My Stroke: Part 5: Learning Again for the First Time

Work it harder, make it better
Move it faster, makes us stronger
More than ever, hour after hour
Work is never over

Daft Punk – ‘Harder Better Faster Stronger’


 My first morning waking up in the new room was a bit jarring; not only had I become accustomed to the hospital’s confining space, but I found there was more to adapt to than I’d anticipated when I was woken at 6am for blood draws. This, I’d soon find, would become a part of my daily routine, but the initial go-through was anything but expected. I settled back to sleep afterwards, and soon, it was time to wake for breakfast. A nurse came to help me transfer from my bed to my chair, and we headed down to the cafeteria after stopping by the whiteboard to examine the day’s therapy schedule; fortunately enough, the board was essentially unavoidable en route from my room.

At breakfast, my second unpleasant surprise of the morning was also served. No longer attached to the IVs I’d had in the hospital, I now required a retinue of pills with my first meal, including a blood-thinning medication which came in a large-needled syringe requiring injection into my mid-torso. The pain of such an injection aside, it also left a radiating soreness from the injection point, feeling not unlike a stiff bruise about four inches from the needle-point and lasting for several hours. This, too, would become a part of my daily routine for some length of time. I finished breakfast and set off to therapy.

From here, I’ll admit that the specific sequence of which therapies occurred in which order is lost to me, but I’ll recount as best I can what I worked on that day. I know I met with Carrie, the speech therapist, in my room; she had me do some simple lateral-thinking puzzles. Perhaps to my advantage, such were the realm of family fun in my childhood, and many of those presented early on proved familiar to me. Satisfied – or, perhaps, impressed – with my answers, she left for the day. I think, after this, I napped; this, too, would become routine for me, though it hadn’t ever been something I was accustomed to. Between mental and physical efforts beyond what the hospital had put me through – and, in honesty, the still-continuous flow of high-powered painkillers (one every four hours, roughly) – kept me tired throughout much of the day.

My first session of occupational therapy introduced me to something I’d come to be familiar with, as well, in the form of electro-stimulation therapy. My left wrist and arm were strapped in to a device with contact points against the skin; pulses through these points would essentially force the muscles beneath them to contract until the pulse ceased. For the first time in a week or more, I saw my hand move. The fingers would fan outward from their tightly-clinched position as I felt a tingle through the numbness still present, then tighten back up as the tingle subsided. I watched this, fascinated, unable to control the movement yet equally unable to resist it. This went on for, I believe, some fifteen minutes; the purpose, as was explained as it went on, was twofold. Firstly, the stimulation driving movement would help my brain’s neural paths reroute, finding methods to go around the non-functioning areas to allow me to regain movement. Secondly, the forced movement of the muscles would help to break up the hypertonia present — essentially, aside from lack of mental impulses directing the movements, my muscles tightened to extremes, becoming stone-hard and practically immobile even if the brain’s signals managed to reach them.

Early physical therapy, I recall less distinctly. I believe it centered on being laid on a large, raised mat, where I was assisted in rolling to one side or the other, and my affected leg was stretched and massaged by Lisa, my therapist, in order to evoke much of the same tone-breaking as was the focus of my other therapy. I know that the small movements seemed nearly impossible yet simultaneously insignificant; I know that I was left exhausted after what seemed objectively to be a minuscule amount of work — though, of course, through great effort.

On this first full day of rehabilitation, my wife also retrieved something for me that I’d missed much in my time at the hospital — my work-provided laptop; while I had no intention of attempting to work, per se, the cut-off from my normal supply of internet was, in its own way, maddening, and I longed for my social-media outlets and access to the freely-flowing information of the world wide web. Unfortunately, having the laptop present proved futile — while my room had plentiful outlets and a perfectly functional wireless connection, I’d entirely forgotten the password required to unlock the thing, either through the trials of the prior week or the damage to my mind.

Defeated through many attempts to access my own computer, exhausted from a day of physical and mental labor, and drained by the sheer magnitude of adapting to new routines, I was introduced that night to the last uncomfortable new-routine piece when it was, at last, time for bed. A large, padded support boot and pair of blue, tube-connected “sequentials” were brought in to me; the first was a simple enough device, looking not unlike a snow-boot due to the thick, synthetic-wool lining, with a prop-support on one side. This was designed to hold my leg in a proper, upright position through the night, preventing the natural inclination to turn in towards one side, and help prevent the worsening of muscle tone in my leg. The second are a bit more difficult to describe; they were large, bright blue Velcro-on cuffs that surrounded my calves and ankles, connected to a machine at the end of my bed which, through a sequence of tubes, pumped air into the cuffs, applying a squeezing pressure to my legs which would hold for a few moments, release, and repeat this endlessly through the night. The purpose of these is to stimulate movement in the legs, affecting the flow of blood to prevent the formation of clots. On the first night, while unusual and uncomfortable, they bothered me only slightly, and I, without significant difficulty, slept soundly again.

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