Single-Handedly #2: In Stroke Recovery, ‘Embrace Your Lightning Bolt’

By Guest Contributor January 19, 2017 15:54

Read the full story of Charlie (a pseudonym used to protect her privacy) in the Winter 2016-’17 issue of Friends and Neighbors Magazine, available at these locations and many more. Read more from Charlie online in Readers’ Journal.

By Charlie Rioux

Hello again. In my first blog I wrote about the post-stroke phases I experienced.

Let’s look more closely at the actual process of stroke recovery.

During this period it has become clear that stroke impact is two dimensional because it affects individuals physically and emotionally. A third dimension is the impact a stroke may have on family and friends. They all lived with you through the scare of the medical emergency and through the recovery journey. I have been very fortunate in this respect and credit some of the recovery progress to my family’s support, willingness and patience as I rediscover who I am and regain abilities. The many health and fitness professionals I’ve met along this adventure also deserve a round of applause for coaching me and reminding me to be positive, keep pushing, and smile!

The process and speed of recovery will vary for each individual, due to your health prior to the medical event, your recovery approach and the severity and kind of stroke you had. Someone once asked me what it is or was that motivated me to push forward in my recovery. I just could not imagine giving up all the activities I enjoyed, including work. I missed my life, my independence, and who I once was. There wasn’t a choice. This is also when it became clear that I was grieving who I once was. Setting realistic goals was important throughout the recovery. They create a point of success once you achieve the goal; this goes a long way to building back your self-confidence.

My recovery journey has spanned three broad periods of time and approaches to rehabilitation:

Acute Rehabilitation

I had an ischemic stroke at age 51. High cholesterol and years of smoking led me to this medical emergency. The process for recovering the loss of functionality on the left side – leg, arm, hand, and speech — began a week after the stroke at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. It was intensive — six hours each day for five weeks —and covered physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

Outpatient Rehabilitation

I gradually transitioned from a wheelchair to using a cane, finally walking without assistance from acute rehab six weeks after the stroke.

Rehab continued at home a couple of hours each week focusing on improving balance, mobility, and speech. I also returned to working from home on a part-time basis for cognitive activity. But time management was difficult and multi-tasking brought enormous fatigue, ultimately leading to early retirement about one year after the stroke.

Independent Rehabilitation

There was still room for improvement and a desire to challenge my brain and regain use of my left arm and hand, still impaired by the stroke a year later.

So I defined my own plan for improvement, including fitness and going back to school, with the guidance of the Family 4 Fitness owner, Kenny Lee, who helped to design a workout customized to work around my limitations and low level of fitness, plus targeted independent one-on-one left arm rehabilitation with Dr. Anne Burleigh Jacobs. We meet at the gym every three to four weeks.

I believe the improvement and strength in my left arm are a direct result of the increased activity promoting circulation to my brain. This change over the past 18 months has driven a desire to do more to promote further gains. In addition to some writing projects and visiting the gym I started the Gentle Yoga class at the gym once a week.


Having an unexpected health emergency is scary. Fighting and working your way back physically and emotionally is the hardest thing you may ever encounter. I still cry, but feel grateful for this crazy adventure and the people I have encountered along the way.

If you or family members face this battle, embrace your lightning bolt!! There is so much you can do to move beyond your physiological and mental obstacles, even becoming smarter and better than you were before you got sick — I know I am.

Stay strong and don’t give up.

The National Stroke Association uses the acronym F.A.S.T. — Face, Arm, Speech and Time —to teach the basic warning signs of stroke.

  • Face drooping: Is the face drooping or numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the smile uneven?
  • Arm: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to lift both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • Time to call 911: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911. Check the time so you’ll know when the symptoms first appeared.

Charlie Rioux of Angels Camp is a stroke survivor who hopes her experiences and insights will help others who are recovering from a stroke. 

By Guest Contributor January 19, 2017 15:54
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2 Comments

  1. Cindi January 20, 16:40

    I am amazed at your can-do attitude. Your ownership for lifestyle that
    may have contributed and your perserversnce.

  2. Karen February 15, 22:39

    Thank you Charlie, this blog has been very enlightening and you are a true inspiration. You continue to amaze me with your talents.

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