Saturday, February 07, 2015

When Am I Finished?

Barb Polan
Barb’s Recovery
14th July 2014

At some time, somewhere, I read a definition of the end of stroke recovery as being when a survivor starts focusing on his/her life instead of on rehab.

Nonsense. I have spent my nearly 5 post-stroke years working on recovery AND being engaged in my life. At times, real life overshadows my recovery work - I blow off my mirror therapy session because I’m busy, or count grocery shopping as my daily walk.  In fact, I re-entered my life even before coming home from rehab – I was doing my job editing newspaper articles when I was still in the hospital (how do you suppose those articles turned out? Lol!), and my social life kept up to its usual standard.

Once I got home, I continued working, albeit poorly. Lots of my life activities have been opportunities for therapy: book group; trying to cook once the meals stopped coming automatically from friends, although my first meal was blackened (unintentionally) salmon and broccoli steamed far too long; making a detailed (brand, size and type) grocery list for a friend who shopped for us every week; taking the dog outside to play; climbing over snowbanks to go shopping downtown with a friend; gardening projects. All of them were chances to take on a challenge, if I wanted. Of course, I could have taken the easy way: making microwaved dinners purchased by a friend, playing fetch indoors with Turbo; not reading the book and begging off attending book group. The truth is, no one was going to force me to go anywhere, but if I wanted to reclaim my life, I had to be the one forcing myself.

I took on grocery shopping and meal preparation myself, and have devised a system of making a weekly menu (I usually skip weekends because I do take some shortcuts), then a grocery list from that (which involves looking up recipes and looking to see what ingredients we don’t have). Thank God for the notepad on my iPhone – that’s where I make my lists. Then I go to the grocery store either Monday or Tuesday. Although those tasks seem simple to most people, they all rely on executive functions I absolutely lost to the stroke. Except for the hour walking in the grocery store, and not losing my balance lifting a five-pound bag of flour one-handed into the shopping cart. Those are purely physical rehab, as are twisting at the waist while sitting on my garden cart, balancing on the rocks to walk “down below” in our garden, and deadheading irises.

There are weekends when my “therapy” consists of preparing for houseguests. I can cook and do lots of the housework, but I also would like to be able to make a stripped bed. I can make a bed pulling up disheveled sheets and blankets, but one-handedly tucking fitted sheets over mattress corners results in unacceptably messy beds. I’d rather leave the sheets for guests to make for themselves, but what actually happens is that Tom makes the beds for guests.

And when we travel, even just away for a weekend, walking, stretching and sightseeing are my usual therapy. Even in a car ride I try “fanatical massed practice” – coined by Scott Gallagher to describe attempting to perform a particular movement continuously for hours at a time. I often try opening my hand for the duration of a six-hour drive to visit my mother-in-law; tightening my gluteus muscles; toe-tapping; or stretching my left side as I sit. Anything not to waste the day in the car, from a recovery point-of-view.

Although thoughts of therapy exercises are always there, I am decidedly more engaged in life than focused on rehab. But my recovery continues.

My focus on recovery will likely end when I can finally row a gig boat again; but even doing just that regularly will contribute to my recovery.

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