Overcoming obstacles with Optimism

Posts tagged ‘pain’

The Day the Wind Caught Fire

I looked at the side of my wrist this morning.  A glimpse of red caught my eye.  I looked again and realized there was brown surrounding the base of the red line.  I looked closer yet, and realized the brown was a long blister at the base of my thumb.  I realized I had burnt myself.  I attempted to think of when I was near something that was really hot – or really cold in my perception.
Before I had a stroke, I thought a stroke was an ailment, or medical condition, that affects an older population like grandparents and their friends.  The stroke would leave their faces drooping on one side and cause slurred speech or their foot to drag as they walked.  I obviously had a complete misconception.  This is one reason I started my blog FindingStrengthToStandAgain.  I want people to know that strokes can happen at any age.  Strokes occur due to a variety of reasons, and there is no textbook prediction of the lasting effects a stroke will have on one’s body.

One of the lingering problems my stroke left me with is the lack of ability to feel correct temperature sensations on the left half of my body.  This problem has slightly lessened with the passing of time.  When I was first recovering, I remember walking outside as tiny drops of rain began to fall from the sky.  I cannot describe to you the pain I felt!  It was as if needles were being pushed through my bones.  With each sprinkle, with each touch of rain, the needles quickly, deeply pierced my skin.  I learned quickly to prevent precipitation from touching me.  On another day I went outside and it was slightly breezy.  The wind was fire.  This is odd because fire only touched the left half of my body.  My right arm would perceive the wind as normal.  With each gust, the raging inferno would rush through my exposed left skin.  I learned quickly, regardless of the weather, to wear a sweater or coat draped over my left side.  If my skin was covered, I would not feel the pain.

My children running up to me with chilly hands to grab my arm still causes me to wince in pain.  The rain no longer feels like needles, but also it does not create the pleasant sensation I used to enjoy.  I still also get confused by cold or extreme heat.  One area the stroke affected is where my brain detects temperature sensations.  This is no longer an automatic sensation I can be aware of.  Our counter tops are granite.  I have been known to think my hand brushed against the counter – the frigid sensation registering as boiling pain – only to look and realize the skin is really feeling boiling pain because it is touching the side of a hot pan.  I do pay attention visually when I am in the kitchen, but I am only human and cannot notice everything.  Maybe yesterday I was too close when I leaned over and blew out the candle.  Maybe I was too close to the hot coils when I was lifting the lid out of our dishwasher.  I am not sure what caused this blister.  It is over now.  I just need to always be careful.

I decided to write this post to show yet another way a stroke can alter someone’s lifestyle.  I used to have fun splashing in puddles.  I used to have all of my eyesight.  I used to have more “normal” abilities than I have now.  Yet, I am amazed at things the stroke has taught me.  Please, remember a stroke is not an ailment that affects only our grandparents and their friends.  It is not a medical condition that hits older people exclusively.  The handbooks and guides given out to predict a stroke survivor’s outcome should not be one size fits all.  Set your sights above those predictions, and remember everyone will progress differently.  Each stroke affects a different area of the brain in different ways.  Have patience and take time to understand how your definition of normal will evolve.  After all, prior to my experiences, I never would have believed that a simple blood clot could change me in so many ways, and I never would have understood one day a stroke could make the wind catch fire.

Botox: Beauty in Stroke Recovery

My Botox injection

I have spent years being appalled by the idea someone would choose to have themselves injected with toxins.  Ironically, I made a choice to do just that last week.  In light of continuing research with positive results in stroke patients and suggestions from doctors, it was my turn to be injected.  I had two shots of Botox put into my lower left leg this past week.  One shot went into the posterior tibialis muscle.  The other entered my flexor digitorum longus.

I received these shots from a neurologist at Loma Linda hospital in Murrieta, California.  That morning was filled with negative anticipation.  I had a lot of fear.  I feared more damage would be done to the stroke affected leg.  I had fear the muscle would become too weak, and I would not be able to walk out of the office independently.  I feared my hyperreflexia, overactive and overresponsive reflexes, would cause me to kick my leg up and dislodge the needle from the doctor’s hand.  I had fear the shot would not work as quickly as it had on previous stroke survivors.  Most of all, I had fear I would not notice any difference whatsoever.  Thankfully, within twenty-four hours after the shot I was able to note I had nothing to fear.

In my medical challenges, I have gained an immense amount of knowledge.  Like so many other individuals, life experiences have taught more and given me a deeper understanding than any school course I have ever taken.  For example, if I had ever heard someone say “we need to watch your tone”, I would have thought they were implying I was speaking rudely.  I now know they are referring to my spasticity.  I understand this is when my leg muscle, for me the posterior tibialis, is constantly contracting.  This is why my leg is often cramped.  I have trouble walking in the morning when I get out of bed.  This is why I have nearly fallen over every morning for seven and a half years as I take my first few steps.  I never before understood the flexor digitorum longus was a specific muscle near the back of my leg, nor did I know this muscle overworking was to blame for my toes constantly curling.  This caused difficulty walking in anything other than bare feet or tennis shoes.

My most recent lesson in stroke recovery was that Botox can allow these uncomfortable, sometimes painful, irritations to disappear at least temporarily!  I had hope for relief, but I never allowed myself to dream of how quick and how complete this relief would be.  The following morning after the shot I took one step.  I took a second step.  I waited and grabbed on to my dresser. I took a timid third step.  Nothing!  I let go and moved my leg around.  I could not believe it.  I walked down the hall and up again.  Down once more and again back to my room.  No pain or stiffness at all.  Not for seven and a half years had I been able to get out of bed and not experience a need to brace myself.  Later that day I put on a pair of dress shoes and did not feel discomfort when I began to walk.  I had feared a lot when I went in for that shot twenty-four hours before.  Maybe one thing I feared most was the unspoken fear to hope for amazing results.  It was these amazing results I woke with the next morning.

I never quite understood why someone would want to alter their appearance through an injection that had the potential to kill in a large dosage.  I have the mindset wrinkles are earned and a story is told by those lines upon our face.  An old proverb states, “Age may wrinkle the face, but lack of enthusiasm wrinkles the soul”.  I do not understand why someone would diminish that beauty with an injection of Botox.  In truth, I may never understand this elective surgery.  I did find though that something changed rapidly with my own choice for Botox.  The pain was gone with new morning’s light.  The simple tasks I could barely allow myself to hope for after eight years were now mine without effort.  No, I do not want my face altered or my aging process slowed; however, I am very grateful for the beauty pain free mornings have offered.  Botox has greatly improved my stroke recovery.  To me, that is beauty.

Benefits To Pain

Many people have often asked, “Why do I have to hurt like this?  Why do I need to be in such pain?”  This pain, being referred to, is sometimes a mental anguish.  Other times pain being resisted is of a physical form.  Either way, these are common questions.  To feel no pain is a common, understandable wish.  From my life lessons, I offer this warning: Be careful what you wish for!

At one time, I have certainly had the same sentiment; I have no doubt.  This resistance to pain would commonly be a blessing for many.  When I became mobile again, following my stroke, I had that very ability.  On my left side, I could feel no pain.  This actually became more of a curse than a blessing.  I burnt myself one day in the kitchen.  I thought I was feeling something very cold like my countertop, yet it was a hot skillet my finger was lying against.  I can only tell if I am over exercising by the pull and strain I feel on the right-side of my body.  I would not be aware if I pulled a muscle on the left leg or arm.  Once, I had to have x-rays on my ankle.  The doctor could tell I was limping more.  I knew something did not seem right.  Yet, even if it had broken after I fell off of a sidewalk, this would not have been obvious to me.  Another experience led to me losing a toe nail.  The doctor asked if I had kicked my toes against something hard or if I dropped an object on my foot.  I was clueless as to what trauma occurred causing enough damage for the nail to discolor and then fall off from my large toe.   I did not have the ability to feel any pain, even intense pain, that would cause such a significant problem to a single toe.

I know what it is like to hurt.  I know what it is like to wish the pain felt could all just disappear.  I also know sometimes feeling no pain is just as challenging as feeling pain so severe you believe you cannot take anymore suffering.  Trust me as I tell my story: It is sometimes better to feel as if the hurt will cause your body to break than to have your body break and never know the damage and brokenness were ever occurring.

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