Easing Stroke Recovery on Your Own

What one woman did to help her father when Medicare wouldn't

My family and I live with my father. Looking at him now you might not know he's recovered from a stroke; he is an active man, walking every day and still driving. His speech and fine motor skills are good, and he can write almost as if nothing ever happened.

But it took lots of work on his part and on our part; Medicare refused to pay for professional rehabilitation help after his hospitalization. Here's how we did it together.

How it happened
The months leading up to his stroke had been stressful on the whole family with the unexpected death of my mother, and my father was still emerging from his grief. It was late June, and I was getting ready for work. I noticed my father was napping, but he was in his bedroom and that was unusual.

When he woke up, my instincts told me something was wrong, so I asked him if he was feeling all right. My father shook his head and lost his balance. I looked at his face; his features were drooping. I suggested he go to the hospital. He is a proud man; he said no in a clear and resounding way--the first and only word he uttered that day.

I finally got him to the hospital after promising not to call an ambulance. Once there, we were told he had had a mild to moderate stroke. My father smokes, which raises the risk of stroke, and though the doctors don't agree, I do feel my mother's death contributed to it as well. He also had high blood pressure, which we didn't know about.

In the hospital, a wonderful team of therapists worked with him. Within a day of his returning home, several therapists evaluated him. They all said he was well enough to get by on his own, because he had some speech and could print his initials.

I soon found out that because of these recommendations Medicare would not pay for any occupational therapy--group or otherwise. It angered me that these health care workers came into my house and spent a maximum of thirty minutes with him to determine his outcome.

I tried to get him reevaluated but Medicare wouldn't budge, so I took matters into my own hands. I began researching, reading everything I could find on stroke and rehabilitation. With the help of a friend who watched and helped her father recover, I began doing what we could not pay the health providers to do. I became his therapist.

Overcoming obstacles with "sneakiness"
I said earlier he was a proud man and that was the first obstacle I had to overcome. I told him I knew he didn't need my help and that I was only offering it.

The second obstacle was his depression, and his feeling of being less of a person because he needed assistance doing his everyday tasks. I approached those obstacles as one, as I thought they went hand in hand.

I did small, "sneaky" things at first; I left pads of paper around his favorite places in the house with pens that were thicker. Slowly he began to pick up the pen and paper and practiced his initials. It was hard to watch his frustration, so I approached him with an idea that might help him regain the strength he needed to write.

I handed him a ball of putty. I told him to squeeze it, and twist it as if he was using his keys to open the front door. I left him alone. I came back a few minutes later and he was working with the putty. It took him about a month before he was able to write his name; though not as well as before the stroke, he was making progress.

His speech was a problem as well; it was slurred, and it took him several minutes to come up with the words he wanted to use. I really wasn't sure how to approach this, but I remembered one of the therapists left a list of exercises he could do to strengthen his facial muscles.

He felt self-conscious doing these exercises, so I suggested he do them for my then one year old daughter. I told him to make it a game and see if he could get her to mimic him. It soon became their favorite game together. My daughter found him very entertaining and my father enjoyed the laughter they shared. It wasn't long before his facial muscles were stronger.

The littlest accomplice
While the muscles were gaining strength, he still had trouble with the thought process. Because he was embarrassed, he disliked talking to people. I thought of how we encourage our children to talk when they are young; why not do the same with my father? I decided to use my young daughter again.

My daughter loved to cuddle in his lap before the stroke and have him read books. I would read to her some. Then, I would whisper in her ear to take a book to Pop Pop and have him read to her. My daughter didn't care what he sounded like, she just wanted to hear the story, and the act of reading would help him practice talking without realizing it.

My young daughter willingly participated in my plan, although at a year old she did not understand the full extent of how she helped him recover. Over the next few weeks, she had him read three or four books a day. He resisted at first, but she batted her eyelashes and smiled her crooked smile, and he was doomed. The days turned into weeks, I saw his confidence grow as he read to his granddaughter. He started asking her to choose new books and began talking more freely to people outside of our household.

I helped with his bill paying for a few months, just until he had the confidence to do it by himself. One day I found him doing his bills, I asked if he wanted help. He said no; "I'll do it and have you look it over when I'm finished." I looked everything over and it was perfect. He says that was the day he regained control of his life.

Many people tell me that he couldn't have done it without me. I tell them I didn't do a thing except plant the seed of self-recovery. My father did all the hard work. He deserves all the credit for putting up with my sneaky ways of helping him recover.