…With All Your Strength

State of the Stroke 2021, part two of a four part series

…And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” -Mark 12: 30-31

Have you asked or ever just accepted “things as they are?” I assumed for the last three years that my level of strength had peaked. It took me all of my energy to walk 500 feet or stand in the kitchen for more than 10 minutes. I would regularly sit down, gather myself together, and then get up and try again. My assumption was this was the way things were going to be, or at least I thought so.

This was from my blog back in March 2021:

I had a debilitating stroke 2 1/2 years ago, leaving my left hand primarily useless. I had to relearn to walk, which took about eight months, although my gait is awkward to watch, and no one calls me “Sir Speedy!” 250 steps are about the best I can do. I have set a goal to walk from the train station to the Mickey Mouse statue in Disneyland sometime next year.

One of the medications I’ve been taking for three years was Baclofen. This drug reduces the spasticity of muscles due to brain injury, I recently found out it did more than that. Between the hospital and the rehab unit, I was hospitalized for nearly a month. I found physical therapy exhausting. I assumed my lack of strength was because I had a stroke and my body was compromised.

When the brain seizures began earlier this year, and I wound up in the hospital numerous times, the doctors finally began to look at my medication as a possible cause. First, it was suggested that I might be “allergic” to Baclofen. So they began to reduce it and another medicine, Topomax, a drug that can be detrimental and harmful to people with brain injuries (me!) 

Baclofen Side Effects: (I had all of these!) Drowsiness, dizziness, weakness, tiredness, headache, trouble sleeping, nausea, increased urination, or constipation, mental/mood changes (such as confusion, depression, hallucinations) may occur.

Topomax Side Effects: (I had all of these as well!) Tiredness, drowsiness, dizziness, loss of coordination, tingling of the hands/feet, loss of appetite, bad taste in your mouth, diarrhea, and weight loss may occur. Mental problems such as confusion, slowed thinking, trouble concentrating or paying attention, nervousness, memory problems, or speech/language problems may also occur. 

While I was being weaned off these and couple of other medications, I suddenly found myself with more energy. I began to push myself again because I was actually seeing gains. No longer was I having to put a chair in the kitchen as I cooked. I had long conversations with people without having to sit down. Judy didn’t have to take the wheelchair to church because it was too far of a walk for me. Things dramatically improved!

I noticed a friend at church who had a small brace on her ankle. I asked her what it was for, and she said, drop foot. That is the condition that I have as well. So I did some research and approached my physical therapist about ordering one. He had never seen such a device but was willing to go ahead and have Kaiser foot the bill. From there, the real improvement began.

A walk around Cousteau Park in our neighborhood is about 1/3 of a mile. Before the brace, I timed myself to see how long it would take me. June 10 was my first-time trial. I came in at 18:37 minutes. Each day I improved my time, dropping it down to 14:38 seconds. After I began using the brace, my times dropped to below 10 minutes. On August 7, the last time I timed myself, my speed was 7:18 minutes. I had a shaved-off 11 minutes from my first walk.

Most days, I am walking at least a mile. I walked 3 miles at Salt Creek Beach two weeks ago, about half that time on the sand. I honestly thought I would never be able to walk on the beach again. This was beyond encouraging.

My perspective has changed. I am cooking dinner almost every night. I don’t dread walking in public (I don’t like it mind you, but I’m not as embarrassed. I would never say “praise God for the brain seizures,” but the medication issue may have never been found if not from them. I would’ve continued to wallow in self-pity and not have a very bright outlook for the future.

Forget just walking from the train station to the Disney statue. I’m walking all around the park!

God is good.

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