Victoria Ponte – Uneven Surfaces
Victoria is a young stroke survivor, mother, champion equestrian, tambourine player and storyteller. She writes in honor of World Stroke Day.
I was learning how to walk for the second time in my life. I was 35 years old. I had recently given birth to my second son.
A sudden, severe stroke in the 26th week of pregnancy had left me totally paralyzed on the left half of my body. I spent 53 days in bed, pregnant and paralyzed, waiting to give birth so I could be moved to a rehabilitation hospital.
I gave birth in the usual way while I was still hemiplegic. 4 days later, I was taken in an ambulance to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital. I had no idea how long I would be there. I was extremely weak, depressed, spastic, and in chronic pain.
I would spend six hours a day in physical, occupational and speech therapy. We worked on building strength and learning to walk in physical therapy. We worked on “activities of daily living” such as getting dressed in occupational therapy.
Speech therapy centered around cognitive exercises to improve things such as executive functioning, a term to describe planning how to execute everyday tasks in steps. My ability to speak and understand was not affected.
My left foot remained paralyzed as I regained movement in my arm and leg. I was fitted for a brace to keep my foot lifted while I was learning to walk. I used a cane for help with my disrupted sense of balance.
I never imagined walking could be so difficult. My left arm spastically flailed each time I took a step further impairing my sense of balance.
I made progress and was soon walking around the smooth, level, tile floors of the hospital. The entire facility was on one level, but we worked on going up and down a set of wooden steps in the physical therapy room.
Just as I was feeling comfortable walking, the therapists decided to take me outside to the “therapeutic garden.” The simple act of stepping outside the hospital for the first time in weeks really threw me for a loop. Gone were the smooth, level floors.
The garden was a small patch of grass and sand with steps to take you to different levels. When I stepped on the sand for the first time, I was sure I couldn’t do this.
With support from 2 physical therapists, I walked the garden. It was scary and challenging for sure.
The exercise in the therapeutic garden prepared me for years of adapting to life with half my body not working properly. As we figure out how to walk on a level surface, the floor beneath our feet constantly changes and we must adapt and keep walking.