The best gift ever to a stroke patient ever-- My dog, Senor Perro
I’ve used this blog to talk about something that’s intensely personal—recovering from a debilitating stroke.
My stroke happened several years ago and it forced me to retire from a job I really loved. I spent my first year post stroke intensely pissed off at fate, channeling a lot of my energy into trying to recover as much as I lost in my stroke.
There are things I wished for that came my way in that first year. i’ve come to think of them as “gifts for a stroke patient.”
So as the Holidays come tumbling in , I wanted to update my list of gifts you can give a stroke patient.
Right of the top the one thing that really worked for me was the unconditional support of my close friends. Dr. Andy Sobieski listened to me snivel, understood my anger and got my ass into an adaptive PE Class at a local community college, the College of San Mateo. My driver’s license had been suspended – because of the stroke and the good Dr. Andy kicked my butt onto the short bus, which would pick me up in front of my condo, take me to CSM, or to town, and drop me off in the afternoon at my home.
Most adaptive PE classes are extremely inexpensive, and my monthly SamTrans handicapped bus pass was unbelievably cheap. SO here are two gift inexpensive gift ideas; the cost of an adaptive PE class and/or a handicapped bus pass.
The adaptive PE class was the best thing that happened to me in the first year post stroke. It got me out of my house and forced me to exercise. Along the way, I learned how to adapt to my new life as a handicapped American and discovered that “lunch with my friends” was a lot of fun.
Because many stroke lose the ability to write legibly. Regaining that muscle memory-related skill is something that can be very important. One o my peculiar adaption was to hold a pen in my claw-like left hand , put paper forms on a clipboard and move the clipboard with my unaffected right hand, if I had to sign my name. Hey it works.
Here’s a fun idea for stroke patients; take them to a real stationary store and let them try a variety of pens until they find one they can comfortably use. While you’re in the store buy a couple of lined tablets designed for young elementary school students. Then encourage the stroke patient to practice writing everyday. Don’t expect miracles, but with enough practice, the ability to write does come back, part of the way. My best results were when I used a rolling ball or gel ink pen with a wide barrel. I still can’t write legibly, but I can at least sign my name.
I know some stroke patients who have used speech- to text programs to help regain some of the communications skills they’ve lost in strokes. I have tried to use many of the programs in this category but gave up on the technology because of its steep learning curve and because I found migrating “dictionaries” from one machine to another problematic. But, some people have successfully used them to improve their communications skills. And many such programs are on sale right now, so it’s certainly a gift you may want to consider for someone who has come through a stroke.
A final caveat about speech to text programs: they work best on PCs equipped with state of the art high-speed processors and gobs of memory. Furthermore, if you’re going to invest in such programs, you may also want to include a high quality headset.
A typewriter is something else you might want to consider as a gift for a recovering stroke patient. My used Hermes ($60 on eBay) serves to write checks or fill out forms requiring narrative descriptions.
Today I don’t go anywhere without a portable computer. When I’m required to take notes, I boot up my machine and revert to my decades-old note taking mode. In the years since my stroke, I’ve regained some fine motor skills in my left hand and I work every day at improving them more. s
A friend of mine encouraged me to return to reading one or two books a week. I returned to my reading habit with a couple of authors I’ve loved since I was young; Mark Twain and John Steinbeck. Oh and Iv seasoned my reading with Hemingway.
Amazon or iTunes gift cards are obvious gifts for a stroke patient. So is a gym membership.
There is one book I recommend highly to all stroke patients and they’re families. The book is Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight.” Dr. Taylor is a brain scientist who had a stroke. Her description of her stroke and her recovery is flat out amazing.
But the best gift you can give a stroke patient is your time and understanding. I was bewildered by my stroke and any contact with a friend was extremely welcome in the first year of my recovery. In the years since my brain experienced a head on collision with an errant blood clot, I’ve become an active gardener who cultivates canon ball sized avocados and an amateur tie dye artist. And, I have the stained hands and encrusted dirt so prove my new found passions.
There I was soaring along the pinnacle of a much loved career so what does s capricious deity do to grab the attention of deeplhy ingrained southpaw? It gives me a stroke on the right hand side of my brain temporarily wiping out my left hand. But hell, I didn’t lose my sense of humor.
And I owe a lot to my friends who stayed with me and kicked my ass by giving me time. Thanks, Chris Shipley, Dr.’s Andy and Judy Sobieski, Jeff and Janey Young of Rescue, CA, and my big brother, Chuck Forbes. Most of all I owe a huge debt for the best gift of all-- Senor Perro, the Emperor Chihuahua of the Avocado Kingdom.—Jim Forbes wryly on 12/01/2011.