progress but last night we celebrated instead the fact that there is any progress at all. 4 months ago I was crawling across the floor in a desperate attempt to reach the phone as my body and mind were being slowly stifled, and last night I was happily eating at an Indian restaurant with loved ones.
I spent 2 months in hospital and now I’ve spent two months out. My first month as a civilian, I was cooped up in my apartment, simply trying to get stronger. I didn’t have the energy to do anything more because I was as weak as a kitten. But I am stronger now, and for the past few weeks we have been trying to let a bit of normalcy back into our lives and see friends at last. I must admit that it still feels awkward to be out in public with a cane and my faltering walk and my palsied arm, but the rewards are definitely there. It has been wonderful to reconnect with friends after 3 months of isolation.
The longest friendship I have dates from when I was around six or seven years old, when I first met my pal Stephen Nano. We have been great mates ever since, though our paths don’t cross much these days as we live on separate continents. Last Autumn we had arranged to meet here in San Francisco as he was to be vacationing here with his family. I am happy to say that despite my stroke we kept the appointment. My mobility, while slow and clumsy, now allows me to falteringly enter a restaurant, and seeing a good friend from my childhood was more powerful in some ways than physical therapy.
There have been field trips lately too. Helping me with my daily walking regimen these days is Julia’s dad. Her step-mum has been helping her own parents, who live locally, and meanwhile Julia’s dad got the booby prize; he gets to help out old muggins with his walking. Perhaps the triumph of this was recently when we first went to Golden Gate Park and walked around Stowe Lake. Such was my blistering speed that what promised to be a thirty minute walk instead took an hour and three quarters. Not falling flat on my face over that period of time was a feat that required me to concentrate like a zen master. The sweat stood out on my brow and my legs became rubber, as meanwhile ducks, toddlers and old ladies gamboled past me without a care in the world. On one hand it was a disappointment to be so slow but it was a major breakthrough to be on my feet for so long.
On our other trips to the park we’ve also gone to the De Young museum (to see the Dutch Masters show) and the Japanese tea garden. Each of those trips had their own special challenges and rewards too.
And of course, we have gone out on many trips to my therapy classes: Occupational therapy focuses mainly on the hand and arm. The only pain I ever feel from my stroke is in my arm- either the shoulder joint or my wrist, which was damaged the night of my stroke. I also have a lot of work to do to build up my weakened shoulder muscles, as the dead weight of the inert arm threatens to stretch the shoulder ligaments. It aches me quite often.
The Speech therapist sometimes gives me electrical stimulation to revive a damaged nerve in the right side of my face, which causes some slurring in my speech. I had to shave off my beard so she can attach the electrodes (got a goatee now) and contrary to what I was told, sparks don’t shoot from my teeth.
Physical therapy focuses on my leg. I have been doing a lot of walking since my quad muscles fired up in mid February, but here we are over 2 months later and the rest of the leg is still asleep; the toes, the ankle the hamstrings and the calf. Here’s hoping this lazy, good-for-nothing leg can be woken-up by the techniques of the therapist…
We stroke patients often fall. They can be nasty falls too; when the weak side gives way the weak arm is not strong enough to break the impact, so maybe you hit the ground face first. I had my first fall as a stroke patient recently, while at home doing my exercises. It was inevitable that I would fall eventually during my rehab, and I’m glad that when I did, it was on carpet and that Julia was nearby to help me to my feet. All that was bruised this time was my ego. It was a lot better than my fall the day of my stroke; the bathroom is probably the worst room in the house to take a dive (apart from the kitchen). It is all hard surfaces and judging from the bruising, I must have hit each one of them as I took a swan dive down to the cold hard tiles of the bathroom floor.
Since the very beginning, when I was in hospital, Julia has been shooting videos of my rehab. They are personal videos, not for public consumption and I find them very unpleasant to watch, as sometimes the state I see myself in makes me feel despair. But as time wears on, I can see their value. The recently shot videos are as cringe-inducing as ever but the earlier ones show me how far I have come. My progress, incremental though it may be, cannot be denied.
I hope that when I get back to being close to 100% of my former self, that I will be grateful. Because that existence, though I did not think about it at the time, seems idyllic to me now. In fact, what I have in my mind’s eye as a motivational goal, is to get back to the most boring day imaginable from my previous life. To be able to walk on sand. To lie in a hot bath. A lazy meandering walk to nowhere in particular, maybe alone and without supervision. From my perspective now, that sounds lovely. In fact, even the shittiest day from my previous life seems so wonderful to me now.
But that is the far future (or the recent past). The real question is this; can I muster enthusiasm for this life right here and right now, whatever happens? Because that is the hard part.. and, when I think of all that I have, the answer is yes.
Yes I can.