Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bing Bang Bong



spasticity [spas-tis´ĭ-te]
Definition: Spasticity is a constant and unwanted contraction of one or more muscle groups as a result of a stroke or other insults to the brain or spinal cord. Over time spasticity prevents the normal voluntary contraction of affected muscles.
 
I don’t recall if I’ve previously explained spasticity in my posts.  I am open about what I can and can’t do and try to explain what my struggles are like, but I should give you all a better idea of why that is.

I turned to Google for a decent definition of spasticity and found quite a few. I chose the definition above from About.com because it’s simple, accurate, and I love that it refers to my stroke as an “insult to the brain.” Well no shit! You don’t say!

What it means is that when part of my brain was killed off by the insult, er stroke, the rest of my brain wasn’t sure how to talk to the right side of my body.  Some things it has figured out, some things it won’t communicate at all (paralysis), and yet for other things it won’t shut the hell up. Spasticity occurs when the brain won’t shut the hell up.  It keeps sending signals to the nerves (in my case, my shoulder, fingers, and toes) so they are constantly tightening without me even knowing it.  Imagine flexing your bicep as hard as you can and not letting it go to relax.  Hold it…hold it…yeah, like that…keep holding… for several years.  Do you know how difficult and painful it would be to force yourself to extend your arm after that?

I realize a medical professional would probably explain this much better and give you a far more accurate analogy. Despite how awesome I am, I am no professional.

The muscles in my shoulder are constantly contracting and tightening up.  As numb as I am, I do have some feeling.  It can be excruciating to reach for things, to let my arm hang at my side, and if you want to know just how many swear words are in my vocabulary, pull my arm back.  It hurts like a motherfucker.  I have a serious fear of getting arrested because of this.  Wait, what? MAN, YOU DON’T KNOW ME.

The best thing I can do for it is stretch.  Stretching doesn’t cure it, but it helps loosen the muscles just enough to ease the pain.  Gravity pulling on my arm makes it too hard to lift it well, so I have to lie on my back to get it moving.  I sometimes need someone else to help lift it when it’s an especially bad day.  The other problem area is my toes. They don’t hurt because I can’t feel them.  Winning!  As I walk, my toes start to curl under.  I don’t notice until I start stepping on my toes and falling over, launching me into Human Pinball mode. Human Pinball mode is when I ricochet back and forth between the furniture until I can safely come to a stop.  If this were a sport, I’d be a World Champion.

I have mastered the art of not falling.  That is not to be confused with the art of walking.  I walk, but I stumble; only I do it with grace and skill!  Bing bang bong, bouncing down the hallway I go without ever hitting the floor.  Like a ninja, I grab at tables and chairs and you don’t even notice I’m doing it!  Maybe you do and you just don’t say anything because you are polite and your mama raised you right, but still!  In these past four years since my stroke, I have only fallen – like seriously hit the floor – three times.

Two of these falls occurred within 48 hours of each other.

And those happened this week.

You could say I’m on a roll.  (You see what I did there.)  I’m laughing at myself right now, but the second fall was a bad one.  I completely ate shit.  There was a box of random crap that needed to go to the dumpster.  It wasn’t heavy; it weighed about the same as an empty cardboard box.  I figured I could at least get it out of my living room to just outside the back door.  Due to the drop foot in my right ankle, I use my hip and knee to kind of fling my foot in the direction I need to go.  I realize that doesn’t sound terribly efficient, but remember I’m a Master Ninja.  I got this. Well I did, until my dragging foot caught on something (chair leg I think) and sent me flying forward through the back door.  I took out the screen and everything!  My arms, which had been holding the box, slammed down on the metal, sliding door track and my knees took the rest of the impact.

Falling as a grown-up sucks.  It takes a minute for your brain to realize that your body has had the audacity to pull such bullshit. I mean, really. REALLY? I’M ON THE FLOOR? THIS JUST HAPPENED? Consumed with indignation, I forgot to breathe.  As I started to pant, I started to cry, partly from the pain but also because I was just so overwhelmed with that are-you-fucking-kidding-me-right-now feeling. 

My husband was still home, thank goodness.  He ran over to me, scared shitless, and tried to help me up.  I couldn’t talk yet, but he could see that I needed a minute.  I needed to just sit there on the floor and breathe and cry for a minute before attempting to get up.  Once I was up, I sat in the chair that had brought me down, and I sat there for a long while.


This is my normal.  I forget that my “new normal” means there is also this piece that sometimes feels crappy and comes crashing in my face with a rather aggressive, unfriendly reminder that I’m still not invincible.  If it weren't rough enough having thoughts that won't simmer down, now my brain won't stop talking to my muscles behind my back.  I am grateful that most of the time I get them to tone it down just enough to stop trying to kill me.  Eh, that screen door needs to be replaced anyhow.
 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

My Vans Down by the River



 It is with a heavy heart that I pronounce my beloved Yo Gabba Gabba Slip-On Vans officially…*sniffle*…DEAD.  They have suffered the woes of wear and finally cannot go on.

The carnage. My cat, Selina looks away, blinking away his tears.
  
Of course I'm being dramatic.  But I really am quite upset over this. These shoes have served me in ways that nothing else has. These shoes have been with me through a lot, and always came through when I needed them.
Not kidding.
I bought these shoes 4 years ago, just 3 weeks before my stroke.  We had been out shopping for a new pair of shoes for my son when I noticed these on sale.  Why on earth would I look at shoes at Journeys Kidz? Because I stand 4 feet 10 ¾ inches  tall, and my shoe size is 3 in Little Kids.  Finding shoes is a nightmare.  I avoid shoe shopping because it invokes in me a passionate fury.  When I saw these, I thought “oh they’re so cute! I wonder if they’ll fit!” And they did. *cue angels singing*  I worked in a corporate office back then.  I already had a reputation for being a little eccentric so of course I wore them to work.  I mean, of course.   How could I not show these off? 


My beloved Vans, brand spankin' new.
I wore them to work on June 8, 2011.  I remember that day because that was the last day I ever went to work.  That day, I had an ischemic stroke in my left brain stem.  I didn’t understand what was happening but I knew something was wrong.  My co-worker urged me to call my husband to come pick me up.  While we didn’t know it was a stroke, it was clear I shouldn’t attempt to drive home.  I ended up in an ambulance later that day headed for the ER.  Over the next 3 days I lost all use of the right side of my body.  The Neurologist explained it was an evolving stroke.  It didn’t just strike and leave; it struck and didn’t stop.  By the third day I had total paralysis on the right side, save for my face.  I didn’t get to wear shoes much for the next week while I remained in the ICU, so my Vans – my fun, colorful, conversation-starting Vans – stayed tucked away in that big plastic hospital bag marked “PATIENT BELONGINGS.”  Those stupid bags.  I hate them.  I’ve never been to prison but I imagine that’s what it feels like.  Forced to strip naked and all of your possessions reduced to a damn plastic bag.  I couldn’t even keep my bra on!  Holy mom boobs, Batman have you people no mercy?

Whole world. Right here. And they NEVER write your name on it. Fascists!

After 8 days or so they shipped me and my bulging plastic bag of all that remained of civilization to inpatient rehab.  At this point, I was wheelchair-bound but not able to push myself or get in or out of it in my own.  This is where I would learn to do that, and eventually to walk again.  So I got to wear my Vans. 

Me, wheelin' to the cafeteria, desperately hoping they'll let us have salt today.


Four years later, I still suffer from “drop foot.”  This means that even though I can walk with a walker or a cane, my right ankle still hasn’t learned to move again.  My foot just hangs there.  Try putting on a pair of shoes without using your ankle.  Try it.  HA!  It sucks balls, doesn’t it?  Not only can I not put on certain shoes, very few shoes will even stay on while I walk.  I’m a California native.  I’m fairly certain there’s a state law declaring flip-flops our state shoe.  I mourned the day I threw my collection (yes, collection) away because I could no longer wear them.  I did try wearing Converse and other lace-up sneakers but my right hand and fingers have a hell of a time getting those on.  If I’m in a hurry or already too fatigued for the day, that’s just not a fight I’m up for.


My Vans were slip-ons.  Masterfully designed to stretch and conform to the foot and not need any stupid laces.  And they stayed on.  And…AND they were a perfect SIZE 3.  Oh sure there are other Vans out there.  But they’re not MY Vans.  They didn’t hold me in place when I rose from my hospital bed for the very first time to try to stand.  They didn’t help my good foot push my wheelchair all around the rehab place fighting to reclaim some independence, or help me hold my toddler’s hand to take a walk around our building for the first time.  These filthy broken shoes look like they should be tossed in the river and forgotten.  But I can’t let them go yet.  These Vans, the ones broken in to my tiny swollen feet, walked this road to recovery with me.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Washateria


There is one thing most grown-ups can all agree to join hands and hate together: the motherfucking laundry.  No, this isn’t another mommy blog post about hating on laundry.  I get it.  You guys get it.  Laundry blows.  And it never ends.  But I have a confession to make: I’m having a new love affair with laundry.

I'm not a traitor.  Hear me out.

Laundry hook-ups were at the top of our MUST HAVE list while looking for a new place to live.  As the searching got harder, we started to compromise until of course, we ended up in a place with no laundry hook-ups.  There is a laundry room here, but it’s a bit of a walk to get to.  That might work if I wasn’t disabled, but there is no way I can haul several loads of laundry on foot across the complex.  I did try once.  Partly to humor myself (and probably the neighbors) and partly to see how far I could push my body.  We don’t need to work for NASA to take an educated guess as to how that went.  There was a lot of pain, tripping over cracks on sidewalks, dropped items, and weeping on the couch.  But hey, the laundry was clean.

I noticed a few Laundromats not too far from home.  Most were creepy looking, and the thought of driving our whole family’s filthy threads across town was just no.  NO.  But over the past few months the sign over one kept making me giggle.

WASHATERIA.

When I first sat down to write this, I thought it was a made-up Spanglish word.  I didn’t know it’s an actual word.  Well, it is a made-up Spanglish word but it was made up back in 1930s Texas and the word caught on so now it’s a word.  So there. Wiki hath spoken.  It makes me giggle nonetheless like the time my mother and I encountered an old Hispanic woman cleaning a public restroom, and she said we had to wait.  Her reason: “Estoy vacuumando.”  She just invented a word using an English noun and a Spanish conjugation and figured that we, being Hispanic, would know what she was talking about.  We did. 

My first trip to the Washateria was alright.  The place is impeccably clean, which I admit I didn’t expect considering it is in a creepier part of the neighborhood.  The washers were huge and the dryers were free!  I got more done in half the time and saved money.  I was sore, but not knocked on my ass. 

This is totally a word, guys.

I went back the following week.  This time I had a game plan.  I knew when and how to swoop in on one of those coveted baskets with the wheels on it.  Those things are like gold.  I learned to stake my claim on one before the old ladies swiped them all.  I had my coin purse.  I had my coffee.  This time, I noticed the smell of bacon.  People often bring food along to eat while they’re waiting for their clothes so I didn’t think much of it.  Over an hour went by, and the smell hadn’t diminished.  Then I noticed a little snack bar in the back where they sell popsicles, fruit juices and apparently, BACON.

Does your laundry room do that?  I think not!  If you do laundry in the comfort of your home, you have to cook bacon yourself! Or worse! You have to suck up to someone else, probably your husband or wife or asshole brother, and get them to cook it for you.  Not at the Washateria. 

This is where the magic happens.

When the family hears, “I have to go do laundry,” they run for the fucking hills.  And I pretend to be disappointed.  I guess I’ll have to sit alone, with my Kindle, reading in peace, eating bacon, unbothered because my family isn’t there. 

The Washateria is the most unlikely of all happy places, which is precisely why it is awesome.  Shh…our families don’t need to know that.


***Update:  MY COVER’S BEEN BLOWN!  Shortly after writing this, my husband decided he should go with me, you know, to be helpful on account of me being crippled and all.  And you won’t believe this – yeah, yeah, he was super helpful blah blah blah – but they didn’t have any bacon on that day!  I swear this is a true story.  He did have the decency to bring his tablet so we could ignore each other like decent people.  But still.  Operation: This Is My Side This Is Your Side in full effect.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

That Time You Died.


It’s been over 3 years since my stroke.  My son was just shy of his 2nd birthday when it happened.  It was difficult at the time, for all of us.  I had to live in a rehabilitation facility for a couple of weeks, in addition to the 8 days I was in ICU.  That’s a long time to not be with your toddler.  My husband and my mom took turns bringing him for visits, but it wasn’t every day.  People had jobs and errands and life to worry about aside from driving all the way out to where I was to visit.  The longest I had to go without seeing my boy was 4 days.  I’ll never forget the look on his face when he walked into my room and saw me.  He hesitated before he smiled and ran to my bed.  He had to pause and stare at me, to make sure it was really me.  It breaks me every time I think of that confused little face.

Fast-forward a few years.  He just started Kindergarten.  I’m no longer in a wheelchair, and my walker is just a normal accessory like my purse and sunglasses.  My kid has adjusted to a disabled mom because it’s all he knows.  One morning when we arrived at his school, he heard me mutter “damn it” under my breath, and asked me what was wrong. I explained, “I forgot my cane, but it’s ok.  It’s a short walk.  I’ll make it.”  And without missing a beat my kid replied, “It’s ok, mom. None of the other kids’ moms have canes either.”  My observant kid didn’t want me to feel left out.

I don’t think it’s fair to take credit for his strong sense of empathy.  He is his own little person.  I think what he’s had to live with so far has helped shape his already existing personality.  What I wasn’t sure about until recently, was whether or not he even remembers those 3 weeks we were separated from each other.  He wasn’t even 2 yet, so it’s quite possible he has forgotten.  One evening I was at the kitchen table with my laptop, and he noticed my eyes were watery.  Then this conversation happened:

G:  Why are you sad, mama?
Me:  Well, my friend’s mom died and I feel sad for her. I’m alright, just a little sad for my friend.
G:  I remember that time you died.
*knife, meet heart*
Me:  No, silly. If I died I wouldn’t be here. Remember we talked about how when people die they aren’t here anymore? What do you mean that I died?
G:  I remember that you died.  You went away for a really long time because you were dead.  And then you came back.  And now you’re here!
(I could insert a Jesus joke here, but I won’t.)

     We had a talk about death and illness.  I explained that I’ve never died, I just got really sick and had to stay at a place where they could help me get strong enough to come back home to him and Daddy.  Since the stroke, I can’t control my tears.  I just can’t.  The left side of the brain is where all your filters are.  It helps you control how you display your emotions.  It’s difficult when discussing serious things with small children, because I want to be frank and matter-of-fact so he isn’t scared, but that is hard to do with tears streaming uncontrollably down my face. 

The thing about being a mom is you’re constantly second-guessing yourself.  Add an extra layer of physical disability to that and there’s this whole other hot mess of “well that works great for other parents and maybe that would work for us, but I can’t even do that because literally, I can’t do that.”  Then I look at my kid, and even with all his temper and sarcasm – which we’ll just blame on dad since he doesn’t read my blog – and I see an incredibly well-adjusted, emphatic kid.  Maybe I’m figuring out this whole mom thing after all.  Or maybe I’m failing miserably, but he’s only 5 so there’s plenty of time to save up for his therapy.