Saturday, September 26, 2015

It's My Hand Again

Barb Polan
Barb’s Recovery
September 19 / 2015

Unlike most of my blog posts, this one is part rant and part brag. Sit tight, though – you’ll see (I’m hopeful I’ll show you) how they are related.

Long before having a stroke, I refused to listen to unsolicited advice. If I ask for advice, I’ll pay attention, but volunteer your opinion about what I’m doing, and I shut down. It’s not that I’m not open-minded, just that I spent a long time in my life trying to please everyone, and then I decided to stop. I think it was when I became a mother and I decided to parent my way despite all the voices of experience inundating me with the same shit I just wasn’t paying attention to the first time the person offered it.

Then I had a stroke; at that point, I asked many people for advice and took what little was offered to try to fit into my new circumstances. Again, though, I received appalling unsolicited advice.

One survivor hassled me via FaceBook to try Neuro-Aid – because it worked for her and would “definitely” work for me. Actually, she told me to ask my herbalist to concoct the equivalent for me using all-natural ingredients; and if I didn’t happen to have an herbalist, she could put me in touch with hers, who she was sure would be happy to provide me with it. Yes, I finally un-“friended” her.

I believe that stroke survivors who are actively working on recovery research their options, try them out, then select the ones they find work for them (or make them feel better in some way). We also set specific and concrete goals, sometimes with deadlines, sometimes without.

As many of you know, one of my goals is to be able to row a gig boat again (unaided). The deadline for that goal keeps slipping, slipping, into the future. To that end, I have been working continuously on being able to actively extend my fingers to open my hand, in order to grasp the oar. As it has been on my "rows," my husband sits facing me on the seat adjacent to mine; he hangs onto the oar with one hand, and uses his other to encircle my affected hand so that it stays around the oar; then we row – me the correct way, and him backwards. We spend much of the row wrestling the oar between us, each thinking that we are in better rhythm with the rower setting the pace.

To begin the row, to get my hand around the oar, we both pry my hand open, then wrap it around the oar. Then he encircles my hand with his.

At one point, while working diligently to strengthen my extensors, another stroke survivor offered her opinion that just being able to open my hand didn’t mean I would be able to row. Instead of working on opening, her PT was having her do isometric exercises to strengthen her flexors. Specifically, the survivor said, “My OT said, ‘what good is being able to open your hand if your flexors are to weak to hang on?’”

So, there I had another advisor telling me that her way was correct, and mine was wrong. Despite that, I keep working on my extensors, along with using a little spring gadget Tom got – a finger strengthener you hold in the palm of your hand and then grip, working against the springs. Just because I work tirelessly on one set of muscles doesn’t mean I don’t work on others too.

Another bit of unsolicited advice I got: “Why don’t you change your therapy from what it is to [my brilliant solution], combining those two modalities? Why not, when what you’re doing clearly isn’t working?”

So, there’s my rant, which also works as the back-story for my brag.

On Tuesday, I went for a row. Rows are generally an hour long, with a couple of water breaks/rests. This row was lovely, and took us out of the security (I’m more afraid of the ocean now because I can’t reliably swim) of the inner harbor and around a small island in the outer harbor for my first time in 6 years.

And (drumroll), for the very first time, when Tom let go of my affected hand after a rest break, it stayed on; I gripped the oar as hard as I could and rowed for several – maybe even 5) minutes that way; I pushed the oar away, straightening my arm, then leaned back to pull it in, bending my arm. Hanging on all by myself, although Tom kept supporting the oar too. Eventually my hand tired and fell off the oar.

So, it IS the opening of my hand, not the strength of my grasp that is the limiting factor in me holding the oar to row.

Why is it that other people think they are the experts about MY recovery? My advice to you: Go ahead and think what you want about my approach, but keep your mouth shut – unless, of course, you want to encourage me.

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