Stroke rehab: Reporting for duty

To say my husband’s stroke turned our world upside down is an understatement.

As I noted in my previous post, Stroke check: When F.A.S.T. is not enough, my husband Michael did not exhibit the usual symptoms of a stroke. His stroke left him with extreme dizziness and an inability to walk straight.  To him, it felt like the worst case of sea sickness ever.  While we focused on the fact that the stroke had not affected his cognition or speech and that he wasn’t paralyzed, we were not optimistic that living with constant vertigo would be manageable. Certainly, it was not desirable.

But Michael’s physician, Dr. Amir Buljina, had other ideas and prescribed acute inpatient rehabilitation to get him back on his feet and walking the straight and narrow. For a man who could not sit up without nausea and who was not into working out pre-stroke, the idea of becoming a post-stroke gym rat did not seem plausible.

Michael was admitted to the Banner Boswell Rehabilitation Center  on the campus of Banner Boswell Medical Center in Sun City where he met his rehab team – three young women who did not look at all threatening. But, as they outlined three-hour, five-days-a-week sessions, my army-vet husband knew a drill sergeant when he saw one and now it appeared he had three of them.

I would wander over to the rehab center and watch Michael balance on a board, catch balls, throw bean bags into a target area from various positions, balance on one foot, walk a balance beam, walk backwards, work on core strengthening and play interactive video balance games. If he complained of nausea, they would let him stop for a bit, but soldiering on was the rule each day.

I developed an intense admiration for the work of the rehab therapists and an overwhelming sense of pride for my husband. He labored tirelessly to try to retrain his brain to not think the world was upside down.

When Michael was first admitted to the acute rehab center, neither of us ever thought he’d return to normal. We thought these balance issues would become his new normal. However, each day he progressed and each day we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

There were certain milestones Michael had to meet to be discharged and when met they’d be checked off and each tick meant he was one more step closer to discharge.  When the last one was checked off, he received his prize– a T-shirt on which is written “Finally, I made it!”  Discharge was the next day.

As we walked down the hallway, we were surprised when the entire staff gave him a rousing send off.  When we got to the car, we were both pretty emotional as we looked back on a journey we’d never imagined we’d make together. It’s been nearly a year since Michael’s stroke and looking at him you wouldn’t know that the word stroke was ever a part of our vocabulary.


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