Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The End of the Beginning

I almost didn’t write that last post. I just felt that I didn’t really have anything positive to say at all. I was feeling down, frustrated and confused and against what I was feeling, I decided to write about what was going on and post it. I am so glad I did, because it has made a huge difference for me.

A comment was left by Rick, which reminded me of something I read when I first started reading about strokes, while I was still hooked up to IVs just a week after everything happened. In my usual all or nothing way of doing things, I started reading not just one book, but three. I was desperate to make some sense of what was going on and what was in store. And, of course, I was looking for the quick solution that would have me on my feet and back to normal in the shortest possible time.

In the book titled “Stronger After Stroke” by Peter Levine, I read all about my current situation, but what I read got lost and buried under the mountain of information. But thanks to Rick’s comment, it all came back and I realized what was happening.

A huge part of recovery involves what is known as “neuroplasticity”. Which is basically a rewiring of the brain. This is what allows the brain to re-learn functions that would normally be controlled by other parts of the brain, which are no longer functioning. It involves a lot of patience and repetition, not unlike learning a new language or how to play an instrument.  

A stroke kills cells in the brain. It is those dead cells that create all sorts of problems, in my case, walking, balance and other things. Just outside the dead zone is an area known as the penumbra. The penumbra is an area of cells that have been “stunned” during the stoke. They aren’t dead, but they aren’t working either. Whether they live or die depends on a number of factors including medical treatment. The stunned cells can become active again anywhere from a few hours to a few months after the stroke. As they become active, the areas of the body those cells control can experience some rapid advances during recovery. Each day, I saw improvements and it was great for my recovery ego and motivation.

Once the stunned cells have reengaged, the rapid part of the recovery can come to what seems like a grinding halt. It is a time when many people get frustrated and even give up. It is a feeling I can completely understand. In my case, each day seemed to hold huge jumps in my progress and then two weeks ago, I hit a wall.

Two weeks may seem like a short time, but when you are recovering from anything major, and the feelings that come along with it, two weeks can feel like an eternity. I spent each minute stewing in the depression of not moving forward and imagining my life with disabilities. I have never needed glasses and I found the whole idea of life spent in this condition difficult to accept and understand. I would try to walk and hit walls. My vision was getting more and more doubled by the day. I got to a point where I just stayed in bed. I would wake up to find I had been crying in my sleep.

Then I read that comment and it triggered a memory. It took me a bit to search and find what I was looking for but after reading it, the understanding fell into place and I realized I was at a major fork in the road. Recovery would not be easy anymore. It is strange to think that weeks ago I thought and blogged about my recovery and how it was going in baby steps. Looking back, it was taking place in leaps and bounds. As the book explained, it is not the beginning of the end, it is the end of the beginning and now the real work will start.

On Monday, I joined a gym and have started working out with weights and machined to push my body in any way I can. I know results will come in millimeters and at a snail’s pace as the main work of rewiring my brain starts, but as long as it comes, I can deal with it. 


  1. Love it Robb!! And it reminds me of a little book that describes how in learning and developing we come to those frustrating plateaus, where it feels we are making no progress whatsoever, yet life is about the plateaus and not the short steep climbs in between.. Well that's what I remember of it... Thank you for the reminder. Hugs

  2. Rick Gartner23/2/12 04:20

    This is an attempt at an early dialogue. Nothing seems wrong with your mental faculties: your writing is beautiful, succinct and like an alchemist's dream: it blends the mind with the soul. I wonder whether that's despite or because of your struggle. It is also a miracle how my comment changed your outlook, but that is how our beautiful minds work - we know a lot, yet understand little. Mind you (pun intended!), what you describe so well, no, that you describe so well is unreachable for most people that did not even have a stroke. You're the unlucky member of the stricken and the lucky member of the wise. Keep up the writing. It is an inspiration for me and I suspect many others. Let that also be a driver for growth, physically and mentally. Ciao!

  3. Anonymous23/2/12 06:02

    I am so glad you are so strong and determined, I have the utmost faith that you will continue to get stronger and fitter and be able to overcome this huge task put before you. Remember that many people are routing for you and lots of prayers are coming your way. Lots of LOVE Jan

  4. Julie in Denver23/2/12 12:39

    Yaaa Robb!! (and yaaa Rick for his postings too!)