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A STROKE VICTIM RECOVERY ADVENTURE essay
by Richard L. Provencher
3/15/2008 / Christian Living
Seven years ago a stroke changed my life, coming like a bolt of lightning, even though there was no storm. Three weeks before I was bragging about being physically fit and very active. Camping, canoeing and hiking were favorite sports, which never taxed me.
After being tested at one hospital, the doctor said they were sending me by ambulance to another for further treatment. It seemed I had a mild stroke, due to the possibility of a leaking aneurysm. My whole right side was affected, head to toes.
Once I returned home, I continued to experience a variety of conditions. Inability to speak properly, headaches when standing or sitting, poor writing skills, numbness in right foot, calf, leg, and arm. Extreme tiredness. It was even difficult trying to sleep fearing I may never wake up.
My doctor said, "You suffered a trauma and need rest, for a minimum of 6 wks to two months. A full recovery is within reach. Do not push it. Take it really easy, no lawn mowing, a little walking, drink lots of water, control salt intake, watch diet, sit down after headaches, phone if anything out of the ordinary occurs, numbness will diminish over time, walking up stairs ok. Okay to water lawn but be careful, a daily glass or two of red wine very good for heart. No working, no driving." Also she said my condition was caused by blood clotting or leaking in my head.
"No driving, smoking, watch your blood pressure and cholesterol," she continued. Also it was suggested I write a daily journal on my health recovery. "Could not sleep on right side, causes numbness in morning. Writing improved, headaches diminished, numbness restricted to tingle in toes, heel and right calf numbness in first hour of morning only," became regular jottings. "A little nausea and headache combined at times; after 2 hrs very tired."
Massive headaches became common, similar to the intensity of my stroke August 26, 1999 at precisely 9 pm. I also felt nausea and dizziness and had to walk very slowly to relieve the intense pain. I was not even able to lay my head on the pillow. The pain caused the bottom of my right foot to feel numb as well as my right thigh. The feeling kept coming and going, before the numbing sensation went away.
The only way to relieve the pressure on my head was to keep both hands clasped on the top and back of the head. During these headaches, my mouth became very dry, a sort of freezing situation took place in my upper jaw and I could not bear to have the radio or any lights on.
One morning I felt wonderful and decided to put up a few Christmas lights, only eight feet high. I carried a light aluminum stepladder from the back to the front of our house, very slowly, with several rests in between---a total distance of about 75 feet. Within a short time, my foot and leg began their numbness and a slight headache began at the back of the head.
These journal entries were quite important, by reminding me to restrain from actions, which aggravated my condition. New measures then became part of my recovery plan.
I discovered a "water pillow" to be the most effective aid for sleeping, since it prevented my head from moving side to side, normally causing pain. Whenever I tried walking, or climbing steps, numbness in my foot, heaviness in leg and headaches began within 5-10 minutes.
Something strange began to occur in my right calf. When sitting, it felt like someone puffing cool air on the right, then left side of my calf. Soon I found myself chilly quite a bit of time and had to wear a heavy sweater even in the warm house. In the past cold weather never bothered me. I also began wearing a pair of long underwear bottoms under my regular pajamas for about a year. Also, when I got excited when talking, the top part of my jaw began to freeze up and my tongue had difficulty forming words.
It took a long time to overcome numbness in my foot, leg, mouth followed by headaches after about ten minutes of slow walking. It became easier to simply remain in our car or sit in various stores while my wife did the shopping. However, this inactivity did nothing for my recovery and I gained weight.
It took four months before I was able to turn my neck to the far right and left without too much difficulty or headaches following after. Each day, in spite of pain, I forced my head in either direction, a little bit at a time.
Simply sitting during the day often brought on numbness in my right foot, heaviness above the knee, with more numbness in the calf area. Whenever I sat, many hours were spent gently rubbing my leg, knee and calf, to encourage circulation. I also had to be very careful when I felt good, by continuing to walk slowly, and avoid stress of any kind.
Five months after my stroke, I began dropping things or missing the table edge---Shaving Cream on sink, hanging up my housecoat, placing things on shelves, and knocking things over as my balance was somewhat erratic. My recovery program meant slowing down all movements, and focus on placing items where they belong.
Although much of my daytime was spent sitting on the couch, I watched documentaries to gain knowledge. I learned singing helped with speech, so I often mumbled along with any song on the radio. Playing chess stimulated my brain. Both were excellent exercises I performed hour after hour. Using my computer also motivated finger movement, and although headaches were painful after each chess game, over a period of time they abated.
I was allowed to swim a little, with caution, allowing me to get extra mobility from my legs, and spent half an hour in the pool, twice a week for several months. After each session I required a four-hour rest due to extreme tiredness, but it was worth it. Also, I was allowed to drive short distances, with my wife beside me. It was suggested someone accompany me during any short walking trips, and to have a cell phone available in case of a follow-up stroke.
Almost eight months after my stroke, my energy level began to increase, and I was able to walk up and down stairs much better. Still must not rush, or headaches returned. "Numbness in foot, and mouth not present all the time, but comes and goes continually."
Noted in my journal: "Lately I find myself slightly confused, with bouts of forgetfulness. Did I lock the front door, even if I did check ten seconds before?" Some memory lapses took place when I met a supposedly familiar person on the street. To offset lapses in memory, I spent much time looking at our many photo albums and forced myself to remember. My wife helped a lot. To this day, I still have a two-year period in my life where my memory of events is very shaky.
"Nine months after stroke, I did one hour of light gardening- raking, digging up earth, lifting a few bricks and stopped immediately when numbness began in foot, then leg felt heavy, hand felt funny, roof of mouth numb, headache and nausea. Nausea stopped in 15 minutes, foot and mouth numbness took two hours and headache about three hours before settling down."
I meticulously recorded daily movements, determined to overcome any shortcomings, by pushing myself to move beyond any limitations. Prayers from family and friends along with encouragement from my dear wife, Esther, helped me overcome. We are now married 32 years and still on our honeymoon.
Traffic horns, loud music and high-pitched voices caused sharp pains in my head, bringing on numbness in foot, leg and mouth as well as extreme headaches. I changed my walking route to the quietness of our large park and only listened to soft music.
Unfortunately we had to sell our house and move into a senior's apartment where walking up and down stairs all the time was not a problem. Especially since I could no longer mow the lawn, shovel snow, nor do light maintenance around the house.
Almost a year later my shaky nerves caused me to spill glasses of juice, and knocking over items on the table. My irritation caused me increased alarm. "My head began to hurt in the side and back, then a little numbness in foot began, my leg from ankle to thigh became very heavy, a little tingling began in center of left hand, lots of tingling in whole right hand, and numbness in roof of mouth."
My doctor said one of the after effects from a stroke is depression since one is not able to do normal activities, and I should report any weird thoughts or feelings. "One must be aware of the need to develop hobbies, maintain relationships, and to exercise." In my case I played much chess on the computer, continued my singing, when no one was around, massaged limbs, waggled fingers, swung leg from side to side and made sure I got up from the couch regularly.
Sitting too long introduced arthritic pain to my shoulders, and regular walking movement eliminated it. I also learned wearing regular shoes caused my toes to bunch up, bringing on numbness, which moved from foot, leg, hand to face. Using sandals for about two years, winter and summer allowed me more space between my toes and brought dramatic relief. Yes, sandals in winter seemed strange, but my foot and leg loved it.
It took a full year for my severe headaches to finally diminish greatly, yet weather changes affected me through stomach nausea, then headache and speech difficulty. I learned to turn or bend down slowly. Moving quickly used to bring on numbness. Now, kneeling to put on socks or tie shoelaces was much better.
During all this time I had a variety of prescriptions, which I continue to take, even after seven years. And my weekly visits are now down to monthly ones.
I often chat with people about my personal faith, and a testimony of my faith was placed on Cable TV after a crew came to my house for a program on stroke-recovery. It was a wonderful opportunity to encourage folks who are stroke survivors.
It took four years for my blood pressure to be brought under control. It was six years before I could bend my right leg properly and be able to put on socks either standing up, or sitting on a chair. I have only had very short hikes in the woods, since I have balance problems on anything but flat surfaces. One interesting exercise I used in the early days after my stroke was rubbing the upper part of my lip firmly back and forth, just under my nostrils. I did this for hours, until one day there was a "popping" sound and I was able to speak enough to be understood.
I sincerely hope the above information provides opportunities for folks to try and overcome a stroke to the stage, where life becomes more normal. Life can still be worth living. My wife and I now volunteer more often. Self-esteem and satisfaction in helping others is our new and worthwhile adventure.
* * *
Richard L. Provencher 2007
81 Queen Street, Unit 6, Truro, Nova Scotia
Canada B2N 2B2 Tel (902) 897-2344
A Self-Help Program
Word Count = 1,903 for the above testimony.
Richard enjoys writing poems; many of which have been published in Print and Online. He and his wife, Esther are also co-authors of stories and a print novel. They are "born again" Christians and very busy in their church, Abundant Life Victory International, in Bible Hill, Nova Scotia.
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