Seven months have passed since my mom's stroke. Life's changed quite a bit since then, mostly for my mom & dad. They are in the trenches of this recovery, adjusting to a new life with new responsibilities and routines. Sometimes it is easy to be humorous & thankful. It is nice to dwell philosophically on the silver lining (and there is one), but it is more honest for me to say that the stroke has left some wreckage in it's wake. So here's the good news & bad news:
Bad news first (veggies before desert): While Dad is dedicated and loyal, he is also weary, overextended, and stressed. Mom is recovering, but discouraged, frustrated, and sometimes somber. She tried acupuncture a few months ago & the acupuncturist asks, "are you on any meds?" So we list them, including an antidepressant. The "therapist" says, "Oh no! I hate to hear that. Are you depressed?" and Mom says, "Wouldn't YOU be!?" hmph. We didn't go back. Our chakra's are probably screwed.
Good news: Mom is walking around on her own with help of a cane. She can go up & down stairs, she is able to lift her left shoulder (still no use of her left hand.) She has lost 30 lbs (!) and with that, her blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure & everything else are in HEALTHY ranges. No smoking, no drinking. In a sense, she is now healthier than she has been in 20 years! She still feels a ton of aches, pains & soreness. She would be content to lie in bed most of the day, but she has a caregiver that pokes & prods her out of bed then takes her to do errand & appointments. Mom will start another round of physical therapy in the coming months, and hopefully that will force her to exercise & stretch more. Mom's....well....she's the type that would prefer a quick fix. Her therapists accuse her of rushing through her exercises. She's never been one for authority, will power, self control, or routine. These elements to do not lend well to recovery. But here's some more good news:
Hard work is overrated.
You can work smarter instead of harder.
There ARE quick fixes.
And my mom now owns every last, blasted, one:
1. Nicotine gum. $45/pack. In all flavors, and strategically located in every pocket, purse, cupboard, shelf, and counter. Chewed in mass quantities as the last obsessive addiction an ex-smoker can justify.
2. A giant black vibrating seat cover. $0 on loan from Aunt Linda. With remote & handy ac adaptor. Just large enough to be an eyesore while massaging away your aches & pains. The stroke survivor will love it so much that she'll demand it accompany her on even the shortest car rides. You'll vehemently reject this, and she will put up a fight. You may have to resort to threats and intimidation to avoid dragging this out to your compact car, where it will most positively NOT fit.
3. Heating Pad, three of them. $16 each, Rite Aid. Heat heals. Well, really it inflames, but we choose to ignore that. One upside to the stroke is that my mother is now a walking, talking, medical professional. And SHE says "heat heals." So there are heating pads attached to every chair within 2 feet of a power outlet.
4. Heat on the GO! $7.50 EACH! Much to my father's dismay, Mom discovered portable heating pads that stick to your body & stay warm all day long. When she's at her back breaking 8-5 job she really appreciates the long lasting comfort these provide. Well...or when she has to be away from her plug in heating pads in excess of 45 minutes.
5. Ear plugs. $2, Home Depot. For stroke recovery entertainment, insert ear plugs and beckon your caregiver. Mumble a request. When caregiver asks clarifying question, remark in a loud voice "WHAT?" She'll repeat the question. To which you'll reply (in an incrementally louder voice), "WHAT?" Repeat. Extend length of game by covering the neon orange ear plugs with your hair so the caregiver doesn't suspect you of foul play.
6. Wheels. $60/month rental fee + security deposit. If the general public would prefer you didn't take your left side neglect for a spin on I5, you can at least run over people's toes in the comfort of your own home.
7. Walker. $25, Craigslist. Good idea, but not practical if you have use of only one hand. For this reason, the walker is relegated to the garage.
8. Back support brace. $16, Rite Aid. Also serves as a fashionable belt for Patty's outfit. This was used at least 5 times per week for one consecutive week.
9. Wedge Pillow. $35, online. For when the other 83 pillows you have on your bed are just not doing the trick.
10. Tinkerbell cup. $4, Target. Nothing pisses of a stroke survivor like spilling water all over the recently refinished wood floors. Keep a lid on it with this nifty (albeit juvenile) tinkerbell cup. Why these are only offered in disney/sesame street themes I do not know. There's a market for these with "One Life to Live," "Dr. Phil," and "Judge Judy" characters. I majored in Business Marketing, so I should know.
11. Arm positioner. Parting gift from her $25k stay at the luxurious Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon. Good for keeping the dreaded "claw hand" at bay.
12. A big stick. $18, Walmart. Best ROI of all. Mom uses this everywhere she goes. Jo enjoys it as well.
13. Foot hook. $13, Providence Home Health Services. This is to help hoist your foot off your wheelchair footrest. Lesser known alternate use: a leash for your invisible pet dog.
14. Elbow pad: $8, Rite Aid. For when....your elbow.....hurts....I guess???
15. Meds. To the tune of $80/month. Lots and lots of them. So many that you need the companion accessory: a day and night sun-sat pill box (also pictured).
16. Bengay. $6, Walgreens. For all that ails you. Word to the wise: If you apply bengay, then use the restroom, and if you're a girl (or boy, for that matter) and there is toilet paper involved, and if some bengay gets on the toilet paper, you will experience hot and cold feelings in places you'd rather not.
17. Incentive. $3, Albertsons. Give yourself incentive to walk laps around the house. Or read a book. Or watch tv. Or get out of bed. Or consider getting out of bed. Next week. Maybe.
18. Custom Molded Leg Brace, $800. Not available in stores, which will likely disappoint any fashion forward woman looking for a stylish alternative to boots, knee socks, and skinny jeans. Also handy if you're lacking a little ankle control. Watch out for the velcro though: it pills.
19. Tums. $2, Albertsons. We prefer fruit flavors with added calcium. Because the last thing a stroke survivor needs is osteoporosis!
20. Commode. $20, Craigslist. You heard me. I bought my mom TWO used commodes on CL. A little bleach, elbow grease, and BAM: just saved my stroke survivor $75. With handles and a raised seat, this transforms your low toilet into more of an armchair. Dress it up with a colorful throw or decorative antique doilies.
21. Back Scratchers. 2 for $10 online. Multifunctional. Scratch your back. Use it to pull up your blankets. Bang on the wall if you need a little attention.
22. Ghetto kicks. $16, Payless. How any self respecting Nike employee can bring herself to buy her mom generic black velcro shoes, I cannot say. But the point of the matter is they had to be velcro (ever tried to tie a shoe with one hand?) and they had to be wide enough to fit around the foot brace, and Payless was near Mom's hospital. For fun you can criss cross the velcro straps, which will make you popular on any playground.
23. Arch support inserts. $6, Walgreens. Flesh colored for discretion. Seriously - you don't want to be THAT stroke survivor. You know, the one in the 80 lb wheelchair with an elbow brace, a leg brace, velcro shoes, your heating pads AND unsightly orthotics!
24. Arm support accessory for the wheelchair. Free with wheelchair rental. This elevates one's wrist so as to keep blood from pooling in one's hand.
25. CPAP machine. $LOTS$. If you'd like to draw eyes away from a pesky zit or crow's feet, simply affix this mask to your face, fill the humidifier drawer with water, calibrate the air pressure and flow, and plug it into the wall! Eliminates snoring and provides a calming white noise effect.
26. Pedal Exerciser. $35, Rite Aid. No helmet required. Assembly required. Some lifting required. As in, when you lift it out to some forgotten corner in the garage.
27. One handed cutting board. $30, catalog. Metal skewers and ledges allow people with one hand to chop & cut to their heart's content/the equivalent of one medium onion and a handful of moderately sized mushrooms.
28. Reusable heat packs. $5, Rite Aid. A bargain in any book! These things will spend more time in your microwave than Jiffy Pop.
29. Dental piks. Free after coupons @ Walgreens. Outstanding alternative to traditional floss if you've only got one hand to work with.
30. ADA Shower, $200 in supplies. Labor=free if you happen to share a sock drawer with a plumber. This is the first floor shower that my dad built off the laundry room. It's neon pink b/c of the waterproof seal he used, knowing the shower would be but a temporary addition to the floor plan. Mom used this for months before she was able to navigate the stairs to the other showers.
31. Shower seat & handheld shower head. $60 total. Because nothing ruins a good shower like standing!
32. Portable Heat. $17, Walgreens. If the stroke has jacked up your internal thermostat you'll appreciate a little heat on demand. Unless you're having a hot flash. In which case you'll ask for heating pads, but then request the window be opened & the fan turned on. This little unit was used about 3 times for my stroke survivor for the 3-5 minutes it took her to transition out of the shower and into clothes. We spent more time driving around to 4 stores to find this thing in July than she spent actually using it. But let's not split hairs.
34, 35, and 36. Knee Pads, varying cost. These three photos represent three different shopping trips, all aimed at finding the "perfect" knee pads. For...? For my mom to wear while she practiced kneeling/crawling in effort to get back out in the garden. This pair was rejected due to the fact they had to be slipped on from the foot- too cumbersome:
This pair had straps (good) but were too hard (bad):
Last try: straps, soft foam, AND a sassy print. Unfortunately as it turns out, mom isn't quite ready yet to do all-fours-gardening. When she is though, she'll have lots of knee pad options.
37. Sassier velcro shoes + pedicure + new orthotics. $160, Jay's Wide Shoes. Dress up as a true Oregonian by pairing these sandals with socks. Thick, green, wool if you can find them. Keep Portland weird.
38. Bed Heat. $45, Costco. Look, don't accuse me of being excessive here. Perhaps you've not been paying attention. The heating pad is for the chair and couch. The heat patches are for heat while you're out of the house. The heat packs are for localized heat. The portable heater is for after the shower. The heating BLANKET is for when you're cold, in bed.
39. Custom made book rack. Not available in stores! Dad hand crafted this out of a napkin holder and wire shelf. Was later replaced with a $29 wooden model from Bed Bath and Beyond. More "aesthetically pleasing," per the stroke survivor.
40. Grabber. $17, Rite Aid. When all of your minions are detained, unavailable, or hiding, and if you absolutely MUST have your hershey almond chocolates out of the top cupboard, this comes in handy. Plus if you're ever made to do community service picking up trash along the freeway you can bring your OWN trash-picker-upper. You'll be the talk of the quasi-criminal-filled county-owned van. That alone is worth $17.
41. A good sense of humor. Free. Good thing Mom's got one. She'll need it when she sees this post...which she expressly forbade me to write!