Hello everyone! It has been a while since I last blogged and I am excited to report many new changes and updates to my life and physical recovery. First off, my cervical collar that has been choking me and limiting my turning radius for three months now is GONE! The morning of Monday August 24th was Dr. Yazbak's recommended last day for wearing that horrid contraption. The entire week before hand I slowly and carefully removed the brace for an hour or so at a time to ease into taking it off all at once for good. This method worked really well to eliminate feeling like a total bobble head Monday morning. My neck feels really good and it seems as if I have full normal rotation from side to side which is really a big relief since that was one thing I wondered about quite often.
After being home for about a month I had a follow-up visit scheduled with Dr. Kim and my PT and OT at RIC. Kalli and I decided since the appointment was at 12:00 in Chicago we would go down the day before my appointment and stay in a hotel about two blocks away to make the whole ordeal much smoother and simpler. Otherwise, I would have to wake up around 4 or 5 in the morning in order to get everything done and drive down by noon. So, we stayed at The DoubleTree which had a wheelchair accessible room for us with a walk in shower and extra high toilet which worked out just fine. Wednesday morning we arrived at RIC early for our appointment so that we could talk with some of the people still left on the 7th floor. Once we got up there we were kind of surprised that in only a month we only saw five patients that we really knew from before. Now, we didn't go room to room to see who all was there but it just had a different feel with a different crowd of spinal injuries. It was nice to see all of the therapists, nurses and doctors, giving them hugs and filling them in on how things were going. We met Carey, my PT, and Kim, an OT in a evaluation room on the 3rd floor to show them all of my new movement before I met with Dr. Kim. I transferred onto a mat without a slide board and began showing off muscle by muscle what all was now working that was not when I had left. Just so that you all know here is a list of what is either new movement or strengthened movement:
Left leg: hamstring, quad, hip flexer, toe extensors, ankle, toes, and God knows what else is in there
Right leg: toes, slight ankle movement, quad, trace hip flexers
Torso: abs, side muscles (love handles), pecks, back muscles
Arms: increased strength, able to do a seated push-up for 45 seconds
Hands: grip is much stronger, finger movement doing well but beginning to get bad tendencies over using wrist to compensate weak finger extensors
After Carey and Kim went through full analysis of all my muscles that were working they both expressed their thorough excitement with my progress. Both of them felt as if my home program was definitely being successful and I should continue to work as hard as I can the way I am. After the evaluation Carey felt that I was ready to stand on the parallel bars that were in the eval room to see how I react upright for the first time. So, I wheeled over in between the bars, locked my breaks, and Carey helped me stand up. Once I was up I used my arms down to my sides holding each bar to steady myself and carry some of my weight. The majority of my weight was being held on my legs which felt so weird for it had been three months since they had carried a load of their own. With the improvements that I have continually had over the last four weeks in blood pressure control I really didn't get light headed at all. They had me standing for about two minutes and then I was ready to take a seat. It is amazing that just two minutes of standing really tuckered me out from head to toe. Now, mind you, I wasn't just completely standing on my own with no support at all - Carey was supporting my knees, back, and butt so that they were not giving out. But once I am fitted for braces Carey was confident that even at the level I am at right now I would be ready to start practicing walking.
We said our goodbyes to Kim and Carey letting them know that we would see them again soon and thanked them for their time. After that, Dr. Kim came to discuss how we were doing and where we were at in order to have a proper recommendation for re-entry into RIC in order to use up my last two weeks of insurance coverage in an inpatient facility. Dr. Kim had extensively talked with Kim and Carey right before we saw him to get their recommendations after the examination. We talked about the way in which I was dealing with my bowel and bladder programs, pain control, and physical recovery. After talking through everything Dr. Kim seemed happy with the way we were taking control of our own rehab. I asked him what is your recommendation for when to begin the last two weeks I have coverage for 2009. He felt that although I have gotten great return so far, which most of it has come back in the last two and a half weeks, where would I be if I went back home and did another three weeks of strength training before being re-admitted into RIC. I thoroughly agreed with this thought process. So, as a group, we made the decision to set-up another follow-up examination on September 16th at RIC where the plan is to have me readmitted the following Monday, the 21st. Due to insurance, being readmitted needs to happen within two weeks of an examination. So, in order for him to make a recommendation for me to come back we have to do a full evaluation again at that point in time.
Lastly, I was contacted by a friend of ours, Erin Frawly, who has an aunt who also recently experienced a spinal cord injury. Her aunt was dealing with all kinds of nerve pain similar to mine and researched the drug lyrica to manage the pain. I brought lyrica up to Dr. Kim and he was very familiar with it and felt that would be a good idea and possibly a way to get off oxycotton which is one of the more drowsy pain meds out there. He gave me a prescription for lyrica and it may take a while for me to experience results, so we will see in the coming weeks how it goes.
A huge part of my recovery is restrengthening muscles throughout my entire body. In order to do so, I have been creating all kinds of workout programs. In the garage we have set up a wonderful professional grade cross over machine donated by my cousin Bill and his business partner, Brett. This has been great for working just about any muscle. With a crossover machine you can change the angle that the weighted cable is used in order to simulate almost any exercise out there. Also, Kalli's dad, Todd, has taken a set of blue prints that I made while at RIC of a machine called a ricshaw that works your shoulders and triceps really well, in order to re-create my own version of it. I just received the "toddshaw" this past Thursday and it is truly much nicer than the one I was using at RIC. Todd did such a great job welding, carpeting, and painting the toddshaw. I have used it every single day since receiving it and don't plan on breaking that pace. We also have hand weights, work out balls, and different tools to work with out in the garage. I really have to thank Mark and his old roommate Dan for taking the time to completely clear out and clean up the garage in order to transform it into Lee's Gym on Lakeshore Drive, the valley's newest full workout experience. The final touch that really brought the gym together was a rockin' stereo system that gets your mind and body tuned in as one as you pump iron to the beats.
Along with working out lately in the gym I have started a daily workout routine which is done both when I wake up and before I go to sleep. When I get into bed and once I wake up I have developed a set of stretches and exercises that include several leg stretches, ab crunches, love handle crunches, and back exercises in order to relax my legs, keeping them limber and stretched and strengthen my core in order to reduce the back pain I had been experiencing daily. The whole routine takes a little over an hour and really has been helping reduce the back pain I was experiencing. I can tell already when I bend over to pick something up the strength that I have built in only the two weeks I have been doing this. It always feels great to see and feel results from hard work in order to feel like it is truly paying off.
In order to work with return that is so weak that the body weight of its own muscle is too much to move it I have been swimming with my brother weekly. We go to the Heart of the Valley YMCA every week. We usually end up swimming for two hours or more and it is a full body workout. The last two times I have worn a life jacket in order to be able to work on my balance and stretching my back easier in the deep end. Swimming is a wonderful way to experience the movements that I am getting back. I can't thank my brother enough for taking the time to do that with me each week. It has been fun and a great workout.
In order to get my hands back into shape I have been working with several tools we have either created or gotten from RIC. Pieces of foam, therabands, putty, velcro blocks, rice buckets, and much more have helped me strengthen my hands. My good friend, Andy Houlihan, built me a wonderful black walnut board that has velcro dowels and blocks positioned all over it in order to help strengthen my wrists and finger extensors. We got the idea from RIC and again, took pictures in order to give him a good idea of what the piece looked like so that he could recreate this tool. Also, to begin retraining my hands and strengthen my finger extensors I have ordered a pair of hand and wrist braces to wear during the night so that my hands don't naturally curl into a fist by morning. I received the braces about a week and a half ago and they seem to be helping as well.
The latest tool in my belt is a trapeze harness that was donated to me by the Lion's Club and then rigged up by my dad in order to make it work above my bed. This tool is basically a harness point that has a large footing underneath the bed to support a bracket that reaches up at the foot of our bed and over in order to place my legs into a sling to create zero gravity exercising experience. This is something that they did at RIC in order to develop very weak leg muscles that have started to fire. Between all of these exercises and workout programs I am feeling stronger every week which is definitely the goal.
I have a wonderful update on the situation of my vessels. First off, I had to figure out what to do with my twenty five foot sailboat which is in Mission Bay on a mooring in San Diego. This was something that was heavily running through my mind. My good friend John Horan made the decision to help me out and purchased the sailboat. He has always wanted to have a sailboat and has sailed with his parents his whole life. His plans are to keep the boat in San Diego until March which is when my mooring spot comes due and in the Spring, buy a trailer and bring it back to WI. I can't thank him enough for taking it off my hands and having the intention of bringing it back so that we can use it in the future. For the ski boat, I have different intentions. Since Horan purchased the sailboat I have decided to take those funds and bring home my ski boat which needs to be moved from the situation it is in now. Kalli and I have been looking all over for other boats that we could possibly afford with the sale of our ski boat and have not found anything that really compares in our mind and would be useable in my condition. One of the deciding factors that made it possible for me to bring the boat back was the generous offer Kalli's father, Todd, made to me. He said that he knew how much it would mean for us to have our boat back and that he would not mind taking care of it, storage, docking, and winterizing. That made me feel so good, knowing that someone incredibly knowledgeable would be helping me take care of the boat and keep it in the great shape that it is in. Kalli's neighborhood is such a big family environment, where everyone helps each other with everything in their lives. It also makes me feel better that I know the whole neighborhood will in some way or another pitch in and even Todd won't be alone with the burden. The Lion's Club once again came through with another great piece of equipment that will make my boating experience incredibly safe and fun. The last time my therapist was there she was able to pick up a Hoir Lift that someone had brought in for me to use. The lift is basically a system that will mount to the dock and to the boat lift creating an i-beam like structure above the boat that I will be power lifted in a hammock chair like harness over and into the boat. We set the system up in the gym so as to test it out to make sure it will work for this function. It is an amazingly well engineered device and will work out just perfect. It is all aluminum and plastic making it completely weather resistant and easily used outside all summer. The motorized lift portion of the unit is about the size of a toaster and actually comes right off and in with you each time for it is cordless and battery powered so that it is not left out in the weather at all. Truly, an amazing find and another example of how God is looking after me throughout this experience.
One of the only things that I could not do for myself and was something that Kalli had to help me with was pulling my shorts back up and on after going to the bathroom. Just yesterday, for the first time I was able to complete this task. It took me almost twenty minutes but I did it all myself! I would accredit all of the strengthening I have been working on to being able to get just enough lift in order to accomplish this. This is definitely worth a "thatta boy" in my mind, for it was one of the last tasks that I was dependent on others for.
One of the things that really affects my sleep at night is having to use these medical booties called prafos which prevent foot drop. Without using them, your toes will start pointing down which causes you to tip backwards once you begin working with leg braces, training to walk. Because of my continual strength in my ankles i have been instructed that I will only have to wear them every other or every third night from now on. This will help out tremendously. If you don't understand what I mean when you go to sleep tonight go into your basement or garage and get out your ski boots or snow shoes and put them on before you crawl into bed - see how well you sleep tonight!
Over the last two weeks, I have also been sleeping better because with the return in my bladder usage I am now able to wear a texas catheter at night. This is basically a condom with adhesive on it that you wear so that you can go when you need to opposed to waking up and cathing every couple hours which takes a good ten, fifteen minutes. Can you imagine waking up and doing a wonderful task such as that every three four hours throughout the night? How well would you sleep? Using a texas cather I now only have to get up once during the night to take my pills and to turn.
I am sorry that I haven't kept up as promptly as I had mentioned on the blog but I hope this update helps everyone understand what I am up to and how things are going. Between the therapy, eating, sleeping, showering, and going to the bathroom each and every day seems to be packed to the gills. I have to once again thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for the donations and consideration that everyone has given to me which has helped me be able to get the gym set up, allow Kalli to be here with me helping me through the tough times and given me the strength without having to worry as much financially about my situation. I can't wait to see everyone at the next benefit on September 11th at the Wave in Appleton, WI. My family and friends have been doing a phenomenal job setting it up. It should be a really fun and exciting event for us all to get together with music, food, raffles, games, fun giveaways, silent auction, and much much more! I truly cannot wait. Hope to see everyone there! Have a great week and I will try my hardest to blog again soon.