Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Spasticity and Botox Again

My next series of Botox injections is May 1st. So is it any wonder the effectiveness of my Botox is wearing out. I hope upon hope with each series of injections that the effectiveness will carry through until the next appointment, but I'm literally sorely disappointed. The spasticity returns full force weeks before the next series is due. Not that the spasticity disappears with the Botox, but it brings the pain down to a dull roar and the tightness into manageable levels where some movement is possible.

Keep in mind that mine is not the average spasticity that quite a few post stroke survivors suffer with. It isn't sporadic episodes, but a constant bane to my existence of living post stroke. It is classified as severe spasticity. There no cure or treatment that works 100% for anybody. Heck, they (the researchers) are still trying to define it. It's that different in everyone stricken with it. So there isn't even a sure definition for it.

But from my standpoint, it's clear as crystal that the muscles tighten involuntarily, and then cramp. These cramps can last from several seconds to hours. Of course me, being Ms. Abby Normal and Ms. Overachiever, the cramping has to go on for hours around the clock. The only thing that saves me from nonstop agony and crying is my dry needling sessions. Unfortunately, I would have to have dry needling three times a week to keep the spasticity from worsening when my Botox wears off. I'd be in debt up to my eyeballs at $45 a session during these periods. I think even Bill Gates would have a problem with this kind of bill looking at the expenditure for the rest of his life. I'm not a spring chicken or even a fall hen any more, but still I have quite a few years left in me. I'd kind of like to live out my life as relatively pain free as possible without being drugged out of my gourd, wouldn't you?

I'd love to not have needles poked into me up to a hundred times a dry needling session also, but it's one of those love/hate relationships. It's where you tell the physical therapist to "hurt you good" so you aren't in continual pain from the spasticity. It's almost like a sadist/masochist relationship where no sexual pleasure is derived just pain relief.

My inside elbow after dry needling
I'd love not to look like a junkie (drug addict) from all the bruising that can be the results of dry needling too.  Within hours my arm will look like pictured. After 24 hours, all the nice black bruising is evident. Yes, I ask for it. Heck, I'm even paying for them to do it to me. How desperate is that? Like a junkie I have to have my dry needling fix to keep moving.

If there were one drug I could take to stop this cycle, you know I'd be the first in line for it.

But there isn't one. So I accept this treatment as a last resort. It's the only way I've found that works and keeps me moving. If it wasn't for the spasticity being so bad, I'd almost have full movement again. I can voluntarily straighten my elbow, open my right hand and straighten my fingers, with strong concentration, with the full Botox and dry needling. From week 2 after Botox to week 4, I can do this. It's slow going but I have voluntary movement on command. But I gradually lose function after that. As you can imagine, I work the Dickens out of my arm, and fingers during that time in the hopes of strengthening my weak muscles to combat the spasticity. For the past two years, I've been on this cycle of excitement, and then frustration. But still I'm fighting. It is tiring. Frustration does get the better of me, but I keep at it.

My inverted right foot and foot drop still makes walking difficult. After two years of dry needling I haven't progressed farther than one step without my AFO, but I'm still working at this too. I've noticed that the calf muscles have decreased in size over the past year. A loss of muscle mass is always concerning, but it can be gained back with time. My right calf is about half the size of my left. It's not because I don't work both calf muscles, I do. It's because of the AFO. Only half the support of my body is actually done by those muscles. But then again, I've always had very muscular thighs and calves from weight lifting in the past too. I may on occasion lift 50 lb bags of feed now, but it is a rarity rather than the norm these days. I've got a Mel for that.

I'm just going to have to work my right side more to build the muscles back up.You've heard of the One Hit Wonders? I'm a One Step Wonder. The ankle is weak and wobbles. My foot will actually bend and be locked into a greater than 70 degree angle of supination without the Botox and dry needling. Oh, and my toes? My big toe will point straight up and the rest of my toes will curl under. Try bearing weight like that! If it wasn't for my knee and hip being artificial already, I'd be worried about the continual strain they'd be under. Even so, my muscles holding these joints are strained with every step I take. Does this stop me from moving under my own power? Nope! I'm enjoying every moment I can on my own two feet. Every day I try standing and taking steps without my AFO. One day, I might just be surprised and take off.

Until then, it's Botox and dry needling.

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Adaptive Gardening


Is there a sure indicator that spring is on the way, it's this holiday. So what does this mean? To gardeners and adaptive gardeners alike, it's time to get planting! I've organic gardened for the better part of half my life. Having to give up my over twenty year plot of gardening space was a true hardship about moving here. It meant starting from scratch again. But, starting over is not new to me. I had to rethink my gardening strategy after my stroke. I couldn't operate a tiller with one functioning hand. Turning the rich dirt with just a shovel was a ridiculous idea when looking at the size of my was 30x50. Sure, one shovel full at a time would have worked, but REALLY??! With one functioning hand and arm. Nah! I wasn't going to do it.

Milk crate garden with Lil Bit
I built raised beds out of pallets, raised growing areas with milk crates, and hung gutters at a more accessible height. Granted my harvest wasn't as great as just planting in the ground, but I was doing what I loved and needed to do. It wasn't easy, but it brought me joy to raise plants from seeds and produce harvestable produce to eat. With my allergies, it was a necessity. I suffer far less with organically grown food. When I started gardening organically, organic food were rarely in standard grocery stores. But I continue growing my own even though it is. I like knowing where my food comes from and what's in it. To me, it's just a healthy, both mental and physical, best option.

Here on the cockeyed homestead in NE Georgia, we also grow organically. This property was abandoned for seven years before Mel bought it. So the soil has healed and it is truly organic. Granted there are too many trees and most is heavily overgrown. She has done well over the past three years of cleaning what she could, but now it's time for bush hoggers and trees cutters, if we are going to open up more than a quarter acre space. Having the wood for the wood stove cut and ready for years to come doesn't hurt either.

Last year, I started with raised bed built low to the ground and growing in gutters. It was a dismal failure not because it doesn't work, but our darn blasted chickens wouldn't stay out of the garden. This year we are opting for elevated raised beds for herbs, lettuces, carrots, and strawberries. A YouTube creator that I watched just after my stroke shows how to make them. Watch below. It's not that hard to do and you have plenty of growing space in them.
YouTube standard license
What we did differently than these folks is that we filled the bottom 2/3rds with used straw from our hen house, leaves, etc, and are allowing it to compost down. So it's doing double duty. Yes, the inner ground will drop as it composts, but we'll have plenty of compost rich soil to raise the level again. By the way, we didn't use a nifty air compression staple gun, I wish. We screwed the pallets together for easier dismantling if we decided to move the beds. At one end, we wired the pallet, so if we decided to use the composted material elsewhere, we could. The beauty of doing it this way with the bed filled with compost, is that when the season is over, we can plant sweet and regular potatoes in them.

We also didn't zigzag the planting beds like shown in the video. We left them two pallets wide by one across with a four-foot walkway in between. This allows for weeds and grasses to grow for our chickens and rabbits. Everything is double or triple duty on this homestead. It has to be to be more productive and efficient. 

We did, or should I say Mel did, till the former garden.The soil is hard packed clay and needed a lot of organic material to make it soft enough to plant and grow healthy vegetables in. After two years of Mel working at it and adding organic amendments to it, it now has an abundance of worms in it. You can't turn a shovel full up without getting a few.

This will be for the taller plants like corn, sunflowers (we grow our own Black Oil Sunflower seeds for the angoras), peas, cucumbers, and pole beans. But all the low harvesting plants, like zucchini or yellow squashes and stuff, went in the elevated raised beds. This makes it very accessible for me and not so hard on everyone's back. Nobody is getting any younger. It's also less of a fall hazard for me. Yes, I may still have to bend over and stoop down, but not as often. We use the 5-ft fence around the garden for these tall plants to grow up and add support.

A word or two about tools you will need to for adaptive gardening. Garden hand pruners can be difficult to use if you have small hands. I found a smaller pair built for smaller hand widths at Gardeners Supply Company. My hand from the tip of my pinky finger to the tip of my thumb is only a six inch reach. My hand width is only 3 1/2 inches wide at the widest point so standard bypass pruners are too big for me to use one-handed. A good pair of pruners are worth their weight in gold in the garden. I also have another pair for butchering rabbits and chickens, and soon quail.

A standard watering can (2 gallons) is handy to have when working in elevated raised beds, but it weights over 16 lbs when full. I opt for a gallon milk jug or a 2-qt pitcher. Yes, I have to refill in more often, but watering plants with one hand trying to control that much weight is chancy at best for me.

Shovels, hoes, and rakes, even mops and brooms, can be hazardous and awkward when using them one handed in the best of times. Most often, IT IS NOT the best of times. First of all, I'm stuck with using these with my nondominant side. So using these items are always awkward for me. Plus, I'm short (5 ft squat). I found cutting off a foot to a foot and a half of the handle works well. Yes, the reach is shorter but my control of these things is better.

You can buy the adaptive gardening tools for beau coup buxes. But I'm a cheap skate. I'm already having to adapt a whole lot of things in my life because of my stroke. I'm choosy about what I buy to do what I want. That's not to say that I don't love my adaptive cutting board and Ulu knife because of the ease of use they provide me, I DO. But when you compare the use factor of these two items and their cost, and the amount of use a set of adaptive gardening tools, there's no contest. I do a whole lot more cooking and food prep work year around.

Gloves, I rarely use them. I find soap and water works just fine. I ranted about the waste of money by having to buy a pair of gloves when only one is used. But I have justified my cost of my favorite leather work gloves finally! Mel is right handed. So usually her right handed glove wears out faster than her left. She just swaps out her worn glove for my nonused right handed glove. How's that for an economically sound practice? Now I don't feel so wasteful in buying a pair of work gloves. But actually buying gloves to garden with? Nope. I just wash my hands more frequently. I do make a scrubbing bar of soap by adding a little sand to my regular soap recipe. It clean me up pretty well.

For when I want to move more dirt than my hand trowel will do. I found a trip to a second hand shop was the ticket. I found an old military shovel. A little rust remover (used motor oil in a filled sand pot) and some spritzes of WD-40 restored it almost to it's former glory. The handle makes control of this shovel a breeze. It even came with its old canvas cover. My cost was $5.35 plus a little labor. I use it when planting and removing plants from my raised beds, and harvesting potatoes.

$64.95 plus tax or more
Now my leg muscles strength have deteriorated with advancing age and strokes. I find it's easier the sit down more when gardening. Not to mention, the rack and pinion steering in my back, and arthritis setting in to my upper spine. I wanted a gardening stool to do the job but most were too costly or too low to the ground for me to rise easily. Again, my second hand store to the rescue. I found a heavy duty, double resin toy box. I just slapped some bolts, washers, nuts, and wheels (from discarded tricycles) on it and VOILA! A wheeled garden stool with storage. I did drill two large holes on in end and threaded a piece of old clothesline through it, so I could pull it along as I moved down
My solution
the rows. It's just the right height for me to rise and lower myself with ease. My cost total with adaption $10.00. Did I mention I'm a cheap skate? The seat of my "new" garden cart is wider that the purchasable one so it's more stable when lifting my wide hinny up and down. I can actually shuffle my body around it to get both sides of the garden rows without moving it unlike the other one.

Are you disabled or getting older and thinking about gardening. Maybe not as huge as mine that provides a year's worth of produce. What are you waiting for? Even growing one tomato plant in a pot will be ten (or more) less tomatoes you will have to buy in the store. I guarantee it will be the best tomato you have ever eaten. Nothing beats a tomato sandwich on a hot summer day. Especially if you make your own bread too with it. A little homemade mayonnaise, some salt and pepper, you have a meal fit for princes and princesses... which you are by the way through Christ.

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Keeping the Faith 2

Part 2
Once again, I'm letting God have this blog.

I had a comment in here from Barb Polan that I felt that I should address here since I can relate to this one too. Can't all of us that haven't received THE promised healing from our strokes yet?
You left out this thought (which I have frequently): when other stroke survivors have a breakthrough and can now use their hands or begin to run, one frequent response is "Praise the Lord!" or "I owe it all to God." Now, tell me this - why did THEY receive such help from God, but I haven't? Yes, I'm a whining, selfish being, and I know life's not fair, but why not me?

No and yes, Barb. You are being whinny and selfish human being. <smiling> Just as I can be. Remember, what I said about being a petulant child?

I realized, while praying about this comment and my own thoughts, that healing has actually taken place. Am I as bad off as I was initially after my stroke? No, I am better as are you living post stroke. Was it a complete restoration of your body? Nope. Neither is mine. Am I expecting my healing to be total? Yes. Most definitely. I have faith and am expecting to be totally healed.


I knew you were waiting for this. There always is a but or butt head, isn't there?<smiling again>

Yes, I was healed (partially). I can walk enough to get around under my own power, though not with the ease I once did. I can talk enough to make myself understood, although the aphasia can get the better of me. I can use my arm to hold things and help my functioning side, with difficulty by using my shoulder muscles. I can drive a car and operate some machinery, although not like I did before. I can write with a pen, though not with the accuracy, neatness, or correct spelling I once did. ACTUALLY I DO NOTHING AS I ONCE DID. This is because I lost my dominant side. Do I say, "Praise the Lord," or "I owe it all to Jesus." or "Thank you, Jesus" for the extent of healing I have received already. Yep, I do.


I still do the most of what I need to do as do you. This is important and shouldn't be discounted. Sure, it would have been easier if I hadn't had a stroke, or a second one which set me back and took a couple more things away.  I still say, "Praise the Lord." Because I received a second partial healing from the second stroke. Yes, I still have difficulty reading and writing. Yes, I still have grammar and spelling issues...Thank God, for spell checker. I still write this blog almost weekly. All I can ever do is try and try again.

Funny and heart breaking tale here. I started writing the cookbook. I had it perfect. Pictures, format, and everything. I was even using a writing program that I had never used before. A wicked feat for me now because of the learning curve involved. I was so proud of myself because I had finished 20 recipes. I was writing again! Yipee! Wahoo!

The circuit breaker tripped and my computer lost power. ARGH! I forgot to save my work. Twenty recipes and six hours of work... gone! Saving was a separate step. ARGH! That's okay, it had an automatic save feature. I found this out when I powered up my computer again. Yippee! I'm saved literally. I clicked the box to recover my work. Another box appeared "Error! Data could not be recovered." ARGH!! I lost it all. I was back to square one. Will I not redo it because of this? Nope! I've started writing it again. I just save after every recipe. Lesson learned, but, it actually looks even better now that I've practiced more with the program.

How does this apply to us with total healing from our strokes?
Just because we believe, and are automatically saved through Jesus Christ, doesn't mean that we will automatically get everything we pray for. It may not happen in our lifetimes, but we have the promise of a new, whole, perfect bodies coming to us in the next. Who better to appreciate it that the imfirmed in this life?

I met a man at the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. Have I mentioned before that I hate Walmart, but it is a necessary evil? This man had been almost totally healed from two strokes. He was very impatient and gruff. He even followed me out to my car to get my wheelie cart. He was talking to me as we went. Me, riding and he, under his own steam. No cane, no AFO, no difficulty walking, and use of both arms. He had to have my cart because he couldn't shop at Wally World without one. Who am I to judge? He also did not offer to help me load my groceries into my vehicle. He just stood there griping about how long it was taking me and eventually sat on the cart. When I finished and grabbed my cane out of the cart, he whizzed off without a backwards look.

I hurled a "God continue to bless you!" at him. Now, honestly in my heart, I felt nothing of the sort. I was irritated beyond belief. Here was a man, in my opinion, who should be grateful and thankful about being able to do what he wanted after a stroke, but he couldn't see it. Here I was, by comparison, a minister who walked in faith and stood firmly on the Rock believing, and was still waiting for total healing. Why him and not me??!! Yeah, I know this feeling very well also. My child self cries out to my Father about injustice and the big WHY. Was I just being selfish and whinny? Yes!

As I asked for forgiveness of being so petty on my drive home, I was shown that the man did not had Christ in his heart and surely had no hope for the next life. He was lost. Rejoice in the healing of others. Even when they say, "God healed me." He is still all powerful. No, we haven't received total healing, Barb. It's not because we aren't faithful. We are! It's not because we are not deserving. We are! It's not because He doesn't love us enough. He does! God just knows we have the fight enough to suffer what was lost in this life and rest on the promise of a restored body in the next. You do not know the circumstances surrounding other's healing. Only God does because He sees the whole picture past, present, and future.

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Exercise

Ugh! That's a dirty word, isn't it? Does anyone really like exercising? I mean besides an anorexic? Sure you enjoy the endorphins release, doesn't everyone like the high? But PT exercises are so boring after a stroke! It's the same thing over and over again.

You might have really pushed yourself just after your stroke. Maybe even for a month or two, but for five years! Honest. A show of hands. How many of you long term, living post stroke are still doing your PT exercises once or twice a day? Weren't you told to do them? I'll admit to not doing them every day. It's more like three times a week, but I also do other things to compensate for the exercises.

Exercising more ranks right up there with losing weight as a New Years resolution, but it's April. But that's besides the point. The range of motion exercises you were given right after your stroke is just as important today as it was when you first had your stroke.

Muscle memory
If you let these exercises slide your muscles will forget how to function. As I said last week, if God says I'm healed, it would be mighty sad if I have let my muscle tone decrease to the point where it didn't make a difference.

New Brain Pathways
By the same token, what if I didn't make my brain try to reroute around the damaged part to make my muscles work? It would always be a very sad day. They are still forming.

Okay, so I've told you why I continue to exercise my paralyzed side. Let me tell you some alternatives to the standard exercises.

Go outside! The same four walls close in on you. Roll or walk yourself out on the porch or driveway. Enjoy the sun and breeze hitting your face. Me, if I went out on the porch, I'd be shooing chickens away, but that's an exercise too. I move my affected arm by the shoulder and stretch my elbow as far as I can. But still this simple action exercises my elbow and shoulder.

I feed our rabbits and chicken twice a day. Their feed is kept in large outdoor trash cans. I will bend my knees, scoop the feed, and use my gluts to stand. Not quite deep knee bends, but it works my gluts and hamstrings. My right hamstring is partially paralyzed. It also works my lower back muscles. The garden is also my workout area. Not all my garden beds are elevated.

We've got me baby chicken on our homestead. I keep my balance and hold each one daily. In case you didn't know, chicks get pasty butts and have to be checked and cleaned or they could die. The brooder box, where they live, is 3x4. They are quick and don't like to be handled. Catching each one with only one hand is an effort of sheer will. They are just getting their wing feathers at a week old and trying to fly.

Speaking of gardening. There is a lot of lifting, bending, balancing, and negotiating in planting, caring, and harvesting a garden. You can get a pretty good work out doing this. I am constantly shifting my weight between legs, using both of my arms to carry flats of plants from the greenhouse to the garden. I may be lopsided when I lower the plants but they don't care. I'm tucking them into their forever home. Shoveling and raking manure is nobody's idea of a joyful task, but for an organic garden, it's essential. Every six months we are raking rabbit manure from under their outdoor hutches to put in the garden each spring. The rabbitry has a poo removal system that has us toting 5 gallon buckets of waste every month to the compost pile.

Currently, the five adult chickens are roosting on the front porch rail at night. There is a pile that has to be scrapped and moved to the compost bin every month. Then, there is the straw in the little chick brooder. They eat and poop a lot. This is swept into the wheel barrow for Mel to take to the compost heap also. This manure won't be used until the next spring. Our current wheel barrow takes two hands. This will change this month when I purchase a one handed job like pictured. I won't be left out on all the fun. It will only set me back $129.

Did I mention that I'm closing on my house on the 7th? Well, I am. My Brunswick house is sold. That's how I can afford it. Yippee! But I digress.

There is still a lot around the homestead to do. Plenty for Mel, our wwoofer and son to do. In the coming months trees will be felled, and cut into firewood. I'm not exempt from stacking it in the wood shed. I'll be gathering tinder, broken branches and sticks for next winter. The work never stops. All of it requires bending stretching and using my muscles until I'm spent with exhaustion, but that's a good thing. I'm getting a work out. I'm using my muscles.

So doing the exercises on those sheets by PT, oh so many years ago, is almost passe. Yes, I still have a folder with those exercises in it.  I'll pull it out every so often to check and see what I haven't done in another way. Why do I do it still? For the two reasons given above; muscle memory and new brain pathways.

Have you given up your exercises?

Isn't it time to start doing them again?

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Stroke Survival: Keeping the Faith

Forgive me for being overly Christian in this post. BUT I am a minister, after all. And, I'm living post stroke too.

I know many of you blame God, or ask God about your stroke? How could He let this happen to you??!!

 I hear you crying out. You've been hit with a whammy of a turmoil. How could God have let this happen to you? You were His child, weren't you? You were walking in faith, weren't you? You went to church every Sunday? Or every Sunday you could.  You prayed daily? You praised and thanked Him continually. You had no other God but the Father.

The fact is you may be blaming the wrong source. Yes, God may even let this happen to you. Look at Job in the Bible. God allowed him to be tested. To have his faith stretched to the limit. He lost everything in this world, but remained faithful and praised God. This is important. Nobody wants to go through what Job did. Honestly, would you except for the reward part? But, here we are faced with paralysis and a host of things that go along with it.

God, I hate my life the way it is now!

 I've been guilty of saying this in sheer frustration from time to time. But do I really? The answer is a big, fat NO. I may hate some parts of it like falling, and not being able to use my limbs the way God originally made me. But on a whole, I am content and at peace. God gifted me with  a creative mind to accomplish most of what I need to do. Sure, there are many things I wish to do, but can't right now. But given time, I might be able to figure it out. Nobody ever told you that this life would be easy. If they did; they were lying.

God, where is the healing You promised?

 Coming. Expect it, even though it might be 50 years in the waiting. It takes patience. Again, I direct you to Job. It wasn't a day worth of trials. It was months and years. Have you proven yourself faithful to the Father. I've been living post stroke for almost five years now. I'm still keeping faith with Him and expecting. In the meantime, I continue to live each day to the fullest. I do more by noon than most regular folks do in a day. I focus on the blessings instead of the turmoil. I praise Him for the beauty all around me. I even thank Him when I make it to the toilet in time instead of wetting myself. That's a HUGE blessing to me.

When God, When?

It's coming. This is the answer I get every time I ask. So I make applesauce and lemonade until it's time. I do what I can do. Try what I can't do. And, just keep on keepin' on. That's really all I can do. I still do my PT exercises so that when it does happen my muscles won't be wasted away. I figure out how to do things with my affected side to help me with my daily routine. Like coining the phrase, "Arm pit tight" when screwing on canning rings while canning our food. It would be a horrible slap in the face when, "God says, you're healed!" and I've let my muscles waste away to the point they won't work, wouldn't it? But I've accepted the fact that it is coming and am expecting it. Each day I try to stand and take a step without my AFO.

Why God did you let this happen to me?

Tough question. Yep, it sure is. Maybe, God wanted to change something in your life and you didn't listen. Maybe, God wanted you to step out in faith and you didn't listen. Maybe, God wanted you to be an example to others. I don't have the answer for you. You have to ask Him for your case. I know these were my answers. I was impatient like a petulant child. Always demanding and not waiting. He wanted me to have a broader focus in my ministry except for a traveling messenger. He wanted me to be humble and ask for help. He wanted me to continue leading by example. When I fulfill what He wanted I expect to be healed, or maybe not. God reserves the right to change His mind just like us. Will I be disappointed by not being healed fully? Yes and no. By living this life fully each day, I truly lack and want for little. I am content and at peace. Really that's all I need. He has shown me a rewarding life just as I am.

As always,
Nothing is impossible.