The Expanse and the Atlantic Revisited

 

November 19, 2019

I will be first to admit my recovery posts have lacked a positive outlook as of late. There have been so few gains over the last three months, so when I spoke the word “plateaued,” in my previous blog entry, I was consenting to the idea that I was not going to get much better. I had been beaten.

When people ask me, “how are you doing?” I’ve tried to explain that some days are better than others. Well, today has been one of those better days. Today might be the most important day since I put away the wheelchair.

After arriving at work and saying hello to everyone, I sat down at my desk and made a decision. I was not going to use my cane until lunchtime. Practically speaking, this was not the right choice. The last time I crossed “the expanse” ( the space between my office and the main office), I got distracted and fell. I’ve grown weary of falling, so risking that is not something I relish. Nevertheless, I made that crossing at least four times before attempting to cross “the Atlantic” (the space between my office and the men’s restroom).

With cane in hand but not touching the floor, I set out to take those 50 steps or so (I am taking smaller steps than most). If someone would’ve been watching me, I probably would have been unable to take more than a few steps. I was overjoyed when I reached the bathroom door. I thought to myself, “You did it!” and that reality gave me the confidence to walk back to my office at a quicker pace.

Once back at my desk, I changed my mind about using the cane after lunch. I made the decision not to use it at all while I was in the office building. When leaving this evening, I walked to the doors and then planted the cane on the ground and congratulated myself on a job well done. I’m quite sure that I will sleep hard tonight. When I see my neurologist tomorrow, she will ask, “how are you doing?” and I will answer her with a more positive outlook.

I’ve learned to do numerous things that are handy with a cane. I guess I will have to learn to live without it.

Pressing On

 

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November 11, 2019

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. ~Philippians 3:14 NLT

I know that cherry-picking verses and applying them to personal situations is a poor exegetical model, but I’m going to claim it anyway.

A number of you expressed concern over my post last week when I said I was tired and frustrated. It has been 15 months; I am. That does not mean I have given up hope, or I distrust what God is doing in my life. It does mean that I am human and subject to emotions that sometimes seem antithetical to faith. I keep a mirror blog on WordPress that is titled Faith and Doubt (www.faithanddoubt.life). In no way doubt the existence of God or his personal interaction with his creation, but it does seem at times that people get lost in the cracks. Intellectually, I do not believe that that is true, but it certainly feels so at times.

A few months ago, my doctor and physical therapist both use the word “plateaued.” They said I could continue to experience gains, but they would be the exception, not the rule. My body had already confirmed that but, it was frustrating to hear.

I am walking better but very slowly. I still rely upon a cane. My left hand is still mostly useless. There are glimpses every morning of regaining functionality. When I am completely at rest, I find that I can move my fingers in ways that I cannot do what I am fully awake. I have to remind myself that I’ve had a brain injury. If I want to show you that I can point with my left hand, the response is for my finger to turn inward. It is all so bizarre.

Here is what I do know; there is purpose in suffering. I have had countless people tell me that I have helped them in their situation. I will take that affirmation. If God uses my position to help others, then I can find comfort in that knowledge.

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” ~CS Lewis

One Year

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September 26, 2019

Yesterday was our 35th wedding anniversary. It was also the first anniversary of my stroke. Yesterday, I chose to honor the day we were married and not commemorate what has turned out to be the worst day of my life.

A year in, I still have questions that go unanswered. We had done everything right. We were in the hospital in 30 minutes, which was well within the safety zone for a TPA injection (a life saving, clot-busting medicine that can only be administered within a two-hour onset of symptoms). After being wheeled to the ICU ward, I laid in the bed and sobbed. I did not blame God but was sure that I would walk out of the hospital. Within a day, I could walk to the bathroom, and a few days later, I was able to raise my arms. I was convinced I had escaped dire consequences.

Because my doctors were unable to regulate my blood pressure successfully, they transferred me to a regular room in order to get the medication correct. I was feeling good and I was looking forward to being discharged. My release date was postponed because my blood pressure was too high. I began traveling down a road of despair. I felt fine, but they would not let me go home. When I was ultimately released, I walked to our car and got in on my own power. I was finally free to recuperate at home.

The drive home was uneventful. After the hour on the freeway, I struggled a bit to walk up our driveway. Our dog, Sam, was very excited to see me. It had been nearly a week, and I was looking forward to sitting down in my office and getting caught up. I am answered a few emails and got up to speed with the news of the day. Things felt like normal but, when I tried to stand I collapsed on top of the ironing board that sat next to my desk that I use for extra space (I am a flat space abuser.) Judy ran back to find me on the floor and the ironing board irreparably damaged. She had to call the neighbors for help. After getting back on my feet, we’ve decided to go back to the hospital on the same day I had been discharged. Once again, I began to travel the road of despair.

I honestly do not remember how many days after the second discharge that I found myself with a relapse of my symptoms. I could not operate my left arm nor my left leg. The decision was made to transfer me to a rehab facility in the city of Tustin. I would spend the next three weeks in intense rehabilitation. It is a weird feeling to be in a facility like that with mostly senior citizens. I would spend at least three hours a day re-learning to walk and learning to make use of what little movement in my hand that was left.

I was released from the rehab hospital on September 22, nearly a month from the stroke. I was frustrated in the hospital because of things I couldn’t do. I thought going home would be different but, I realized that I was just as limited and that was maddening. The next number of months were a cycle of faith and doubt, hope and depression. I cried at the drop of a hat. I did not want to participate in social activities even to the point I refused to go to our life group.

My primary care physician-approved me to go back to work part-time beginning on January 24. It was good to get out, but I was ill-prepared for how exhausting it would be. I gradually regained my strength and went to 30 hours, July 1 and full-time, August 1. I found humor in many of the situations that I found myself in at the hospital and in rehab. The reality of my situation has tempered that now. I have good days and bad days. The majority of the pain has ceased. I put away the wheelchair a few months ago, and I make myself walk, albeit with a cane.

I wish I could report that I have found victory in Jesus and have conquered depression, but that would be a lie. There are good days and bad, but I do believe the positive days outnumber the negative. I have deemed this time as pre-retirement practice. Judy has been an anchor through this storm. I understand the term, helpmate, more than ever. I am so thankful that God orchestrated the end of her career at Vanguard to coincide with my need to have her home. I do not like to throw the word ”Blessing” around, but that is what our time together has been.

I have somewhat plateaued in my recovery, but I do not believe I am through. If you are a praying person, please pray specifically on my left hand and arm, my ability to walk unhindered, and for Judy to find a well paying full-time job that can use her management ability.

God is good. I need to be reminded of that at times.

Recovery

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August 1, 2019

It has been a while since I last updated everyone on my progress. Things are still moving much slower than I would like.  Tomorrow marks eight weeks since I officially put away the wheelchair. I still have to use it if we’re going somewhere that involves a lot of walking, but for everyday use, it is no longer a viable option for me.  I am regularly wiped out by the end of the day, but it is a good sort of tired.

As of today, I am officially back to work full-time. I came back 20 hours a week in late January. In July I upped it ten more hours to 30 hours a week. As of August 1, it is back to full-time work.  About a month ago, I stepped back into my role with Route 56 (the ministry I pioneered two years ago for fifth and sixth graders.)  It was significant spending some time with them at Forest Home.  I hope to be well enough to attend winter camp with them in January.

Our church has stood by us throughout this whole ordeal. The leadership made up the difference while I was on disability and continued my salary through these months of part-time work. I am very thankful to be a part of the Mission Hills community.

One of the more frustrating limitations I have is the inability to use my left hand. It is incredible what you can do with your mouth to address this concern (my assistant came to my aid earlier today when she saw me carrying a water bottle in my mouth.) Pam Giali is my protector at the office, but I would rather have two functioning hands. Over the past week, I’ve discovered that I can open my hand when I wake up in the morning. It doesn’t last long, but it does give me hope.

In a few weeks, it will be one year since this occurred.  I want to thank everyone for your continued prayers as I continue to recover.

 

 

 

Summer Sundaes

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July 8, 2019
The wheelchair was put away nearly six weeks ago. I have not given in to the temptation to pull it out. Don’t quickly toss laurels my way; I made sure that it would not be easy to consent to my weakness by storing it in the trunk of the car or at the ever-crowded workroom at church. I would love to say that I am feeling stronger, but that is not the case.
 
There is not a day that goes by without someone affirming me and saying I’m doing “great.” I am not feeling it. There is no question that I have progressed, but it is so much slower than I ever anticipated. Back in October, I made a goal go to winter camp with my students. As that date grew ever closer, I realized that my attendance was an impossibility. As my students prepare for summer camp, I am in the same situation. I love camp, and I am disappointed about not being able to spend a week at Forest Home with my fifth and sixth graders. I do intend to spend a day and treat them to an Adventure Mountain Sundae. That has been a highlight of Summer camp, and I am excited to share that time with them.
 
The ninth Commandment says we should not covet (desire or envy) that which others have. The stroke has put me in the on the unenviable place of not wanting material things but rather watching random individuals walking. Most of us would never even give that a second thought, but at least once a day, I will see someone swiftly walking across a room or a jogger on the street, and my heart sinks.
 
I want to be done.

Looking Forward

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June 3, 2019

Have you ever watched an emerging toddler begin to take their first steps?  It is often halted and usually involves a good deal of falling. When our children began to walk, what I remember most was their arms outstretched and looking straight ahead. As we cheered them on, I don’t recall analyzing their foot placement or making any judgment about how awkward they looked. We knew that we were on the cusp of a new stage parenting.  Tears and cheers were inevitable. Bouncing and bruising would be a part of this new territory. Most kids don’t give up; they instead rise to their feet and take another step forward. It isn’t long before they are running all over the place.

 

Learning to re-walk is not as simple. Where a toddler’s gaze is straight forward, my tendency has been to look at my feet.  Somehow, I felt that by watching where my foot landed, I would be less likely to fall. I’ve been concentrating on the individual step instead of my overall forward motion.  What has been unusual is that it is my right foot that comes up short. The stroke affected my left side.  I have little strength in my left ankle. It is reasonable to assume that my left would be hindered and not my right. Why the short step? It all boils down to fear.

 

I have been afraid of falling. At this point, I should have perfected it by now. It has been at least six weeks since I last fell. In order to walk correctly, I have to take a full step and trust my weight to the affected side.  There is a reasonable amount of faith that it takes to shift your weight from one side to the other. It’s not something most people ever think about, but when your strength has been replaced by weakness, you see everything in a different light.

 

My maternal grandmother was besieged by minor strokes. Her balance was affected, and she fell numerous times. Her response was to sit in a wheelchair and never walk again. The capability was there, but she chose not to take that risk.  I understand that fear, but I have been unwilling to give into it (at least most of the time.) Re-learning how to walk raises the risk of falling. That fear exacerbates my strength.  I feel I might be further along in my recovery if fear was not a factor.

 

Last week I got mad. I came to the conclusion that I was leaning too much on the wheelchair and not enough on my own strength. I realize this might sound like heresy.  I know where my strength comes from, and I’m not advocating trusting myself over trusting God. I needed to step out in faith, take my eyes off my feet, and change my focus. I wanted to push myself and free Judy from having to load the wheelchair in and out of the car. I began to slowly wean myself off of my reliance on the chair.

 

Last night we put the wheelchair in one of our guestrooms. This morning I walked into my home office without my wheeled friend.  I loaded my computer into my backpack, throwing it over my shoulders, kissed my wife, and walked out to my car. Today would be the first time in nine months that I would drive on my own. Judy and I took a test run yesterday, but today would be the real thing. I felt like a schoolboy walking away from home for the first time. We took a picture, and I begin the short drive to the church.  I felt independent for the first time in nearly a year. The trip was without incident and it took me longer to walk from my car to my office then it did for me to drive from home.  The California sunshine finally beat back the June gloom this afternoon, and I drove home with the top down and blaring the soundtrack from Hamilton.

 

Another lesson learned. Take my eyes off myself and focus on what’s in front of me. Don’t just look at my steps but how they work together to reach my destination.  I am sure I will face setbacks as the days of the calendar move on, but I am asking the Lord to help me see beyond the individual steps and run the race set before me.

Stepping up and Stepping out

June 2, 2019

Today was a day of Post-stroke firsts. We left the wheelchair at home and walked into church. We also did a “trial run” of me driving to and from the office. I packed my backpack with my computer, put it over my shoulders, and walked to my car. My only regret is that it was too cold and cloudy to take the top down. Tomorrow I get to do this unsupervised. I feel like a big kid now!