On December 30, 2018, I was an extremely healthy and fit woman who went to daily exercise and water aerobic classes. I was very independent. I rode my own Harley motorcycle, took no medications, and did not have a primary care physician, as I did not have a need for one. I was very excited as I awaited our moving day — tomorrow!
On December 31, 2018, at 5:00 a.m., three hours before movers were coming to relocate us from Illinois to Arizona, I awoke with my legs feeling somewhat weird. I walked downstairs and then returned upstairs to wake up my husband because of the strange sensation in my legs. We walked back downstairs, where I began to feel extreme pain in my back. I asked my husband to rub my back, but within minutes, I had to ask him to stop because of my pain. Within 20 minutes, my lower half was completely paralyzed. We immediately called the paramedics, and I was rushed to the hospital. I had an MRI and was told I suffered an extremely rare occurrence of a frontal spinal cord stroke (infarction T8 and T9). We were in a state of shock. I asked the doctor if I would ever walk again, and he told me it was highly unlikely. I told the hospital staff that this was probably a mistake, as I had movers coming shortly and was about to start my next chapter as a retiree in my new home in Arizona. But, there was no mistake; this was going to be my new normal!
Hard Work and Hope
A few days later, I was transferred to the worldwide known rehabilitation center Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in downtown Chicago. My husband lived there with me since all of our belongings had been moved to Arizona. I was put into a daily four-hour PT and OT regimen. Teaching my nerves to do their job again was by far the hardest thing I had ever done! I never gave up hope and refused to believe that not walking would be my lot in life from then on. My dear husband, family, and friends were all incredibly supportive. When I was released on February 6, 2019, I was able to walk short distances with a walker and braces. I mostly used a wheelchair.
Walking, Dancing, Swimming!
Today, I only use one short ankle foot orthosis (AFO) on my right foot. I use a rollator walker but am transitioning into using a stick cane most of the time. I am learning to use walking sticks so that I can go on short hikes. I love to dance and do so using my walker or cane. I can walk unassisted for a maximum of 50 feet. I swim, use a treadmill, and drive our golf cart and car (using two feet, but don’t tell on me)! So much for the initial prognosis of “highly improbable that you will ever walk again!”
Staying Positive Despite Setbacks
Have I had any setbacks since my diagnosis? You bet! At one point, I developed a deep sore on my right foot and was told I had to stay off of it for a while. Wait! What? I am learning to walk again! I can’t take time off now!
When I recuperated, I returned to PT briefly until February 19, 2020, when I unexpectedly suffered a third-degree heart block and had a pacemaker put in. Setback number two!
After six weeks, I returned to PT, but setback number three hit soon after when the pandemic forced the facility to close!
I believe there is a reason everything happens. I may not have the answer to why my life turned on a dime, but I believe I will find out at some point. I have faith that this situation is and will be for good!
My motto now is, “I get to….” If I feel discouraged because I must force myself to practice walking daily, I turn it around and say, “I get to practice walking today!”
Tips for Turning Negativity into Positivity
You may think that I am always positive and only see the glass half full, but that’s not true. I have my occasional pity party and negative moods. As difficult as it is to turn pessimistic thinking into optimistic patterns, I try to fill up that half-empty glass with positive thoughts and gratitude using some of the below tricks:
I watch videos of my initial PT sessions when my legs could only move with the help of a therapist. This helps me realize how much progress I’ve made.
I practice gratitude for:
the home we purchased before my stroke and the conveniences it offers, which we did not realize we needed at the time.
my husband, who continually feeds me positive reinforcement and gives 24/7 of his time, energy, and love to care for me.
my huge support system that prays for me and never gives up on me.
I look at each day knowing that it brings me closer to recovery if I keep the faith, put in the energy, and never give up hope.
It is a choice to never give up and keep on keepin’ on!
Editor’s note: Deb was one of the winners of our Airtime Watertime Floatsuit giveaway. After trying out her Floatsuit for the first time, she said, “It is great for people who are afraid of swimming. Keeps a person afloat. Unable to sink. Which is a good thing!” Here are some photos of her enjoying it in the pool!
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