I consider myself to be fairly intelligent…you can stop laughing now. At least I’ve never auditioned for a reality television show and that has to be some sign of intelligence.
However, I’ve learned that I am no match for my brain. My brain has hundreds of thousands of years of evolution on its side and it does so many things automatically that it dwarfs my petty conscious actions like eating, reading, talking, and walking. Now that my brain has downsized some of the automatic functions, like sensing temperature and pain on half of my body, I have learned that I am incapable of taking over those functions…without help.
Enter the team
While I was in the main hospital a physician visited me and introduced herself as my ‘Rehabilitation’ doctor. At that time I did not understand that she would become my advocate and director of my recovery. Over the next few weeks I would learn that I was not being discharged to another hospital as much as I was being transferred to a team of people, including my Rehabilitation physician, who would bring their extensive professional skills into my battle with my brain.
As in most hospitals, the nursing staff at Renown Rehabilitation Hospital took on the role of monitoring my health and addressing the medical needs of my post-stroke body, however, the therapy staff became my coaches who devised the game plan¹ to reverse the damage caused by the stroke. Speech, occupational, and physical therapists each dedicated an hour per day to reestablishing a normal brain/body connection.
(¹My apologies for the sports metaphor…I blame it on the stroke…because I can, not because it’s true.)
Brain damage (or dain bramage, as I prefer to call it) is as individual as a fingerprint, so treatment is not something you find in a medical cookbook of cures. My condition after my stroke was diagnosed as Wallenberg’s Syndrome, but my symptoms ranged from spot on to the symptoms of Wallenberg’s, to mild or non-existent for issues such as loss of speech. My team of therapists worked like great artists as they created a plan of action to help the brain rewire around the damage caused by the stroke.
Speech therapy focused on swallow control and strengthening my voice. In three weeks I progressed from not being able to swallow water to being able to eat a regular meal, including salad. I have to be aware of what I’m doing when I eat, but I am near normal in the use of throat systems that separate breathing and food intake. My voice is easily tired, but continues to become stronger each day.
My Occupational therapist concentrated on vision, especially eye control. My double vision issue is caused, at least in part, to muscle control of both eyes. I should have known that she would be the one to help me in this area as my first short episode of single vision occurred when I first met her. Many of the exercises she has taught me actually exacerbate my vertigo (dizziness), however, I have experienced less vertigo and more episodes of single vision on days when I completed the exercises she taught me.
While all my therapists were exceptional, it is my physical therapist that I admire the most. She took on the challenge of getting me mobile again and to do it she had to deal with me and my quirky brain. I have four issues when it comes to walking. First is the lack of balance. I feel a strong pull to the right and when I try to counter it my brain wants me to lean to the right.
Second, is my double vision issue that place my right eye image over and at a 20° angle to my left eye image. I might have an easier time walking if I just knew which image was the one I should use for reference.
Third, each of my eyes have a slow ‘swim’ that prevents me from focusing on a single point, therefore, covering one eye does not necessarily give me an easier visual reference. Part of this issue is related to uncontrolled eye movement and part is a lack of fine-concentration skills that may have been, in small part, pre-existing to the stroke. I noticed about a year ago that I could not meditate on a single point without losing focus every few milliseconds. Since the stroke, the eye swim is more pronounced.
Finally, my vertigo has taken the front seat in my balance issues. Dizziness hits me almost every time I move my head making walking fun to watch, but not fun to do. My physical therapist has not only utilized her own skills and talents in addressing my brain damage, but also involved other physical therapists, including one who has experience dealing with vision and vertigo issues like mine. The result is that I can walk and when my vertigo is under control my walk is almost normal…almost.
My brain still has some rewiring work before I will be a fully functioning adult that can hop in the car and drive to Starbucks, but thanks to the team at Renown Rehabilitation Hospital, I’m weeks to months away from being able to being fully independent. That makes me the winner.
(NOTE: Paul was released from Renown Rehabilitation Hospital at 1:00 PM today, Saturday, February 25th and is now continuing his recovery at home.)