I don't have a story of experiencing any symptoms leading up to my stroke besides some minor neck pain. There was no slurred speech, weakness on one side of my body, blurred vision, confusion or any of the other classic signs that often precede a stroke. Instead, I woke up in a hospital, very confused. The last thing I remember was being at home watching TV. Now I was in an ICU room in some hospital, with no idea what had happened or how I got there. I was on a breathing machine. Doctors and nurses were asking me questions and, for some reason, I could not hear them. This was the aftermath of my stroke. I was 45 years old when the stroke happened. While I cannot claim that my health prior to the stroke was very good, I had never had any signs of an oncoming stroke.
The most troublesome result of my stroke was the loss of 75-80% of my hearing. This was why, initially, the doctors thought I had some cognitive brain problems because I was not answering their questions. They didn't realize I could not hear the questions. Soon, the doctors, nurses, my visitors and I were writing down all questions and we were finally able to communicate.
Initially, I lost movement in my left ankle, foot and toes. I also had difficulty with some of the common cognitive tests given to stroke patients. Questions like the date, where I was at or how long I had been in the hospital proved very difficult to answer, Doctors would give me a series of words to remember and then ask me to repeat them 5 minutes later. I rarely got this test correct. Word puzzles and sudoku games proved impossible to complete.
The most difficult thing, post-stroke, was the physical therapy. The physical therapy exercises are crucial if a patient is going to recover, as close as possible, to a pre-stroke state. If a patient does nothing, the physical effects from the stroke can become permanent, While I knew these facts, it was still difficult to muster the strength and desire to perform the physical therapy exercises several times a day. Physical therapy consists of many different exercises, some physical while others are cognitive.
I didn't do much physical therapy until I left the ICU. Then the work began. Several times a day, the physical therapy (PT) nurse would come. By nature I am an agreeable and accommodating person, but I couldn't muster the strength to give much effort into the PT. It made no difference to the nurses. I began referring to my PT partner as Nurse Ratched, like the horrible nurse in "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" (I do feel very bad about that.). We were going yo do the exercises whether I wanted to or not. At first I would stand, with the help of a very sturdy walker, and take 2-3 steps in my room and then back to bed. It was amazing how absolutely exhausting this was. When I got back in bed I was sweating and very tired. We would do this exercise 3-4 times each day. Eventually, I was able to leave my room and shuffle down to the end of my hall, about 12 feet. It seemed like such a major accomplishment. Electrical stimulation was also a big part of getting my ankle and toes moving again. Several times a day, electrodes would be placed at various part of my left calf muscle. A machine would be turned on that would deliver small charges, stimulating the muscle.
Once I was stable medically, I was moved to the best stroke recovery center in my area. The first day at the Mission Hospital Stroke Center in Mission Viejo, CA was very difficult. After breakfast, we began a grueling 3-hour physical therapy (PT) session that would become a daily routine. Some of the exercises were done at the bed side, relatively simple exercises like picking up my left leg and holding it or moving my leg laterally. After this, we went to the physical therapy room and the real work began. With the help of of a physical therapist, but no walker, I tried to walk down a 7-foot raised platform with parallel bars to hold on to. I failed miserably. I had neither the strength nor the flexibility to actually walk at all. With the help of the physical therapist, I was able to hang onto him and the bars and sort of "Frankenstein" walk dragging, my left leg behind me. It was exhausting. When this was done we would move onto the rubber resistance bands, using these to try and stretch my frozen and immobile ankle. We also used large inflatable ball to work on stretching and balance. When I initially started these exercises it hurt, was frustrating and I hated them. There were times when I wasn't very enthusiastic with the physical therapists, but they were persistent and now I appreciate them for that.
The most frustrating PT exercises were, surprisingly, the cognitive exercises. I knew the physical effects of the stroke as they were easy to identify. However, what was harder to gauge was how the stroke had effected my brain. They had me do matching computer games and games where I needed to remember words. Prior to my stroke I had liked to do the mathematical sudoku puzzles, generally working on the moderate to hard level puzzles. It was very discouraging when I was unable to correctly complete any of the computer games, but not being able to do something that I easily did before the stroke was vivid proof of exactly what the stroke had done to me, what had been taken from me. The physical therapist asked me to graphically draw a clock face that showed the time 8:50. I tried so hard, drawing several different clock faces, each one worse than the last. After what seemed like 20 minutes, but was probably only 5, I gave up. This drove home for me that getting back to my pre-stroke life was going to take work and time.
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