Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gift Ideas for Survivors

This time last year I wrote about all the stroke-related clutter I’ve collected in my house. So I recognize the irony now of writing a post advocating the acquisition of still more stuff. But a couple purchases I made recently have really improved my quality of life.

I was making multiple trips to carry all my meal items one-at-a-time from the kitchen and back. While multiple trips meant more exercise, it wasn’t quality exercise. I was focused on not spilling my coffee instead of posture and mechanics. I’d rather wheel my breakfast to the table in one fell swoop and save my energy for quality exercise at the gym.

Since buying the food trolley, I have found multiple other uses – i.e., unloading the dishwasher onto the trolley and rolling it around the kitchen to put things away – same goes for laundry once it’s folded.

Vacuuming is even harder after a stroke: moving the cord and furniture out of the way, wrapping up the cord at the finish – it is frustrating and hard on my back. Sweeping can be good therapy, but it doesn’t work on carpets and it’s exhausting. Enter my Roomba 630 – a relatively inexpensive robotic vacuum.

Last weekend, we had a dinner party. After being on my feet all morning preparing food, I was able to turn on my Roomba to clean my floors while I took a nap. I awoke to a clean house – rested and ready to greet my guests.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Two Disabled People & a Dog

Like me, my dad had a stroke that limits his ability to walk.  Like me, he resisted buying a mobility scooter but, once he bought one, he loved it.

Dad also loves my dog – one of the few creatures on the planet with whom he can still communicate. Most of all, he loves lakes and waterfowl. My goal, since relocating him to Los Angeles after his stroke, has been to put him in the presence of these treasures as often as possible.

The challenge? How do I transport two scooters, two disabled people, and an elderly golden retriever in one car? Scooter trailers hold only one scooter, and anything bigger would be a hassle.

My solution was to have a Bruno Curbsider installed in my SUV. Dad operates the remote control to hoist the scooters while I keep them from hitting the car bumper (a concession in the position of the hoist that had to be made to accommodate the size difference in the two scooters). When I’m on my own, I can perform the entire operation single-handed – literally.

Once the scooters are loaded, I board the dog and stow the pet stairs she needs to climb in and out of the car, allowing just enough room for her to ride with her head out the window or to curl up and rest after our long stroll by the lake.

Presenting: Two Disabled People & a Dog 
It's a comedy!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Bedtime Story

I always have loved to read in bed. I was the kid who hid under the covers with a flashlight reading long after “lights out.” In marriage, my tired husband complained: “How much longer are you going to have that light on?”

After the stroke I tried to read in bed but, with one hand, I couldn’t position the pillows comfortably behind my back; I got tired holding the book open single-handed, and frustrated trying to turn the pages. I gave up on physical books and started listening to audio books. After a year of buying audio books through, I discovered I can borrow them free over the Internet from my local library. When I’m uncomfortable and can’t sleep, listening to an audio book is a good distraction. The major drawback is that many books I want to read aren’t available in audio format.

Recently, my husband and I went shopping for a new mattress. I was lolling on one when the salesman pushed a button that raised my head and knees. “Hey,” I thought. “This is comfortable. I could read an actual book in this position!”

We bought the adjustable frame in addition to a new mattress. The first night at home with it, my husband came into the bedroom and said, “It’s good to see you reading again.” It’s a piece of our old life rediscovered. He hasn’t even complained about the light being on when he goes to sleep.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

One Wedding and a Funeral

I took two significant trips this year – one to England to attend a funeral, and the second to the East Coast to be in a wedding. Leaving town means missing my four weekly therapy sessions, which keep my physical discomfort to a minimum; so I’ve developed a strategy for dealing with muscle stiffness while traveling.

Following my own advice (Travel Tips for Survivors), I stayed in comfortable, accessible accommodations for multiple nights, and identified a local gym. Using a gym worked out the kinks from the plane ride and kept my energy level steady. I’ve learned from experience that surrendering to the notion that I need to rest for a couple days after a long plane ride simply allows my muscles to stiffen and lethargy to overcome me.

From the gym window in Kent County, England, I watched a horse frolicking in a green, green field. At the gym in Charlotte, North Carolina, my workout was interrupted by a fire drill; while we waited in the parking lot for the “all-clear,” my friend and her fiancĂ© practiced their first dance, giving me a privileged first peek.  
After the wedding my husband and I drove to Canada for a week in a cottage by a lake. I mustered my courage and got into a paddle boat, and an inner tube being towed behind a pontoon. But the triumph was climbing into a canoe and paddling – better on the left than the right, but enough for my husband to feel the contribution.

I can paddle a boat, canoe?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Mother's Little Helper

My mother has been my greatest cheerleader since my stroke, driving me to therapy, holding my hand during Botox injections, and encouraging me when I feel hopeless. Sometimes I feel she’s naively optimistic.

This same “can-do” attitude prompted her at age 71 to embark on writing a non-fiction book about a program she participated in during college. My mother admits that when she volunteered at an alumni meeting to document the program’s history, she had no idea what she was getting into.

She researched for a couple years, produced a 600-page draft, and showed it to fellow alumni who changed some commas. But she needed more help and nobody was better positioned than me – a professional editor – to provide it.

I hesitated: Would editing the book take too much time away from rehab? Could I sit at the computer for long hours given my physical restrictions?

My husband encouraged me to volunteer. As well as “paying back” all the support Mom gave me post-stroke, working on the book would give me something to focus on besides rehab, and would show me whether I had the stamina to pursue my own dream of writing books.

After more than a year of intense editing, the book has been published; program alumni are happy; and Mom and I have bonded at a whole new level. Just as important, I’ve discovered one more thing I’m capable of doing despite my disability. 

Of course, my mother never had any doubts.

Project India: How College Students Won Friends for America, 1952-1969 by Judith Kerr Graven, available through and Barnes & Noble in print and ebook formats.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Balancing Recovery & Life

I think the hardest thing about a long and determined recovery from a serious stroke is finding a balance between rehabilitation efforts and living life. In the beginning, I spent six hours a day doing prescribed exercises. I was afraid that if I didn’t do everything suggested, I would not regain my lost functions.

One day I broke down in tears. “It’s impossible,” I wailed to my husband. I was exhausted, bored, frustrated. My husband reasoned that I needed to put some effort into enjoying my life today. As months passed and I realized that my progress would be glacially slow, I recognized the wisdom of his words.

If the stroke taught me anything, it is that my life and health is not to be taken for granted. Everything could change at any moment, rendering my dreams, my wishes, my “some days” even more challenging. I have to make the most of what I have
now – even if it means doing things differently than I’d imagined.

It has been 10 months since I last posted.  Thanks to those of you who have reached out to make sure I was okay. It feels good to be missed. For my part, I did not miss focusing on stroke. I needed a break. I have continued putting significant effort into recovery – doing four or five 90-minute therapy sessions per week. But I have been putting the rest of my limited time and energy into living life.

Next post: More about what I’ve been doing.