Saturday, June 27, 2015


Pamela Hsieh
Rehab Revolution
27 April 2010

I've been thinking about what makes me such a strange case in what we'll call the history of stroke rehab. I don't presume to claim to be superspecial, because that's arrogant and would probably step on the feet of those who've been on this boat and prevailed much more impressively than I have. But anyway, whenever I step foot back into a medical setting for people like me, say, back at my old rehab facilities or hospitals, I always feel strangely detached.

It's a detachment probably spurred by the number of years that have passed since my injury. While I'll never forget having lived this, the freshness of the memory of being in the hospital and being completely dependent on medical staff and my friends and family fades a little every day. So if anyone following this blog ever feels that I don't address that initial stage after injury enough so, I deeply apologize. This is for anyone who needs to overcome a tremendous life setback, no matter at what point, but the greatest improvements always come the quickest -- shortly after onset. And that's when the blow hits you hardest, when your heart is heaviest. It's the most obvious time to feel the pain of such a sudden change, and I would like to be sensitive to that. The rehab journey often is a very solitary one, but it's more widespread than people like to think. Think of it like a clear night sky -- the stars are separate but numerous, each with its unique ability to shine.

Anyway, the detachment also comes from the fact that I recognize my progress as being more than just a physical progress but a mental one as well. A lot of patients I've been around have been low-spirited and cynical about their healing, which is to be sure understandable. There is no frustration like this. Nothing more exhausting. But what I've learned in these seven years is to push forward anyway and not to lose sight of who I still am, the parts of me I never did lose during my toughest time of identity.

The way I've gotten through without significant discouragement in myself is by seeing the injury as a profound misfortune but as a tremendous gift as well. Thanks to this, I now know the value of patience and compassion, of family and faith, and of personal strength. Thanks to this, I now have the knowledge of personal experience that can widely help various members of the community of humankind. Thanks to this, I've been able to even more greatly enjoy the tiniest of celebrations: In 2003, I flicked my left thumb for the first time since my entire left side went limp. Shortly thereafter I was able to lift and swing my leg. In 2004 I was able to start wearing skirts again. In 2005 I abandoned my AFO (ankle-foot orthotic). In 2006 I was praised by my professor for my brief theatrical performance of King Lear. In 2007 I was able to fall deeply in love. 2008 brought me the inspiration and mentorship I needed to share my story with the masses. I finally got the time I needed to focus on my healing beginning with my graduation in 2009. And we're now in 2010, and the triumphs continue.

I think the part that helps me preserve who I was pre-stroke is my complete disinterest in giving up anything I used to love for good. Despite it taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r to type, I still write -- a hobby I developed when I was ten and practiced and studied whenever I got the chance. Even though it's stressful and inconvenient, I travel internationally at least once a year, and on my own. (Traveling in groups sort of stresses me out.) The thrill of experiencing other cultures that I love totally cancels out the other junk that would otherwise discourage me from going. And even though I can dance to only probably 30-40% of the level I used to, I still have rhythm and go out once in awhile when the mood hits. I'm not wearing four-inch heels yet (although several pairs lie in wait in my closet), but I do wear shoes with a slight incline. Anything I've had the passion for in the past, I have found a way to reintroduce into my life in some way.

Don't forget what makes you a cool and multifaceted person. I'm out of time, so I'll leave it at that, but I'm sure I'll revisit this topic time and again in the future.

To our healing,

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