Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Explanation

Lest you think that I have suddenly become a prolific post-er, I will explain why I have a dozen new posts from the last few hours.  I have been migrating my posts about Al's stroke from my original blog, Jenny Sue Got Married, to this blog.  Al's stroke happened on January 5, 2011, and I created "Postcards from Therapy" in November 2011.  In order to contain all of my stroke-related posts in one place, I have moved those posts over here, and I have included the original date that they were written and posted.  They probably give a little better history than my first posts on this blog did anyway.  I just hope it's not confusing to anyone.  All of the posts from that blog have the "posts in retrospect" label.

Thanks!  from Jen

The Bionic Man

From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted on December 11, 2011.

"We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Al Yarrington will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster."

OK, so maybe that's a bit exaggerated, but I am excited that the technology is available to Al - the technology to re-animate dead tissue mobilize paralyzed muscles. Friday night, Phil Muccio, founder of AxioBionics, visited our home and demonstrated that Al can regain some use of his arm with the help of electrostimulation. (On a side note, AxioBionics actually worked with Christopher Reeve "to restore strength and prevent the all-too-familiar muscle atrophy that accompanies spinal cord injury as well as help maintain his health". Cool, huh?) So, this man came to our house - all the way from Ann Arbor on a Friday evening - to show us products that can potentially help Al.

AxioBionics is going to build Al a wearable sleeve that will have 3 sets of electrodes to stimulate different muscle groups in his arm. He will be able to lift his arm, move his forearm, use his fingers. He will not have extensive small motor skills, but he will also have a switch that will allow him to choose to grasp or release with his hand. During occupational therapy, Al had electrostim on his arm, and he had a great response to it. I had often wished that he could get an electrostim unit to use at home, for further therapy, and now that is becoming a reality.

They are also going to work on a leg sleeve that will counteract his "foot drop", which inhibits his ability to take a step without his foot dragging on the ground. He also has to have a new AFO (ankle-foot-orthosis) built, which will fit his leg better, since the last one was built in January, shortly after his stroke, and his leg muscles have atrophied quite a bit.

Exciting things coming around the bend. In the meantime, Al is practicing his Bionic sound effects.

Expect the Unexpected

From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted on October 9, 2011.

Life is full of "unexpecteds". I'm sure I've just stated the obvious for anyone out there who is a living, breathing human being.

My husband's stroke 9 months ago was definitely unexpected. There have been many unexpected situations since then; none quite as devastating as the stroke, and many have been pleasant and helpful unexpecteds.

Last Friday at about 7 AM, my neighbor knocked on the door and walked in with a rather large box full of goodies from Panera. She went out and returned with 2 garbage bags full of breads and bagels. Two other neighbors had gone to Panera the night before and asked for leftovers. Now, Panera leftovers have come to our neighborhood before, but they've all been split up between several families. This was the first time I was the sole recipient of the Panera loot. My freezer is stocked with bread and goodies for months to come.

That was a nice unexpected.

Today I went to the hospital to visit a friend who is on bed rest until her baby is born. She is 27 weeks and 5 days pregnant, and her water broke last week. Upon determining there was no infection, the doctors decided she should not have the baby yet, but stay in the hospital on complete bed rest until the little guy or girl makes his or her appearance. Kind of a scary situation, so if you could pray for my friend, I'm sure she would be ever so grateful. But she's in the best place possible for a complicated pregnancy, so I'm sure she's in great hands.

Here's the unexpected part. I've sort of been dragging my feet about getting over to see her. As soon as I stepped into the hospital and was greeted by the all-too-familiar smells and sounds, I started to feel sick, kind of sad. I went to the reception desk, where I had to check in every. single. time. that I went to visit my husband. There was no frequent visitor pass. The same ladies were working at the reception desk. I was almost surprised that they didn't say, "HI! How ARE you? Haven't seen you in a while!" I stepped on the elevator and was joined by a woman in a wheelchair pushed by her young daughter, or niece, maybe. They were heading to 6th floor. I told her my husband lived on 6th floor for 6 weeks, and I was his wheelchair driver. Small talk, I guess. She probably didn't care. I got off at 3rd floor. That's the Labor and Delivery and Mother-Baby Center floor - the "fun" floor. It's always fun to go and visit someone on 3rd floor because it means they've welcomed a precious new baby into the world. And even though my friend hasn't delivered her baby yet, my mood was lightened by the thought of tiny newborns, swaddled in pink and blue hospital-issue blankets, with pacifiers stuffed in their mouths.

When I got to her room, we talked for a few minutes. Then I started crying and told her I had been hesitant to visit her because of the memories of Al being in the hospital.

The unexpected here was the fact that I was so emotional about being in the hospital again. I kept telling myself, "Al is OK. Al is home. Al is getting better every day. Al is alive." But I guess the severity of his situation is still emphasized by hospital memories. I managed to wipe the tears away pretty quickly and move on, but I'm still surprised by my reaction.

A final unexpected: I was behind my husband in line to receive Communion at Mass today. As I watched him make his way with his limp and his cane, I succumbed to a brief wave of anger. That happens once in a while. I just get so damn angry at the stroke for doing what it did to Al, and in turn what it has done to our family. It has stretched us all beyond what we thought we were capable of, and it has taxed us in many ways. But I hope and pray that in the end, it will bring us closer and make us stronger.

Even with the unexpected, God knows our needs and knows how to meet them. The one thing I can always expect is that He is faithful.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted on October 5, 2011.

Before Al was released from inpatient therapy, I asked his physical therapist to cover a very important practical matter: how would I help Al get up if he fell down? So we practiced the scenario a few times, until we were comfortable with the process. The PT also made sure to teach me how to assess whether anything was broken or dislocated, other than the obvious bone poking through the skin. I felt confident that I was ready for the potential situation.

Strangely enough, Al has not had any major falls. He has stumbled and lost his balance a number of times. Early on, he rolled over in bed and fell halfway out. But he has never fallen. Until today.

Evan was having a technology crisis in the basement that only his father could solve. I've learned to do a lot of things since Al's stroke, and I've taken over a lot of his former responsibilities. But when it comes to computer networking, I'm still pretty much an ignoramus. So, I'm very blessed that Al still has his computer networking abilities.

Al was summoned to the basement by our son, who was having trouble getting his computer page to load. Al made his way down the stairs, an exercise for which he no longer needs help. He made it to the bottom of the stairs, only to get his cane caught up in the ladder that was lying by the basement wall. I heard a *clang* and then shouts from the kids, "Daddy, are you OK???"
I went down to find Al lying, face-down, on the basement floor.

The kids were more alarmed than I was. I just had to figure out how to help him get up. After maneuvering him into a sitting position, he was able to get up by himself with little effort. I didn't think about it until after he was standing, but I finally asked, "Does anything hurt?" He said nothing hurt except that he hit the floor with the left side of his face. I guess it's somewhat of a blessing that the left side of his face is still numb.

Al has been getting more adventurous since his brace was minimized. He has been doing stairs more confidently and more regularly. He has been driving (shhh, don't tell the Secretary of State). I'm glad to see him becoming more mobile, but I was also reminded today that he still needs to be cautious and careful. Most movement still isn't as easy for him as it is for you and I. It's not second nature yet.

Sometimes my heart cries out to God for Al, as the psalmists did:

1 How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the LORD’s praise,
for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13)

Strength

From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted on September 15, 2011.

Ever since Al's stroke in January, I've had people occasionally say to me, "You are so strong, Jen".

Weird, because I feel so weak. Perhaps the thread I'm hanging by is exceptionally strong, but I myself do not feel particularly strong. Tenacious, maybe. I'm not giving up on my husband. I'm not giving up on my family. I might give up on the dream of sanity on occasion. . . .

The first thing that comes to mind is "The joy of the Lord is my strength." Strange, but true: I have experienced an incredible increase in joy since this all began. For the first several weeks, I was sustained by grace - completely and utterly lifted up by God's grace and the prayers and service of people who love us. I experienced the presence of God with me in such a profound way that I couldn't help but be joyful.

Once I was able to stand on my own two feet again, it's not as if I launched into a wonderful prayer life. I had many weeks off from work and I *could* have spent a lot of time in prayer: time interceding for Al, time praying for wisdom and insight into why God was allowing us to go through this and what He wanted us to learn during this time, time doing Scripture study about the purpose of suffering. Instead, I slept a lot. When Al first got home from the hospital, I put a portable intercom in our bedroom, another in the living room, and a third upstairs so that he could buzz me if he needed something while he was lying in bed. It turned out to be more often the case that I would be sleeping and he would buzz me from the living room, saying, "I'm getting hungry." (this would be at 10:30, and he hadn't had breakfast yet.)

However, God didn't give up on me. He knew my family needed me. And He knew I needed Him. So He answered my prayers and gave me a growing desire to worship Him. So, I've spent a lot of time in worship, saying to the Lord, "This is Your life. This is Your plan. This is Your will. I will cooperate with You and trust in You no matter what." This is essentially what worship is: professing who God is and what a mighty God He is. He is God, and I am not. There is something about worship that gives me far more peace than does begging and pleading for my prayers to be answered, for my own will to be done.

I am also reminded of Paul's thorn in his flesh: "Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." (2 Cor. 12:8-9) I know just how weak I am. I don't like having to work hard. I just want things to be easy. Well, life certainly hasn't been easy since Al became disabled, but again, there is an almost tangible grace that has lifted me up time and time again. I've had the strength to run one more errand, to help Al with one more exercise, to go to work one more day, to have hope for one more moment. . . .all because of God's grace.

So, friends, while I'm flattered that you think I am so strong, I really am not. It's all the Lord. The Lord is my strength and my song.

The Best Medicine

From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted on August 10, 2011. 

The Bible and Reader's Digest agree: Laughter is the best medicine.

Blue Cross Blue Shield? Not so much.

My husband was on the phone with our insurance company, trying to figure out what has been paid to the hospital, what was covered, if our deductible has been met, etc. In the course of the conversation, it came to his attention that "recreation therapy" is not one of the services they cover.

Al had been in the hospital 13 days. He had been moved from the main hospital to the outpatient rehabilitation wing. When I had moved him in there, I had a sick, sad feeling because my husband had to share a ward with 3 other men, separated only by a curtain for privacy. It reminded me of a prison cell more than a hospital room. He had a tiny little closet that was about a foot wide, and a TV that was mounted on a swinging arm so he could pull it right over his bed. And he got full cable - the only perk to being in that otherwise god-forsaken place.

So when I went to visit Al on January 18, I went into his room. He was not there. Very strange, since he didn't have the capability to go anywhere on his own yet. His therapy sessions were over for the day, and I saw that he had eaten dinner, but his tray had not yet been removed. I grew a little anxious: "Had something happened and they had to rush him back in for another CT scan?" I walked around the unit until I came to the "day room" - a nice, large room with a gigantic conference table, sofas, TV, kitchenette, a piano, and a computer. Basically, it was a rec room. That's where I found my husband doing what he was supposed to be doing in a rec room - recreating. He was playing euchre with 3 other inmates patients, assisted by a "recreational therapist." It was the first glimpse in almost 2 weeks that I had of my "normal" husband. He's pretty good at cards, and he really enjoys playing. So, he was sitting there joking around, engaging in table talk, as if he were at a buddy's house instead of in a cold, sanitized hospital.

Little did we know that he would be charged for his recreational time. Because the insurance company apparently thinks that the only services that are worthwhile are those which cause pain, discomfort, or embarrassment, which is what Al endured all day, every day for 5 weeks with physical, occupational and speech therapy, daily needle pokes in his abdomen to prevent blood clotting, and having someone assist him in the most basic needs, such as getting dressed and going to the bathroom.

Also, the therapy scheduling people must have assumed that my husband, 13 days post-stroke, would know the infinite details of his inpatient rehabilitation coverage, and would definitely know whether or not recreational therapy would be covered, and would have the presence of mind to tell the rec. therapist that her services weren't covered, and therefore he couldn't participate. I guess I can't argue with that - we are all supposed to know what's covered and what's not, so it's our fault for not perusing the inpatient rehab service coverage before Al had his stroke.

How foolish of us.

The Encouragement I Need

From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted on August 1, 2011.

I often refer to this Scripture when faced with challenges: "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:7-11.

Believe it or not, people have disagreed with me about the application of this Scripture. (How can you argue with Scripture?) But I don't believe that the word discipline here means "punishment". Because then it would seem as if God were punishing us for our mistakes, but God is not in the business of punishment since he sent Jesus to take our punishment for us on the Cross. Obviously, there are still natural consequences for our sins, but I do not believe that God inflicts suffering upon us in order to punish. I DO believe, however, that He allows difficulty, hardship, challenges - even a stroke - to happen so that we will be disciplined, i.e. formed and trained, in holiness & trust in God.

During difficult times, we often run to the Lord and cry and beg and plead to be removed from our situation. But God wants to get us to the place where we are ready to let Him do His work in us. He wants us to cling to Him like never before and to accept the "discipline" He has for us; in other words, the training of our hearts. He wants to train our hearts to have greater trust, greater faith, greater love, and a deeper relationship with Him. He's not all about giving in to our whining and pleading just to get us to stop. He has a deeper purpose in letting us go through hardship. If we never had to cling to Him for dear life, we wouldn't develop the kind of relationship that He wants us to have with Him.

As I mentioned, I've read this particular passage many times before, but just recently as I shared the passage with my husband, for his encouragement, I read just a little bit further: "Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed." (vs. 12-13)

Whoa. How well does that apply to my disabled husband? To strengthen his feeble arms and weak knees? So that he may NOT be disabled, but rather healed???

As a friend of mine once said, "Lean into death" (She was talking about dying to ourselves and our own will, and surrendering to God's will.) It is much easier to cooperate with God during hard times than to fight Him to try to get your own way. He will have His way anyway, and if we cooperate, we will be strengthened and healed.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted on July 30, 2011.

So I've been battling a bit of PTSD and depression this summer. I somehow had the stamina to survive from January to May, drifting through a sea of confoundedness and sublime grace.

Once I had the opportunity to relax a little, I noticed that I was becoming foggy and irritable, tired and anxious, and I started flashing back to all the moments of fear and anxiety that had come in the preceding months.

Every day, as I would I drive past Sparrow Hospital on the way to and from work, I would start dreading the memories it would stir up. I would get a sick feeling in my stomach, remembering the 6 weeks, day in and day out, that I practically lived in that hospital near my husband. I would look at notes in my log book at work, notice the date, and think, "that was when Al was in the hospital". I started waking up in the night and I'd be gripped with fear that Al was going to die. This was 5-6 months after his stroke, but the fear would return as if it was that first night he spent in the hospital.

I asked my doctor if he thought I had PTSD after describing my symptoms, and he said, "Uh... YEAH!" And he upped my dose of antidepressant.

According to Wikipedia, Post-traumatic stress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to an event that results in psychological trauma, overwhelming the individual's ability to cope.

Yup, that's me. I would say my ability to cope is gone. Or maybe I'm just tired. I'm tired of worrying about my husband's health. I'm tired of the painstaking work that my husband has to do just to get his life back. I'm tired of having to run every little errand that my husband used to run. I'm tired of filling out paper work. I'm tired of having to be a single parent. I'm tired of worrying about money.

I could go on and on, but it's not really helpful or healthy to dwell on the negatives. I am bound and determined to overcome my overwhelmed-ness. I know the Lord is with me, and He has given me enough grace to handle whatever comes my way.

As you can probably tell by this blog post, my mind is less than sharp these days. I hope to recover some of my mental acuity by exercise and eating healthier, but that doesn't sound much different than Al's pre-stroke days!

As always, gotta pray a little more, worry a little less, and survive on grace.

Botox

From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted on July 27, 2011.

Al continues to have increased tone and spasticity in his muscles, specifically in his left arm. The correct term would be "hypertonia": the increased stiffness of muscles, and the resulting inability to stretch. Spasticity is related to tone, and what it means is that trying to stretch muscles in a state of hypertonia often results in the muscles rebelling and contracting excessively. Sometimes, if a muscle is stretched too fast, it can lead to clonus, which is when the arm or leg shakes uncontrollably.

Here is the frustrating part: we usually loosen up stiff muscles by stretching them. For a stroke survivor, though, the stiffness is not only dependent on the muscle itself. It is actually compounded by the damage to the brain. So the brain is not communicating with the muscles so that they behave correctly. I can bend and flex Al's arm repeatedly, and instead of loosening up, it tightens more and more as I go on. It's very frustrating because I want his muscles to behave like muscles should.

Botox would be a remedy for the stiffness in his muscles, but it would also likely weaken his muscles. It seems that every medication available for stroke damage offers the same 2-edged sword - yes, it will help control the tone and spasticity, but it will most likely cause muscle weakness at the same time. SO frustrating, since we obviously want Al's strength to increase, without having to overcome the muscle stiffness.

We're not at the point that he will be taking botox injections, but herein lies the difficulty of stroke rehabilitation. Not only do we have to hope and pray that Al's brain can reconnect with the left side of his body, but he has to work extra hard against the rebellion of his muscles.
From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted on July 25, 2011. 

"For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part."

I went to a wedding this weekend, and this particular part of the ceremony always cements my commitment to my husband just a little bit more. I know I will love him 'til death do us part. And I always get a little choked up at weddings: the beauty of the bride appearing at the end of the aisle, the look on the groom's face as he beholds his bride, the solemnity of the vows.

At this wedding in particular, though, I actually almost started sobbing and had to leave for a few moments to collect myself. Not because there was anything wrong with the marriage - it is a truly blessed union between two people that I greatly respect. But I lost it because, right now, I'm really living the "for worse", "for poorer", and "in sickness" part with the aftermath of my husband's stroke.

There's something about having gone through the past 7 months that makes me all the more fiercely committed to Al. But it's also getting pretty tiring, for both of us, and I imagine especially for Al, who has to face the daily struggle of living thus far without the aid of his left side. I can't imagine what it must be like for him to stare at that hand and to try with all his might to move it, but it just won't budge.

But I get into self-pity quite often since I'm the one carrying the weight of the family, working full-time and practically being a single parent. I forget to encourage the one who really needs encouragement!

It is my deepest desire to blog about my daily events and struggles, but I don't even know where to start. I want to spare my husband's feelings - not cause him to feel as if he's a burden on me. And I want to spare him his modesty. So, that leaves little to blog about.

I haven't lost my sense of humor, but I'm trying to get it back into my (almost) daily writing habit. I don't want to poke fun at my gimp of husband (self-labeled, FYI - he wants to market himself as "Guy In Management Profession"), so it makes it a bit more complicated to shed humor on our life at his/our expense.

Just checking in. I keep promising that I will be more faithful at blogging, but I truly don't know if I can keep that promise right now. But if I can ask for a few prayers to be able to balance my life enough to not be completely overwhelmed, I might have just a little bit to give back to the blogging community!

Take care, peeps!

Chronicle of a Stroke, Month 3 and Beyond

From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted April 5, 2011. 

 I've been working on and off since Al's stroke. Thank God for FMLA - even though I only qualified for 6 weeks instead of 12 because I hadn't worked there a full year yet, I am thankful that I got to spend a lot of time at home with Al. As you might expect, it was much more difficult to be at work after Al came home from the hospital. I spent 3 weeks at home with him full time, and then I went back to work, part-time on most days, so that I could stretch out my leave time and be available to him as much as possible. Last week, I used up the last of my leave, and this week is spring break. Being the school secretary, it's my break, too.

I'm very grateful for the quietness and slowness of this week -we've had a lot of time to relax, although the kids do the occasional begging for something fun to do. We've had some good times, though, and it's been very enjoyable spending time with my family. One night, I made a camp-out in our living room -we lit candles and ate hot dogs and s'mores. Another rainy day (of which there have been many), we spent the afternoon playing Life. Yesterday, we went to the movies and saw "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" - we parked in a handicapped spot, both in the parking lot, and in the theater with Al's wheelchair, we got giant sodas and mammoth buckets of popcorn and watched a funny movie. One day, the kids helped me paint doors and baseboards, which they enjoyed quite a bit.

 I realize now that I'm starting to ramble in this post. It's hard to encapsulate our life. I just figured I had better at least write an update. Not only to keep you all posted, but to keep myself reminded of the goodness of life.

Chronicle of a Stroke, Month 2

From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted on March 5, 2011. 

My hubby is home!!! He came home on February 17, a full 6 weeks and 1 day after his stroke. Yep, 6 whole weeks in the hospital - 5 of them in inpatient rehab. It's been fabulous to have him home, but a challenge as well. This is some of the equipment that came home with him: a wheelchair (obviously), KAFO: Knee-ankle-foot orthosis,  small-base quad cane, a gait belt, a night splint. 

As you can see, we have a lot of equipment to work with. Al worked hard for the 5 weeks in inpatient rehab, but he still needs some help with the basics. The wheelchair has an obvious purpose, but Al doesn't really use it unless we go any place where he has to take more than about 20 steps. Although his left leg is getting stronger and he is gaining more movement all the time, he requires the KAFO to stand and walk so that his knee doesn't buckle. It's a pretty high-tech device, though, since it has a lock to click it into place as he straightens his leg, but it also has enough "give" to let his knee bend enough to take a step as he learns to walk better. When he stands up, there is a click-click-click, kind of like a Barbie doll leg (or maybe Ken is a better comparison). Along with the KAFO, he is using the quad cane to balance and walk. During inpatient therapy, he was re-taught the painstaking stages of walking, except with 3 steps instead of the original 2. Move the cane forward, take a step with the left leg, and then a step with his right foot, making sure the right leg lands ahead of the left leg, otherwise the process results in the "wedding walk". Oh yeah, and the gait belt. I have to fasten it around his waist so that I have something to hold on to in order to help him keep his balance. So, being an overly-cautious wife, I'm sure that I drove my husband a little bit crazy during the first week, reminding him with every step to be careful and to keep his balance and to remember to try to bend his left knee, and to try to be sure to stand up straight, etc., etc., etc. Now I'm starting to relax a little bit and let him walk alone more often, although the physical therapists haven't officially given us the go-ahead to do that. I try to make sure his path is clear with every step, and I often keep at a close distance so that I can grab his belt if he starts to sway.

At night, he wears the night splint, which keeps his foot from "dropping" - in other words, his foot and ankle have to kept at a 90-degree angle or else it will be extremely difficult for him to stretch back into that position in the morning, which can cause obvious problems with standing and walking. So every night, I have to squeeze his foot and ankle into that uncomfortable thing, and it is fastened VERY tightly so that his foot doesn't move during the night. In the morning, we doff the night splint and don the KAFO, which requires some degree of coordination on both our parts.

This, in addition to the help he still needs with everyday self-care tasks, makes our morning and evening routine longer than it ever was before. But we're getting the hang of it. And this is only what we use for the bottom half! Al will still go to regular physical therapy, as well as speech therapy and occupational therapy, which will focus more on his upper body and hand/arm usage.

As of right now, Al still has very little use of his left arm, with no small motor control at all. He can shrug his shoulders a bit, but the OT's continue to encourage us that the use of his arm will gradually return, and it usually does return with large motor movements first, and then the fine motor skills follow. Speech therapy will have him focus on speaking more clearly as well as using more intonation, which he seems to have lost during the stroke. ST also regularly assesses his cognitive skills, which are still very much intact.

I cannot tell you how grateful I am that my husband is still mentally present, even though he is working hard at getting the rest of his body restored. He does have some trouble with short-term memory loss, but again, that should be recovered with time and practice. I've done a pretty poor job of blogging during this time, although I've stored away many, many details to write about at some later date.

So, this is a very brief update for all that we've been through for the past 2 months. So glad you're still reading!

Chronicle of a Stroke, One Month and Beyond

From Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted February 5, 2011.

 Yesterday was a full month since Al's stroke. All the intricate details that I thought I would remember are now fading into a blur. Al ended up spending 2 more days in ICU, and then was finally transferred to a regular unit on Sunday, January 9. Even though it was only 4 days, it felt like I had moved to the hospital. I had left my slippers, a stash of healthy snacks, and even a toothbrush in Al's room. It was a bit of a rude awakening to be transferred to a shared room, where we didn't have the entire run of the place. I took home my slippers and toothbrush. Once Al was settled into his new digs, it was time to bring the kiddos in to see him. I picked them up from school and we headed straight to the hospital. But first, we had to stop in the gift shop, of course. After loading up with a travel-sized Battleship game; an MSU Spartan key ring, a container of candy with a miniature "Get Well" balloon, and a big-eyed stuffed Panda bear that Faith chose so Al wouldn't be lonely. The kids were definitely thrilled to see him, but Faith had the hardest time seeing her big, strong Daddy so tired and weak in a hospital bed. She stayed by his side during the entire visit, and her eyes teared up many times. When it was time to leave, she didn't want to let go of his hand. Later that night, as we we snuggled together in my bed, Faith asked me, "Mommy, why did God let this happen to Daddy?" "Well, honey," I began, "Sometimes God lets things happen so we can learn to trust Him more." She responded, "How can I trust God if He let this happen?" All I could do was hug her, reassure her that Daddy would be OK, and pray that God would give her an answer to that difficult question. On January 11, Al moved into the rehab center at the hospital, and since then he has undertaken the grueling work of re-learning to walk, talk and move his entire left side. While still in the ICU, an Occupational Therapist - a slight woman - came in to get Al out of bed and into a chair. She had him sit up in bed, and then helped him swing his legs over the side of the bed. She then strapped a gait belt around his waist and had him scoot his hips as close to the edge of the bed as possible. When she helped him to stand, I was stunned to see the complete lack of ability demonstrated by his left side. He looked like a palsied child instead of my strong, able-bodied spouse. I swallowed hard and tried not to cry. They had originally thought he would spend 2-3 weeks in rehab, but his release date was soon pushed back to February 17 and it has been stuck there ever since. The consolation is now that we're into the month of February and only about 10 days remain until we receive him back home - 10 days that will now be packed full of painting, moving furniture and minor renovations. We will be moving our bedroom to the first floor and doing some minor tweaks to the bathrooms to make them more "user-friendly" for Al.

Happy Birthday to Me?

This post is from Jenny Sue Got Married, originally posted on January 14, 2011.

Today is my 41st birthday.

And my husband is in the hospital. He had a stroke on Wednesday, January 5. I've been meaning to blog about our experience, but it's been a little bit crazy around here, as you might expect.

Suffice it to say for now that my husband's stroke affected minor blood vessels in his brain, it was a "dry" stroke (a blockage, not a bleed), and it has caused lack of mobility on his left side. He still has some sensation, but as he describes, it feels like his arm and leg are always asleep. Once the stroke was complete (the first thing I learned about stroke was that a stroke isn't necessarily an instantaneous event, but it can progress over 3-5 days - in Al's case, it progressed over 1-2 days), he began the long, grueling work of rehab. The prognosis now is that he should regain enough of his normal functioning to return home in about 4 weeks. As of today, he still cannot stand or walk unassisted, so he has his work cut out for him.

Last night, after visiting my husband in the hospital and learning that he still had 4 weeks to go before coming home (as opposed to the originally projected 2-3 weeks), I couldn't hold back the tears. I went home and cried to my mom (who is here to help me and offer moral support), "Tomorrow is going to be my worst birthday ever!"

However, I believe that God was determined to prove me wrong. Today was a day filled with much grace and joy, despite the less-than-favorable circumstances. I chose to let the kids - and myself - sleep in and get up to enjoy a leisurely breakfast before rushing off to school. My mom made waffles. And I took a very nice bubble bath. I went in to work at around 10:30, and was treated to many birthday greetings throughout the day, including a table of kindergarteners, and 2 classes who sang "Happy Birthday" to me. My co-worker gave me a nice gift complete with dark chocolate and a Coke Zero, my perfect little pick-me-ups. My mom made pizza and birthday cake for me. We took some pizza and ice cream and went to visit my tired hubby in the hospital - the hours of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy take a lot out of him.

I can't explain it, but it wasn't just the niceties of the day that made me happy - I had a true sense of peace and joy that I'm fairly convinced was God's birthday gift to me.

(PS: I will write in more detail about Al's stroke and all that God is doing in our life. . . .hopefully very soon!)