Christmas Day will mark 14 months of survival since my first two strokes. I doubt I'll be able to post then, so an update a week early. Thank you to everyone who has stuck with me this long. I know in our microwave society, we are typically willing to invest in others, heartaches only if we can see quick resolution. Since I don't have the choice of "fix it quick" I guess I'm here for the long term. That anyone still cares, more than a year after the initial crisis, is a real testament to your faithfulness. Thank you!
I got the best night's sleep I have had in a week, last night. It felt SO GOOD to actually sleep again, only waking up once all night! My voice was stronger than yesterday, when I first woke up this morning, but it is pretty much gone again now. My drug study doctor called for her post-study interview and she could hardly hear or understand me at all. I got a call from a fellow patient that I've been trying to connect with again ever since the rehab hospital (he's close to my heart because he took such a grandfatherly interest in my kids when we were both in rehab, and called me "the kid" because I was one of the youngest there), but he left a message while I was at therapy a week ago and I have been too sick to even try to return his call yet. :( I figure it is OK that I am missing therapy these days, because my core muscles are getting a major workout from all the coughing I've been doing anyway! (Ouch! My rib muscles are so sore!)
Thinking back over this past year, I would have to say my eyes have been the most amazing part of recovery. In February (about 4 months post-stroke, and by then already somewhat improving from my hospital memories), the doctor said my double vision was "too bad" to even consider surgery until my eyes stabilized and corrected more. Surgery was presumed to be a sure thing, dependent on enough improvement to even attempt it. We were hoping to see enough improvement quickly enough to be able to schedule surgery for sometime in 2013. By June (just 4 months after that), my eyesight was already "too good" to even consider surgery!
In October of this year I tested at 20/20 vision (even better than pre-stroke, when I wore glasses!) and had only one degree on frontal double vision (it had been at 3 in June and 30 in February). I still have pretty dizzying peripheral vision (it had been around 60 degrees UN-synced, in February), but even that slowly continues to improve. I actually have briefly seen some single images when looking over my shoulder a few times lately. My left eye is still the weaker, tends to get "lazy" and travel when I'm tired (by the evenings or when I very first am trying to wake up), or stressed, but I am usually able to bring my vision back into alignment if I really try, something no amount of effort would accomplish earlier this year. Wow! Praise the Lord!
It isn't graceful, but the second most amazing gift has been relearning to walk this year. (My dream is that someday it will be graceful again, maybe even cane-free.) I was never "supposed" to walk at all again (said all doctors but one, who gave us a glimmer of hope that it might be a possibility, but would be at least a two-year process). I remember laying in bed, last fall, and being amazed (OK, and often a bit envious too) at the ease with which most people carried themselves on their own two legs. Now, it isn't with "ease," but I am one of those people again! Yes, I have worked VERY hard, but this is all God folks! No matter how hard I had tried, it wouldn't be possible unless He granted the ability.
Wait, I take those statements back. The three most amazing gifts have
been a closer relationship with God (and all the wonder He continues to
unfold and the forever altering, treasured glimpse behind the veil He allowed), seeing such mind-blowing gentleness and dedication blossoming
from my husband (from a marriage that I really questioned for many
months), and having our kids living back home again. The two physical miracles have to be bumped down to 4th and 5th places.
There have been so many other blessing too, more than I can name! Thank you for the extra special investments made in my life this year by so many friends. Mom and Kathy, you both stand out in my mind, especially. (Happy birthday, Mom!)
I would say the biggest disappointment (well, other that wanting my whole me to be back to who I was before, especially emotional processing and all the crazy, ill-timed laughter and tears, though I am VERY thankful that the unwanted rage and yelling has pretty much dissipated and the rest is a little more manageable) has been my hearing. I am blessed to have semi-functional hearing at all. I, in no way, take this for granted. It is just sad to me, having always LOVED music, and previously having perfect pitch, that after two surgeries I still don't hear very well. With such miraculous healing in other areas, it mystifies me a bit as too why God hasn't done the same in my ears. I can only conclude that I serve Him better with hearing impairment now, but He has given me back both my eyes and feet (the two thing I first prayed for in the hospital) as unmerited grace.
Other areas that still are especially problematic are my left jaw and side of face (TMJ and trigeminal nerve), left side of my neck (not the side I stroked on (remember, even though the left side of my body is primarily impacted, that means the right side of my brain took the largest impact), but the issue that started this whole mess, for those of you that know more of my story), and left shoulder (that is slightly less painful over time, but I have pretty much resigned myself to the fact that it will likely always be weak and sore). Touching me, even gently, on pretty much any part of the left side of my body (especially, foot and arm), when I'm not expecting it, still makes me flinch in pain. If my legs are up in the recliner and my kids brush past and touch my foot on the way, even when I am watching and expecting, it really, hurts.
The blood flow issue (purple foot) finally seems to be mostly resolving, as long as I keep putting weight consistently through that leg (good barometer to remind me when I'm not carrying my weight evenly or shifting in too much over my right leg). It hurts to cross my legs with the right over the left. When I'm sitting down, it is important to keep my legs elevated, not dangling down, so blood doesn't pool in my left foot.
I'm, thankfully, able to use my left arm fairly efficiently for some large motor tasks now. I lifted a pan of shepherd's pie (thanks Mom!) into a hot oven by myself last night and didn't break the dish or burn myself! (I had to have my son lift the hot pan back out of the oven.)
I still can't use my hand for fine motor tasks. I tried to label Christmas gifts with my husband last night (he did the writing, I was just going to tie them onto packages) and was in tears because it seemed like such a simple task, but I absolutely could not do it. I had no idea how much fine motor skill this easy little thing actually demands! My 9-year-old eventually took over my task.
I still type single-handedly, but am trying to force myself to practice a computer, piano learning game with both hands. I finally got through the very beginning, basic song (after at least a month, maybe closer to two)! My left hand registers about 1/4 strength or ability of my right, much better than when I could basically not coax any movement from it at all! It takes me about 20 or 30 minutes to peel an orange.
The left side of my mouth seems a little less numb except for along the left outer edge of my tongue. As the mouth numbness receeds abit, I am more aware of numbness in my lips (on that left side). The inside of my left cheek is still fairly numb too, but does register pain when I bite myself. The "burned" feeling primarily only toward the far left side and tip of my tongue.
Kendra, this picture is dedicated to you, my dear. I know this is such a long process. But you are working SO HARD. I am terribly proud of you, little sister. There are countless challenges every day, and yet you keep pushing through. There is no such thing as a small or silly victory!
Edited to add a comment I put in the cooment replies section, but I will want to find again in the future. It took a good 10 months or more (I don't remember exactly how long, but I think that's a fair estimant) before I could trollerate wearing jeans after the strokes. I think it was just a textural thing. I tried to wear jeans for the first time in the rehab hospital and the texture was just too neurologically stimulating - I was in tears and crying, "Get them off!" within less than 5 minutes. Now, I am glad to say, I have one really soft pair I can wear. Yes, big victories in seemingly very small things!
Update: Stroke of Grace has become In Darkness Sing and has moved to JenniferSaake.com.
Thirty-nine-year-old Jennifer Saake (founder, Hannah's Prayer Ministries), experienced 6 strokes via vertebral dissection at a chiropractic office, including brain stem and cerebellum bleeds, in Oct. 2011. Jenni remained hospitalized for nearly 2 months and was not expected to live (near death experience) nor recover, but if she even survived, she was slated to live out her days in a nursing home or, best case, to maybe come home but wheelchair-bound and needing 24-hour care. At 5 years, 7 months God showed how He was writing her story from the beginning.
Jenni is currently writing more books and stays active on both Facebook and Pinterest. Stroke of Grace became In Darkness Sing in early 2018 and has moved, along with all five of Jennifer's active blogs, to one location at JenniferSaake.com.
Since Jenni's chiropractor carried no insurance and moved out of the country soon after the accident (thus avoiding any legal or financial consequences), if you would like to help contribute to the Saake (pronounced like the two small words, say and key) family's massive financial needs (medical expenses alone are estimated to cost between $1- and $1.5- Million in Jenni's lifetime), please visit Jennifer Saake's Stroke Survivor GoFundMe Page. (This support information has been added in direct response to several reader requests.) The Saakes sincerely thank you for your prayers and if God prompts and equips you to send any monetary assistance as well, this is a significant added blessing.