Monday, July 13, 2015


Barb Polan
Barb’s Recovery
July 12 / 2015

In view of the recent decisions of a handful ofstroke-surviving bloggers to either stop or take a hiatus from blogging, I've been re-assessing my purpose here.

In the beginning (6 weeks post-stroke), I intended to have daily entries - a diary of sorts - about my progress. Back then, I had frequent posts about baby steps as I completed them: I documented when I first straightened my forefinger and when I wiggled my thumb. Entries became rarer, though, as the steps became a teenager's: when I first engaged my hamstring muscles, I wrote from a different perspective - not just where I got, but how I got there ... 2.5 million attempts to use my hamstring.

As I progressed, my topics became more philosophical - about my way of viewing these trials. These entries were intended to both encourage survivors and help those around us understand what was going through our heads and hearts while we were going through recovery.

Once I complied enough information in the form of blog entries to weave into a cohesive narrative about my journey, I put it all together in my book, Stroke After Stroke: A Rower's Pilgrimage, for sale on Amazon as both an e-book and a printed volume. If you know me or read my blog and have not yet purchased a copy, please do; it will be the most inexpensive thing you buy today.

After publishing the book, I've posted just occasionally, certainly not documenting every step forward. I refuse to let go, though.

Recently I was talking with my psychotherapist, and we determined that talking out loud to myself helps me cope. In the same way, as a writer, I know that writing things down helps me process what I go through. In fact, when I'm upset with someone, I often write the person email saying specifically what I need to say and they need to know. I then put the message in my drafts folder instead of sending.

WARNING: Don't ever peruse my drafts folder unless you want an earful.

Now, what's my purpose going forward?

I have a need to tell my story - to help both myself and other survivors. Therefore I will continue on with this little blog - in the hope that it helps someone somewhere. Perhaps I will go back to reporting my baby steps, which are significant - if only because it shows I'm still improving 5 years post-stroke, far beyond the "common knowledge" that patients plateau after 2 years. That's it: I'll use this blog to report progress 5 years post-stroke.

My status now, as a starting point:

My walking continues to improve, although extensive walking is stymied by the arthritis in my unaffected knee. I have a Fitbit and an aggressive walking goal - hitting 10k steps/day by November. I am currently at 6k/day as a goal, but typically fall a thou or two short - let's blame my arthritic knee, not lack of ability. I am working on standing on my toes so that I can push off as I walk. To work on my gait, I analyze what I do with my unaffected leg, then try to replicate that with my affected leg walking in the pool, which makes it easier to feel the correct muscles working.

My hand is still useless although I can usually have my arm keep itself out of my way.

My meds are: anti-seizure, blood pressure, aspirin and Vitamin D.  Not bad, as stroke survivors go.

I'm still working on my goal from last November (my 5th year anniversary), a goal I did not reach last year: to swim the back crawl. I have the flutter kick down okay, with my affected leg contributing to the propulsion; but the arm motion is still just a full rotation at my shoulder. Although I can straighten my arm while I'm vertical in the water, I haven't been able to stretch it straight over my head while lying on the water. The irony here is that, out of the water, I can straighten and raise my arm lying on a flat surface, but not when I'm standing.

One day, I saw a woman in the pool doing a pretty lazy-swimmer's back stroke: leaning back in the water, she kept her arms bent and leisurely reached out to her side and scooped toward her feet, alternating arms.

"Can I do THAT backstroke instead?" I asked my PT.

"Yes - that looks like a good way."

So, instead of the super-straight arm over my head, supinating to have my pinky enter the water first and pulling my entire arm through the water back to my side, I have lowered our expectations. But I'll still feel a great sense of accomplishment when I get there. What more can I ask for than new accomplishments 5 years out?

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Barb, Your “Purpose” is very good and your “...still improving 5 years post-stroke” is just the start -- my opinion of my stroke is “...still improving 17+ years post-stroke”! Please keep up your blog -- it is precious to you and the whole internet world.! /John A.