I read Facebook groups and blogs for disabilities, strokes & chronic illness. I see posts where a person gets sad or offended when someone tells them “ You look good”. I know there are times when I don’t feel good, I am in a lot of pain or I feel very sorry for myself. The last thing I would want to hear is “you look good” or “you look great!”.
In my opinion, when someone says those words they are not meant to be empty platitudes. Sometimes, folks just do not know what to say. And more than anything, it is usually said with love & genuine concern.
I am grateful when someone tells me “You look good”.
I am grateful because it takes a lot of effort for me to get ready to go out. Taking a shower can be exhausting. It takes a lot of time and frustration to get myself look presentable. I am glad when someone notices my efforts. There are days when I am in a lot of pain, and it shows on my face. When someone tells me I look good it means that for that day, at that time I am pain-free.
I am grateful because I work hard on my rehabilitation. I work my ass off to teach my brain to get back to some semblance of my old self. When someone tell me “ You look good” means my efforts are getting noticed.
And I am grateful because I have family and friends who support me, help me get through the tough times and are there to boost me up when I am at my lowest. I look good because I have their love and support to carry round.
I get it, folks with chronic pain or chronic illness the words “you look great” could sometimes be hard to hear. Pain is hidden and for most there is no end in sight. We may look good on the outside, but the fear of when the next brain fog, neuro fatigue or nerve pain will attack is always on our minds.
Despite the uncertainty, I choose to be grateful. I choose to see the good intention behind the words. I would like to think that when a person tells me that, he or she means it sincerely. I choose to believe that good health shows in face and my person. I will say thank you to anyone who sees this and care enough to let me know.
Have you found gratitude in an unusual place? Please share!
The Brazen Western Pacific race was my first ever 10k back in 2013. I planned on making this year’s race as my first post stroke 10k. I trained, I was pumped and I was ready. I asked my son Vincent to run this race with me.
I had trained, I walked around the neighborhood, walking up the hill and even attempting runs around the city track. Tuesday before the race, I walked/run 4 miles and I still felt good afterwards.
I posted my flat runner on social media and admitted I was a bit nervous for the following day. I was excited to do this race with Vincent. My plan was to have him run the 10k, finish get his medal and then have him wait for me at the last mile. He said “No, I want to stay and walk with you”. He gave me a boost of confidence! So we line up at the start, took the obligatory start line selfies and off we went! I decided to run intervals for this race. I did not use this method while training, but I figured it wasn’t going to make a lot of difference since while training, I run/walk anyway. I set my Garmin for a 2 min run 1 min walk. Vincent was goofing around (it’s nice to be at the back of the pack coz we had the trail to ourselves!) doing walking lunges during the walk phase on the intervals. Of course that didn’t last very long. Ha!
We kept up with the 2:1 intervals. It was 9:30 and it was already getting warm! I had lots of water in my pack so I wasn’t worried. Vincent & I were chatting and having a nice time. After the two mile mark, a very nice woman stopped me and told me how inspired she was to see me out there. She’s also had her share of health issues and she started crying, which of course set me off crying too! She ran the 10k and was on her last mile. She told me “no matter how long it takes you to finish, the important thing is that you finish!” I had her words in my head for the rest of the race. I had to finish.
My son was very impressed with the kindness and encouragement of the runners. He asked me how I knew all these people, I told him I didn’t know them, runners are just nice like that!
As we approach the turn around for the 10k, my leg started spazzing out. When my affected left leg spasms, it will kick out uncontrollably. I had to stop, stretch out a bit then continue. As with all Brazen races, the aid station was stocked with all kinds of goodies. Orange slices, candy, pretzels everything a runner needs to fuel up. I helped myself to some oranges hoping to get my energy level up again. We headed back. Vincent was getting very worried as I was leaning onto him while walking. I was determined to finish. A few runners were stopping to ask if I needed pain relief, others asked if they could get a course monitor to get help. I really must be looking pretty bad. I urged Vincent to keep walking. I was slowing down, but I wanted to finish. We were at 4.20 mi! (yes, my kid thought it would be funny to take a pic of my Garmin at 4.20)
I keep trying to convince him to continue we were so close! Mind over matter right? Focus on the finish! One step at a time. I had filled my mind with positive self talk (they didn’t work). I kept moving. I was willing my leg to move. I was literally talking to my leg out loud “swing, land on heel, roll to toe.” Since I was using my right to compensate for my left, I started having shooting pains going up my right leg. Vincent was clearly worried. It was nearing 11:30 am and the sun was beating down on us. Many of the runners could tell I was in trouble. Vincent had already asked one of the returning runners to let people the next aid station know that we neeeded help (despite my protests).
At this point, the lines of communication between my leg and brain have completely stopped. My foot was rolling over at every step, my leg was frozen and i was completely hunched over to my right. As hard as it was, it was time to admit defeat. A runner helped my son walk me to the bench. It was clear that walking was not happening. As we sat waiting for help to arrive, I was still contemplating the last mile. It was so close. I tried standing up, but Vincent held me back. I saw relief on Vincent’s face when the ranger’s truck finally pulled up and he had the a/c on at full blast.
As we were nearing the finish area I could hear Sam (the Brazen race coordinator)calling out the names of the finishers, the audience cheering and I could see the happy, triumphant faces of the runners. I was devastated. I had let myself down, my brain worked against me. I so wanted this to be a victory, not just for me but for other stroke survivors as well. I wanted my family & friends to be proud of me. I feel that I had let a lot of people down. The exhaustion that I felt from the race, did not measure up to the sadness, pain and disappointment I felt inside.
Now that a few days have passed since the race, I’ve had some time to think about what happened. Although I didn’t finish the race, I still tried my best. I am grateful to have a 19 year old son who still likes to hang out with his crazy momma. He and I got to witness the kindness of other runners who were willing to help and lend support when we were in need.
I have also received so many positive feedback and support from my family and friends. Am I still sad about this? Yes, I definitely am. I am also still experiencing pain in my hip and shoulder. My brain is still a bit foggy. Neuro fatigue takes a bit longer to recover from.
I am sad and disappointed. But I’m in no way stopping! I might lick my wounds for a few days, rest up the old noggin and come up with a better training plan. There will be another race, another 10k and I will come back!
Thank you, thank you to everyone who slowed down, stopped and offered encouragement, Advil, Bio-freeze and Gu. i know those few seconds mattered in terms of a PR.
I would like to give a special shout out to my son Vincent for putting up with me. We had nice conversations and talked about anything under the sun. He knew I wanted to finish the race, so he tried his best to give me emotional boosts and physical support. He was propping me up, urging me to keep walking. But it came to a point where he knew it was time to just stop. In his gut, he knew I could be in danger. I am grateful to him for looking out for me.
Whew! I’ve had my mailing list set-up on MailChimp for like forever. The email where I invite people I know, people I have interacted with and family members to introduce them to my blog. You see, some of them don’t have face-insta-twit or they are just not a part of my social media circle.
I have had the list set-up, formatted, re-formatted for a couple of months now. I have been too worried to hit send because…well…I am afraid. I am afraid of rejection, I am afraid of criticism etc. etc. But fear will not move me forward nor will it help me get my story out. So today, I clicked send.
But even with just one hand to type and getting seriously brain tired after a few sentences, I’ve got a story to tell! I may not tickle your fancy like E.L James, or give you nightmares like Stephen King (he, is the reason I am afraid of– no why I hate clowns). So if this is your first time here on my blog, welcome. Stay for a bit, I hope you enjoy what you read and come back. If you have visited before, welcome back. I do hope you keep coming back.
Now that I’ve hit send remember I am just a girl, sitting by her laptop, waiting for you all to read my story 😉
So, it has been 6 months since I had the Baclofen Pump surgically installed inside my body. Yup, had my stomach cut up, and a foreign device inserted to get medicine pumped directly into my spinal column to get my stroke affected leg to move somewhat normally again. This quite invasive surgery had set me up with great expectations. I had that scene from Forrest Gump in my head. You know, the part where Forrest was running from a pack of bullies, Jenny cheering him on with “run, Forrest, run!!!” His leg braces flying off and he takes off! Yup, I envisioned myself running as soon as I got out of the hospital. Reality hit me smack in the face. My leg still felt like it was 20 pounds heavier than the rest of my body. I noticed some improvement. I felt my knee bending, my leg felt lighter ( 20 lbs is better than 30 right?), but running is still proving to be difficult. My foot is still curling in too. I am able to walk faster, and have even tried jogging. I use the term jogging very loosely. My walk is much faster than my jog 🙂 My doctor and I are still working out the kinks. Still trying to figure out the correct therapeutic dose. Too much and my leg will turn to spaghetti, too little and the implant will be pointless.
In late November, when the pump was refilled the Doctor changed the concentration of the medicine. It is now heavier which means I only need a smaller dose (theoretically). He told me that it will take a few days for me to feel the difference. Unfortunately, I did feel a difference. But it was for the worse. My leg has
returned to pre pump status. My leg feels so much heavier and my friends and family are noticing that I am dragging my foot again and my knee is not bending. The nerve pain on my thigh also returned. Unfortunately, The nerve pain has also been really bad on my shoulder. I have been stuck in an insurance limbo this past December, so I am unable to call my doctor for advice and assistance. Read about that mess here:
I am sad that the pump is not working out as quickly as I expected. I would be really angry if it does not work at all. I am still putting on the work: walking regularly, going to the gym, stretching and strengthening not only my leg, but my body.
I am broken hearted. I had that huge goal of running the NYC marathon in 2017. A wise friend advised me to take a step back, analyze my goals and slow my roll. Perhaps, I will start with actually running first. No matter how slow, I will get myself to run again. I need to build my endurance. I need to start training. I need to set short term goals. I know for sure that I will do the 408k in March. I would like to actually run that race. And not take two hours to finish.
As hard as it is, I have to put aside my NYC marathon goal for now. FOR NOW! I will revisit this in a couple of years.
After working a six hour shift slinging McBurgers, my mom and dad came to pick me up from work asking me to hook them up with a couple of Mcsandwiches. So, I walk back in the restaurant as this tall goofy boy was hanging up a handwritten sign that said “.99 hot Fudge Sundays” I stood there trying not to laugh, when the other person who was behind the counter asked me, “do you see anything wrong with this sign?” I was a new employee and to be quite honest fresh off the boat and quite shy and timid (imagine that) I did not want to make anyone angry at me. But being the big nerd that I am I answered, “Other than the bad hand writing? I don’t think we are selling the day of the week”. The tall, goofy guy looked at me, rolled his eyes and flashed a brace filled smile. I got my sandwiches, and as i was walking out Goofy guy asked if I wanted to go out sometime. I was a product of an all girl’s Catholic school and I have never, ever been on a date before. I must’ve stammered something coz he gave me that smile again while he held the door open for me. A couple of chaperoned dates later (my dad would not let me go out with him unless we were chaperoned), our McRomance blossomed. That was twenty five plus years ago.
I can honestly say, we have come a long way from saying “would you like fries with that?”. Both of us worked our way through school, Armando earned his degree in Political Science from Santa Clara University, where a few years later, I received my Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. It was fitting that we had our wedding at the beautiful Mission Santa Clara. This past August, we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. The twenty years were spent raising two boys (Vincent-18 and Scotty-15), Armando served as a Milpitas Council member for 12 years while helping the San Jose mayor balance the budget and I have been a case manager and counselor for the homeless, for schools and i’ve also worked as a substitute teacher.
Our marriage is not all about roses and rainbow, there had been storms along the way. But no one could have ever predicted the level F-5 tornado we would be facing in October of 2014. Armando sat by my bedside night after night while I was in the hospital. During the day, he went home, took care of the boys, then went to work. In the evening he came back. He read to me, told me about the day he and the boys have had. He did this even as I was asleep for long periods of time.
Armando, the goofy dude who misspelled “sundae”, has and continues to be the rock that holds me up when I am about to fall. He has more than upheld his end of the vows we promised each other on August 10, 1996. I know I sometimes forget to say “thank you” and I know saying “thank you” is not nearly enough. My emotional survival and physical recovery would not have been possible without him by my side.
Often, the person who is sick or is recovering from an illness gets all of the attention from family and friends. Their caregivers do not get the love and attention that they so well deserve. Armando has given up so much so he can support me. I would not have made the progress I have now if he wasn’t by my side. He has picked up the slack in terms of getting the kids to school, keeping up the housework, taking me to doctors appointments and making delicious meals! He gets tired, he gets frustrated and yet he continues to be strong not just for me, but for the boys too.
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:
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.
I sometimes know what I want to say, but cannot immediately find the words.
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.
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.
Loud noises and crowded places zaps my energy. This is getting better. I am thankful for that.
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.
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.
A few weeks ago, I underwent a trial to see if I was a candidate for a Baclofen pump As the results were positive, I elected to ahead and go through with the surgery. The doctors told me, that there was going to be a two to three month wait to get something scheduled. I was eager, but was not bothered by the wait time. I was going to use that time to work-out, strengthen my core and just get stronger all over, After all, I will not be able to exercise the way I am used to for 7 weeks after the surgery and there will be no pool exercises till the incision heals (one month).
One week after the trial, the doctor called and told me that there is an available time on August 25th, a mere three weeks after the trial! I think I mumbled something that goes ” Like, this August? In like two weeks?.” The doctor replied that I can have the rest of the day to think about it and to let him know the next day what my answer would be. I panicked a little, thinking I let go of an opportunity. I talked things over with Armando and we both agreed to give it a go.
The day of the surgery came, we check-in and get settled into the pre-op room. As soon as I get into my hospital gown, the nurse told me that the surgery time was moved forward, The surgery in front of me got cancelled.
Waking up, I am now officially battery operated. The battery would last seven years, but I would need a “top off” every few months.
To be honest, I expected to “run” out of the hospital. I didn’t expect the pain that I was going to be in. I knew going in that I will be given the smallest dose to start with but it was still disappointing that the result is not instantaneous. It was like opening a much desired Christmas present, but the major parts are still missing. The medicine will be slowly adjusted until it reaches the best therapeutic dose. I now need to work much harder as I have been given a major tool for recovery. I do have to take it easy for a few weeks to let the “equipment” settle into my body. This next few weeks I am only allowed to walk, lift no more than 5 lbs, no twisting and no reaching up, no sit-ups and no jumping. Yikes! I really have to watch what I eat to stay healthy.I will be seeing my physical therapist soon, so I will work with her on safe and effective workouts.
One of the nurses asked me what my plans are now that I have the implant. I had only told my close friends and family this goal:, I plan on running the NYC Marathon in 2017. I will enter the lottery in January, and if I do not get picked through the lottery, I will enter as a fund-raiser. I heard a saying once (not really 100% sure of the words) that goes “If you let your intentions known,the universe will conspire to make it happen” So here you go universe I have set forth my intention: I will run 26.2 miles of NYC!
I had just finished my balance exercises. Somehow, during the stroke my brain’s wiring got all jumbled up and balance was one of the things that got fried. This is true for many stroke survivors. So as much as I can, I have added balance exercises to my daily routine. I look kinda funny standing in a corner eyes closed, wobbling precariously. Brain rewiring is not a glamorous job.
Balance has always been elusive to me (heck, I can’t even balance my checkbook. HA) I look really funny riding a bike. My boys always teased me about getting training wheels. As I relearn how physically balance, I am also learning how to have balance in other aspects of my life. I am now a much slowed down version of myself, so planning and balance is essential. There was a time where I could get caught up in reading a book for hours. And still be able to be ready to get the boys to where they need to go. Now, I need to be cognizant of the amount of time I do things. I can spend a good of time reading, watching t.v. or surfing the internet, but those activities will not help me get better. I put in time to workout, write, work on my hand and fingers and stretching (this helps with getting my movement back). I need to once again be a productive member of society. How do I fit all of these in one day? How do you keep balance in your life?
I had done the five day ITB Pump trial. I can say that the results were amazing! For a couple of days, I was able to feel how to walk “almost” normally again.
I “checked in” on Monday. After getting out of my street clothes and changing into the standard issue uber sexy hospital gown and settling into my room, the nurse took vitals and I set to wait for the doctors. The doctors came in and gave me a rundown of what was going to happen the next five days (We were in constant phone contact prior to this day, so this was just a review).
The doctors then prepped my back for the insertion of the catheter which will infuse Baclofen directly to my spine. They start with a super low dose. After the insertion, I am to lay flat on my back for 6-8 hours to allow the insertion site to heal. Otherwise, I run the risk of getting a spinal headache. Which according to the doctors, is the worse headache one could ever experience. I was not even allowed to bend my legs. Apparently, I did not follow this direction to a T coz I got a headache that kicked my ass the next day. I wanted to do a test walk, so I lied and told the Dr. I was fine.
The first day at a low dose, I already felt a difference! My steps felt lighter and my foot was not curling in. The doctor and I walked a couple of times around the floor. My headache was getting worse, so we had to stop. And once again I had to lay completely flat on my back for a few hours.
Wednesday, the physical therapist came by to walk with me. We once again just walked around the floor. I asked if they had a treadmill, unfortunately they didn’t (i brought running clothes!!). I really wanted to try my new legs! She watched the video of me walking before the medicine was hooked up. It turned out that I was walking the wrong way. I was walking fast and steady, but I had adapted by walking while swinging my leg outwards to make big steps. I now have to relearn how to walk again. I also walked around with Armando and Scotty, they even noticed the difference! Scotty said “You don’t walk like Frankenstein anymore!”
Thursday I was at full dose. My leg felt light, I didn’t feel any tone or spasticity, I wanted to run! Later that day, they started tapering down the medicine I was receiving. I had so many mixed feelings. I have many questions, I was anxious. I knew that when I wake up the next day the little bit of freedom that I had was going to be gone. My light legs will be gone. I was sad.
Friday was check out day. The catheter was removed and I was placed on flat bed rest again for the rest of the day. The doctors came in and talked to me about the results of the trial. He was glad that I had thought to record myself walking as it served as a good reference for the trial. We took a before and during video during the trial. Both the Doc and the PT were very encouraged by the results, they think I will get very good results from getting the implant. The decision is mine.
The medicine is now completely off my system and I can definitely say that it made a big difference. I have talked it over with my family, I have thought about it the past few days. I am leaning towards getting the implant. Do I have HUGE expectations? You bet! I have some time to think about this, I have many questions. My family and I also have our reservations because as with any surgery there are risk. But seeing the difference, how could I even have a second thought?
On Monday July 11th 2016, I will be checking in at Kaiser Redwood City for 5 days. This time, I am going in on own volition. I was reading up on post stroke treatments and there are many out there. Many of these options were not brought up by my doctors. In my research, I learned about the Intrathecal Baclofen Pump or ITB pump. Baclofen is a medication that I take that helps relieve the spasticity and tone that was the result of the stroke. In simple terms, spasticity is why my hands stay clenched or why my knee does not bend when I walk. I’ll get into detail about tone and spasticity on another post.
I have worked hard at getting to walk again, I can even try do a quick jog. But when I do, my left leg feels like it is wrapped in a cement block. By getting the pump, I hope that the tone on my leg would ease up enough so I could run again. I won’t be in constant fear of falling on my face again, and I wont be causing damage to my other joints.
This 5 day stay will be to determine if the pump is suitable for me. The trial period involves the insertion of a catheter through my spine where the medicine will be delivered. During the hospital stay, they will determine if the medication is a good fit for me. They will also determine the right amount of medicine that I will need. I am to get physical therapy twice a day to get an objective view of my progress or lack of. After the trial, if the medication is effective, I can decide if I will go ahead with the implant surgery.
I maybe putting too much hope into this trial. I am expecting that this trial will show that I will be able to run again. That my leg will function as it should again. That it will stop the painful spasms that wake me up in the middle of the night as if someone is tightening a vice grip on my thighs. I have very high hopes. After the trial period, I will have a few months to decide if I would want the surgically implanted in my abdomen with a thin catheter attached to my spine delivering medication.
The doctor has informed me that this method had worked very well for people with such high spasticity that they are not able to get up from their wheelchairs. In my mind, this sounded like this “if it helps people who cannot walk get up and walk again, then imagine what it can do for me!”. The doctor quickly burst that bubble by saying “you might not notice much difference in you” BUZZKILL!!!!
I am scared, I have high expectations, I am hopeful. If there is a chance that this will work, this trial is where I get to find out.
Please send out some positive vibes for me! Stay tuned!