My Doctor Strange Moment & The Occupational Therapist Who Helped Fix Me

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If anyone knows me, they know that I am a huge nerd.  Not like a nerd nerd, but a super cool awesome nerd. I’m a Star Wars junkie and a big superhero guy.  Comic book movies don’t normally make you think emotional movie that will bring tears to your eyes, but I was overcome with emotion when I watched Marvel’s Doctor Strange.  Not because the movie was sad or overly touching, but because one scene in the movie was so uncomfortably relatable to me that it brought me to tears.  

The scene I’m referring to was when Dr. Strange was trying to write his name after the car accident that ruined his hands.  He wrote it again and again and it was worse each time. He was frustrated and angry. I felt that scene more than any scene in any movie I have ever watched.  Along with the memory issues I have been suffering post-stroke, I also suffer tremors in my right hand. I was never a neat writer by any means, but the simple task of signing my name was just chaos after my stroke.  Not sloppy, but pure chaos. I have papers full, top to bottom with my signature just like that scene in Doctor Strange.  That was real life for me.

I was never a big writer, but post-stroke it became a large part of my recovery.  As I began to enjoy writing, I found that I was unable to write longer than a few words before my hand cramped, locked up and would just get exhausted.  That’s when I turned to my computer. Just hitting buttons should have been easier, you would think. Same issue. After a few, very short minutes, my hand would lock, cramp and fatigue.  I was at a loss. I had in-home occupational therapy, post hospitalization, to help with my memory and my tremors. A few months in, I had improved some, but once I graduated to outpatient therapy, things really kicked into high gear. Not that my original in-home therapist wasn’t good. She was.  I was just ready for the next step in my recovery.

Around a year ago, I started outpatient occupational therapy and met my current therapist, Kaley Meister.  She was sweet, kind and caring and didn’t flinch when my idiot sense of humor kicked in. She even laughed at the hashtag I used for her after some of my sessions - #kaleyhaschippednails.  She’s super particular about her nails so obviously I had to joke about it.

Before I get into what she did for my hand, I’ll start with the memory.  Pre-stroke, I could listen to a song once and memorize every note, lyric and ad-lib.  Post-stroke, I could barely remember to take my meds. When I started therapy with Kaley, she had me attempt to memorize a song a week.  We would listen to it piece by piece during our session while I wrote down the words and then the next time we met I would try to write down the lyrics by memory.  It was so strange to me because it always came so natural for me learn songs fast. It was almost embarrassing. I felt like I was broken. I trusted her and listened to what she said and worked on a different song each week from Glass Animals to Alt-J.  I listened and focused hard. Some weeks were good and some not so good, but throughout the process, Kaley was always understanding and there for me without judgment.

On top of all of the memory stuff, she was also helping me with my right hand tremors.  She helped me strengthen the little muscles in my hand by having me do several different exercises and games like pinching dense putty, resistance finger stretching exercises with special rubber bands, braiding strings and more.  She thought it would benefit me to get a wrist guard to sleep with to protect it from being put in strange positions. And she was right as she usually is.

I’m happy to say that my memory is significantly better now. It’s the closest to normal that I have felt since my stroke.  My hand has improved drastically as well. I can now type most of the day as long as I have the will to keep going. And I now sign my name more confidently.  My signature is sloppy, but that’s mostly because of me and not the tremors. Kaley has been so important to my recovery. The best thing about her is that she keeps on going.  She helped me with my memory and tremors over the past year and now like the true rockstar that she is, she’s going above and beyond in working with me to combat my overstimulation/hypersensitivity issues which are a result of my PTSD.  She could have just phoned it in from the very beginning or she could’ve just been satisfied with the progress I’ve made so far and stop there, but she chose to make sure and research any and everything possible to help me towards my goal of fully recovering.  She started to refer me to a few resources that could help with my constant dissociative episodes and continues to find new tools for me to use.  She even recruited a couple of colleagues to help me on my road to recovery. Sim and Sofia have been just as caring and awesome as Kaley. They all work so well together and have contributed mightily to my recovery.  They could have just gone about their business and let Kaley continue her course of treatment for me, but they saw an opportunity to help enhance my recovery and I have benefited greatly from their combined knowledge and support.  Plus, most importantly, they are also able to tolerate my idiocy.

The PTSD I suffer from is severe and debilitating.  It’s difficult to get through my days, but I push through.  I have to. I didn’t survive to just give up. I survived to be the best version of myself and I won’t stop moving forward.  I am so happy that I have someone like Kaley fighting for me. I can’t put into words what she has given back to me. With my hand and memory, Kaley has helped me regain the most important thing to me - hope.  Hope that I will get past this. Hope that I can get through a day without freaking out because of a door slamming or a car horn. Hope that I can live a comfortable safe life. Hope that my new normal will just feel normal. I owe Kaley so much and I don’t have the words to show how much she has meant to me in my journey.  I am so grateful to Kaley for caring so much and being the best occupational therapist anyone could have. I struggle at times with the kindness of others. Maybe it’s the recovering Catholic in me or the survivors guilt. With Kaley, it is different because to me, she is much more then just my occupational therapist. She’s my occupational hero and more importantly, my friend.