Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lots of catching up to do ....

Well, I know its been a long time, but I have lots of news, so I will skip in the normal apology for taking so long to jump right in. In the almost two months since I last posted, we've hit several more milestones and had another HUGE scare. Let's start with the good news.

In early July, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of returning home ... returning to work ... and starting outpatient therapy. It still seems hard to believe that it has been that long and in many ways, I've almost forgotten what it was like before we came home and returned to work.

Occupational therapy has been going well, I returned today after a two-week break for vacations (mine and the therapist's). I don't think I missed much of a beat, although it was tougher because of the soreness, but more on that in a bit. We continue to work on strengthening my shoulder and improving movement in the wrist and hand. I also had another round of botox, but have not noticed as much of an effect from this series of shots. We continue to be hopeful for more gains and celebrate every sign of improvement, no matter how small.

I officially graduated from physical therapy in July and now its up to me to continue to work and improve on my own. I haven't officially been discharged and could return if needed, but we won't schedule any more appointments unless something major happens. So I consider that very positive and keep pushing myself to work out and improve strength and move back to a more natural walk.

That takes us to the big scare. On Sunday, after church and the grocery store, Brenda took the kids swimming while I went to the office to knock out some work and get in a workout on the elliptical machine. That all went well, although I noticed I was particularly tired after working out. So instead of going back to my office, I just jumped in the car to head home. I stopped to get a drink at Sonic and was about halfway home when I noticed an issue with my legs. I could not take my foot off the accelerator and kept gaining speed. It became pretty clear that I was not going to be able to make my turn and could not stop at the light at the upcoming intersection. I was able to avoid the cars stopped in front of me and kept honking the horn to warn the people in the intersection. I could not avoid everyone, that one being one of my co-workers turning through the intersection. I spun through the intersection and jumped the curb, ending up in the ditch facing back in the direction I had been coming from in the first place. It could have been devastating for both of us, but fortunately, we were both able to walk away. I am sure that I will get a citation and won't be able to drive again for some time, but I am so thankful not to have hurt anyone and been able to walk away. I spent about two hours in the emergency room, and am extremely sore in the my right side and lower back. But that's it other than a few bruises and cuts.

As we look back on the accident, there is no question that God was watching over me and saved us all. There are too many things that had to happen just right for us to have the outcome we did. Everything from the light changing when it did, to the two of us driving through that intersection at the exact same time, to Jacob deciding to go swimming instead of working out with me, to my car not flipping when I hit the curb ... and the list goes on and on. We have said so many prayers of thanks and I am so blessed to have had it turn out this way.

The accident also shook me out of my complacency and reminded me not to take anything for granted. I think I had almost forgotten what I've been through and that the potential still remains for setbacks along the way. Not being able to drive also puts much more of a burden on Brenda with the kids so involved and becoming even more active as school starts. We can overcome those challenges though, the same way we've overcome some of the others in the past year. And we have so much support and help from co-workers, friends and family that we are continually overwhelmed and humbled.

Brenda continues to do well and stay busy. She is a rock for me and such a source of strength. The kids are also both doing well as we prepare for life with two middle-schoolers for the first time. Somehow, Brooke is in sixth grade this year with Jacob on the verge of high school as he moves to eighth grade. I am so thankful to still be around to watch them grow and mature and we are so proud of the people they are growing up to be. All three of them (Brenda, Jacob and Brooke) are constant reminders of how my life has been blessed.

So ... that's what has been happening in our lives. Hopefully you are all doing well and thanks to each of you for your continued support!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Still going ... and going ...

As we move through mid-June, we are rapidly closing in on the one-year mark since I came home from Hillcrest. Still seems hard to believe that its gone so quickly, but in other ways, it seems like so much more than a year. I had a great Father's Day and really enjoyed being able to celebrate it at home. (You can go back in the blog to see how we spent last Father's Day). I got wrist weights and a putting green, so my family continues to invest in my rehab.

So, I will use those gifts as a good segue into my therapy update. We have started strengthening exercises in occupational therapy. That includes using the wrist weights for shoulder lifts in multiple directions and for bicep curls. I can feel a difference, even though we are using very light weight. Its not like I was a bodybuilder before the stroke to begin with. I also drove to therapy and used only my left arm on the steering wheel for the stretch on I-35. That news was encouraging to my therapist and terrifying for my wife! I actually felt almost natural and safe and comfortable driving that way. There was very little traffic, so I also had that going for me. We continue once a week in occuptional therapy with more of an emphasis on working at home and exercising. I've been needing to do that for a long time anyway, so it is nice to have a gentle shove to help me along. The therapist has me putting and chipping to work on holding on to a golf club and getting that twisting and movement into my shoulder, wrist and forearm. Having the putting green at home will give me more of a chance to do that, and I will also be visiting the driving range soon. The swing doesn't look or feel natural yet, but I've made some pretty good contact and I am very pleased with that. For some reason, the follow through is the most difficult part of the swing. We also worked with a guitar last week. I can't play a chord again yet, but I was able to play (very slowly and with tremendous effort and frustration) something that at least sounded like notes.

We tried something new in physical therapy yesterday and I have some mixed reviews on that! One of the therapists inserted acupuncture needles into the muscles in my lower left leg in an effort to manually force the tightness in those muscles to release. The good news is that it seems to have worked for right now and I have better and freer movement in the calf, ankle and toes. We will keep working to make that last and I'm interested to see how long the results will hold. The bad news: if someone tells you that acupuncture doesn't hurt, they are LYING to you! My hatred of needles is no secret and now extends to acupuncture needles, too. I also learned that if a therapist says "Oh, you leaked a little on that one." what she really means is "We seem to have hit a vein and blood is streaming out of your leg right now." Thankfully, I didn't have to hear that too often. We continue physical therapy once every two or three weeks depending on holidays and matching up schedules. She was encouraged by my progress since our last visit and that was also encouraging to me.

Outside of therapy, life just keeps rolling on. The kids are both busy with camps, Brenda is working as hard as ever and taking great care of me, the house and the yard. She also keeps picking up the slack of things I am still not able to do. I am so thankful for her and her strength. We also continue to be thankful to each of you for your continued support! Be back soon with another update!


Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering Another Milestone

So ... this is Jon back with you. Hope you all have a good Memorial Day and we certainly appreciate the service people have given to our armed forces. With one brother-in-law in the army and another in the navy, we see first-hand the daily sacrifices our service men and women make. And it also makes us appreciate our freedoms that much more and so thankful to those who've given so much to make it possible.

We are relaxing today after a pretty busy weekend. Saturday marked the one-year commemoration of my first full day at Hillcrest Rehabilitation. At that point, I still couldn't sit up by myself, stand on my own, move anything on my left side or dress myself. In fact, that day, I feel in the bathroom and had to have Brenda, a therapist, an aide and a nurse help me up. That may have been one of the most helpless and humiliating moments of my life. But within three weeks, I would be taking steps on my own and making slow, steady progress. We celebrated the one-year mark of that day by picking up and moving in new bedroom furniture for Jacob's room. I didn't do much lifting, but I was able to help and I am so thankful and blessed to have made that kind of improvement. Honestly, at this time last year, there was doubt that I would ever walk again, much less be able to take a mattress out of my son's room!

I don't have much else to add, but I had some free time this morning and thought I would share a little. Progress continues in both therapies. My physical therapist was impressed after a nearly month-long absence due to her illness and scheduling conflicts. Occupational therapy is also going well, with things getting a little easier and the addition of some new exercises to work on at home. Thanks so much to everyone! We'll be back soon.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Its Been A Year ... Already!?!?!?

It seems almost impossible to believe as I type this, but one year ago today, at this exact time, I was sitting in urgent care in Belton about to embark on this incredible journey we've been on for a year! Within an hours time, I would be in the emergency room at Scott and White, completely paralyzed on my left side with a doctor telling us that I was having a massive stroke. But on the bright side, at least according to him, my "death number" was pretty close to zero. It would be four days before I ate again, five days before I was allowed to see the kids, three weeks before I could take a step on my own and a month and a half before I would leave the hospital.

I honestly cannot believe that a year has passed and I'm also not sure I can really put my feelings into words. I truly felt that the stroke was just a temporary setback and that I would be "good as new" in just a few days, or weeks at the most. It is hard not to be a little bit disappointed that I'm not further along, but I chalk that up to my unrealistic expectations and lack of understanding of just what exactly was happening inside my brain. When I put all of that into perspective and see just how far I've come, I know that I have accomplished a great deal and have so much to be proud of and even more to be thankful for. To steal a line from Lou Gehrig, I truly consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

I will never forget the way my co-workers, friends, church, extended family, people I don't even know and especially my immediate family rallied around me. I am still humbled and amazed by the outpouring of support, compassion and prayers that we received. I know I wasn't the best patient, son, father or husband during that time, but I do feel like we all passed a very difficult test and are much stronger because of it.

Over the past couple of days, I've talked to the kids and with Brenda about the things we remember from the past 12 months. I don't want to spend much time on that, though. Because even though surviving a year marks a milestone, it doesn't represent a finish line. I would much rather look forward and focus on continued recovery and the progress that is yet to come. Eventually, my therapy sessions will come to an end but not my chances (and goals) for a complete return to life as we used to know it.

Even if I never fully recover to the point of May 19th, 2011, I've still managed to achieve more than I ever thought I was capable of. And I will continue to push myself toward reaching all of those goals. I have had so much support and love throughout this adventure and I feel like I owe it to each and every one of you to give it my best. Later tonight, Brenda should post her thoughts so you can get her perspective on reaching a year, but I wanted to be first so that we could save the best for last. My intention is to continue the blog for as long as I continue to progress. Mainly because it gives me an outlet, but also because I want you all to continue to share in this with us. Thanks again to all who read this and we look forward to a second year of recovery with an eye on the same kind of gains we've made this year! Happy Anniversary everyone!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Closing in on another milestone

Hey everybody, this is Jon back with you ... finally! Once again, I thank you for your patience and apologize for taking a month to update you. Things have been very busy as the UMHB athletic seasons wind down and the kid's school years start to wind down, too.

We are doing well. Life continues, therapy continues, and we have all settled into a routine again. I wish I could report some major breakthroughs to you, but at least I can tell you about some continued progress.

As you may remember, I had botox injections in my left arm almost a month ago. The goal was to loosen up some of the tightness in the arm and free up more movement. It seems to have worked very well in the bicep. My arm feels must looser and I have better extension and use of the upper arm. It doesn't seem to have worked quite as well in the wrist, but the therapists do notice a difference when they stretch me, so I think there's been a real benefit there, too. I have lost a small amount of my grip strength in that hand as a result of the injections, but not enough to limit my use of it. The doctors and therapists consider that to be a good trade-off, especially in light of the new, more youthful appearance of that arm! I am also amazed that so many people are willing to get those injections in their face. I make no secret of my hatred of needles, but this was one of the worst experiences I've had with them. Just so you all understand, you stick in the needle, and then move it around or push it in farther until you are sure it is in the proper position to actually do the injection. We go back in July to discuss the possibility of another round of botox. I will go on record as saying I have slightly mixed feelings about that.

I also had another MRI and follow-up with the neurologist. Once again, they see no change, which is very good news. That means I will never have to have another MRI on my brain, unless we have another "event". I will go back and see him again in a year, just to see how things are progressing. Two other things really stuck with me following that appointment. One, as we looked at the MRI, he explained that the large dark spot where the bleed occurred, is actually the equivalent of a hole in my brain. The white blood cells broke down the dead tissue and carried it away. Brain fluid then filled the space. That was fascinating to me and those of you who mentioned "a hole in my head" may have really been on to something. Two, as I tried to wrap my head around that thought, he kept re-opening the images and saying "Wow!" to himself. Once again, he explained that most people they see with damage of the sort I experienced have NO movement on one side and no real hope for regaining it. Or they didn't survive the initial bleed. We are so blessed and I know that no matter how frustrated I get in this process, I am unbelievably fortunate to be able to do what I can.

Which takes us to therapy ... in occupational therapy, the folks have started yelling "Norm!" when I walk in. Something tells me I've been coming in more regularly and often than most of their patients. But we continue to make progress. We mainly are working on strengthening muscles, regaining movement and refining the motor skills I lost. Things keep moving forward, but there are little things that I have a hard time figuring out. For example, when I try to touch my left thumb to my index finger, the thumb curls in to my palm instead of touching fingertip to fingertip. If I try to touch my thumb to my middle finger, the index finger won't get out of the way and I do not yet have the ability to isolate it. We did break out a putter and practice a little putting and chipping last week. So we are getting to the important stuff again. :) We continue to work twice a week and they are encouraged enough to stick to that schedule, so we are ALL pleased with that.

In physical therapy, we continue to meet once every two weeks. I have been officially diagnosed with a "weak booty" so I've been given exercises to work on strengthening those muscles. I am also working to strengthen my hamstring and using the elliptical machine at least three times a week. She also has seen progress and one of the therapists who hadn't seen me a while mentioned that she thought I would be walking without a limp before too much longer. I can't tell you how encouraging that was.

At home and work ... Brooke is finishing up another season of select soccer and is less than a month away from closing out elementary school. She turned 11 last month and is trying to decide if she is excited to head to middle school next year or not. Jacob just finished his first season of 7-on-7 football and really seemed to enjoy it. He's looking forward to becoming an eighth grader while we try to figure out where the years have gone. How can they possibly be at those stages in their lives???? Meanwhile Brenda continues to be the family's rock and strength. I can't understand everything she has to go through, and I know I can never thank her enough for all that she's done during our little adventure. She is an amazing woman and a true gift from God. All of the sports at UMHB have finished their seasons with the exception of women's golf. They will play in the National Tournament next week and for the first time since I was hired, I will NOT be making the trip. I just don't feel able to walk a golf course for four straight days and figured if I was going to miss one, it might as well be the one in Angola, Indiana. (No offense ... Angola, Indiana ... you just don't have the attraction of Orlando, Florida!)

We also had a chance to go to my cousin Daniel's wedding and I attended the funeral of a great man in Leonard Kiely. Those two events also helped remind me of the balance between joy and sadness in all of our lives. We are so thankful for their impact on our lives and appreciate the impact each of you has made.

I mentioned another milestone in the title, on Sunday, May 20th, we will mark the one-year anniversary (if that's the correct word) of my stroke. Once again, I cannot believe that its been a year and our lives will never be the same again. But as we look back on the past year, I see how much stronger we all are as people and as a family and I feel so humbled by the experience. Thank you again for sharing in that experience with us and for supporting us. We could not have made it without you! I will be back soon and appreciate your patience. Take care and we all send you our best!

Monday, March 5, 2012

We're Still Here!

Wow! It's difficult for me to say what's harder to believe: that we've passed the nine month mark since the stroke, or that it has been so long since we've posted! I am so sorry for the delay. We have just been extremely busy with work, therapy and the kids activities. I think it is a good sign that life has returned to normal enough that we can get back to that kind of schedule. But I also feel very badly about the length of time I've gone without an update. Since I've had two people ask me about updating in the last five days, I thought I'd better get back here and fill you in. (This is Jon by the way, Brenda has taken Jacob to scouts tonight.)

First of all, thank you all for your patience and for sticking with the blog. Thank you also for the continued prayers. We feel it more than you can ever know and that means so much to us.

Therapy continues, twice a week for occupational therapy and once every two weeks for physical therapy. We will keep to that schedule at least through the end of March and likely for a couple of more months until we reach the one-year mark on May 20th. At that point, I guess we will re-evaluate and see if we are continuing to progress before we decide on a continued plan of treatment. I feel like I keep making strides and my family and the therapists keep seeing progress, so that is very encouraging. In occupational therapy, we are really focusing on arm extension, movement in the wrist and fine motor function of my hand and fingers. There is increased strength in my shoulder, so we are pushing to get the rest of my arm to catch up to that. I can do more and more things now. In fact, I did all of the dishes by myself tonight after Brenda and Jacob went to scouts. For the first time, though, my therapist did reference the fact that I may never regain full use of my left arm. It wasn't meant as a negative thing, just more of a realistic point of view. I have to admit, at first that was VERY difficult to hear, but now I see it as more of a challenge. I know that I'll have to put those dreams of becoming a rock star or a professional softball player on the back burner for a while longer. But I'm not giving away my guitars or glove just yet!!!

In physical therapy, we continue to work on quality of walk, strength and stamina. I am up to 30 minutes and a little over two miles on the elliptical machine about three times a week and I wear a pedometer to track my number of steps. The goal is 7,000 a day. (I'm only at 5,000 right now, so I may take some breaks and go walk around the house a little, but you've already waited two months for this update. :))

Since the last update, we've hosted the first home night games in the history of UMHB baseball and softball, hosted the American Southwest Conference Men's Basketball Tournament, and played host to the first two rounds of the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Tournament. I am still technically only cleared to work up to six hours a day by the doctor, but I managed to squeeze in several 14 to 16-hour days and made it through. It is good to know that my stamina has improved enough to be able to physically handle that, but don't tell anyone. I don't want you to get me in trouble.

I also continue to be amazed by my family. My mom and dad still come up every couple of weeks to go to therapy with me. They are so encouraged by the progress and probably see it more than we do since they get a break from me for a while. Brenda continues to be my rock and has been so strong and so supportive. I thank God every day for the gift of having her in my life. Jacob and Brooke are also moving along full speed ahead. Jacob made All-Region choir and ran in his first track meets since our last update. Brooke won Best Overall at her last piano recital, playing an original composition and scored her first soccer goal of the season two weeks ago. She also just finished her basketball season. I have been able to share in many of those moments with them and consider it to be such a blessing that they have turned out so well and that I am still here to enjoy their successes.

I've also had several other firsts since the last updates: raking leaves for the first time (although it will NOT be the last time, unfortunately), bar-b-q'uing the other day, opening things with my left hand and carrying things that I wouldn't have dreamed of trying to carry, and things like that. Each one of these is a victory to me and we celebrate every one of them.

I also recently heard from a friend I was in rehab with in Waco and she has returned to teaching as her recovery continues. An opposing coach and the father of one of our student-athletes also shared their stroke experiences with me and provided great sources of encouragement. And we also keep drawing strength from the prayers and support of our friends, families and co-workers. As well as the prayers of many people we don't even know. So, hopefully that catches you up some and thank you again for all that you do for us. I WILL update again, but I know better than to try and promise you a time. I will try to get back to you in less than two months, or maybe I can talk Brenda into updating a little sooner. :) Take care and God Bless!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year, New You

We've all heard that cliche so I thought I would use that as a title since it kind of applies here. Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. They were both really good for us, although I have to admit, I could not stay awake to see the New Year in. This is Jon back with you, by the way.

On January 1st, we actually celebrated a pair of milestones. First of all, we welcomed in 2012 and said goodbye to one of the most interesting years we've ever experienced. Secondly, New Year's Day marked exactly six months since I left the rehab hospital. Still have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that I've been home six months. In many ways, that time in Waco seems like a lifetime ago.

So here is the update on therapy. In occupational therapy we continue to make slow, steady progress with my arm, hand and fingers. We will continue twice-a-week appointments through the end of the month and then re-evaluate the plan from there. More than likely, there will be more of an emphasis on home exercises and work. The best thing I can do is to just keep trying to use that arm, hand and fingers in day-to-day activities and force it to do more work. Today was a very good and encouraging day.

The news is not quite as encouraging in physical therapy. We have stopped our weekly appointments and already made the move to more home work. I will go back every two weeks until the end of the month to see if there is some progress, but after plateauing (is that even a word?), we've backed off a little and there is now more of a focus on me committing to work on my own. I'm wearing a pedometer now to measure just how much I actually walk in a day and will be spending some time on the elliptical machine in the fitness center at work.

It has been a bit of a discouraging time and I was a little down for a while over the break, but then I got to thinking. I have no reason to be upset or discouraged. In my first 41 years, I reached my career goal of doing sports on television (along with weather and news), played guitar in a rock band, acted in a major motion picture (Okay, that may be a bit of a stretch: it's only my back and the movie was Action USA), married the love of my life, had two incredible children that I am very proud of, hopefully made my parents and family proud of me, publicized a national championship team and worked with five national runners-up, met some amazing people and made many good friends, and now made a remarkable recovery from what could easily have been a fatal stroke. All in all, I'd say its been a pretty good and full life, with much more to come. And I'm certainly not ready to call the recovery over. The work will continue, whether I'm in therapy or not.

Thank you for letting me get some of those thoughts out and thanks again for continuing to follow the blog. We'll be back again soon with another update. Take care and God Bless.