Walking for stroke recovery has been our focus since we got back from hospital. Every day we make an effort to walk, walk and walk some more. Currently, we do about 2K in the cool of the early morning with the dog and the cat, up the track, past the hay bales, and through ‘Mini Kielder.’
This morning my husband said that walking is feeling difficult. Last week his leg felt strong, but today it feels awkward, weak like it is not his leg and he has to work really hard to make his foot do what it’s supposed to.
My husband and I realised the importance of walking for stroke recovery right from the start. This was the thing we were encouraged to do as often as possible. As soon as he was moved from intensive care down to the ward, physio began and we had a visit from a physiotherapist every day. But first, the challenge was to stand up without falling over!
It’s strange how the day before we went to the hospital, after suffering a stroke we didn’t know about, my husband was able to walk, not very steadily to be sure, but he could walk. But after spending two nights in intensive care not being allowed to move off the bed, he suddenly couldn’t even stand up on his own. Following instructions, my husband slowly got to his feet and was told to try and stand without holding onto anything. The physiotherapist and I were next to him with our arms out just in case. In case of what, I’m not really sure. But, that was the first step towards recovery.
Walking for stroke recovery started on the ward
Walking for stroke recovery started on the ward for everybody. Every day there were patients walking up and down the ward in slippers and pyjamas, passing our room backwards and forwards, up and down, and up and down, a constant stream of passing legs for what seemed like hours on end. Some were walking on their own, some had walking aids, some with wives or husbands, some in slippers some in trainers. Most holding onto their pants as the hospital pyjamas have a tendency to fall down.
At first, though my husband had to practice just being steady on his feet before moving on to more challenging exercises like squats, figure of eight with his hips, walking up and down the room holding onto the wall, and leg lifts.
Every day someone came with more exercises and different exercises, and towards the end we went to the physio suite which was amazing with different areas and equipment designed to help with every aspect of recovery and rehabilitation. My husband walked up and down the walking area where there was a full-length mirror so he could see his stance and balance. The left side of his body was lower than the right, as there was not as much strength there. Control and coordination also needed work and there were specific exercises to help with that for both legs and arms.
And we walked the corridors too, up and down and down and up. Past the lifts, to the end, and back again. Sometimes we would do a few stairs, sometimes we would sit and have a rest but many minutes were spent pacing, walking, practicing.
The first days are the most crucial
I sometimes felt that they were pushing too hard and asking too much of him and my husband would come back from a session with Ana, the head of physio, absolutely exhausted! But we were told that the first days and weeks are the most crucial in terms of recovery because that’s when repeated exercises and movement can help to retrain the brain and restore muscle memory. The first days are when bad habits, posture, and technique can be formed, so constant repetition of boring, tiring exercises and being told off were for his own good!
But, since leaving hospital almost 3 months ago, we’ve been left on our own as far as physical therapy is concerned. No appointments have come through so we’ve been managing with a mix of pilates, doing the exercises they showed us in the hospital, and of course, walking.
It’s quite easy to walk here, we’re very lucky to live where we do with woods and mountains and open countryside quite literally within walking distance. At first, the goal was to make it to the end of our row of warehouses. Then, to keep going up the track to where the chickens, guinea fowl, and turkey live. Next was the toppled-over milestone at the end of the track which we would sit on for a while before coming back. That was our first kilometer. It took about six weeks to get to that point.
Walking is more than just walking
It’s not so much the ability to walk or the distance that’s the challenge, although there are days where we have to stop many times especially as it is just so hot right now. The real issue is the level of concentration and focus that goes into every step. It’s a huge effort for my husband, he can’t just get up and walk without thinking like you and I do.
This is what he has to focus on,
All. The. Time.
“I have to make sure I am standing up straight and my left shoulder is not drooping. Then I imagine a pole straight ahead of me which I focus on to keep me walking in a straight line. I am always very aware of my foot, remembering to put the heel down first and I have to be very conscious of the angle, how, and where I am placing my foot. The left leg as a whole feels weird at times like it’s not mine and my knee feels like it is going to snap backward. This is not a nice feeling.
Also, my right leg hurts if I have been allowing it to compensate, so there is also making sure that I make my left side work harder to balance the weight evenly. My arse hurts, my knee hurts, and it’s such a huge effort sometimes.”
I feel exhausted just typing that, it’s no wonder he’s ready for bed at 8 pm, that’s such a lot of mental tiredness as well as physical exertion to deal with every day. And looking at him, you would never know. People assume that he’s fine, and on the whole he is. But what we don’t see is the amount of work, effort, and concentration that is always going on.
Walking for stroke recovery has inspired me too
But, despite the effort and the difficulty, and the times when he wants to give up, walking is inspiring and uplifting. Getting outdoors, especially in the morning has ignited something in us that had been simmering away underneath and we’ve set ourselves a goal of walking 10K (ish) by next year. I plan to do the walk on my own sometime this year and I’ve started training.
Well, training is probably too big a word for it but I have been doing some solo walks. When we go to the woods I get dropped off on the way, so I can walk the last 4K or so by myself, it takes about 50 minutes and I love it.
That very first time I set off with my pack, water bottle, and walkie-talkie (in case of wild boar or some other scary thing) I felt so happy and free. A bit like Cheryl Strayed in ‘Wild’ but on a teeny weeny scale. It was silent, the sun was just coming up, the moon still in the sky, and the air was still, heavy, sweet, and fragrant. I breathed deeply as I walked, the stones crunching underfoot and I felt grateful, and joyful to be alive.
It takes about twenty minutes for the thoughts to stop and the inner chatter to quieten as I follow the ten bends down to the bottom of the hill, past the rocks half expecting Orcs to come piling over. I notice the view, the trees, the moon still in the sky, and the sun climbing from behind the mountain, it’s right in my face on the last bit of the uphill walk.
I’ve started reading about walking, I dream of walking, of being paid to walk and write and walk and write. Maybe I’ll start a community to encourage people to walk. My husband has bought new hiking boots and I am on the lookout too since the soles fell off my Berghaus boots (they are 25 years old so I forgive them)
I sound like we’ve never gone walking before, but we have. We walk all the time, always have and when we quit drinking, we walked and walked and walked and walked, the dogs loved it! And, according to my Fitbit, and the pain in my hips, I walked over 13K around the city the day I finally arrived in Granada waiting for Mac to be moved down to the ward.
But this time it feels different somehow, more intentional, more focused, and purposeful. It’s as if it’s brand new and it feels so good to be moving, breathing, and putting one foot in front of the other towards a new, healthier, stronger way of living.
I’d love to hear about your walking experiences, let me know in the comments below.
Right, see you next time, I’m off for a walk!