Part One| Part Two
Come along on the real life stroke recovery story of Mack Lowell. Witness his long journey back and the physical mental trials he faces along the road to recovery.
(Editor’s note: Any treatment undertaken to combat a medical problem has varied results for different individuals. The experiences portrayed here are those of Mack Lowell and would be different from the experiences of other stroke patients. A conversation with your doctor is the best way to determine the appropriate course of treatment for you or a loved one.)
By: Jean Johnson
As it turned out Mack Lowell lay on his living room floor for 16 hours before neighbors stopping by to drink a beer found him the next evening. By then he could barely talk intelligibly but was lucid enough to direct folks to his medical papers while the ambulance was en route. He was also alert enough to get mad when those who found him refused to light up a cigarette for him.
|Ten questions to ask your physician about stroke:
1. What is the expected recovery time, and what how do patients commonly deal with the boredom of prolonged immobility?
2. What specialists are available to help in regaining skills and function?
3. Are there dietary and exercise programs that might help?
4. What equipment will help at home and in rehabilitation?
5. Would antidepressants be useful?
6. Is there risk of another stroke and if so, are there ways to minimize this?
7. What local, regional, national support groups are available for patients and families?
8. Are there clinical trials that might be beneficial?
9. What types of cutting-edge research is taking place in the field of stroke rehabilitation?
10. Are there any recent articles on stroke rehabilitation in leading medical journals?
Intensive care units can be wonderful places when you’re down for the count. Lots of attention, highly skilled nursing, physicians carefully assessing situations and so forth. But when you’ve had a stroke and not gotten into a facility right away for the new clot busting drug regime, there’s only so much a health care team can do.
Still his old friends rallied around and bolstered their hopes for his recovery with stories about how when someone tried to feed him some ice the first day, he grabbed the cup with his good hand and ate it himself. Or how this one and that one brought him in his tunes and a headset or a DVD player and movies or various books on the Colorado Plateau. That he didn’t have enough concentration or dexterity to manage these offerings to any great extent seemed beside the point. At that stage of the game, with one of its own down, the tribe of hardy Flagstaff-area outdoors types was determined to close ranks the best way it knew how. Not only did they almost recreate the parties they formerly had out at his trailer in the hospital, they also marshaled forces and brought his “hooch,” as Lowell calls it, up to code with a ramp, wheelchair access doorways, and enough grab bars in the bathroom to keep anyone upright.
For his part, Lowell made a sight in his hospital gown, oxygen tubing, heart monitor and urinary catheter dangling down beside the bed. After two or three days, he stabilized enough to leave ICU for a brief stay on a regular in route to the hospital’s acute rehabilitation wing. Through it all, sleepless nights and long days, marked by stroke-induced bouts of tears, were his companions.
Once he got to the rehab unit for what would be a several week stay, and he started talking a little better, Lowell commented on the nightmare of his experience. “Without mobility, you’re trapped,” said Lowell, his voice shaking. “Mobility means freedom. Sometimes it gets away from me and my heart starts racing, and I go off on these anxiety attacks.”
Despite stunning views of blue Northern Arizona skies and snowy mountains from the expanse of hospital window glass, when the sunsets faded and the pink-red glows gave way to the glitter of stars overlooking the 7,000-foot elevation town, Lowell found it impossible to escape the horrible truth that his life had taken an abrupt turn for the worse.
He managed somehow, though, as human beings do. In part it was because his type of stroke caused more than a small bit denial about what his future would bring. From the beginning he talked of getting back home soon. And from there the ski seemed to be the limit. “I wonder if you can put a brace into a ski boot,” Lowell might say. Or, “since there’s a seat on my John Deere, I ought to be able to drive that again.”
His left side was affected, so Lowell had what they call right hemisphere damage. With that type of stroke brings a number of symptoms his friends began to puzzle together. The denial. The confusion in which he’d lose his train of thought or take excessive amounts of time to reply to questions, if in fact he did at all. Impulsivity, where without warming, he’d heave himself out of his wheelchair and try to stand on his good leg. Attention impairment, as well and lack of social interactive skills. Lowell’s focus drifted off easily, especially if the news someone brought was not what he wanted to hear. More if he wasn’t interested in something or didn’t appreciate certain things, he was unable to smooth these feelings over to any great extent. Perhaps the most confusing for those around him, Lowell lost the capability to express emotion through a normal varied pattern of vocal pitch and loudness. Speaking in uninflected monotones, he did not convey his feelings, and it was easy for those with whom he spoke to assume he had developed some sort of immunity to what he was experiencing.
For Lowell’s part, he is sharper than he acts, and he gets frustrated when people assume he doesn’t understand what they’re talking about. “People act like you’re not even here,” he said. “And some treat me like I’m a child. It’s patronizing.”
The staff, though, took the dynamics of right hemisphere damage in stride. Soon the triangular grab bar appeared over his bed, and therapists brought along a thick violet chest strap to which they could cling while helping him start to learn to move again, first prone on a mat in the rehab room and then upright at vertical bars.
Said one of Lowell’s friends who observed a therapy session almost a month after the stroke. “Now I see how far he needs to come. Unless he consciously takes care, he has no notion of his left leg. For example, back in the wheelchair, he does not notice that the left leg is dragging under the chair, making movement difficult. And when trying to use the walker with the therapists, he must somehow flop the limp leg forward and then shift a little weight on it (with most on the walker) while moving the good foot up. I came away from the exercise with greater appreciation for the difficulties Mack will face. Frustration and worse seem inevitable.”
Continued in Part Three