A New Heart...A New Life - Part 4

     There is something about laying in a hospital bed. unable to do anything for yourself, that makes you start thinking about your life.  You wonder if you have done everything that you wanted to do, and if you will ever be able to do those things - or anything - again.  That is where I found myself on December 17 - after the stroke, the surgery, the sort of dying, the atrial fibrilation...and the knowledge that they were moving me to Cottage Rehab, hopefully to recover some of my normalcy. The doctor told me that he couldn't tell me how much of my former self could be recovered; he could only tell me that my heart would start to beat normally for the first time in my entire life.  So...I had a choice to make...

     I guess that Doctor Little Prick never considered that this Southern Steel Magnolia has never allowed anything to keep her down for long.  Two divorces - one from a bad man, and one from a good man, the loss of my twins (probably the biggest pain of my life), the loss of a few good relationships (one that I thought was "the one" - apparently, I was the only one who thought that.), and several bouts of "not enough money to pay the rent AND buy groceries" - none of those things caused me to give up.  I am one of those women who allow myself to mourn the loss, but then pick myself up and soldier on.  Is this good or bad?  I don't really know, but I know that it is the only way I know to be.

     So, when I entered rehab, I did it with the determination that I would not be there long.  I wanted to be home, to be able to take control of my own healing. Yes, I did everything they asked of me.  I walked up and down the halls four or five times a day - slowly at first, because my left side still wasn't cooperating.  After the third day, I noticed that it was getting easier to take those steps.  I walked up and down stairs, learning how to favor my right side.  The physical therapist told me that I was doing very well, but that it would take at least six months before I would walk without a walker.  Really?  I made it my goal to walk out of there...with a cane, not a walker. They taught me how to wash clothes for myself, to take a bath, and to cook my own dinner...you know, the things that you take for granted every day.  But I kept walking...and walking.  On December 26, I told the doctor that I was ready to go home.  He said that he had to "talk to the team" to see if I was ready.  I told him that either he could discharge me, or I would get my friend Tracy to pull her car outside the window in my room and I would jump out and make a getaway (did I say that I am a little bit stubborn at times?).  So, he signed my release papers, but made a note that he would rather me stay another week.  On December 27, they made me ride in the wheelchair to the door, but I walked to my friend Gerry's car with a cane, and get into it by myself.  And guess what else?  I never used a walker or a cane inside my house.  I only used one outside for two weeks.  My first goal was fulfilled, and now it was time to set more.  These were my goals, straight from my journal:
         - to walk around my neighborhood every day, working up to 5 miles daily
         - to walk on the sand and climb the rocks at San Simeon
         - to eat better; to take care of my health through nutrition
         - to learn how to manage my stress better; to let things go
         - to find my new "normal" and make it better than my old "normal"
         - to work on my spiritual and emotional self; get rid of old patterns

     Within two months, I had worked up to walking 5 miles around my neighborhood.  In February, I went to San Simeon with a friend, and walked on the beach and climbed the rocks - with only minimal help. I went back to work on March 6, two months and twenty four days after the stroke. Everyone said that it was too soon, and I guess that if I hadn't been so bored at home that I would have stayed out until Spring Break.  But, when I did go back, it was as a different me.  The things (and people) who had been my major sources of irritation did not bother me anymore.  It seemed that my patience was much greater.  I would like to say that part was because of my own will and power, but I think that there is something else at work. As I have written in the signature of my work email, "it's not worth having a stroke over".

     I never would have believed that a stroke would have happened to me. Honestly, I would see those PSAs about strokes and think that they happened to really old people who smoked a lot and yelled at people a lot. I could have been another statistic, but I wasn't.  A part of that was my own stubbornness, another part was knowing that I had people who believed that I would be better, and another was a Higher Power letting me know that I have something else to do. All of those things brought me through and helped me to be stronger.  I still have times of weakness, when my balance is a little "off" and my voice gets weak.  I am still taking what I refer to as "the devil drug" Amiodarone, and my doctor refuses to let me get off of it although there are side effects (weight gain that I cannot afford, coughing that keeps me up at night, and itchy sun-sensitive skin). But that is okay, because I am still here to have itchy skin - and that is a very good thing.
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