Goodbye 2021

It’s been an eventful year here in East Texas. I started the year with Covid vaccines, followed by a February snowstorm with bitter cold temps that saw much of the state lose power and/or water. I was lucky to have kept both, but it was a blast from my New England past. Covid, of course, was a factor in 2021 activities and events, and for the most part, I stayed inside with the cats even though I had my vaccines and wore masks. I continued working at the Emerald Bay Church, completing five years there in July.

But the second half of the year was crazy and everything went off the rails. I had cataract surgery on both eyes in June, letting me actually see without glasses for the first time since third grade. I also began to realize that I had major problems with my right foot because of severe spinal stenosis with surgery as the only solution. As I began using a cane and sometimes a walker to help me stay balanced and not fall again (I fell eight times, not that I counted), I realized that my beloved Emerald Bay home was not the best place for someone who needed that kind of help. The doorways weren’t up to ADA standards and the walkers didn’t fit through easily.

When I started to think about it, I also realized that, much as I loved the home that had been in the family since 1985, it wasn’t really the right place for me now. I found a wonderful 2 bedroom apartment at Meadow Lake, a senior living community in Tyler, complete with wide doorways, grab bars, med-alert system, and familiar living style. I put my house on the market and moved within 3 weeks of finding the apartment. Which was a really good thing, because four days later, I fell and went to the hospital, then two different rehab centers, and was away for 10 weeks before finally returning.

Life has dramatically changed. I came home in a wheelchair with a walker but am mostly in the chair for now until my legs are stronger and my foot brace works better. The doctor said that it could be 8-12 months from surgery to see the full results and how much functionality will come back; my physical therapist says it’s more like 12-18 months. In any case, it’s not overnight and there will be steps forward and backwards as I travel this path. I quit my church job while in the hospital, since I needed to focus on healing, and sold my car, too, since I can’t drive. When/if that changes, I want to be able to have a vehicle that’s the right height for me then. Meadow Lake offers a transport van to get me to doctor appointments, which is an enormous help.

I’m grateful to be able to live independently in a new home that accommodates my new limits, and I’m adjusting to a slower pace and much smaller world. I’m trying to just consider this a “time apart” where I don’t need to think or worry about things like getting to church, going out with friends, or traveling. It’s not forever, it’s just for now. In fact, to make it tidy, I’ll just count my Recovery “Year” from August 2021-December 2022.

Goals for my Recovery Year:

  • Walk with a rollator instead of using a wheelchair
  • Use the NuStep at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week
  • Be able to shower on my own
  • Be able to get in and out of a car
  • Lose 20 lbs

On the other hand, I had no idea that most of what actually happened in 2021 would happen, much less planned for it, so who knows how 2022 will turn out?

Image credit: Photo 203119854 © Esther19775 | Dreamstime.com

I Bit the Bullet

And ordered a NuStep for my apartment, along with a rubber mat to go under it, extended warranty, and white glove shipping to get it set up and working once it arrives. It’s a certified pre-owned unit that I should be able to use as soon as it gets here, after we make sure I can safely get on and off. I know that I can get on and off – I used this for my three weeks in therapy at the Olympic Center when I was just starting this adventure – but I haven’t used one for four months. I promise I won’t try to do it without someone here to help me. Once I get that part figured out, I will definitely use it. Partly because it’s wicked expensive, too expensive to just let it sit and collect dust. But mostly because I really need to get stronger.

I’ve lost strength in my legs these last few weeks. When home health PT was here yesterday, I had problems walking even a short distance because I didn’t trust my legs to hold me when I stepped out. My right foot feels like a sponge on the bottom, which, to be fair, isn’t a new feeling. But not trusting it to hold me feels new. The left thigh/back nerve pain is much less severe, which is great, but the leg just feels weak. So I need to work harder to get back the strength I had and worked so hard for months to get in the first place. I have standing leg exercises to do at the sink, which I used to be able to do lots at a time and am now down to doing only five at a time. But I can still do them. And seated ones. PT comes again tomorrow so I’d better get my act together.

It will also help that I finally have an appointment to see a “foot guy” next week and can advocate for a new, better AFO for the right foot. I can’t believe that after four months, I still can’t put on my shoes with the brace by myself, and without it, I can’t walk using the walker because I’m too great a fall risk. So I have high hopes for this visit and hope the doctor doesn’t disappoint.

I confess that I’ve gotten really used to using the wheelchair. I don’t WANT to be dependent on it, but it’s been necessary since I can’t do the shoes myself and most days that means no walking. It’s depressing to rely on it. Some things are easier, such as feeding the cats, but it’s hard to carry things while also using hands to wheel myself around. Everything is at a different eye level, which is great when in the grocery store and looking at the gelato counter but not so good for other things. What makes it bearable is that I still can stop and lock the chair, stand up, and do something like take down a mug or bowl. I’m not stuck in the chair with the limits that come with that. But I want to not be in it at all, and that will take a lot more work.

And I’m tired of working. I want a vacation from it, but that’s not possible. Because if you let up, you lose ground. I want to just crawl in bed, pull covers over my head, and burrow in. But I’ve been sleeping in a chair for the last week when climbing into bed became too excruciatingly painful. I’m hopeful that will change in the next few days coz I miss my bed!

Medical Catch Up

I’ve been having increasing pain in my left thigh over the past weeks, first around the inside of the knee and up into the groin. Weight bearing didn’t hurt but lifting the leg up, say to walk or heaven forbid, get the leg into bed, caused stabbity burning pain. That was the worst and had me avoiding the pain of getting into bed enough to just sleep in an uncomfortable non-reclining chair. My therapist used the diathermy machine and ultrasound, but it just got worse, and now I know why.

The problem isn’t really with the thigh at all, though there may be a muscle strain. We can’t do anything about that; it will heal on its own and in its own time. The problem actually is a pinched nerve in my back. After last weekend’s pain levels, I contacted my doctor and actually saw her on Monday for the first time since June. They did x-rays (which was all kinds of weird to do, since I was shoeless and without my AFO or really anything to hold on to) which didn’t show any kind of additional structural problem, but x-rays don’t show soft tissue damage.

The doctor said that it’s not at all unusual for someone who has back surgery to have another type of problem pop up in a different place several months after the surgery. The burning pain is nerve pain in my lower back, running down my outer left thigh. It’s actually in the same place that I had similar awful burning pain six years ago. I got a steroid shot and a prescription for a tapered dose of prednisone, which I’m currently taking, to help calm down the inflammation. I also have more pain pills which I’m taking. My new PT told me that it’s actually a good sign that I’m only feeling pain in the low back and outer thigh; that means inflammation is calming down. It’s not good when the pain goes lower and wider.

In the midst of all of this, I had my first home health visits, both a weekly nurse visit and two visits from a physical therapist, who did an assessment on Tuesday. It’s so hard to explain that this back/leg pain is brand new – I’ve been essentially pain free through all these past months, at least free of this type of pain, and I’m still surprised to stand up and feel how stiff and painful the thigh actually is. Today we had our first visit with exercise and walking. I’ve done all the things before, but haven’t done them in a while and they certainly felt different with the leg pain. At least I knew to take a pain pill 30 minutes before he came, and iced the back down after we finished. The cold feels good.

I also bought a lift chair without ever sitting in it. Not what I wanted to be doing but I had to have an other option to climbing into the bed when it hurts so much to do that. All week my aide has come in the evenings and helped me get the leg up pain-free, which was wonderful – but she can’t be here all the time, and I needed somewhere to sleep since the recliner had pretty much stopped reclining (another story for another day). The folks at Southside Furniture took pics of their inventory and I selected a chair from that after also looking up specs about them on the manufacturer’s website. It’s not the most comfortable chair ever, but it lays completely flat if I need it to, and will help me keep the legs up without having to actually LIFT them up. All good things. I slept in it last night and it was better than my alternatives.

Tomorrow is Christmas Day and my brother and sister-in-law will be visiting. I’m really looking forward to seeing them for the first time since they moved me down from rehab 2.5 months ago. And I have some small projects for them, including rearranging furniture in the living room to make sense now that I have the lift chair. All the other chairs face each other and the TV but I can’t see anyone’s faces if they sit in them where they are now. So we’ll move them and I’ll ride around in the wheelchair to be sure I can still navigate the space properly. I also want to rearrange furniture in the second room to accommodate a NuStep, which I’m still thinking I’ll buy. They’ve repaired the one here in my complex so I’ll start with that one first, but we’ll just have to see how it goes. We can use towels to layout where the mat would go for the machine and see just how much space it takes up (most of it, I think).

The AFO continues to be a problem; the therapist wants me to walk in the apartment more than I have been, but I can’t do it without the AFO. So I’m thrilled that I finally have an appointment with a foot specialist at Azalea Orthopedic in early January. He should be able to make that happen, and it could make all the difference.

My goal for next Christmas is to be walking around using my nice red rollator instead of using the wheelchair.

Welcome, Home Health

I’m now all set up with Encompass Health for home health care, including weekly RN visits and both PT and OT assessments to happen next week, with a therapy visit schedule to be set after that. Today was my intake visit with lots of paperwork, review of medical background, medication list, vitals, physical check of skin for wounds (I don’t have any but there are some bruises where I ran into things), and even a cognitive test (my words were Banana, Sunrise, and Chair). I have piles of papers to read, but mostly I’m just feeling a bit caught up in something I hadn’t really expected to be doing. All because my friend Louise made a phone call to a relative who works for Encompass and they ran with the request to get me started. Once again, my insurance combo is proving to be the gold standard for coverage.

I can do a lot of things for myself but there’s a lot that I can’t do, or rather, can’t do YET. I need to see which of those I can do myself once I learn how and which I will still need to rely on someone else. Putting on the damned shoe with AFO is one of them. I’m excited to get my assessments next week and see what kinds of goals and plans will come from that for additional progress. I still plan to work with my aide because she’s great and the more help, the better. We’ll coordinate schedules – and at least it will all be here in my home instead of having to arrange transportation to go up to therapy.

Thanks, Louise, for the push to getting me started with this.

Goodbye, Therapy

Therapy is over, at least for now. I’m so grateful to Grace for her excellent care of me these last two months, and the progress I made with her help. She challenged me to do more than I thought I could do (can we say stairs?) because she knew I could do it, but she also listened when there was something I wanted to do or had problems trying to accomplish a goal. It’s on me now to keep going because I do NOT want to lose ground, though my knee problem is limiting me somewhat.

I do know I’ve lost some upper body strength in spite of using my arms to wheel the chair around everywhere. I have Therabands and small arm weights, and instructions from Susan on how to use them – I just need to actually use them instead of admiring them and leaving them untouched. So I’m going to rearrange things to get those weights closer to where I mostly sit here in my living room. If all I have to do is reach down to get them, I can do those arm exercises several times a day. Let’s start with once.

I’ve also gained weight. This isn’t terribly surprising since I’m not moving all that much and eating all the time – and because the food here is amazing and plentiful. I’m up about 17 pounds and I can tell by the way my body feels and the way my clothes are fitting. I’m not ready to make a commitment to working on weight loss again, but the first step is acknowledging the issue. I worked so hard to lose my weight on Noom and with MyFitnessPal, and I don’t want to go back to where I was.

On my last day of therapy, we went down to my old rehab pod area to use the giant scale. You can roll on with a wheelchair, or get up and stand using a walker, which is what I did. Then we weighed the walker so I could deduct it from the total to give me a realistic number. Which is important, because I have two doctor’s appointments before the end of the year, and they will both want me to get on a scale because doctors ALWAYS want you to get on a scale. But because I know the offices and know the scales, I know there’s nothing to hold on to and the step up is higher than what I’ve done in the last four months. I just don’t feel safe getting up on it, and my therapist concurred. So we arranged to get my weight another way and I’ll pass it along when I get to the doctor.

I’m learning that before I go somewhere, I need to make sure that the space is wheelchair accessible. And I need to be sure I don’t drink much of anything before I go in case their bathrooms are not workable. Even ADA compliant bathrooms may not have much room to maneuver. I also need to schedule my transportation; no more hopping into a car and just going when I want to go somewhere. I haven’t done a car transfer yet and am not sure really how to manage it coming from the wheelchair – from a walker, I could turn around and back in, but from the chair? Lifting my knees up is also a serious limit.

My legs still aren’t very strong. Honestly, who knew how much strength it takes to just stand up and walk around? I need to continue working on the leg muscles, and my therapist confirmed that using the NuStep would definitely help. The machine here is still broken so I’ve found a place to order one for my own apartment, and they’ll deliver and set up completely for an extra fee (of course). I need help rearranging some things in the room where it will go, and think I’ll wait for my brother’s Christmas visit for that. If I decide to sell it later, the same company will buy it back and refurbish it for someone else. But I know that having it right here, and an aide who can help me get on and off safely, will mean I’ll get the workout I need.

Because I want to be able to not use the chair so much. I have this lovely shiny red rollator that I want to be able to use – but I’m not ready yet. Grace explained that my legs aren’t strong enough and I’m putting more weight through my arms on the walker. That doesn’t translate to the rollator, which expects you to have stronger legs and be able to walk faster than I can. So for now, I’m still mostly in the wheelchair but walking in the hall every day with the AFO on the right foot to prevent foot drop. But I’ll get there and have my fancy rollator for when I’m strong enough to use it.

But I made cookies this week with my aide. That involved endurance standing, moving around the counters without falling down, and opening the oven and bending to move cookie sheets without falling or burning myself. Making cookies is part of Christmas for me, and it was important to be able to do this – not to eat myself, but to give away. I felt like a normal person and got a great sense of accomplishment as well as the fun of baking with someone else. The cats didn’t help.