Saturday, April 27, 2013

Challenge 6: The Mall

I drove to the mall for the first time. I went in, had a sandwich, and went home.

I've never been that much into shopping, especially at the mall. I'm not, in general, a triumphant shopper. And over the last three years, I've gotten really good at ordering things online.

And yet, going to the mall--either alone or with my kids--is one of these ordinary experiences I wanted to try. Not because I enjoy it that much, but because of all the other things in it that make me feel like a semi-competent adult. Dealing with traffic, parking, food, crowds, fast-talking sales people--it's all part of rehab.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Challenge 5: Walking Barefoot

Sometimes I think of my right foot as a patient who has been forgotten in a back ward of an old hospital for years.

In the first summer after the stroke, my PT encouraged me to walk on the beach without my brace and without shoes every so often to stimulate my feet. I tried it one or two times, but I gave up after realizing how many challenges I would have to overcome: the weakness in my ankle; the crushing fatigue; getting my shoes and brace off and on with one hand; etc. I also experimented briefly with walking barefoot in the house, until I had a few near misses with cans and knives in the kitchen.

Now my feet are usually are hidden away in thick shoes every day, except for bedtime and naps, and also for leg exercises on the living room rug (my yoga teacher has tried to coax sensation and movement, with some success, from my right toes).

So this was my challenge last week: to putter around the house barefoot for more than an hour. With bare feet, I unloaded the dishwasher; made lunch; sorted papers between the pile in the kitchen and the pile in the dining room.

It was tiring. Partly because spasticity can make feel as if I will topple over without the steadying influence of my shoes. But mostly, my right foot and toes seem to be terribly disoriented and confused. They ask: is the floor really cold? Or is that pain? Are all the toes pointing up or lying flat? And where, exactly, am I?

I know I have to walk barefoot more often to stimulate my foot. But right now, it feels like an act of faith, rather than an exercise.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I am so sad about the events at the Marathon.

I will resume my blogging next week.

If you can, please join me in giving to this charity: The One Fund.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Challenge 4: Highway Driving

I'm feeling more confident about my driving now, but still I haven't done much highway driving. I've done a few three- or four-minute trips, but I wanted to go further.

Specifically, I wanted to drive to Lincoln, a town that's about 15 minutes west from my house. I can imagine Robert Frost composing poetry while strolling through the woods and the small, rolling orchards of Lincoln (although I'm guessing that he--like me--wouldn't be able to afford a house there). The landscape is beautiful, but the bigger draw for me is chance to visit farm animals there. I used to take the kids to see the cows, pigs, and sheep at a community farm, but I confess: it was mostly a good excuse to do something that I wanted to do myself anyways.

So I drove in Lincoln and back on Tuesday. Unfortunately, I knew that the driving would be very tiring, so I didn't actually do anything there--I pulled over in a parking lot, rolled down the windows, and breathed deeply for about 5 minutes. And then I turned around and drove home. I'm looking forward to driving there again, and getting out to visit with the animals.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Challenge 3: Personal Landmarks

There's a water tower in my town that looks like the pantheon. It's on top of one of the highest hills in the town, and it's about a half mile from my house. I hadn't walked to the water tower since the stroke.

When my kids were little and I couldn't stand one more trip to the playground, I would trudge up the hill with the kids in the double stroller and go to this small circular park. It has great views of Boston. It also has crabapple trees, which are just right for little kids to climb on, and the grass has tons of dandelions to pick. My kids were also intrigued by the series of manholes in one area of the grass, and we would hop from one manhole cover to the next.

Last Sunday I asked the kids if they were interested in walking up to the water tower. My son--who's acting more like a teenager every day--had other plans: hanging out with his friends, playing Mindcraft, and going to the hardware store with his dad. My daughter--who sometimes begs me to go on a walk--of course had no interest in walking that particular day.

So I walked up there by myself. Afterward I was pretty exhausted. According to my pedometer, I took about 2800 steps. I've been on longer walks, but not by much.

Maybe I can bring grandchildren there one day.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Challenge 2: Banking

Neal and I used to share many of the tasks related to money. Like many people who have aphasia, my math skills were affected. Neal took over all the financial chores after the stroke. My math skills are much better now and I don't have problems handling money on a day-to-day basis, but I still don't do much of the household bookkeeping.

But the other day I realized that I hadn't deposited a check for more than three years, and that banking is a life skill that I needed to reclaim. Since we had some miscellaneous checks at the house, yesterday I endorsed the checks and drove to the ATM. The procedure for depositing checks had changed since the last time I did it. I didn't need to fill out a special envelope now: I fed the checks into the ATM, they were scanned right a way, and I confirmed the amounts. Neal had warned me about the changes, so I was prepared. It wasn't a big deal.

But still, afterwards I had a fleeting sense of disorientation--as if I had just returned home after being in a country for a while where time seems to pass more slowly.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Challenge 1: Planned Spontaneity

On Friday I took my kids on spur-of-the-moment outing to Wilson Farms, a deluxe farm stand that I love. I've been there two or three times since the stroke, but this was the first time I went there with the kids and without another adult to help. I hoped that it could be a short trip with something to please everyone: a talking bird in the greenhouse (kids and me); luscious displays of fruits and vegetables (me);  barn with a few animals (kids); free samples of prepared foods (everyone).

Shopping--especially with kids--can be challenging, with or without a brain injury. Things didn't start out well. On the way there, my daughter was cranky enough that I had to pull over to wait for her to stop whining. Then, when we went into the greenhouse, we learned that the talking bird it had died. And then, my daughter balked at the idea of going into the barn without me (the stairs aren't very accessible). Thankfully, my son went in by himself and was entertained by the animals for a while.

When we went into the main store,  the crowds were in a pre-Easter frenzy. I had to respond to my kids' constant requests for purchases: kids' gardening gloves (no); garden clippers (no); pink tulips (no); daisies (yes); 3 lbs of strawberries (no, just 1 lb); a pint of blackberries (no); cheese (yes). My daughter was also in a frenzy about finding free samples. We came back about $25 poorer, with provisions we probably could have lived without.

In the end, it wasn't a disaster, but wasn't a great triumph, either.  But it did get me closer to my real goal: having spontaneous adventures, especially with my kids. These days I tend to plan every outing meticulously, because it's such a fine line between something that might bring joy to my family and me--or bring me to the point of utter exhaustion and frustration. But at some point, I would love to be able to get out without much preparation--and go.

The flowers I bought weren't very happy that I was
so spontaneous that I forget to put water in the vase first