What does stroke recovery look like?

In 2008 when Gordon was lying in his hospital bed and I was beginning to understand the
severity of Gordon’s stroke, I asked everyone at Rehab what his recovery might look like.  I got no answers other than “Every stroke is different”  which basically means I got no answers.

It was so frustrating!  I desperately needed some frame of reference, some concept of a recovery path that I could learn from.  For this reason, I have kept a log of Gordon’s recovery so that when I meet someone in the beginning of their stroke journey, I can say “This is what happened to us.”

Recovery milestones are harder to come by as time goes on.  I was thrilled last week to mark a big milestone in Gordon’s recovery 6-1/2 years post-stroke!  Swinging BOTH arms while walking is a task we have worked on for years!!  It wasn’t that long ago when he couldn’t swing his right arm at all, even when he was standing still and focusing 100% on just swinging his arm.

In addition to the arm swinging excitement, Gordon was shaking hands with people at my speaking engagement yesterday, using his right hand–and no one noticed!!! The fact that no one noticed means it felt NORMAL.  Another huge step forward in recovery.  Big things are still happening.

Jill Viggiano

Left, right, left, right…

It seems so easy.

I have been seeing my athletic trainer, Ryan up at OHSU for over 6 years.  He has helped me regain movement, strength, and usefulness on the right side of my body and is always coming up with new, fun ways to make that happen.

All these years since my stroke, I have been unable to swing my arms in proper rhythm when I walk.  Jill always swings my right arm for me so I can walk normally. This week, Ryan challenged me to have Jill swing my LEFT arm so I can learn to swing my right arm by myself.

Guess what?  It is really hard!!  As we walked, Jill swung my left arm and I started swinging my right arm.  It seemed really natural….for the first three swings.  Then the fourth swing–somehow it started going in small circles and then it came across my body and then I could only swing it with my left arm rather than alternating with my left arm.  It was like it had a life of its own.

Jill couldn’t stop from laughing.  Not only was my arm going every which-way but I was also making weird faces as I tried to concentrate.  I looked like the Joe Cocker of rehab.

This is going to be a difficult skill to master but we are up to the challenge.  It is good to know we will have fun in the process.