Saturday, August 17, 2013

Rehab is my new job

Those were the words I told my wife after we learned that I had suffered a stroke during my DBS surgery.  The situation was according to my wife:
His neurosurgeon is very optimistic and told us that most people make a full recovery from this. Things in his favor are that he is young, healthy, and his right arm and leg are very strong. Also, he can still USE the limbs---if you ask him to move his leg and arm, hand and foot, he can---he is just having a hard time directing them where to go.
The situation according to me was:

  • I'm the breadwinner in the family.  Despite my Parkinson's diagnosis in 2006, symptoms since 2004, I continue to work full time.  My wife is a Marriage and Family Therapist by training, and besides the fact that we both want her to be a Stay At Home Mom, she just does not have the earning potential of a software engineer.
  • I have just started a new job.  I changed jobs in February, and despite the fact that they knew I had Parkinson's Disease when they hired me, I didn't want this to affect my work or my reputation there.
  • It figures.  If you look at our family history, we are always facing these trials and tribulations.  My Rabbi stopped by and I told him my family's health situation often makes me feel like JOB.  It really didn't surprise me an awful lot that I had a stroke.
  • My family has a community backing us up that is willing and insists on helping us.  Within minutes of posting the above message to facebook along with a request for help with our kids, my wife was inundated with comments, texts, private messages and phone calls offering everything from meals to picking up/watching our kids.  This has happened multiple times with our daughter, and I was not surprised that our friends and family stood up again to help out.
So my job was, get working on getting back to baseline.  Once my neurosurgeon figured out my med situation and wrote explicit instructions on when and how much of each pill to be administered, based upon his discussions with me, there were literally no more issues with my meds in either the hospital or rehab facility to which I was transferred.  The surgery was on Wednesday.  On Thursday, I could not even walk a few steps with a walker.  By Friday, I had walked the halls of my hospital wing with my nurse and taken a quick shower (not my head, because I could not get the staples wet).  Unfortunately, PT never came that day and I only got the walking session with my nurse.  Needless to say, my wife was pissed.  The hospital had arranged for me to be discharged the next day to an inpatient rehab facility.  While this place was further from our home (by about 10 minutes), I would get 3 hours of therapy a day, including PT, OT and speech.

On Saturday, I walked the halls of my hospital wing one last time with the PT, who apologized for me not being seen the previous day.  I felt stronger and ready to go to work at the rehab center.  I had contacted my boss and he only offered encouragement and told me to keep him updated and just get better.  I was discharged around noon and my wife drove me to the rehab facility.  Once I was settled into a room, the PT and his student almost immediately took me for a walk using just a gait belt (no walker).  The student PT walked beside me, holding the belt and offering me support when I needed it.  All the time, her instructor kept asking her questions about what she should be telling me and how I should be doing things.  Not only was it interesting to see her education in action, it actually helped me learn some of the things I could have done or will do when my meds are off and I need to pay more attention to my steps, specifically shifting my weight off the back leg and how to get my feet moving when I freeze.  She took me up the steps and using the left hand rail, I was able to walk up; however, when using the right hand rail while going down, I could not get my hand to lift off the rail and follow my body down the steps.  We finally switched to the left hand rail, and I was able to walk down without further incident.  I was encouraged, but knew it wouldn't be easy.  The OT came in and assessed my hand coordination and was impressed like everyone else with my strength, and had me do a series of tests to check my fine motor skills with my right hand which were very bad.

Sunday at the rehab center is typically a rest day, but since I got there on the weekend, I still received a half hour each of OT and PT where I saw progress.  Also, over this time, I was visited by multiple friends offering support and cookies (a very important part of the healing process).  On Monday, I felt very good.  I was actually able to type with both hands and wrote notes to both my coworkers and my wife telling them that I was typing with both hands and would be better very soon.  During the PT sessions, I was able to do everything better than the previous days and make a lot of progress.  By the end of the last session, the PT student was physically pushing me to judge my reaction to being placed off balance and make sure I could correct myself.  I had shaved on my own the previous day, but with the OT in the room (outside the bathroom door), I was able to take a shower and clean up.  I was still keeping the water off my hair, but had the best scrub I'd had since before the surgery.  My second OT session consisted of me writing my name and short phrases to check my legibility and ability to hold the pencil or pen.  Once the OT was satisfied with that, she gave me more finger exercises and I was done.  The last therapy was done by the Speech Pathologist.  This was actually an assessment since I had not had one over the weekend.  She basically asked me a lot of questions and gave me a standardized version of a cognition test I'd taken many times before at my neurologist's office.  After I answered basically, the entire test correctly, she stated that as a well educated engineer, working full-time, I was probably too high functioning for the test to measure any real impairment.  She then proceeded to ask me if I could read a book for a half hour and find some work to do for an additional half hour that I could report back to her or another speech pathologist to determine if I felt at all impaired cognitively.

The next day I had my first full schedule of PT, OT and Speech.  However, the PT had discussed having my wife at one of my PT sessions so that she could learn any techniques needed to help me stay safe at home.  This was because, five days after suffering a stroke, all of my therapists were very happy with my progress and my ability to take care of myself and get on with my life.  During my first OT session, she struggled to even keep me busy and the second session was more just gathering information for me, in case I felt that I would need therapy after I had been discharged.  The first PT session was more pushing and movement in four directions at different speeds to make sure I could start, stop, change direction and stay balanced.  The second PT session was where the PT student showed my wife how she stood at my side and/or behind me to make sure I was safe when needed.  During my last round of speech therapy, the therapist asked me the gist of the chapter I had read and the work I had done and then she gave two sheets filled with large number multiplication and division problems, which we did side-by-side to compare answers.  During this day, my therapists all did two things.
  1. Recommended me for discharge which would take place the next day because you cannot receive therapy on the day you discharge.
  2. Asked me whether I wanted to continue therapy on an outpatient basis.
For all of my therapists, with their agreement, I decided to not continue therapy until I got the DBS device up and working in mid-September and determined what my new baseline would be with the DBS device working.  The neurologist for the rehab center came in that night and told me he would discharge me the next day and that he even felt I was safe enough to drive since I had basically showed no signs of the stroke less than one week after it occurred.  

I was released from the rehab center on Wednesday morning and went home with my family that day, one week to the day from when my surgery started and we first noticed signs of the stroke.  It truly was a great day and I have many people to thank in my community, among my friends and family, doctors and therapists, but most of all my wife and kids.  I wrote about the women in my house last year when my daughter's halo came off.  But I'll say it again, adding my son along for good measure, I'm lucky to have my family in my life.  They bring me joy and happiness and inspire me to heal and be the best father and husband I can be.


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