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A One-Year Stroke Survivor

February 2, 2009 Steve Patterson 8 Comments

One year ago today my friend Marcia Behrendt was worried about me, entered my loft and found me on the floor where I had been for approximately 15 hours. I’d had a hemorrhagic stroke – a blood vessel in the right side of my brain burst the afternoon of Friday, February 1, 2008.  At first I thought it was just a headache but within 10 minutes I was on the floor unable to move.  I was certain my meter was about to expire!

That Saturday morning (Feb 2nd) I was taken by ambulance to Saint Louis University Hospital.  My friends tell me the emergency room on the day of the big Mardi Grad parade is a rather unpleasant place.  Sorry for my bad timing guys.

Here is a time line of major events:

  • 2/1/2008 – stroke in late afternoon
  • 2/2/2008 – found in the morning and rushed to Hospital
  • 2/17/2008 – off the ventilator and no longer being sedated
  • 2/18/2008 – friends post about my status, the first post for the month.
  • 2/19/2008 – moved out of ICU to a regular room.
  • 2/25/2008 – left SLUH for St Mary’s Hospital/SSM Rehab.  My first memory is from this date.
  • 2/28/2008 – 41st Birthday
  • 3/7/2008 – I dictate a post to Margie Newman who brought her wireless card for me to use on my laptop.
  • 3/17/2008 – Feeding tube removed.
  • 3/21/2008 – Left St. Mary’s for Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mt. Vernon Missouri – West of Springfield.  One of my brothers drove up from Oklahoma to pick me up and take me to hospital #3.
  • 3/24/2008 – Guest on KDHX via phone.
  • 4/4/2008 – My first visitor in Mt. Vernon.  We get permission to leave the hospital and go into town for real food.  We use a folding wheelchair at this point because I still cannot walk far and not without a therapist present.
  • 4/24/2008 – Physical therapist authorizes me to be “independent in my room.”  I’m now cleared to transfer to a wheelchair or walk within my hospital room without a tech, nurse or therapist present.  But to walk 50ft to meals someone else must be with me.
  • 4/25/2008 – My longest walk since the stroke — 500ft.
  • 4/30/2008 – Returned home.  Met friends for Ethiopian dinner at Meskerem.
  • 6/24/2008 – Purchased used Toyota Corolla after selling my beloved Honda Metropolitan scooter.
  • 6/27/2008 – Driving evaluation.
  • 7/2/2008 – Drove my car home by myself.  My first time driving alone.
  • 8/7/2008 – Drove to Oklahoma City to visit family.
  • 9/11/2008 – I took a shower standing up!
  • October 2008 – 10 visits of occupational & physical outpatient therapy at St. Louis Rehabilitation.  The first therapy since April ’08..
  • 11/4/2008 – walked 30ft without using a cane, still wearing leg brace.
  • 1/25/2009 – Exited shower using straight cane rather than quad cane.

The above list is by no means complete.  I’ve had, and continue to have, lots of firsts.  I put together a short video which goes back to February of 2008:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKulXmp54g8[/youtube]

It has been an interesting ride.  I’m glad I stuck around.  It is quite the weird experience to think you are going to die.  Waking up from sedation a few weeks later and realize you lived is amazing.  I guess it was the joy of still being alive that gave me the strength to make it through the last 11 months.

Thank you to Marcia, Rich, Andrew, Dustin, Patty, Shelley, Sam, Lois, Dionna, Margie, Antonio, Randy  and so many others.   Thank you to my friend & neighbor Diane for help these last 9 months I’ve been home. Thank you to the many therapists along the journey.  I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone — thank you too.

 

Good Riddence 2008, Hello 2009

December 31, 2008 Site Info, Steve Patterson 4 Comments

2008 was not a good year, especially for me personally.  2008 did have some great moments though.

About two hours into2008 my father passed away.  He had taken ill in December 2007 and was in the hospital.  I was staying at my brother’s house in Oklahoma City when the call came from the hospital for us to get there – he had “coded.”  Coincidentally, this was the same hospital where this brother was born in December 1959.  My mom passed away 18 months before my Dad, in June 2006.   I’ve written posts saying goodbye to my mom & dad.

So now I start off 2008 at age 40 with no parents.

A week later friend of a friend needed a ride to Rhode Island to start a new teaching job.  She had just bought my friend’s used car but she was still learning to drive a stick and she wasn’t comfortable driving that distance in an automatic car much less a manual.  The drive up was great — we got to know each other on the road.  She is a black female in her 50s – a native of St Louis.  She is a Harvard PhD (undergrad too). She was a Hillery supporter, I was for Obama.  We left St Louis early in the morning of Monday the 14th.

When we arrived at our destination the following afternoon, I left her and her car at her new apartment in Bristol, R.I. (map), just south of Providence.  From that point I became a transit user.  I caught the bus a block from her new place that took me to downtown Providence (map).  After a night in Providence I took the train up to Boston.

Boston was a great experience.  It was cold out but the sidewalks & subway were teaming with people.

I flew back to St Louis arriving back at my place around 1:30am on the 18th – less than four days after leaving.  From the airport I was on the final MetroLink train.  But as we were heading back to the city the conductor announces the last stop would be Grand.  Realizing I did not want to be at the Grand stop after midnight, tired with luggage, I got off at the CWE stop and called a taxi to take me home.

The trip was certainly a good distraction from the loss of my father.

Back home I jumped right back into my life by attending a charrette in Old North St Louis on the 19th.  It was cold but I rode my scooter to get there – I didn’t own a car so my choices were few.

On Tuesday the 22nd I started the semester at Saint Louis University.

The following week started off normally enough — Gateway Mall press conference, Preservation Board meeting, Marine Villa neighborhood meeting watching residents elect new officers, and a hearing at City Hall on the morning of the 31st.  On the 24th I finally got an iPhone – the price had come down and AT&T now offered business accounts.

An Aunt of mine, wife of one of my Dad’s brothers, died in Texas on the 27th of January.

I had a real estate closing scheduled for the 31st at noon but there was a delay on the Buyer’s side — I had the Seller’s side of the deal.  That night it snowed.

The morning of Friday February 1st I snapped a few pictures of the snow from my balcony and from the roof.  I discussed having dinner with a friend.  I continued my email conversation with my friend Richard Kenney in Seattle about wanting to find a good spot at Bellefontaine Cemetery for when my time was up.  Then, around 5pm, it happened – a hemorrhagic stroke.  I’ll save the details for the anniversary of the stroke but basically I didn’t think I would survive — and I nearly did not.

I spent February 2nd – April 30th in three hospitals.  My recovery has been amazing.  I’m probably 65% at this point.  I’ll probably be at 95% in a year or so.

I started driving again in July and I bought my first tank of gas for my newly purchased car on July 14 — the day St Louis gas prices peaked.

In August I resumed work on my Masters degree at Saint Louis University.  I’m past the halfway point and I expect to graduate on December 11, 2009.

The economy took a nosedive in 2008. Foreclosures rose sharply as did the list of unemployed.

In November the country impressed me by electing Barack Obama to be President.  We’ll see how well he does.  Some are naturally upset by some of his choices for his cabinet.

Going into 2009 I’m optimistic about my own future and that of our city, state, country and world.  I’m in a better mindset than I was a year ago.

Thank you to all of you for your continued support in 2008.  Peace. – Steve

 

I Walked To Lunch Today

Walking downtown is one of the things I’ve missed since returning home after my three months in the hospital following my stroke on Feb 1st.  The electric wheelchair is great but there is just something different about getting somewhere only using your own power.  Walking & bicycling are the two ways to enjoy this great feeling and up to now both had been taken away from me.

I’d been practicing walking around the block in the evenings but today I walked the farthest I have since my stroke, roughly 4/10ths of a mile to a luncheon at Lucas Park Grille.

That fraction under a half mile took me 40 minutes.  Ditto for the walk back. Getting back my urban life of walking, bicycling and scooting is a great motivator.    Despite the heat and the slowness of my pace it felt great to walk to a destination.  Next time perhaps Bridge & Tunnel Pizza at Tucker?  After that dinner at Mosaic or Kitchen K, both at 10th & Washington Ave.

 

A Stroke of Insight

When I moved into my loft this past November I didn’t move any of my three televisions. I haven’t missed TV at all, I read far more now, I watch DVDs on my computer and we always have TED online. TED is an annual conference about ideas — in particular “ideas worth spreading.” I’ve watched many of the presentations. Last week I received an email with the TED top ten and there at #1 was one I had watched while in the hospital following my stroke:

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding — she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyyjU8fzEYU[/youtube]

My stroke was different than hers in that mine was on the right side of my brain. Especially at the time my speech was slowed and slurred but it was never totally lost. My long term memory was fully intact. I recall in the hospital seeing other stroke patients able to walk and move their arms but struggling to speak. I don’t think I’d trade places with them if I could, even though reprogramming my brain to operate my left side and to give me sitting & standing balance as been a major challenge.

My short term memory is greatly improved although if you were to tell me your phone number I might struggle to remember it long enough to dial it. A note to people that use the phone — call people from the number you want them to call back on.

Dr. Taylor’s presentation is very moving, I can see why it is #1.  It has been more than a decade since her stroke.  I know that once my recovery time is measured in years, instead of months, I too will be fully recovered.  Now that will be “neat.”

 

I Drove My Car Today

For most people driving a car is no big deal, millions do it everyday. For me, five months to the day after being rushed to the hospital following my stroke, it was a very big deal.

A year ago I was so excited to not own a car, using my 49cc Honda Metropolitan scooter to get around town and to meet with clients. The stroke took out the use of my left limbs. I’ve got decent use of the left leg at this point, but my left arm/hand is still functionally limited. So a couple of weeks ago I sold the scooter (post) and last week bought a used car — a Toyota Corolla.

For obvious reasons I bought one with an automatic transmission — no extra hand to shift with (while keeping the other on the wheel) nor a reliable leg to activate a clutch. I also wanted a vehicle with power windows because trying to use my right hand to roll down the driver’s window would not be easy. The Corolla has an outstanding reliability record and excellent fuel economy. This Corolla, like most, was assembled in the joint venture Toyota/GM plant known as NUMMI in Fremont, CA, located not far from my brother’s office.

Don’t think that I’m just out on the road living it up without any equipment or training. I had a driving evaluator (a licensed occupational therapist) come and give me vision & cognitive testing as well as on on-road driving test. So last week, at age 41 and after driving for 25 years, I was back in driver’s ed.

We drove on the streets and the interstate. He recommended the two vehicle modifications which were the two I had already assumed:

 

The spinner knob on the steering wheel at 2 O’clock helps me safely turn the wheel with only one hand. The lever you see behind the wheel to the right is a turn signal crossover, helping me use turn signals with my right hand. The spinner knob is illegal for use on the road unless you’ve be determined to need it. Both devices work great.

So now my trick will be to see how seldom I can drive the car. I feel like a failed environmentalist selling the scooter and getting a car. As I start to buy gas I know I will quickly be reminded of just how efficient the scooter was. I’ll still use the wheelchair to get around downtown. I’ll also continue to work on my walking so that some day I’ll be able to stop using the wheelchair, the cane and leg brace.

In the meantime the car will allow me to get to my office on South Kingshighway without having to bum rides from others. This also permits me to once again have the ability to meet clients at properties that are for sale. A paycheck would be nice.

The car will permit me to stop by Local Harvest grocery and various farmers’ markets to get locally grown food. And finally it will allow me to get and and see projects as they are happening so that I can review them here.

To me the car is an important park of my mobility but I’m not going to let it rule my life.

 

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