Life After A Stroke
It’s been 8 weeks since Dad had his stroke. I think I could write a book if I talked about everything that’s happened since but it wouldn’t be a very entertaining read. So I’ll hit the highlights.
Dad was at Grady a little over a week after his stroke. He probably would have been moved sooner but it was very hard to get clear answers on what kind of care he needed and what places in our area had that care. His stroke was severe enough that it basically amounted to him needing the most basic level of care. If he does well in his therapy, he could advance to a different type of therapy program. That’s a long way away right now.
There were some initially positive things as he got movement back in his left foot and then feeling back in his left arm. We were very encouraged at that point, but a little over two weeks after he had started therapy at Magnolia Manor in Americus, Georgia, he started acting a little down. Mom and I took it as depression, but in retrospect, it was the beginning of the next chapter in the story.
We got a call one night that he had been started on antibiotic for a urinary tract infection. When we heard that, I suddenly connected his mood shift. I wish I had seen it sooner because the next day about lunch time we got a call that he had been taken to the ER at Phoebe Sumter Hospital. That was the first of multiple scary experiences. For awhile they weren’t clear on what was going on. He had been unresponsive after lunch. They weren’t sure if it was another stroke or what exactly, but they ultimately boiled it down to the apparently severe infection. He was very dehydrated and his kidney functions were almost nil. They thought that dialysis might be necessary and decided he should be transported to Phoebe Putney in Albany….
I had no idea that we’d be spending the next three weeks back and forth between here and Albany. It was good because Dad’s brother and sister were nearer and could and did come to spend time with him there. But I’m not sure it would have been my first choice for three weeks. On the good side, he ultimately did not need dialysis but there were a lot of bumps in the road including a pulmonary embolism and a really scary reaction to Ativan. While the pulmonary embolism probably kept him there the longest, the Ativan reaction was the most terrifying. We were called at 3:30am on a Saturday night and told only that his blood pressure and respiration had dropped severely and we should get there as soon as possible. As the ICU was full, we ended up spending the day with him in the ER. By the time we finally left at 3:30pm, he as still not in the ICU but he was stable and we’d finally gotten an explanation of why things had suddenly gone so badly.
It was three weeks and a day when he finally returned to Magnolia Manor. He’s much weaker than he was after the initial stroke. That’s not surprising. He’s spent the past three weeks staring at the walls and ceiling in Phoebe Putney. Even if you were in excellent health beforehand, that would be taxing. In his case, though it means that he missed out on three weeks of therapy he needed and regressed.
That said, I was amazed at what a difference just being out of the hospital made. The last week in Albany, every visit he asked when he was leaving and his mood was darker and darker. This time, I believe it really was depression. The first afternoon back at Magnolia Manor, over a month after his initial stroke, his mood was lighter. In only a few days even his speech was improving. I don’t think that’s anything to do with therapy but simply having his mood improved and being out of the chaos that was the hospital.
I don’t really know what life after a stroke is like since I’m not the one in that bed right now. But I do know from this side of the fence, it’s an amazingly dehumanizing experience. And this isn’t a comment on any one hospital or care provider but an across the board experience. We have repeatedly gotten questions regarding his “level of functioning” before the stroke. And they are never phrased in a positive manner. It seems to be assumed that at his age he was a doddering mess before the stroke. Not that he went to work one day and ended up in the hospital the next. In the case of my Dad, not only did he go to work the day before, he walked four miles. When you’ve gotten the same comments and questions over and over, it’s very disheartening and it makes you wonder if they make assumptions about the person before the stroke, what assumptions will they make about what he can expect in the way of rehab? How does it unconsciously guide all their care decisions? Will they work quite as hard as they would with a 40 year old who showed up in the same condition? I don’t remember ever being so frequently frustrated as I have found myself in the past 8 weeks. To say they tested and beat my patience is not an exaggeration.
With luck, maybe things have finally stabilized and we won’t be constantly dealing with a parade of new faces. Not having to explain the medical story of the last month to every Tom, Dick, and Harriet alone will be a huge step forward. It will take awhile to have any level of comfort, though, because we thought once before that things were stable and they clearly were not!