My Path to Recovery
Post on 19/06/16
By Jimmy Yeong Wai Kun
Stroke Survivor, 2000
I will never forget 22 March 2000, the day I was hit by a stroke, paralysing the entire left side of my body – my face, arm, body and leg.
It was later ascertained that the cause of my stroke was an aneurysm (I was born with a weak blood vessel wall). One of the blood vessels had burst and caused a haemorrhage in my brain. As a result, a portion of brain cells died because of a lack of oxygen.
Thankfully, I managed to walk out of the hospital on my own after only six weeks in hospital. I believe my quick recovery was due to the fact that I had been physically very fit before the stroke, had a careful diet and regular daily exercise. Strong family support and lots of self-determination also helped me to get well fast.
Today, I can do almost all the activities that I was doing before the stroke like cycling, jogging, swimming and golf. I have also returned to work, and am able to drive and type with both hands (slower with the left though). Some may find my fast recovery unique. Nonetheless, I would like to share with you my own stroke experience and path to recovery.
When a stroke survivor is discharged from the rehabilitation centre, he or she may have regained only 25 to 30 percent of the original utilisation of his or her limbs. Most stroke survivors do not push themselves beyond this point to improve their recovery rate, as they think that this is the best they can achieve based on the “average” recovery rate.
For me, the 25 to 30 percent recovery mark is only the beginning. If I want to recover up to 50 percent, 75 percent or even 100 percent, it is entirely up to me. I often liken damaged brain cells to a computer software which has lost its path. You have to reload the programme again and store it in another area. This means that I have to consciously learn to use, all over again, the affected side of my body before I can use it subconsciously at a later stage.
I also believe that a stroke survivor is not completely affected physically. Theoretically, he can still perform the activities he had been doing before the stroke, except that the stroke has now prevented his mind from controlling the affected side.
When it comes to an exercise programme towards recovery, I recommend breaking it into three objectives. The first is to focus on rebuilding a stroke survivor’s muscle mass and strength. When I was paralysed, I was unable to move my entire left side, especially my arm, for about eight weeks. You can imagine the amount of arm muscle I had lost due to inactivity and non-movement. Fortunately, whenever my family members and relatives visited me daily, they would move and rotate my limbs to ensure that the joints did not tighten due to inactivity. This was very important as the stimulation and movement helped the mind to sense the inactive part of the body.
When I regained part of my movement, I would diligently exercise the affected parts, by flexing and trying to lift lightweights. I would also increase the weight and the number of repetitions to gain strength and stamina. During the initial stages, I felt numbness easily because my muscles had not been in use for some time, and even simple exercises could tire me out. But through regular training, I managed to improve my movement and I could sense my muscles strengthening. At the same time, fatigue did not set in easily.
The initial light exercises had to be performed several times a day. After feeling stronger, I would take walks starting from one kilometre and gradually increasing to about four to five kilometres. I often looked at myself in the mirror to compare the muscle mass of my left and right sides, and then concentrated on rebuilding the weaker side. This included walking towards the mirror and observing the way I walked to check for unnatural gait. I also visited the gym, about three times a week, to improve my muscle mass.
The second objective of a recovery exercise programme is to regain “feeling” while using the affected parts. You may regain a 100 percent range of movements, but it is not same when there is no sensation. This “feeling” comes slowly and it involves a more “delicate” part of the training. First, I managed to get into the swimming pool after three months of rehabilitation. I would try propelling myself in the water for a few metres but because I could not feel the water with my left hand and foot, I had to mentally will my left arm and foot to move. Other “feeling” exercises included standing on dry ground where I closed my eyes and tried clapping my hands at different positions. Simple tasks like picking up and holding a small article with my left hand, switching the light switch on and off or turning the doorknob while closing my eyes were other useful “feeling” exercises that I did.
The third and final objective is essentially to build confidence in oneself. As I was recovering, I had to learn to trust my left side again. After rebuilding sufficient muscle strength, I learned to stand on my left leg, and balance without any support. I also did one-leg squats without support, normal push-ups using both hands and alternate leg lifts. These simple, confidence-building movements served to assure me that my left side was back in action. I could now trust my affected parts to do their job.
Like my golf game, my initial round was usually my most disastrous. But looking at it from another perspective, my next round could not get any worse as I had already reached the bottom! This perspective helped me to garner the courage to make the first move in my recovery and ignore all fears of making a fool of myself. I firmly believe that fear is a self-imposed obstacle. As you go through your rehabilitation activities, be determined and learn to laugh at yourself as you try to overcome every obstacle. You can only make a fool of yourself once, but the experience gained will benefit you enormously the next time.
When it comes to recovery from stroke, remember that it is a constant battle and gradual progress. The pain and stiffness will persist for a period but through repeated exercise and usage of your affected parts, they will subside.
For my fellow stroke survivors, I would like to encourage you to work hard and persevere. You will certainly taste victory when you will yourself to do so. For me, I always remind myself that the affected parts of my body are still functional – I just need to recall and reuse them again.
My path to recovery is a journey of self-belief, will power, and perseverance. The level of improvement depends partly on your own determination and desire to get better.
So, believe in yourself!
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