I was recently in contact with the Physiotherapy Dept at AUT (Auckland University of Technology) at their campus in Akoranga Drive, North Shore, here in Auckland. The coordinator wanted to know if I would like to talk and participate again for the 3rd year Physiotherapy training session. I did a similar thing last year around the same time. Has it been a year already since the last time?

I was delighted to be involved in this program again that would be beneficial to the 3rd-year Physio students as the tutelage would be fresh in their minds as to the assessment and treatment of the patient. Being able to discuss the course of action with the lecturer and other students - many minds make less work and so brainstorming of ideas is to me a very good way forward. And, try it out on me – the willing subject, a stroke survivor of twenty-one years – I was like a baby after the stroke: couldn't talk, walk, read, write, remember. I even dribbled, as I couldn't feel one side of because of the paralysis. I had to start to relearn life twenty-one years ago at 34 years of age.


As I have had such a wide range of impediments at the beginning of my stroke recovery journey, it would take a few hours if we were to go through them one by one. Perhaps I might have stopped short and given up before I attempted to do anything, a long time ago: it was just Too Big to contemplate. I didn't - one day at a time, was enough to deal with. Break it up into bit-sized chunks, and the journey is that much more manageable.



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On the day, I was welcomed to the group by the lecturer who effectively summarised my challenges.

The students then asked me more about my condition to try and ascertain which were the most worthwhile scenarios to delve into and to treat, given that we had only a very short time that afternoon.

It is perhaps good that the students have a time limit to base their findings on, and to treat the 'patient', so as to sort out what's important for the session.

Then they proceeded with techniques and modalities which might be the best suited {restorative benefit} for my Physio treatment that day.

Sub-groups of them practiced on me in turn, and provided me with different exercises.

How do you manage with dressing yourself? It's a good question, considering I had only one functioning hand. At the time when I had the stroke and was in a hospital bed for 3 months, I hadn't considered wearing a bra; there were other more important issues at hand.

Coming close to my discharge from the hospital, the occupational therapist wheeled me down to road to a nearby shopping centre at Hammersmith Broadway station, central London. She helped me choose a front-fastening bra; perhaps it was the in-thing at that time. And it seemed a logical choice fastening at the front, which meant that I could see what I was doing.

I couldn't say much as I didn't have the vocabulary (having to relearn English), suffered from memory loss, and didn't have the wherewithal to ask questions or say something about my likes, dislikes etc. as I had severe aphasia.

We finally bought something, but I was not too sure with the choice as it took forever to do up the hooks on the front of me, and my left (non-dominant) hand was very tired by the end of it.

Later on, I tried another way and it worked much better.  See the How To Put On or Hook Bra with One Hand video here. Using just a normal bra on my lap, cup-side up to the back of me, clasps to the front, one to the left, one to the right. Tuck one clasp-end (eye) into your waistband (near your belly-button), of your skirt, shorts, trousers, leggings, etc. Now it has only one free clasp (hook) end. Bring this end in the direction of your belly button. Make slight adjustments to your one-hand-hold, just at the last moment grab the two clasp-ends in one hand ... hook it up (it might take a bit of practice with one-hand), then spin the bra around until the cups were at the front again. There are many ways of doing an activity, even one-handedly hooking a bra.

When I was in-patient at the hospital after the stroke, the nurses had a giant hoist to lift me up out of my wheelchair and transfer me into a large bath when it was hair-washing day. I was given a bath-board for home, when I was discharged from hospital in late 1995 after the stroke. A bath-board sits across the two sides of the bath and is used when showering in a bath. A non-slip mat is for ease of getting into the bath and out of it.

Laced-up shoes were the norm, as I only wore tennis (sports) shoes after my stroke for a very long time. With time, the leg brace/AFO (Ankle Foot Orthosis) bulkiness has reduced to a new, slimmer-fit AFO, so I now wear slightly dressier pairs of flat shoes. But it does take a lot of searching for the right pair. Back to the question, how would I lace up sports shoes? Undo everything and start from scratch.  See the How To Lace up Shoes with One Hand video here. Securing one end-of-the-lace (at the furthest notch away from you, toe-end), now thread the lace, back and forth, until the bottom notch at the ankle-end, and secure. Only one free end, instead of two, and it caters for the bulk of my AFO. Nowadays the manufacturers have trendy shoes that have Velcro pads as fasteners, or slip-on shoes that are secure; there are better choices of shoes and fastenings now than that in the 1990's.

Personal grooming? I wore soft contact lenses for years before the stroke. After the stroke I reverted to wearing prescription glasses - why? The steps required use contact lenses were: I would have had to ensure that the contact lens is sitting hollow-side up on your fingertip. At eye level, it is correct if the contact lens looks like a bowl, use the index finger of a hand to pull your upper eyelid upward, then use your other hand....

Ah-ha! Not two hands. With only one (non-dominant) hand I found it challenging to balance the flat surface of the contacts, see if I've got it inside out and to correct it; peer into a mirror, open my eyes wide, and to try to insert it. Murray was urged to help, but my eyes stayed resolutely shut every time Murray tried to do it. Involuntary response, try as I as I might to open them. And the whole idea of cleaning those contact lenses, rinse, putting it in solution to disinfect them, etc. (in the 1990's regime) was way too complicated for me to contemplate. It was a long time after the stroke before I could once again wear contacts – it's perfectly do-able, all it takes is practice, perseverance, patience.  See the Stroke Rehab 011 How to with One Hand: Put on / Insert Contact Lenses video.

I was asked: do you feel pain, when doing something? Everybody is different so whether you do or don't feel pain to a lesser or greater degree is up to the individual. In my case: when I first had the stroke, my whole body on my stroke-affected side was paralysed. It took many years for the brain to finally remap and start to drive the muscle groups of the right side. And yes, there was pain involved at the beginning. The right hand side of my body had become stuck to my side and very, very heavy, like a deadweight.

For example, whilst sitting in the wheelchair, using my left hand for sketch-pad drawing was agony after ten minutes because it was unaccustomed to doing that activity at the same time of holding my body upright, doing the job of the left and right side all at once for everything.

Relearning to stand was a painful process, as it was relearning to use my body rather than sitting static in a wheelchair. Perhaps pain is there is wake you up; to change. Over the years, I find it is no longer painful, (or I'm slightly inured to it) just very tight and uncomfortable, for example, my sub-luxed shoulder, which has to be loosened and massaged into place, each day. Even my mind is more resilient; there are more and more sparks of thought and memories over the years.

I thought of the 3rd year student training session at AUT, as we were driving home that day. At first I couldn't think what to write about the experience, just it was a good session. I was concentrating so hard on the events at hand, I had little room for anything else in my mind; everything was more or less shut off, on the backburner, until the event had finally concluded.

It was a good thing that subconsciously I was recording all the messages and cues of the big-picture session at AUT that day. Your unconscious mind (and ultimately your subconscious mind) then uses these programs to make sense of it all when you're in sleep mode. … really? The unconscious and the subconscious mind are like huge memory banks. Its capacity is virtually unlimited, I remember reading. It permanently stores everything that ever happens to you, all memories and past experiences. The subconscious mind, is in charge of our recent memories.

Perhaps, because I was juggling with the thoughts all day after the session, when I awoke early the next morning my mind was full of impressions. Bits of memory jogged along with questions by the 3rd year student body at the session, the previous day. A window of opportunity, soon it will be gone, fades as the new day begins. Jointly, the students and I, had a fruitful day. I began to write...

Hopefully the students themselves found benefit from a hands-on experience.

Murray and I wish the 2016, 3rd year Physiotherapy students, the very best.

Many thanks to the student community at AUT/AIH and the Physiotherapy Lecturer and Programme Leader (Curriculum), Todd Stretton, Auckland University of Technology, for this opportunity.