Home, sweet home: Progress made in one year
Monday, June 02, 2014 3:10 AM
Let's take stock of what's happened in the past... and look ahead to where the future may take us. Yes, it's time for this annual spring rite, what with commencement ceremonies, the thoughtful speeches of graduates and celebration tables full of photos detailing their years to date.
I took this “selfie” on a neighborhood walk over the Highway 17 south bridge in Preston on May 14 with the pretty, sandstone river bluffs in the background. Looking back at this, I readily can see my left eyelid is now open much more.
This year, I've had a graduation of sorts. I believe it's time to look to the past . . . and to the future. Memorial Day weekend marked the first anniversary of returning home following my accident and stroke of September 2012.
I've made some incredible progress - or so I'm told. It's a great experience to run into (No, not literally, thank goodness . . . haha) my former physical therapists at the Mayo Clinic on occasion. You see, I lose sight of the big picture in the small, little noticed, day-to-day advances. But when they see me, hug me and say with huge smiles, "look how far you've come" - I know they see the overall big picture of my progress. And it feels good.
So let's go back to Memorial Day weekend in 2013. I faced being on my own for the first time in a long time. I awaited this taste of freedom with both a huge longing and, on the other hand, nearly overwhelming fear. I tried to keep quiet about the latter and project a happy, confident outlook. It would be the first time I'd be truly alone in a very long time.
After the accident I spent six weeks at the Mayo Clinic - St. Marys Hospital, first in an intensive care unit, then some weeks on the physical rehabilitation floor, 3 Mary Brigh.
On Oct. 23, 2012, I left the hospital to continue rehabilitation with care at Park Lane Assisted Living here in Preston for another seven months.
I think back to last year. Heck, I was scared to death. I mostly used a wheelchair, although I was able to walk with a cane short distances. Last summer, I then moved on to using a borrowed rollator walker for more steady support. I made short trips on the in-town trail and had a ready seat to rest on should I get tired.
In August I got my TerraTrike. Its recumbent style let me get out for exercise and a much-needed nature fix without worrying about balance issues, or my active, twitchy left foot coming off the pedal.
Fall brought cause for concern: the arrival of winter. I was back to being scared because, of course, I knew what was to come. And winter proved my fears. It was pure hell.
Many, many people dislike all the snow, the bouts with horrible ice, and the length of the season. I had even less reason to like it. Cold was - and remains - tough for me because it seems to further tighten already-tight muscles on my stroke-affected left side.
I anxiously awaited spring.
When it came, I decided to try walking greater distances with the cane. In fact, now I will try to walk without it, holding it in my right hand and only use it if I am tired or feeling off balance. Treks include Preston's in-town trail, my neighborhood and downtown. I've hauled light grocery loads home from Preston Foods in a small backpack, although I must note I've used and been thankful for the store's delivery service much of my first year home.
I still need to work more on walking on natural terrain. I do want to get back to hiking non-surfaced trails. However, my nemesis - my longtime, weak left ankle - needs little to roll and sprain. Uneven ground invites injury. Often I wonder how rehabilitation would be without the constant fear and continuous injuries to my ankle - and its much-needed stable, support structure for my messed-up left leg?
But to get back to the positive, I can stand up and put weight on my left leg without needing to grab something with my right hand to balance myself (with luck and my left ankle on good behavior) and step forward. This seemingly trivial (but in reality, huge) move was not possible even a couple months ago.
My left peripheral vision loss remains. Sometimes I think I see a shadowy left arm when looking straight ahead. But, when I play the "what can I see of the TV screen" my left peripheral vision surely doesn't pick up what the right does. Of course I can move my eyes left, or turn my head left to see what I need to. I think I'm making unconscious adaptations for that.
Things are mostly improving in my world after one year back at my home. But there are a couple exceptions. My left arm and hand are shaking and twitching more, which is aggravating. My neurologist said the stroke affected the thalamus in my brain. She showed me a CT scan where lesions from the stroke show up in the thalamus. This often causes Parkinson's-like involuntary muscle movements. I've started a medication she hopes will control it.
And finally, I've been diagnosed with another disease, apparently unrelated to anything else noted here. Yes, all that testing sometimes leads to new and unexpected findings. My team of Mayo doctors feels I have sarcoidosis. The most I can try to explain is it's a weird, inflammatory disease. It's not known what causes it, and it's diagnosed by ruling out other medical problems.
I had two symptoms of sarcoidosis show up. The annual CT scan of the two stents in my aorta also showed small nodules in my lungs. (Gulp - right?) Pleased that I've never been a smoker, the doctors are just monitoring everything for now.
The second symptom was a lump that formed at the outer corner of my left eyelid. Of course that's the eye that had an orbital blowout of its surrounding bones; plastic surgery to place mesh behind the eye to prevent it from sinking into my face; and scar reduction surgery on my left cheek, which was sliced wide open in the accident.
An ophthalmologist surgically cut into the lump on the lid in March to remove and biopsy tissue. It ended up being a granuloma. Yes, that's another sign of sarcoidosis. I've started a course of steroids to see if it helps with symptoms.
Sarcoidosis can even improve on its own. I met one woman who said her mother was diagnosed with it. When I asked what happened to her mother, she replied, nothing. But it was the impetus her mother needed to finally quit smoking.
So there... now you're up to date on my medical issues and what some tell me is an amazing accident/stroke recovery to date.
I thank you all for your kind and positive thoughts, prayers and actions. I feel truly blessed to personally know the caring side and good hearts of so many people.