A STROKE VICTIM RECOVERY ADVENTURE (a self-help program)
One evening seven years ago my life changed. A stroke hit me, like a bolt of lightning even though there was no storm and it came on without warning. Just three weeks before I bragged about being so active and physically fit, I could out-walk anyone my age, due to spending so much time camping, canoeing and hiking.
At 11;30 PM one doctor said they were sending me by ambulance to Halifax, since it appeared I had a mild stroke, due to what he believed was a leaking aneurysm.
I experienced a variety of conditions. Headaches when standing or sitting, poor writing skills, numbness in right foot, calf, leg, and arm. Extreme tiredness.
It was very difficult trying to sleep because of fear, because if I did, I may not wake up.
“No driving, smoking, watch your blood pressure and cholesterol. I wrote a daily journal on my progression. 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. A little nausea and headache combined at times; after 2 hrs very tired.
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 and that my condition was caused by blood clotting or leaking in head.
Massive headaches became common with intensity similar to 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, and allowed me to restrain from the type of activities, which aggravated my condition. Also the retelling of my condition and what measures had to be taken became part of the exercise of recovery.
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 normally, or climbing steps, numbness in 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 calves. I then 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 had to wear a pair of long underwear bottoms under my regular pajamas for at least a year.
It took a long time to overcome numbness in my foot, leg, mouth and headaches took place after about ten minutes of slow walking. I often remained in our car or sat in various stores while my wife did the shopping. When I got excited during conversations the top part of my jaw began to freeze up and my tongue had difficulty forming words.
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, one inch at a time.
During the day without any activity; simply sitting, I would get numbness in the right foot, and heaviness in my right leg, above the knee, instead of always in the front and back calf area. As I sat, many hours were spent gently rubbing my leg, knee and calf.
I had to really discipline myself when I felt good, continuing to walk slowly, and to avoid stress of any kind.
Five months after my stroke, I began dropping things OR missing the ledge. Ie. Shaving Cream on sink, hanging up my housecoat, placing things on shelves, and knocking things over as my balance was sometimes awkward. My recovery exercise meant I had to be slow down, and to carefully place items.
Much of my daytime was spent sitting on the couch watching documentaries. I learned singing helped with speech, so I often mumbled along with any song. Playing chess stimulated my brain. Both were very good exercises I did hour after hour. Using the computer also motivated my finger movements, and although headaches were awful after chess, 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 I spent half an hour in the pool, twice a week for several months. After each session it took 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 an emergency.
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 come. Numbness in foot, and mouth not present all the time, but comes and goes continually.
Note: Lately I find myself slightly confused, and have bouts of forgetfulness. Did I lock the front door, even if I did ten seconds before. Some memory lapses, when I meet a supposedly familiar person on the street. And in my typing, I’ll look at the date on my letter and not realize it is the wrong one. To offset lapses in memory, I spent much time looking at our many photo albums and forced myself to remember. My wife helped me a lot. I still have a two year period in my life where the memory 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.
Part of my recovery exercising was to record what took place after various movements, or activities, then push myself a little more. I was determined to take my time for a continuing recovery but to move forward, with prayers from family and friends, along with the assistance of my dear wife, Esther. 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, causing numbness in foot, leg and mouth as well as extreme headaches. I changed my walking exercise to the park and only listened to soft music.
We finally 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.
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 to 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, rubbed limbs, waggled fingers, swung leg and made sure I got up from the couch regularly.
Sitting too long brought on arthritic pain in my shoulders, and regular 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 the about two years, winter and summer allowed me more space between my toes and brought dramatic relief.
It took a full year for my severe headaches to diminish greatly, yet weather changes affect me through nausea in stomach, headache and difficulty of speech.
I learned to turn or bend down slowly, which used to bring on numbness. Kneeling to put on socks or tie shoelaces was 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 when a crew came to my house for a program on stroke-recovery. It became a wonderful opportunity to encourage folks who dealing with a previous stroke.
It took four years for my blood pressure to be brought under control. Six years before I could bend my right leg properly and be able to put on socks 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 and I was able to speak enough to be understood.
I sincerely hope the above information outlines opportunities for folks to try and perhaps they too can overcome a stroke to the stage, where life becomes a more normal routine. I still take medication, and am shaky when tired, but have learned to avoid situations which cause difficulties. Life is worth living and my wife and I volunteer to help others. Self-esteem and satisfaction in helping others is a new and worthwhile adventure.
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(c) Richard L. Provencher
NOTE: Check out the above Website re novels co-written with his wife, Esther, during the time Richard was dealing with a stroke, that felled him in 1999. Through prayers and help from a great wife, Richard continues to recover. (As of Aug 10/11, he is 90% better).