In Training

I had a thought a couple of days ago about how I have felt about not being able to do things, over the several years since the stroke. When I next looked at WordPress, I saw that somebody had posted on a similar subject. As aspect of the post was about people needed to learn to laugh at themselves, I guess. Same subject, different context. So, it was a sign!

For me, it was not a process of learning to laugh, but learning to shrug, really. Things are what they are, and if I couldn’t (can’t) manage something, I had (have) two choices, to accept it, or to think of a workaround. In that respect, your brain really is key. So there have been wins, but there has been lots of frustration along the way.

There are lots of things I needed to relearn after the stroke. I guess the biggest individual thing was to get back onto my feet and master walking again – that started about a month post-stroke, tiny steps around my bed, and I have become stronger ever since. Even then, it took the best part of a year before I was good enough to walk any kind of distance.

My arm, though, still poses problems to this day. More specifically, my hand. It’s got a flicker but not really any more usable than the day I had the stroke. So, this workaround notion is ongoing.

Two-handed things are a struggle. It’s kinda weird, these are everyday tasks that just require two hands, that I never really used to even think about.

Buttering a piece of bread, for example. More specifically, how to accomplish it without (a) the spread running away from me, and (b) the piece of bread running away from me. Even now, my wife does not realise that the spread is jammed in between those two other things, making it imnmovable, for a reason.

Another example is my socks. If you don’t believe me, try it, one handed. I once posted on here about the arguments I used to have with my socks! Not a word of a lie!

However, I mastered these battles a long time ago, and I can think about them and chuckle. I can even share tips with other survivors – just last week, how to brush their teeth one-handed! (Clue – you squeeze the toothpaste directly into your mouth, instead of trying to squeeze it onto the brush, which is just gonna move.) I can’t stress enough how trivial these things are – they’re things we’ve done our whole lives and never thought twice.

So I can chuckle now, although it was bloody frustrating at the time. Some things, like my socks, I am trained. Other things, like my teeth, I thought of a workaround.

Some things are still out of reach. In particular, gardening. I used to allow my garden to run wild flourish each year, and maybe two weekends per year would involve lots of chopping, lots of cutting, and a couple of trips to the dump. So I have all the equipment – I even bought a trailer for the occasion!

No longer – most garden tools here are deliberately made two-handed, plus just lifting the things, with what was my weaker hand in any case, is beyond me. I even bought one of those new, lightweight, battery-operated hedge trimmers, figured out how I could rig it to work one-handed, but even a couple of pounds was too much. Okay, these things have double-switches for a reason, too, so I’m also kinda aware thet each of my workarounds is disabling a safety feature. I haven’t even tried working around the chainsaw (yet).

Staying on gardening, just before the stroke, I bought a new petrol mower with a turnkey ignition, and I can manage that – in fact, the turnkey makes all the difference. Although this, too, requires two-handed starting, I worked out how to trick that. Emptying the grass cuttings is also a knack that I mastered. Fortunately the mower is also self-propelled – otherwise I wouldn’t have a hope of pushing this 100 lbs machine across the lawn.

So there are ways I can contribute, things I have worked out how to do. But it has been frustrating, along the way. Even then, I note that the old me could mow both of our lawns in an hour, where now, it is one lawn per day, with breaks partway through.

But, there’s no point being frustrated here, especially with things like gardening. My strength is what it is, and speed isn’t important, so I have to just shrug my shoulders. And let my wife get on with it!

Checkout

I was up at the hospital again yesterday afternoon. Actually I had quite an easy time of it, because I went around with the Stroke Association co-ordinator, and she did most of the talking.

We approach things differently, but there again, she wants to inform patients about what services the charity offers when someone gets home, and I tend to have a more superficial conversation – how people are getting on, how they’re liking the food, sleeping at night and so on. I’ll try to have a laugh with them, because hospitals can be pretty unamusing places.

At the same time, it was quite sad, because we saw one woman – a youngster, in stroke terms. Only five or so years older than me. I know, what does that make me? I met her once, a few years before either of us had strokes, so I remember this confident, intelligent woman. Of course, she’s at a low ebb now and I can’t help but root for her. During this last month or so, we’ve also met her partner, and he seems a decent chap too.

This poor woman is unrecognisable, a shadow of her former self. When we spoke to her partner, he told us that she had also been quite uncooperative both in terms of therapy and even with things like eating.

I can kind of understand that. She’s an intelligent woman. Anybody with even half a brain, one can’t blame them for remembering what they were, looking at where they are now, and just giving up. There is, as the song goes, a time to be born, a time to die. A stroke crystallises that. Every death is premature, we always long for that one, last, additional conversation, but death itself is inevitable. The circumstances become important.

I’ve seen it in a few people, and I think somebody’s level of fight is a factor in their recovery, and once they give up, people do just fade away. And “fight” is something they need to have for themselves, nobody can really help. Fortunately, because I only ever see a snapshot every few weeks, there is a lot I don’t see. It’s better that way. I also think that progress is a factor in someone’s stay. The staff have two goals, first to usher you out of acute danger, and second to take you as far as they can. When a patient stops progressing, they’ve done all they can, and will shuffle them off to the next stage, whether that be home, or a care home, or whatever. And I know from my own experience that the most intensive therapy happened while I was in hospital, it pretty much dried up afterwards. I guess there is also a third factor – how badly the bed is required for the next person. Sad, but true.

I don’t know sometimes whether I’m lucky or not. In my working life I always had a view of the big picture, in fact that was mainly why people hired me, but we were often forced by circumstances to work tactically instead. Toward something in the right general direction, but not exactly where we wanted to be. So I’m able to put blinkers on, and just work towards the next goal.

I mean, that kind of attitude was invaluable with the stroke, where I went from fit and active one week, to literally having to be carried to the toilet the next. Big picture, fuck this for a game of soldiers, time to cash in my chips. Blinkers on, I got myself on my feet again. Then ten yards, then twenty. Whilst I don’t think I’ll ever be invited onto a catwalk, I get myself around.

But who could blame someone for not seeing things that way? Especially when they’re in hospital, when this is all so raw?

Nothing more than Feelings

I read another survivor’s post the other day, and they were talking about how they struggled to cope with their emotion. Emotion is something very intangible, but affects many (> 50%) survivors of all kinds of brain injuries, not just stroke.

I was not exempt from this, although I am pleased to say that sufficient time has passed, that I’m probably about the same as pre-stroke.

But I can remember one incident clearly, I must have been only a few months downstream. There’s no point trying to explain James Herriot, since his work must’ve been translated into most every language already – he will be on Wikipedia, if you’re really stuck. In the UK, it was also a TV series, and one afternoon I was watching one of the re-run episodes. One of the storylines was animal cruelty. Now, I was perfectly able to rationalise that a lot of Herriot’s work had only a passing resemblance to reality – he embellished quite a bit. Even moreso, I was perfectly able to rationalise that here before me was a troupe of actors (dog included) who were acting out a scene. Lastly, I am aware that the series was set in the 1930s, so even with the very slim probability that this story portrayed a real event, all parties would have long since shuffled off this mortal coil in any case. I could rationalise all of that. And yet I was in tears! That’s how your emotions are affected – you know something is nonsense, but it gets you anyway.

But that was probably more than three years ago, and these days I can generally be relied upon to keep that stiff upper lip, for which we British are so renowned.

Ironically, though, I do still feel some effect. I don’t know if this is due to the stroke, or just to getting older. The stroke probably aged me a lot, in terms of my outlook on life, so the distinctions are somewhat blurred.

It’s not when bad things happen, but good. If I see people behaving as they ought (according to my system of beliefs), then I can go giddy with excitement. Of course, we all have different systems, and I’m not going to let this post stray into my own values, but for all of us there will be things that tick that “good” box. Or a poignant song, maybe, which sparks some memory, perhaps of my own youth.

I really felt for this chap. But time has helped me. I’d never presume to be normal in any case, but…to get back to before.