"Exit, pursued by a bear"
Stage Direction from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale
19.1 …still got some sand in my shoes…
It is now slightly past the third anniversary of my stroke. The last year has been a time of almost constant pain. In one of my final physio sessions with Sarah a whole age ago it seems, after saying she thought a lot of my abilities would return she asked if I had any pain. There was some discomfort then, but not what I would call pain. The old brain was probably just not getting the "ouch that hurts" messages being sent back from down my left side. It certainly does now that something like full feeling has returned.. Worst affected is my left cheek (facial - the lower cheek is like a connonball) which gets so bad at times I can hardly think because of it. Most of the left side muscles having become inflexible and shortened themselves are stretched tight so I assume it is they that should be hurting but the chemical messages are somehow being misdirected at a busy junction. Also the constantly changing feedback from the hip and leg as things restore themselves little by little means that I have to learn to walk on different leg sensations every few weeks. Having come so far though I am not going to give up while there is a milligram of improvement to be squeezed out of this old body.
Despite the discomfort, the process has been fascinating to live through. When shortening the walking stick first caused my left hip to start working there was about three months of feeling very intense sensation in the joint. When this settled, the pain started to move down my leg leading eventually to my spending a month with my foot on fire. I anticipated one hip to toe pain sequence for recovery followed by a period of strectching and building wasted muscles. WRONG. To date there have been four stages as the ability to make complex movements and some delicacy of control have returned. Worst so far has been the third stage in my knee, which at the moment feels as if a lot of small, sharp objects have been implanted under the kneecap having just regained the ability to extend on the forward step without being driven by conscious thought.
Numerous milestones have helped me keep going. Walking round a small supermarket was a major result, even though I did not walk anywhere outside the house for four days afterwards.
Recovery is not a competition, it is a solo challenge. Landmarks are important, for example in my case, taking the first steps, for a fellow patient, speaking his first intelligible sentence. These things rightly make us feel good and we should be proud of them. Setting goals and targets is fine so long as we do not become obsessed. Sometimes the biggest triumphs take us by surprise.
There is one story I must share with you before the end.
Holidaying last year, on the Costa Del Sol the achievement of something very very ordinary to an able bodied person meant the world to me. In the warm dry climate of Southern Spain everything seemed to ease a little and movements were less difficult. Although late in the year the weather was sunny enough for us to hire sunbeds on the beach and spend hours lounging, watching the sea. I have always loved the sea. There were wooden walkways from the promenade across the sand to stop people burning their feet in high summer and one day as Teri wheeled me towards one of these that led to the lounger rental man’s office/coolbox I asked her to stop, abandoned the wheelchair and walked down to the sea. The wooden decking stopped about ten metres from the water’s edge but there was no turning back. That short distance was wobbly and difficult and took forever on the soft sand but it had looked at one stage very much as if I would never feel ripples lapping over my toes again. It was another delight I had won back from fate. Such experiences are what bring home the real joy and thrill of recovering and make everything we go through seem worthwhile.
19.2 "....because it too so long to bake it...."
I hope to have given you some encouragement and described things you may identify with if you are travelling or are about to embark upon the same route I have chosen. We are all different people so your experience will differ in many ways but there will be broad similarities. There will be a lot of pain and frustration on the way but if you are prepared to keep going, never abandon hope, always hold on to your sense of humour and do not fall victim to resentment it will pay off. I can’t promise a full recovery, for me there is still a long way to go and the improvement may end tomorrow. My achievement though has been to reclaim my life. So long as you keep an open mind, believe in yourself, find ways of making life worthwhile and are willing to compromise I’m sure you will achieve that in your own way too. Do not believe anybody who tells you , as I and many others have been told that after about six months improvements, if any, will be very slight. Among the any group of stroke survivors are many people who will testify that they are still improving up to ten years and more after their mishap. Six months my arse. Keep trying, never give up.
The real last chapter of this story cannot be written yet, I’m still living it.
There will be a happy ending though, I promise.
TRUST ME – I’M A STROKE SURVIVOR.
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