Over the Edge and Getting a Grip

First a confession. When I signed for the Downtown Dropdown challenge, I thought it wasn’t happening until October. I would blame the confusion on my broken brain, but confusion has always been my M.O. even before the stroke so there’s that. Anyway, I received the welcome email and was shocked and kinda scared that the event was only a week and a half away. Eek!!

The fundraiser benefits Downtown Streets, an organization which serves homeless and low-income individuals, giving them the chance to make a positive change in their lives. Living in the Bay Area, where the cost of housing is astronomical, homelessness has become an epidemic. The fundraiser is still ongoing.  Any amount you could give will be helpful & appreciated.

My family was not too excited about this craziness that I got myself into. They have every reason to be nervous. The building is 236 feet high (16 stories) and I will be lowered by ropes, with no net to catch me at the bottom. I was a little nervous, but I was also confident that I would be safe. I am sure that a big company like Adobe would not allow for an event such as this if all the proper safety precautions were not taken. There were little things niggling in my head: how will I be able to hold on to the rope? Will I be able to kick off the wall to help with my descent? How high is the building again?

The “day” arrived. I read all the instructions, precautions and details. After all the waivers were signed (there were a lot of them!), it was time to put me in the harness. It was a full body harness which wrapped around my hips and upper body. I had trouble putting the glove on my left hand, my fingers were not going in the proper spots. People kept asking me, “are you nervous?” Umm duh… We took the elevator to the 15th floor, then climbed up the stairs to the roof. There was a set-up for “training”. Basically, they taught me how to control my speed, what to do if the harness locks up-the rope has a braking system that locks up if one is going too fast. The lever to lead me down the rope will be controlled by my left hand. At first, I was “uh-oh, that would be tough.” But after a couple of practice sessions, I knew I could handle it (no pun intended).

The training session

So after the five or so minutes of training, I was ready to be hooked up to the rig. I was reminded of the steps: left hand to release, right to give the rope slack, keep feet on wall and gently walk down. And oh at around 20 feet there will be a stone column and you will lose your footing. Just keep going down then return feet to wall. Yup, easy peasy! Hooked up to the rig, I was ready to climb the ledge. That was the toughest part! It was not from fear that I couldn’t get up, but my left leg would not move. I asked one of the volunteers to lift my left up for me. The view up there was breathtaking. San Jose stretched out before me in all of it’s blue, hazy glory.  It’s go time! One cheesy smile for the official photographer (which will be my profile photo on social media for the next few years.) and I was off! I truly tried to enjoy the view, but there was so much stimulation happening around me. There was music, The instructions to remember, the cheering and reminders on the radio. It was no wonder that I was so tired after.

I had too much to think about and my poor brain could only hold so much info. Left hand-pull lever, right hand pulls rope. Feet on wall. Enjoy the view. Annnd…the stone column was before me. My left hand had slipped from the lever, and from down below, it looked as if I was stuck. The pros were checking in with me through the radio.  I just had to readjust my grip and I was off. I had to adjust my grip a few times. My feet did not work out too well. Once I was past the column, I could not get them back up on the wall. Someone on the radio was telling me to return my feet to the wall. Sorry lady, that was not happening. I don’t know what I could have done differently. Perhaps, I need to further strengthen my core so I could easily lift my legs up. My descent wasn’t as graceful as I would have liked but hey I landed.

I was so proud of myself!  I felt strong. I felt like a total badass. With my feet firmly on solid ground, I glanced up. That was when all the tears came.

I probably will do it again next year. It all depends on whether I could raise the funds.  In the meantime, what’s the next crazy challenge should I tackle? Maybe skydiving. Again?

 

Much Love,

Momma Berna

Low Heels, High Expectations

I love shoes. I would switch between sexy heels and sweaty running shoes.  Nowadays, I live in Tom’s canvas shoes and since it’s winter, I get to wear boots with the fur (enjoy that earworm. You’re welcome 🙂 )

My husband and I were invited to a birthday party. I wanted to get all dressed up. I ordered myself a form fitting dress and feeling brave, I picked up a pair of not so high heeled sandals. I practiced walking around the house and I did fairly well. I was able to keep my balance and my left foot felt strong.

The day of the party came. I got my hair and face done, squeezed myself into my dress and strapped on my shoes. As an afterthought, I had my husband bring a pair of my trusty canvas shoes.

We got lucky and found a parking spot about a block away from the restaurant and club where the party was happening. By lucky, I mean we had to drive around downtown for an hour where every parking structure and over priced lots were full.

 Walking on the sidewalk  is a whole different ball game than walking around the house. I was very, very wobbly.  I was grabbing on to my husband’s arm as if my life depended on it. It did. I was trying to walk gracefully, but it was not happening.

As we walked in the restaurant, a few people were staring. Looking at my feet, looking at me and shaking their heads. Since I really do not have any visible damage from the stroke, wobbling the way I did and having a death grip on my husband made it seem like I was drunk. I knew people were looking and judging. I kept walking knowing I have good friends, good food and good champagne waiting.

I headed to the bathroom after dinner, my foot at this point was done.  Walking really poorly, I managed to roll my ankle and I heard a slight pop. Panic set in and I was leaning on my husband not wanting to put weight on my foot. That was when two young women walked out of the bathroom.  They stared, whispered and giggled. I was visibly upset thinking that I had sprained/broken my ankle. Armando led me to one of the chairs in the lobby and the two young women were standing by the elevator still giggling, phones out. I’ve had enough. I told them loudly “I am not drunk” (which on hindsight made me sound like a real drunk).  I was about to tear them a new one, but my husband stepped in and diffused the situation. I was in pain and I was scared that I had broken my already weak ankle that I have been working so hard to get stronger. I was upset that there are people who would laugh at another’s suffering.

What happened to kindness, empathy or sympathy? Was I expecting too much? I was obviously in pain and was distraught and the young ladies quite possibly were sharing my situation on their social media. When have people become desensitized to another’s pain that instead of offering comfort, they offer social media fodder. The amount of “likes” and responses validates the poor behavior. I got over the judging looks and whispered remarks, heck I know I looked drunk and wobbly. What bothered me is that there are people out there who callously would laugh about someone else’s pain. Finding validation for bad behavior will only encourage those young ladies to find their next “victim”.  There were many opportunities for someone to show kindness that evening.  A kind word or a sympathetic smile would have been sufficient.  

laughter, expectations, party
Still Standing

Thankful that I brought my reliable Tom’s and my foot was not broken, I was still able to hobble and I still looked hot (or a hot mess)  at the party. It was AH-MAY-ZING!!! The music was heavily 90’s and the dancing was fun. Drinks were flowing and the company great. Lots of laughs and shenanigans ensued. One of the advantages of having a crappy short term memory is that I temporarily forgot about the ugliness at the restaurant and I enjoyed the party!  My husband and I had a much needed night out. 

Hope the New Year brings you joy, love and kindness!

Much Love, 

Momma Berna

high expectations, low heel,
The Aftermath
Bad Shoes
The evil heel!

The Stroke Survivors Club

I belong to a stroke survivor support group. Recently, one of the members welcomed someone new with words along the lines of; “Welcome to the club, the membership fee to enter is hefty, but you will be surrounded by a great group of people.”  What stuck with me were the words “the membership fee is hefty”.  It has never crossed my mind that I now belong to the Stroke Survivors Club. I do not remember filling out an application. It is not a club that anyone would willingly want to belong. And yet, here I am.  And yes, I paid a high price for my membership.  And unfortunately, there are no refunds.

Club membership includes my family.  They were recruited and have been drafted to be my helpers. I’m quite sure it wasn’t what they were expecting to be doing at this point of their lives.

family, strong family, stroke support,
Nothing beats the support of family.

The Stroke Survivors Club does not discriminate. All ages, races and status are welcome.  And your recovery will be made better with the support of family and friends.

There are some perks. There’s the premier parking spot which comes in handy specially around the holidays 🙂   Kidding aside, this club will help you find out how strong you really are. The challenges you will encounter is not for the faint hearted.  survivor strength, survivor strongNo one asked to be in this club.  Membership is for life. But you will learn about yourself, you will learn about who you can trust and who you can rely on. You will learn to fight. And fight hard you will. You will fight professionals telling you that you have reached the end of your recovery, you will fight against yourself when a little voice inside you tells you it’s time to give up. You will fight negativity from people around you.

The Stroke Survivors Club is comprised of warriors. We are warriors who have faced great challenges and have found a way to surmount them.  And we keep on fighting.

Much love,

MommaBerna 

My Broken Brain

 

What I had was a hemorrhagic stroke. A vein in my brain burst  which caused blood to leak . The blood then caused parts of my brain to be deprived of oxygen causing permanent damage.  I was told that my brain became so swollen that it had shifted from it’s original position. I did not know this at the time, but the doctors told Armando that if the swelling did not go down, they might have to open up my head (craniotomy) to relieve the pressure. They also told him, i might not survive that surgery.  Thankfully, that did not happen.  But I was still left with a broken brain. I have both physical and cognitive  damage from the stroke.

The brain fog is really tough to deal with. Imagine waking up one day and all the colors and sounds around you have taken a very dull edge.  If you are near sighted, please remove your glasses.  I know that you are now struggling with seeing things that are far away. You might be able to recognize objects, people or colors but you really have to strain or squint to know who or what they are.  Now put your glasses back on, everything is crisp and clear again! If you have perfect vision, well… We don’t like you.HA! Just kidding!!!  This blurry, dull version of the world is my new reality.  My brain now has a difficult time processing more than one sensory input at a time. If I am reading or watching something and someone starts talking to me, I would have to turn off the television or put down the Kindle for me to be able to understand what the other person is telling me. Sounds can either be too loud or too soft, my voice will sometimes be too loud or too soft.

The stroke also threw my emotions off balance. My emotional filter is gone.  I feel so bad for my family as anything they say or do could send me into a crying jag or a fit of anger. It was also hard for me to feel joy. That was devastating. There were so many things that I should have been happy for but I could not feel that light, joyful feeling in my heart. I often wonder, did the stroke damage my “happy” center?

I still have trouble using my left arm and hand. It is the same with my leg. There is a miscommunication between my brain and my muscles. I describe it this way “my brain speaks English, while my left side all of a sudden spoke Mandarin.” They could not understand each other. My physical therapist told me I should trademark that phrase. It is a simple but effective way to describe the damage that I have on the left side of my body (hemipharesis).

I work very hard to get back all that I can physically and mentally. I know I am making progress. For now, these are the things that I really struggle with:

  1. I have a short attention span.  If I am talking and I get interrupted, there is a chance that I will not be able to continue or remember what I am talking about.
  2.  I sometimes know what I want to say, but cannot immediately find the words.
  3. I may ask you for the same information more than once. My short term memory is finicky at best.  On the plus side, I am an excellent secret keeper.
  4.  I still get tired very easily. What’s a simple task for most people takes more energy for me.  Not only physically, but also mentally. I cannot walk and talk at the same time.  I will either trip, or lose track of our conversation.
  5. Loud noises and crowded places zaps my energy. This is getting better. I am thankful for that.
  6. My emotions are a mess. I get easily hurt by things that should not matter. I am getting better at this, I do not like that I had my family was walking on eggshells around me.
  7. Chronic nerve pain (neuropathy) is a constant struggle. I could be walking along all fine and dandy then the next minute BOOM, my foot would feel like it is being stabbed by a million hot, sharp pins and needles. My shoulder and thigh  are also affected by this pain,

On October 28th, it will be two years since I’ve had a stroke.  I believe I have made some incredible recoveries. However, I still have a very long way to go. So I keep on working, I keep on researching for new ways to improve,  new treatments available, and of course good old fashioned hard work. At the same time, I will live my life fully and love whole heartedly.

 

Much Love,

Momma Berna