Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Stroke Survival: Looking at Blessings

(I'm out of town again. This is becoming a bad habit )

You know, I was thinking this week how blessed I am because of my strokes. You may think I'm crazy or more crazier than usual. I am the queen of Abby Normal, remember? But honestly, I am blessed because of my stroke. No, I don't always feel that way but for the most part I am. Yeah, like the rest of you survivors, I've had some devastating setbacks, and woulda, coulda, shoulda haves. But I'm not kicking myself with regrets. Are you? Are you living in the past? Are you looking at your new, useless parts of your body saying if only I could get it back?

Why are you wasting time?  

And, I don't want to hear you say that you can't do anything or about it. Because although I speak aphasic plainly in this blog, I'll scream bull patties when I hear that. It's ranks right up there with physicians saying, "Your recovery is the best it's ever going to be." It's a cop out. You've just quit trying, if you ever did. (me being all about tough love and kicking you in the hinny)

I used to say if writers/would be authors truly wanted to write they would. Now, I'm applying the same attitude to doing in spite of a stroke. If you really wanted to do something you would. Even regular people have their wishes. You are extraordinary because of your stroke. You have become super human being since your stroke. Don't believe me? Using me as an example, what I couldn't do just four short years ago after my stroke...

  1. Speak
  2. Walk
  3. Use my arm at all
  4. Move my leg with moderate control
  5. No control of my foot drop
  6. Limited control of  my bladder and bowel functions
  7. Chronic fatigue so bad I could only manage four hours awake
  8. Out of control Psuedobulbar Affect
  9. Vision in one eye (left) partially blocked by free floating blood
  10. Couldn't hope to ever drive again
  11. Could maybe make myself a sandwich to eat or a nuke and eat meal
  12. Falling or stumbling several times a day
 Today... Major differences! Not without hard work and long hours to perfect by not quitting.
  1. I still struggles with word finding, but to most I speak well.
  2. I can walk and even sometimes without my cane
  3. Raise my arm enough and have control to hold things like opening a jar of pickles. Can carry up to 5 lbs in a tote bag (think groceries when hooked on my almost constantly spastic wrist). 
  4. Raise my leg and place it within 6" of where I want it to be. I still lose all control when knee reflex is taken.
  5. I can dorsiflex and on a low spasticity day can even evert on command the foot.
  6. I have moderate control over bowel and bladder. Exception is diarrhea and heavy diuretic days. Even for normal folks this is a challenge. I can count on one hand how many accidents I have in a week.
  7. Chronic fatigue is still an issue but I'm more active than four years ago.
  8. The PBA is still an ongoing problem. I do find yoga deep breathing and focusing tends to reduce the affect without the use of medication.
  9. The vision is clearing as time shrinks and break apart the blood into smaller and smaller pieces. Those with floaters will understand what I mean. 
  10. I drive my automatic vehicle with little adaptive equipment. (a steering knob) I even make the trip home, almost 7 hrs of driving in heavy traffic and multiple direction changes.
  11. I cook almost everything I used to cook. The prep work takes longer to do.
  12. I may fall once a month or so. A lot of the time I can catch myself before I fall.
Now in addition to all of that, I've even picked up a few old leisure and have to do things. I'm planning and expanding towards future horizons.
  1. I plant, grow, weed, water, harvest and process my own fruits and vegetables. Just like I used to do with some adaptions like raised and elevated raised beds, plus longer handles on hand tools. This first year is experimenting and fresh eating on new soil/composting/organic with the expansion into 85% of dietary needs in 4 years.
  2. I have relearned to knit with one hand with large needles or looms.
  3. I have relearned how to spin wool into yarn.
  4. I raise, groom, and care for angora rabbits. In the past three years, the operation has grown from 1 rabbit to 11. In the coming two years, the operation will be expanded to 20 and for profit.
  5. I raise, butcher, and process chickens and meat rabbits for freezer meats. We will also have dairy goats for milk, cheeses, and meat. So far this year, 25 lbs of meat was butchered and processed by me alone. With the goal of 300 lbs of meat passing by this one handed person a year within the next three years.  Not to mention raw pork products turned into bacon and ham, and all dog and cat food.
  6. I do a handicapable YouTube channel that shows others (handicapped or not) on homesteading. Currently I'm featured in at least one video a week.
This is just the beginning. More plans are in the works. I'm continuing in experimenting and gaining confidence. Adaption, will power, and the Grace of God is essential.

Nobody gets it right the first time, or even the second. Unless it's a fluke. You only fail if you give up. Are you a quitter?

I'll admit to not being upbeat 100% of the time. I get frustrated too. It's more like 85% upbeat and 15% down trodden. All these creative juices on how to adapt things to the way I can do them as I am now takes its toll. All of these did not happen overnight. It took days, weeks, or months to make it look easy and make me feel like I've accomplished a goal. The first attempts are never pretty. It takes a lot of editing/adapting/tweaking to make it pretty. I'll admit to putting off a task when it gets too frustrating to tackle another day. But I don't let it become a UFO (UnFinished Object). It's just put aside until I have a lower frustrating time. I give myself permission to let others do for me.
Example: I let Mel open all the cans for me with her manual can opener for about a month. She didn't mind and it made her feel useful while I did all the cooking. Until, I got tired of waiting for her and bought a Tornado can opener. I use it out of necessity. She uses it because she has fun with it. And, she didn't see the need for this gadget before I bought one. It also made nonsharp edges so she could up cycle them in her workshop.
Yes, before my stroke, people just looked at what I did as ordinary. Now after my stroke, people look at what I do as extraordinary. I'm super human in all that I do because I didn't give up. I chose to forget about what was...the past and past achievements. I chose to embrace my new limitations and achieve in spite of them. As a stroke survivor, wouldn't you like to join my in feeling this way? Only you can make the choice for you. It's all about your attitude. Today is a new day. Start it fresh.
Say it with me...
Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Stroke Survival: It's Complete, Sort Of

Today is the first anniversary of my husband's death. Goes by quick when settling an estate, as well as mourning and going on with my life. Still after a year, tears will roll down my face at times, and I still expect to see him in the house. I'm technically finished with the grieving process and it's the end of the official mourning period. I say technically because it's not over. It is ongoing and will be, but there are days when he doesn't cross my mind or I try to talk to him. He's not here constantly, but still in my heart.

I still wear my twentieth anniversary wedding set he bought me. I'm not ready to take them off. Honestly, I may never will be, but that's okay. I don't have to. Another widow friend from my Golden Isles church told me when I went back for my family reunion. It helped to be given permission. Her husband has been gone nine years now, but it seems like it was yesterday too. It seems like my old church has always been filled with widows, widowers, as well as married and single folks. Great people all. It will always be my church.

I still have bouts of anger towards my hubby for leaving. Like when part of his estate wouldn't sell. It has always been part of the plan to "see me through" after he was gone. I could have sold it for 1% of value. Not a chance, I do know it's value and won't accept less than 30-40%. My husband would be a very angry spirit if I had sold it for 1%. Or, like when I went home for the family reunion tried to walk out the back door and couldn't. The big oak tree in the back yard had come down in a nasty storm a couple of weeks earlier. No, it didn't hit the house, but it and the subsequent rain has totally destroyed my game house and all it's contents (pool table, antiques, nostalgia paraphernalia). I had to deal with the insurance company instead of him. The adjuster couldn't come out until the day I had to leave to come back because of numerous appointments in north Georgia. I'm still trying to get up with him via telephone. All of this happens as I'm trying to clear the house of possessions to sell it. The house should be empty and ready to clean by the end of the month with yet another trip 6 1/2 hours away.

Then there are the moments that pull at my heart strings like our newest grandson being born on his birthday this year. My daughter is naming him Murphey in honor of my husband. My husband will never get to hold him, love him, or teach him "the big bird." We had one other grandson by marriage who shared my husband's birthday with him. That boy is in college now. My husband left him his telescope that they used to watch the stars with to remind him to always reach for them.

I'm finally getting the back income from Social Security that they have owed me since his death a year ago! It isn't chump change. It's five months worth of payments. GRRRR!!! Nothing about my husband dying has been easy, but then again, nothing ever has been for me. I should have demanded interest, but I didn't. Next year about this time, I should qualify for Medicare. I'm crossing my fingers. My medical insurance cost will drop drastically when it takes effect which will be a blessing. I really don't think it will drop my pharmacy bill that much unfortunately.

With Medicare, the amount of coverage I receive should overlap and maybe even extend some. I know the deductible will drop. No copays or half copays will help with doctor visits. It will make driving to Athens (an hour away) easier on my pocketbook. Yes, there are neurologists closer, but I like mine.

All in all, on the anniversary of my husband's death, I'm coping pretty well.  I've had a few nightmares both waking and during sleep, but it all works out in the light of a new day. I'm adjusting. My biggest was moving away from what was comfortable and usual. It was a huge step for me, but a necessary healing one.

So today, once again, I start a new chapter in my life. I still have a few chapters to live before I join my beloved. Although, I really didn't want to. But join him, I will for all eternity. "Honey, I'm coming, but not today." Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life. Me, with half a functioning body, is doing quite well post stroke. Nothing is the same or usual, but that's okay. For...
Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sunday Stroke Survival: Spasticity Treatments and Results

Well, I had my latest round of Botox this week. This time with my new neurologist. He had mentioned in our initial meeting that he may try something different than my old neurologist. After a little discussion, he decided not to be adventurous because my maximum dosage was only 400 mg. Better to hit the spots that work.

I must admit I was a little bit disappointed, but he explained that even though he was basically hitting the same spots, he wasn't my previous neurologist. His technique and depths may be different. You can read what others have done (general areas) and still perform it differently. He did add that he was going to request/argue to get a higher dose of Botox out of my insurance carrier. He'll have a fight on his hands, but as my momma used to say, "never say never." After all, my insurance company also had a steadfast policy against another AFO within three years, and we know how that turned out from my previous blogs.

Although personally, the idea of putting even more of this toxic chemical in my body is not my first choice. But with the relaxation of the spasticity, I improve in function and ability. If another 50 or 100 mg. of Botox will reduce my spasticity enough to improve my elbow flexion, my index finger and thumbs mobility, or even straightens the inversion of my foot where I'm able to take even five steps without my AFO, it's worth it.

I've been doing dry needling for over a year now. In the beginning I was having treatments three times a week (upwards of 100 needle sticks between my arm and leg a session). The effects last 25 minutes to a couple of hours. Speed forward a year and a half, I have needling done once every two months on my leg (often only 3-5 needle sticks) and lasts for almost two months depending on where I'm at between Botox sessions. It's lasting that long and my foot is flat on the floor each step instead of the increased pressure and weighted step towards the outside edge of my foot. (This is what caused all my pressure sores the first two years after my stroke) 

A year and a half ago, my arm was clenched into my chest, the wrist was greater than 90 degrees, and the fingers didn't move. Again, fast forward to present time. Right before my Botox session, My arm rested at 45 to 60 degree angle. A far cry from at almost 180 degree angle it had before a Botox session. Even better, I was 5 degrees off from full extension at the elbow the day before the Botox. The wrist is still stubborn, but mostly because of the wrist contractures. The same goes for my ring and bird fingers, but my thumb, index and pinky fingers can be straightened into a sign language "I love you." I can even hold that position now for about 5 seconds after a good stretching session. I can move my thumb and index fingers together in a pincer form although it takes me a few minutes to do and a whole lot of concentration. I'm pretty well exhausted after doing it twice. The spots that get dry needling now, my steel traps (trapezius) once a month, my bicep twice a month, my pectoral and shoulder blade every four months, my triceps about every three months. My lower bicep, my elbow extenders, lower arm, wrist, and hand now only require WEEKLY visits. (Less than 25 sticks) How's that for progress?

My drugs have been a consistent juggle. Between 40-60 mg of Baclofen a day instead of the 80 mg I was up to. It depends on when my Botox wears off. Most days, it's 40 mg. I tried to drop the dose down to 20mg a day because I felt so good, but my body let me know the extra 20 mg per day. The Zannaflex is down to 8-12 mg per day instead of 16 mg. Again, it depends on how my Botox levels are. Most nights, it's 8 mg because it helps me sleep more comfortably. I eliminate the daytime dose. The Valium, I was on 5-10 mg. I can't even remember when the last time I took it. The really good thing, I was on Cymbalta and Lyrica for my fibromyalgia. Now, it's just Cymbalta. So less drugs and less pain is always a great thing. Better for my body and my pocketbook.

Yeah, it's been a while to reach this point. But like everything about recovering from stroke loss... it takes time. How much time? Who knows, but what else have I got to do? Anyhow...

Nothing is impossible.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sunday Stroke Survival: Asaptive Gardening Dos and Don'ts

**I'm away this week for a family reunion so this blog is brought to you via the scheduler. Blogger is being stupid today so I've resorted to using a different format.
 It finally rained copious amounts yesterday and last night. Everything in my mini garden, at least for this year, is green and perky. So I brought my camera out to the garden while I made my rounds this morning.

As many of you know, I'm starting over this year on a new homestead in the north Georgia foothills. I've had a number of brain farts and issues with starting over as you read some of last week. So today, I thought I'd bring you along for a tour. I'll also be focusing on what to do and not do when adaptive gardening as well as a building cost break down. As I've always said when starting something new take small steps, learning as you go, and rejoice in your efforts because nothing is impossible.

Even though my stroke left me without a functioning right side, I have raised my own food for over thirty years. I wasn't going to let a little thing like paralysis stop me. I just had to think outside the box, or in this case inside the box to continue doing what I loved and needed.

We bought a fence panel ($37) from our local building supply store. It measured 6x8x8 and it would build three raised beds. I could have bought lumber to build three low raised beds for triple the cost. HELLO!!?? WHY??!! Also, why am I talking about low raised beds for adaptive gardening? Well, you have some rather tall plants like cucumbers and beans (trellised), corn, okra, and a few other vegetables that need a place to be. Imagine you have an elevated raised bed (about 3' up) with 7' corn or 8' tomatoes in it. I'm might grow vegetables, but I'm not the Jolly Green Giant. Ho ho ho!

 This fence panel made my beds 3'x6'. It's smaller than the standard 4'x8' bed on purpose. I will have to reach less to get to the middle of the bed. Thus, the chances of throwing myself off balance is reduced. Building them was easy and cheap. Filling them with an organic planting mix not so easy and cheap. There's nothing but red, compacted clay and bedrock a foot or so down around here.

Today after the rain, my mini garden, only for this season of trials and errors, the first bed we built looks like this. I've got onions, carrots, grey zucchini, pumpkin squash, tomatoes (4 varieties of heirlooms), and okra. Can you guess what shouldn't have been planted in this low raised bed? It was a brain fart moment like a machine gun for me while planting. Looks can be deceiving. These tomato plants are 4' tall already. The pumpkin squash plant has runners 6' long. It stretches from the bed to a 6' tall trellis.

The second bed is Mel's original 4x8 hardy board siding bed. I planted assorted beans (green beans and 15 bean soup mix beans), sweet potato slips, soybeans (non GMO), and a couple of Roma tomatoes for sauces. Brain fart- most of the beans are bush type plants rather than pole. Sweet potatoes are a no brainer, they grow underground. DOH! In the back, you can see one of our compost bins. Leftover fencing. A cheapy, cheap project. Off to the far right is the old chicken coop that the chickens no longer use. They only use it to lay eggs in if they don't lay them in one of Mel's toolboxes in the barn/workshop.

Although next year, I will be growing sweet, red, Yukon Gold, and russet potatoes in twenty gallon containers in spite of all the arguments I'll have from my roommate. I'll reuse the old tires around my brambles (raspberries and blackberries) to control their spreading tendencies. The used soil will go into the new elevated raised. Meanwhile I'll keep on making new soil via the Back to Eden / permaculture method. This year purchasing compost and peat was faster and I was all about getting some kind of garden in.

The second 3x6 bed is newly planted yet again with corn, bush beans, carrots and cucumbers. And look what I found this morning! The first tiny cucumber plant peeping out through the mulch. This makes the fourth time I've tried to plant this. Not bad for only being planted a few days ago. Hopefully the chickens will stay out. Behind this bed is three 2-year old peach trees that Mel planted a year ago with the intention of transplanting them in the orchard. Well, they are still there waiting. I figure the cucumber vines will use them for supports.

*The third 3x6 bed is waiting to be built. Probably in the Fall or Winter with another three low raised beds for the garden expansion.

Speaking of supports. For our trellises, although we had one purchased
tepee support and one redwood trellis, we use what nature provides. It might not be the prettiest, but you can't beat the price. Old, beat up fencing makes this a snap too. On some others we've used the fencing around the garden, and on others bits and pieced of leftover clothesline or wiring.

Another adaptive gardening technique is making elevated raised bed planters. We made ours from a discarded pallet (4x6) for each one. This is a freebie except for the nails. Oh wait, we reused the nails from the pallets. A true freebie! Except for the electricity used for the saw. These are 1x4 for herbs. They are 33" inches high which is waist high to me. I guess we could paint them to look attractive, but I'm more about functionality than beauty... maybe that's why I don't bother with makeup (war paint), or even brushing my hair with a Pixie haircut, why bother?

Another adaptive gardening technique we've used this year is a gutter system with a soaker hose. Per square foot this was the most expensive at about $2 per square foot. The vinyl gutters themselves are inexpensive ($6), but the hangers and end caps ($20) will triple the price. Pictured is part of one six-foot run of strawberries. We've got one more of strawberries and 2 six-foot runs of gutters for lettuce, spinach, and radishes. Plenty to feed us and the rabbits. We've attached them to the outside of our enclosed porch to keep the chickens out of them. Yeah, I need to prune these back. But we got ten pounds of strawberries from 20 plants this year. Next year will be three times as much at least if I replant the runners.

You aren't lucky enough to have a enclosed porch or railings to hang gutters from? Remember that 6x8x8 wooden fence panel? Get that and a couple of 4x4s and make yourself a growing wall. Or wire free pallets together. Gutters will screw into about anything even the side of your house. If you can't grow out because of space limitations, grow vertically.

Adaptive gardening doesn't have to be expensive to accomplish. Use what you have on hand.

The whole gist of this blog today, besides showing off, is that you don't have to give up the things you loved to do after your stroke. You can do almost everything you once did with some modification and a little imagination. Sure there are some things you might never do again like using hedge clippers with ease (but who really likes doing that?) I may not ever run the NY marathon again, but if I really wanted to I could walk it. There are always concessions/adaptions that have to be made as with living in general. Living post stroke is the same thing.

Nothing is impossible.