Friday, September 30, 2011

One Stroky’s Journey: Bionic Woman

I have been feeling like the bionic woman in outpatient therapy ever since Ashley, my physical therapist, started putting the Ness L300 on me.

Specifically, the Ness L300 applies mild electrical shocks to stimulate and hopefully “reeducate” the nerves and muscles that make the ankle lift my foot up so that I can step out instead of dragging my foot and rolling my ankle, something that destroys my balance.

Last week Ashley  presented an offer I couldn’t refuse: to be one of the “guinea pigs” for an inservice training session on the Ness L300 foot drop system that I was already familiar with and the new Ness L300 Plus system for the upper leg.

Bioness, Inc. developed both medical devices for use with patients with neurological injury or disease that affects their ability to walk.

With the L300 I can walk faster, with better balance and with a gait that is not so floppy looking.

Bioness representatives presented yesterday’s inservice session for the therapists at the neuro rehab center where I go for therapy. As a guinea pig I had the opportunity to try the L300 Plus. A streamlined, lighter-weight cuff for the thigh adds stimulation and reeducation for knee action.

Turning me into a bionic woman
My therapist and a Bioness rep put the familiar cuff of the L300 just below my knee, then struggled with arranging the L300 Plus high on my thigh. I haven’t worn a dress or skirt since my stroke, but I definitely needed one in this instance. Once it was in place, Ashley walked me down the hall as the assembled rehab staff observed.

Therapist Ashley takes me for a maiden voyage with the L300 Plus.
Ackk!!! It felt like a jumble of conflicting signals going off in my leg. I felt out of control and with my hard-won balance in danger of disintegrating.

Ashley, left, a Bioness rep, and rehab assistant Brittany keep me safe for a speedier walk.
The therapists and reps huddled. Their verdict was actually good news. They decided that I have regained enough of my knee function that the newest device is not for me!

Woohoo! Another milestone!

*The photos above are thanks to husband Walter.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One Stroky’s Journey: Occupational Therapy Wisdom

Therapist Amy Polite hooks me up to a device with electrodes to help “reeducate” brain cells, nerves and muscles.

Life is not a straight line or a one-sided transfer.
--Amy Polite, Occupational Therapist

Last week my occupational therapist shared the above succinct sample of her take on life. The “transfer” reference is pure therapist speak. Pre-stroke, I was unfamiliar with the term’s use to refer to the movement of an individual from one surface to another, as from bed to wheelchair or from wheelchair to shower chair or bench.

Mastering safe transfers became a major goal in my days of in-patient rehab. And I had a definite preference for arrangements of furniture and bathroom facilities that allowed me to step out with my strong right side.

Life, and bathroom facilities, truly don’t always match our strengths perfectly. Ashley, my occupational therapist in the Singing River Comprehensive Rehab Center, wanted me to achieve SBA status in transferring to the potty before I was discharged from rehab.

SBA is “standby assist.” Someone is close enough to help if the patient runs into trouble, but the person standing by doesn’t automatically give physical assistance. I was pretty confident as long as it was a transfer starting with my right side.

The left side was scarier and I tried several strategies. My most successful attempts involved a number of little steps to achieve the desired position. Then it required all my concentration to distribute my weight equally between both feet, stick my behind out and do a controlled sit. A plop, no matter what the surface, did not count as that elusive accomplishment, the controlled sit.

I did receive my “SBA degree” before I went home, and Ashley’s insistence that I experience both right and left transfers paid off. Our home’s bathroom arrangement was and is not set up for that stronger right side. I have to confess I still do the multiple little steps until I am in the position to safely sit. I am more confident now, however, even if I do remind myself of a puppy that turns around and around before settling into its bed.

I have been experiencing a lot of life’s curves, zigzags and awkward transfers since my stroke on April 22, 2011. I have to admit that the potential fear factor is far surpassed by two things. One is the exhilaration of successfully navigating the unexpected and the difficult. The other is the astounding kindness and caring lavished by loved ones, acquaintances and strangers.

My weather report is definitely showers . . . showers of blessings!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

One Stroky’s Journey: More Good Medicine

Husband Walter and I just left McElroy’s, a favorite breakfast spot in our hometown. I always enjoy our occasional morning jaunts to the homey restaurant that looks out on a beautiful scene of bayou and marsh framed by live oaks that have survived and thrived post-Katrina.

But what made breakfast phenomenal this time was the company. Our son Walt, wife Sarah and their offspring, the Fab Four. Yes, I am prejudiced. It’s my job as a grandparent to bask in my grandkids’ fabulousness!

Tropical Storm Lee had cancelled a Labor Day weekend visit, and it had been awhile since we had had our fix of our Georgia grands.

Granddaughter Charlie
The girls’ were on either side of me, and I helped Charlie with the traditional pre-meal coloring while absorbing information about her adventures as a kindergarten student.

Stella revels in a juicy orange smile.
Stella was busy draining every bit of enjoyment out of the orange slices that garnished her meal. Eating them was first on her agenda followed by creative orange dental work. No photos of the two boys this time--yet. But I intend to try again. We will see them one or two more times before they head back to Georgia.

Right now the whole tribe is on the way to Hattiesburg, MS, where they will visit my mother in the hospital there. Like me, she has been pining to see them. They are successfully administering multiple doses of good medicine this trip—to grandparents and to greatgrandmothers.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Taking a Break

My posts and commenting will be few to nonexistent for the next little while. My mother is experiencing acute health problems right now.  I have been on the phone to doctors and nurses yesterday as my brother and I have gathered information for her  to have clarity about her decision of whether to go on dialysis or not. She has decided "yes."

A dear niece, Carolyn, is on the way to the hospital with her now. A drop in blood pressure this morning has bumped the dialysis preparations up to today. Instead of outpatient procedures tomorrow, the plan now is to deal with the blood pressure, then the dialysis prep and initial dialysis session in the hospital.

Since my stroke, I have been getting a thorough dose of the feelings my brother and sister-in-law in Virginia have experienced when they could not always be with our mother during challenging times.

I am especially thankful for my cousin Carolyn, for the fact that there is no distance in prayer, for God's never failing love and care,  and for dear friends and relatives who are praying.

Monday, September 19, 2011

One Stroky’s Journey: Learning to Walk

Grandson Walker on the run
Blogger Arkansas Patti chronicled evidence of her creeping loss of balance in her Circle of Life post today at The New Sixty. She termed it a result of entering the "senior toddler" phase of life.

My toddler-style-learning-to balance-gait didn't creep up on me; it blew in on the storm of my April 22 stroke. At month 2 or 3 my son noted that his toddler son walked like Nana. We were both learning to walk. 
Walker now surpasses Nana in balancing.

At  month five of my recovery, Grandson Walker has far surpassed his Nana in balancing skills. I am still, like Walker, exhilarated by every small success toward becoming more mobile and independent!

Thanks to daughter-in-law Katie for photos I borrowed from her blog, The Daily Skup.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rain lilies—Mystery Solved

Zephyranthes candida; photo by J.M.Garg

In the past year I have been amazed at the sudden appearance of a swath of delicate white flowers that occasionally appear on a grassy slope between the parking lots of two sets of businesses fronting U.S. 90 in our town.

They pop up overnight, usually after a rain; and they last for several days. They disappear as suddenly as they come. They nod gracefully in the breeze, making me think they are magical fairy flowers.

Their identity puzzled me, but I had not been formally introduced until Friday, Sept. 16. Bill Finch, executive director of the Mobile (Ala.) Botanical Gardens and garden writer for the Mobile Press-Register, featured the mysterious flowers in his weekly column under the headline “Daffodils of the Tropics.” His column is here.

He noted they bloom in a variety of colors and the species and cultivars are numerous. The white species is Zephyranthes candida. Finch said they spread from origins in the Americas to other continents. In fact the photo I borrowed of the white version was taken in India. 
More rain lilies, photographed by Bill Finch and published in the Mobile Press-Register

Finch had recent encounters with Zephyranthes citrina, the orange-gold species, in a grassy traffic median and others around a vacant house. He spotted white rain lilies in an old cemetery. The white species came from Argentina. An attractive characteristic of rain lilies is they flourish in the face of neglect. I am good at unintentionally neglecting my outdoor spaces.

Maybe I should order some bulbs!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One Stroky’s Journey: A Rehab Happy Dance

Granddaughter Molly Kate’s happy dance in Tuesday’s post here isn’t the first happy dance that captured my attention and enthusiasm.

Paulette, one of the techs who contributed to my rehab shortly after my April 22, 2011, stroke, performed her own little happy dance that set me on a course for working through a stroke-related challenge.
Paulette, one of my rehab angels

Our acquaintance began, however, on a less happy note. She was helping me with a morning shower. At that stage “helping” meant a lot of bracing and moving me around. I had no sensory input on my left side and had no idea my left foot was effectively plugging the drain. Paulette didn’t notice the impending flood for good reason. 

Safety, especially prevention of falls, was a paramount concern in the rehab center, and Paulette had her hands full with a soapy, slippery female whose muscles were not yet receiving signals from brain cells. I imagine it was like trying to give a shower to giant spaghetti noodles.

The entire room flooded, and Paulette spent a lot of time mopping up. She didn’t hold the shower fiasco against me, and during my days in rehab she teased and kept life-affirming banter going.

Later in my rehab I had progressed to being able to stand and put weight on both feet. It was a freeing accomplishment. Techs or nurses still had their hands on me while I transferred from one surface to the other, but I was mostly supporting my own weight.

I had hit a snag that disturbed me, though. I felt like I was going backwards, at least in the mornings. Before I stood up, I would rehearse in my mind exactly what my therapists had taught me. I was having to relearn the multitude of minor adjustments that my body did automatically to maintain balance pre-stroke. If it was after lunch I would do okay, but before lunch I was just as likely to collapse with no warning that I could discern.

Then early one morning Paulette had helped me transfer to the potty. She was waiting in my room just outside the open bathroom door where she could keep an eye on me. I could see her, too, and she was doing a little jig.

“Paulette” I asked. “What are you doing?”

“I’m just getting everything to work together!” she sang out.

Of course, that was my answer! I just needed to do a happy dance to get everything working together.

The results of my revelation weren’t immediate. How does a stroke-impaired individual do a happy dance? I could barely control the necessary body parts on the left side. The answers were simple, but discerning even simple solutions were a bit beyond me at the time. I wasn’t shy about asking for help, though.

Someone suggested sitting on the side of my bed and “dangling, moving my feet around before standing. Nurses and aides intent on helping me stay safe sometimes didn’t give me time to do that before they hauled me up.

“Well, ask them to let you dangle for awhile,” Ashley, my occupational therapist advised. Well, duh. So simple; just ask. It worked. I also started talking myself through the steps I had been taught for every movement. Soon, if a new tech started to help me, the tech familiar with my habit of talking to myself would clue the colleague in: “Let her do it herself. She likes to talk herself through it.” They even started reminding me to talk myself through whatever I was attempting when I started without my verbal reminders to myself.

Later I learned that part of my problem was my left foot would drop and my ankle would roll and I would lose the little bit of control I had achieved. I had to always check that my foot was down properly before putting weight on it. Eventually my therapists started me wearing a brace to keep that foot up and stabilize my ankle. Even with the brace, however, I still have to do a happy dance “to get everything to work together” whenever I have been lying down or sitting for more than just a few minutes. And every time, I think of Paulette.

Thank you, Paulette!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happy Dance

Reports on first day of preschool for our two three-year-old granddaughters indicate that happy excitement was the order of the day for Stella in Georgia and Molly Kate in Louisiana. Molly Kate was so happy she did her happy dance. Mom Katie included the happy dance photos below in her blog post here about MK’s first day.
Happy dance

Excited about pre-school

Her post reminded me about another happy dance that helped me take a step in my stroke recovery. Will share that later. I just now ran out of steam. Good night and sweet dreams!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Cup of Tea on 9/11/2011

A cup of comfort?

Can a cup of tea bring a measure of comfort, even if temporary, during the culmination of a week of looking back at the horrific results of malevolent intent and acts? Yes, in the right company and if one ignores TV.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

One Stroky’s Journey: Lady-in-Waiting

Spending some time waiting is a fairly common occurrence for me since my April 22 stroke has limited my mobility. I’m not walking without someone with me; I’m still officially at risk for falls. So waiting is usually a factor when I go with husband Walter on trips to Wal-Mart, our most frequent shopping place.

If hubby is just running in to pick up an item or two, I do my waiting in our van where I keep a stash of paperbacks under the front seat. If it is a more extensive trip to that temple of Chinese dry goods and foreign produce, we snag a Wal-Mart wheelchair, set a time and place to meet, and head in different directions. Our meeting place is usually the book and magazine section where I can sample the latest offerings from some of my favorite authors.

Yesterday, however, Walter materialized by the books . . . well he hadn’t actually been beamed in from the grocery section. I had just become so engrossed in my “sampling” that it seemed that way to me.

He said he needed to pick up something else before checking out, so my assignment was to meet him at the exit. Finding exactly what he was looking for took longer than expected, a lot longer. He shopped. I indulged in people-watching.

If your options for moving around at will are somewhat limited, Wal-Mart can be a great source of inexpensive entertainment. Of course, there are hazards. I endured a thankfully brief parade of exiting customers whose attire, or lack thereof revealed more than I wanted to see.

Their garments must have been that brand that has caught on dramatically in recent years. You know, the “What Are They Thinking to Wear that in Public” brand. But then the young families started appearing.

With Tropical Storm Lee still threatening heavy rain, Wal-Mart must have been a Labor Day destination for family outings with Mom, Dad, and little ones. The children were about seven and younger. They ranged from one toddler miss groomed to perfection to a tribe of four including two who looked like they may have just been rolled out of bed in the middle of a nap.

Regardless of how they were dressed, they were all happy, eyes alight with excitement. They were totally appealing. They reminded me of my grandchildren, all energy and totally in the moment.

And that brings me to another kind of waiting that is a result of my stroke. There has not been the freedom to make the occasional trips to see grands and their parents that we enjoyed pre-stroke. The wait is eased by visits they make to our home. Plus our sons and daughters-in-law keep us up-to-date and entertained via phone calls. Photos and a blog, The Daily Skup, also give us a view of grandkids in action.

Thank you Walt, Sarah, Jeremy and Katie for making the waiting merrier until my next grandkid “fix.”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fall Has Changed

Fall to me used to be synonymous with the start of school. School always started the day after Labor Day. As an elementary student and beyond, I tolerated January 1 as New Year’s Day, but the day after Labor Day was my real New Year, a fresh new start in my job—school.  

Labor Day, however, no longer marks the final day of summertime freedom and a new school year here. Start dates for school have been pushed back the past two decades, and the first day of school for kids here this year was August 4. A hot September I could still equate with fall, although there are not the colorful leaves and crisp temperatures that were evident in our readers. But dusty, hot, humid August? Even the early mornings are more likely than not to feel like a hot, wet blanket.

I remember my morning walks to school in September heat as bearable at the start. The mornings became cooler as the month progressed.  I wouldn’t even call the classrooms in those pre-air conditioning days bearable. Teachers brought in fans to bring relief but even so we were a sticky, uncomfortable lot, usually until October.

Surviving the classroom temperatures seemed questionable even in summer short-sleeved or sleeveless apparel. Eventually the September mornings would grow uncomfortably cool for me, while the after-lunch hours continued to broil all of us innocent scholars.

The cool mornings would tempt me to wear my new long-sleeved school clothes, but I remember by afternoon, even a moderate amount of additional fabric was agony. Light sweaters or jackets over my dresses or blouses offered comfort in the early morning walk to school.

But having them draped over the back of my desk in the classroom or, heaven forbid, wadded up and stuffed into the book space under the seat of my desk, seemed to make me hotter. If they were anywhere in my vicinity, I felt like they were collecting and radiating additional heat in the already hot classroom. Dressing for school in September became a balancing act that I never totally mastered.

Classrooms are now air conditioned. They have to be in our coastal Mississippi climate with August temperatures in the mid to high 90s, and high humidity pushing the heat index to 105 degrees and higher. Air-conditioned classrooms, however, come with their own challenges. I have encountered some students and teachers who bundle up to cope with the cool indoor temperatures.

Five of our six grandchildren have started their school year, four in elementary school and two in pre-school. From parental reports they seem to be happy and enthusiastic. I am glad that they apparently haven’t inherited their Nana’s childhood angst over such minor things as September temperatures.