Knocking Down Walls (19 Month Update)

February 20, 2012 by  
Filed under Our Recovery Journal

Most people think of the walls in their lives as boundaries that define their existence. They consider it sensible living to reside within their own personal barriers at all times.

Others look at the walls in their lives and classify them entirely differently. They look at each wall as a challenge to be overcome. They see each limitation as an opportunity to grow, change, and evolve as a human.


A New Type of Motherhood

Every mother wants what is best for her family. She is content in her role as family manager, for she knows that no one else has the skill set to complete that job. She is the one everyone goes to when the need something, the one they all count on to make the food and clean the house. Overworked and underappreciated, she is content in the knowledge that she is the glue that holds her family together.

One day without mom is a day filled with chaos. Lunches remain unpacked, activities forgotten, and sibling conflicts unaddressed. Mom uses every tool in her arsenal to ensure that her husband and kids don’t suffer from their inherent forgetfulness. While it seems that this is all done with little effort, every mom knows that the family would not survive even a single day if she weren’t there to put out all the little fires they create. She is the fire chief who has willingly chosen to live among a group of careless arsonists. The kids fail to comprehend the mess they have made while her husband couldn’t care less about the condition of the carpets, kitchen, or bath.

Nineteen months ago, all of that changed for my Jessica. The world is still upside-down for her as she now requires help from the very people who always relied on her. Jessica has broken through many barriers in her journey to a better life, and the biggest walls yet before her are those that prevent her being the kind of mom she wants to be.

Right after the trauma, Jess was unable to complete even the most basic mothering duties. As time went on, she became accustomed to a life of functional deficit. Preparing meals, cleaning the house, tucking the kids in bed, and comforting the baby were actions that her mind began to categorize as “someone else’s job.” It was at that time that her family and therapists were instrumental in pushing her forward. She was not in the mental state of mind to see the big picture.


Starting at the Bottom

The day she finally came home from the hospital was a day of supreme excitement for our family. However, her functional level at that time was still critically low. She could not sit up in bed, walk across the room, attempt the stairs, or make use of her right hand. The logical human response to this life would have been to give up on oneself. Despite our best efforts, her attitude often lent itself to failure: her mind interpreted the world through the lens of functional deficiency. While her spirit sought to push forward each and every day, the fact that she wasn’t at her best made the obstacles appear even bigger than they really were.

Jess’ therapists were able to push her to do more than she thought she could during therapy sessions. The hard work began to pay off. Jess strengthened and was eventually able to walk about the house. She then learned how to go up that first step. Small doses of success injected hope into an otherwise uncertain mind. Each new dose like a surprising point scored in a grand debate. Dreams that her mind had previously discounted again became possible. Each wall that fell opened up new possibilities and new potential challenges to overcome.

During the past nineteen months, nothing has brought me more satisfaction than seeing Jessica knock down walls that stood between her and the life she desired. The Jessica who first moved home was unable to get herself to the bathroom, use the telephone, or yell loud enough to discipline the kids. The Jessica I see today is now able to manage all these activities and more. Each physical gain has led to an even bigger one in her mental/emotional state. Jess can now speak cogently and analyze information well enough to make all her own daily decisions.


The Joy of Knocking Down Walls

Expanding our comfort zone by overcoming the walls in our life is incredibly satisfying. The best part of conquering an obstacle is the revelation that there are even more possibilities beyond it. Completing a task that once seemed impossible is both exhilarating and emotional. Whether it is a mountain of doubt or a chasm of depression, conquering one of the obstacles in our life results in extreme joy… followed by crying. Lots of crying.

Some walls are too big to conquer by ourselves. Those are the walls that are the most frustrating. Obstacles that are just too big for us require help… and faith.

Right now, we are confronting one of those impossible walls. It is a wall that would be impenetrable without the help of a medical specialist. While Jess’ overall movement has improved dramatically, the lack of mobility her stroke affected foot is a roadblock to further progress. She has made all the gains that she possibly can given her current walking style.


When Walking Equals Pain

She can walk between 20 and 30 minutes at the local track. After walking for that long, the pain of planting her foot is just too much to bear. Most walking excursions end with pain getting the best of her. She has a condition called dropped foot, which can be described as a foot that is turned inward and rotated outward. Every step with this foot means planting directly on a callous that resides on its outer edge. She simply does not have the flexibility to take a proper step and land normally on her heel.

The wear and tear on her strike point is the main source of pain, but it is not the only source. She also has leg pain due to muscle tightness and inefficiency. Finally, she compensates for all the lower body pain by shifting more weight onto her cane. This works for a short time… then the shoulder and arm tighten up as well. The climax of each walking story is one where her entire body is enveloped in pain. The only remaining question is whether she will be able to fight back the rush of tears that often accompany it.

While it is great that Jess has been able to reach the maximum amount of function possible in her current situation, she desires a life without all of the additional pain. Plan A for dealing with the dropped foot was botox treatments. These treatments worked well for the past year, as they relaxed the muscles in her leg and negated some of the rigidity of her muscle tone. During the last visit with her rehab doc, it was clear that her functional ability had exceeded the point where botox could help. The time had come to change course and pursue a new plan. Plan B was a similar but stronger variation of botox. The other option was plan C: foot surgery.

Foot Surgery

The initial meeting that got the ball rolling toward surgery occurred about two months ago. The days since then have been filled the hope of efficient walking and reduced pain. It is exciting to imagine all the possibilities that may come with the increased level of function. Surgery is an exciting but scary proposition. Our enthusiasm tempered with some apprehension about the pain and potential risks.

The surgery date finally arrived last week. I remember parting and watching her hospital bed roll slowly toward the surgical wing. A large part of her future now lay in the hands of others. The consolation was that those others were the best orthopedic podiatry team in the city. After dealing with the myriad of doctors and hospitals involved with Jess’ immediate critical care nineteen months ago, the whole experience of this surgery seemed natural and familiar. Jess was apprehensive, but our family was at peace with the fact that a new, improved walking motion opened the door to a better life for us all.


Rediscovering a Love of Motherhood

Before the surgery, Jessica had begun to create an even stronger bond with her baby. This is best demonstrated by her actions the night before the surgery. Therapy involves many functional tasks designed to work on strength and dexterity while at the same time promoting safety. Recently, Jess had been working on getting safely to the ground and crawling across the room. The night before the surgery she decided to have some floor time while Charlotte was present. The baby immediately seized the moment, grabbed a book, and plopped down into mommy’s lap. Jess read her a story and then moved into crawling position to begin the trek across the room on hands and knees.

Charlotte has developed a familiarity with the roles of each family member, and she certainly wasn’t used to seeing mom crawl across the floor. Excited by this new development, Charlotte began screaming and running around the room. She blocked Jess’ path, grabbed tiny handfuls mommy’s hair, and prepared to yank. Never before had Charlotte been so aggressive toward Jessica, and we celebrated this newfound level of comfort with a few pictures. After carefully detaching two little hands from Jess’ hair, the remainder of the crawl was done swiftly and confidently. Using her baby’s reaction as fuel, Jess moved like a courageous machine until she was safely planted on the opposite couch.

It is moments like this that give us the courage to confront great difficulties in our life. Our problems seem just a little smaller once we realize how much our success means to others. We desire that our kids love and respect us, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from earning that respect is intoxicating. Jessica is anxiously awaiting her next opportunity to surprise and impress her special girl.


Onward and Upward

Jess is now limited by a cast for her 4-6 week recovery. She has now gone through the post-surgical routine of increased pain and decreased mobility. Looking at the big picture, the surgery appears to have been a success. Even with a cast thicker than a football, Jess’ mobility is increasing each day. Her steps now begin with proper heal strike, the first “correct” steps she has taken since the initial trauma.

Jessica has come so far in her recovery, and this surgery is truly something to celebrate. It never would have been a consideration had she not maxed out on her other treatment options. The fact is that Jess got herself to this point much faster than she really should have. She deserves so much credit for learning to work past the point where many would quit. It was no picnic dealing with all the physical, mental, and emotional setbacks that have blocked her path throughout this journey. She has conquered insecurity, doubt, pain, and frustration. The support and encouragement of so many helped her navigate this recovery ship all the way to where we are now. We sincerely appreciate your continued prayers and support.


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