Saturday, February 21, 2015

Another 4-Letter Word …

Barb Polan
Barb’s Recovery
Feb 10 / 2015

Yes, I know you’ve already heard enough whining about this, but I have to say it: SNOW SUCKS.

As a New Englander who formerly (pre-stroke) loved winter (including snow, cross-country skiing, ice skating and playing casual hockey on frozen ponds, hot chocolate, reading by wood stoves, using our crockpot to make dinner, and – yes, I admit it – shoveling), I know that complaining about snow is idiotic and boring.

Nothing used to satisfy my compulsive nature quite as much as using a shovel to cut out precise cubes of snow in order to clear a walkway, making perfectly vertical walls bordering our brick walks in Northborough.

Now, post-stroke, I simply watch snow pile up, sometimes in orderly deep plains and others (we ARE on a windy cape surrounded by ocean) in packed drifts taller than I am. And as I watch, I become more and more trapped, for longer and longer periods of time.

Snow, now, means that there’s a layer of ice under it all, ice that will hide under slippery snow, laying in wait for my cane or sneaker to hit the wrong spot and for me, if I’m lucky, to land on my butt and jerk my head up at the last moment to prevent it from smashing into the ground.

Snow also makes my therapy a challenge: no reliably safe way to get to water therapy, difficult to drive to psychotherapy, not even grocery-shopping therapy.

The therapy I can do at home include mat exercises, rowing machine, recumbent bike, mirror therapy, meditation, walking to meet my fitbit goal, and activities that challenge my brain. That last one includes a lot of fun: word puzzles, reading, writing, and – best of all – mah jongg.

When I was in rehab, a friend who visited asked me if I already knew how to play. I didn’t, and then she said she’d start a group and teach us all how to play because she thought it would be a good, challenging exercise for my brain.

And Mary Ann came through – she organized a group of our friends to learn how to play and spun us off as a group that met weekly on Thursday evenings. The core of the group included enough of my neighbors that we have continued playing neighborhood games for the 4 years since she taught us. Even in the snow, when we walk to each others' houses to play.

Mah jongg is difficult to learn, and even harder to play well enough to win. It’s usually four-handed, and we typically have time for 4 or 5 games, so winning a game once in a while is doable for me. The challenge for me is to keep track of which tiles I’m trying to accumulate, and claim them quickly enough when they’re discarded.

When I do win a game, it’s very hard for me to not express my delight, like Gronk spiking the ball even though he knows Bill wants him to play it cool and not claim credit for the touchdown. He’s just doing his job, just like my brain is just doing its job (or a small part of its job) – thinking, recognizing patterns, and remembering. It really shouldn’t be such a surprise to me that I can win, that my brain is still recovering, right?

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