Sunday, July 10, 2011

Return to Work

As much as my "recovery" has to do with my health, I'm suddenly realizing how fitting the alternate definition is for me: this journey has basically been a salvage operation for the life that sank to the bottom of Davy Jones' Locker, tambourine and all.

That's certainly not to say my recovery is complete. I still have quite a ways to go. But next week I am set to embark on the next leg to normalcy (or something like it) -- getting back to work. Now, in large part because I work for a disability insurance company, I was privy to estimated disability leave tables before my original operation. For an aneurysmectomy, I was told I'd be out for six to eight weeks. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances which have pushed that to nine months (no, I have not yet checked the estimated leave for a stroke; but there are so many different kinds of strokes, I don't know how any estimate could be particularly accurate.

For some, under different circumstances, I'm sure a nine-month sabbatical from work would be a welcome opportunity. In part because my job suits me so well but in much larger part because of the people I work with and because it represents the achievement of a key goal in my recovery, I'm eager to get back to it. Although I've only been at my current job for about four years, these people have helped see me through two of the worst experiences of my life: Gus’ premature birth and my most current dilemma. I'm confident that if I happen to experience a second puberty, they will get me through that as well. I have been met with nothing but support at every level. After Gus’ birth, I joined my department Sunshine Fund committee. I'm not what I would consider a “sunshiny” person, but I wanted to give something back. At this point, I don't think there are any number of Photoshopped cards that can repay the kindness I’ve received. But I do pledge this -- if I hear anyone, including he, refer to my boss as "Scary Dave," I will leap to his defense, for he has been nothing but Considerate and Generous Dave to me (and I’m not just saying that because he's my boss and a little bit scary).

My only regret in returning to work is that I can't do so yet in person. I miss seeing these people on a day-to-day basis. But, for the sake of my healthy recovery and in order to continue with some formal therapy (along with a rigorous exercise regime), I need to start slowly and pace myself and am very fortunate to have the flexibility to work from home for a time. I'll just be working a few days a week, a couple of hours a day to start and then slowly increasing that each week. For the most part, my cognitive skills have returned fairly quickly and back to previous levels. I base that statement on my own perspective and some testing and therapy. There are certainly possibilities that I will be a little slower processing some kinds of information, but I'm hopeful and fairly confident that this will be one of the most positive experiences of my recovery, just like Raise The Titanic.

Saturday, July 02, 2011


AT is for Assistive or, Adaptive Technology. On some level, because of who I am, I like to think that all technology is assistive. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. Of course, “necessity” changes for Everyone and depending on circumstances. My current circumstances have certainly provided me with a somewhat unique set of needs, and I am trying to find technology that can aid me in my trek to eliminate or at least diminish these particular needs. You may have  noticed that I haven't been writing much here  lately. It’s somewhat of a blessing that my brain is faster than my hand, but that’s made it very frustrating to sit down at a keyboard long enough to get my thoughts in a form to be read. Through a local organization, I do have two kinds of one-handed keyboards on loan. Unfortunately, the learning curve on both of them is larger than my current willingness, patience, and availability. This particular blog entry is coming to you through the use of dictation software called Dragon Naturally Speaking.  I’ve found a mix of Dragon and manual editing to be most efficient for me. It would be nice if they also produced Dragon Naturally Walking. Better still, I could really use an actual Dragon who can type 65 words a minute and chauffer me around (a  job I think Jamie is definitely tiring of).
When I think of all the assistive technology that's been made available to me since I started down this road, there's quite a long list,  starting with something called the Hoyer Lift in Mass. General Hospital. Soon after my stroke, the only way to get me out of bed and onto a gurney or chair was to use this sort of harness and winch built into a track in the ceiling over my bed. Once I was even allowed to work the controls myself (at least the up-and-down part); they still needed another person to roll me along the track. Since then, the technology has becomea  little simpler and more familiar, like helmets, wheelchairs, quad canes, and straight canes.

I can't really speak very intelligently about the technology which assisted the medical personnel treating me, nor would they be very palatable to describe, since as far as I know, they mostly fall in the realm of bone saws, high-frequency vibration tools to shatter calcification which had formed around the aneurysm, and machines which created my plastic skull from CAT scan images. Nevertheless, I don't know where I'd be without any of that.

I have something called a reacher, which I would actually recommend everyone have for grabbing items that have fallen (or been thrown) behind washers and dryers or under couches. In the shower, I have a tub transfer bench. It saves me from having to stand in the shower or make the treacherous journey of stepping over the edge of the tub into the shower. I also have a suction-cup- held showerhead holder which easily positions the stream of water on me. And I have a long-handled scrub brush so I can actually wash my back. Just to round out the bathroom experience, we have toilet frames that add handles and armrests to any standard toilet. There are also strategically-located grab bars around the bathrooms. One of the trickiest things I’ve found is putting toothpaste on my tooth brush without it tipping over. Fortunately, I'm now able to use my left hand to at least hold the brush while I do that. In the kitchen I have what's called a rocker knife, which is similar to an Alaskan Ulu knife. That makes it much easier for me to pitch in a bit when it comes to shopping vegetables(they’re not just for whale blubber anymore). That was supposed to be “chopping,” but I want to leave in amusing Dragon bloopers. On the whole, it really does a pretty amazingly accurate job, though.I also have a Knork for one-handed cutting.
I think that's the extent of my specifically-designed assistive technological experiences so far, though use of my iPod Touch and iPad have been invaluable along the way, from the perspective of one-handed data entry. I've also had help from a handful of orthotic devices such as the Giv Mohr sling, which provides support for my left arm, and an  AFO for my left leg., Soon that will be swapped out for a KAFO, which should provide me with additional knee support(thus the addition of the “K”). From a more virtual technology perspective, I can't stress enough how valuable Blogger has been in providing a platform from which to tell my story, as well as Feed Burner - the service that distributes the blog as an e-mail, for those of you who prefer that medium. Facebook has turned out to be more essential than I could've imagined for community building and sustaining, as has Twitter and Twitter Feed, the latter of which allowed me to merge my Tweets and my Facebook Status updates. Back to the IOS world, apps for Facebook, tweeting and, and blogging have been extremely helpful.
Thanks to all the industrial engineers who helped design these products, though not to the creators of the Auto Ambulator or of the institutional food packaging at the hospital, which is by no means one-hand friendly.

It's one of my goals in the next few weeks to try and write more and truly put Dragon through its paces, because, as I've tried to make clear in the past, this blog has provided no end of assistance in my recovery. Thanks for listening.