Every May, we recognize National Stroke Month. It’s a time for us to raise awareness about the impact of stroke not just on the individual, but on the family. This month, two people are going to share their stroke story from two very different perspectives: survivor and partner. Each week this month, we’ll hear from Steve, a stroke survivor, and his partner Tracy. They’ll recount their experiences at different stages of the recovery process, and provide a perspective that only someone who has been there before can.
These past weeks, Tracy shared what happened the first few days after Steve’s stroke and his transition to rehab. Today, she talks about participating in Steve’s therapy and watching him slowly improve.
It’s been two weeks since Steve suffered his stroke and for the first time since the craniectomy he looks into the mirror at his reflection with me at his side. “Are you shocked Steve?” I ask. Half of his head had been shaved for the surgery. The incision full of staples runs from right behind his ear to the back middle section of his head directly above his neck and then straight up the middle of his head to his forehead at which it stops. He calmly replied, “No, but now we have to shave the other half too.” Smiling at him I said, “You don’t look so bad with a bald head.” He smiled. Well, a little half right side smile actually – it’s very endearing.
Friends and family start to visit, and they visit often. Steve enjoys the visits, but he longs for our little dog Ruby. He tells me he needs to see and hold her. Trisha (Steve’s Case manager) gives me the necessary paperwork to make this visit happen. Ruby comes to visit with Steve. I was a little worried Ruby might be frightened of the environment and would shy away from Steve. That would break his heart. He has been asking for her for weeks. Ruby and I were waiting on veranda for Steve. Ruby was happily occupying herself watching a little bird eat crumbs on the concrete patio. Steve wheeled close to Ruby and stopped. And then as soon as he took his helmet off Ruby leaped up into his lap and nuzzled up close to his face. It was a sweet, peaceful moment.
At this point, he is into the rehab routine – we both are. But the one thing he still can’t get used to is his dysphagia diet. Steve has many passions, one being food. So to say he was less than thrilled about his new diet is putting it mildly. Soon, Magee staff noticed Steve was not eating well and they shared their concern with me. The dilemma was finding a food that Steve would eat that also would be healthy and safe for him to digest. To make matters more complicated, the brain trauma has caused him to be overly sensitive to smells and tastes. Karissa and I bring in a variety of Greek yogurts, rice puddings, and cottage cheese with pineapples. Immediately, the staff begin to incorporate these food items into his diet. Slowly and steadily, Steve’s appetite improves. And not long after that Aimee (Steve’s speech therapist) has upgraded him to a normal diet.
Aimee is wonderful with Steve. She goes out of her way to make his meals a little more of adventurous for him. Aimee orders Steve a Panini! And what a joy to see Steve pick up the sandwich himself and take a nice big healthy bite from it.
At first, Steve’s recovery seems very slow. I had to truly learn what “one step at a time” means. It is a process and I needed to accept this and it would take a great deal of patience on my part, as well as Steve’s to come to understand. I needed to listen when the staff would tell me that Steve was improving and listen to them when they told me of his weaknesses and trust them. Because sometimes I just didn’t see these improvements, nor so I want to admit his weaknesses.
But then, one day, it just seemed to… happen. I got it. I began to understand and started to see the things they were telling me about Steve’s journey to recovery.
There was one day in particular that I saw just how far he had come. I went to visit, and Steve tells me he has some good news: for the first time since he arrived at Magee, he didn’t need to use the Hoyer lift to get out of bed in the morning. He tells me an aide assisted him and he was able to transfer from bed to wheelchair without it. I am stunned and completely overjoyed! He is now able to sit up with assistance and with a little direction, guidance and gentle spotting from his Magee Rehab Hospital caregiver transfer from bed to wheel chair. This is a magnificent step forward. Personally, I find it just amazing to witness this astonishing accomplishment.
But his accomplishments don’t just begin and end there. I sit in on one of Steve’s therapy sessions with Megan and Mike. Steve is working on transfers. With assistance, he stands up from his wheelchair and sits down on the mat. The mat is raised to seat high. For some reason, I started to feel a little queasy. I must be nervous and worried he might fall. This is the first time in weeks I see Steve not strapped into a wheel chair or in his alarmed hospital bed. He starts off with stretches. Next, he practices sitting upright. They place a mirror in front of him so he can see his posture for he sure feels as though he is sitting up straight but it actuality is not. The queasy feeling soon leaves when my confidence in Steve’s ability grows. I watch him do incredible things with his therapists. He gets frustrated, yes, but he never gives up.
I thank Megan and Mike for allowing me to participate and tell Steve what a wonderful job he did. Then I say, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, for it is much brighter and clearer today.
One day closer we are. Steve will soon be discharged from Magee’s inpatient care. And then starts a whole new journey.