Tuesday, April 10, 2012


I said I had a bunch of posts owing, and this is the first of them, about the ASPIRE program I was fortunate to take part in, at nearby Yeovil District Hospital.

ASPIRE stand for "Acute stroke Self-management support, secondary stroke Prevention, Information, Rehabilitation and Exercise" program. Too many letters, but trust me it looks better on the page, and you end up with ASPIRE. Which I thought was lame as all hell, but I was game to try anything to aid my recovery when I was assessed on Christmas Eve 2011.

As far as I know, it was the first and for a while the only such program in the country; I've not heard of anything like it in the US. It proved to be almost indescribably useful for me.

The program is simple enough to grasp: It runs for twelve weeks, and participants, who have all had strokes and are encouraged to attend with their primary carer if there is one, do an hour of exercise, choosing whether that's before or after the half-hour chat with a cup of tea and a biscuit.

The chats are directed, and cover the bases of providing information about stroke itself, as well as things like medication, nutrition, stress, exercise and relationships, and how they relate particularly to stroke. The conversation often drifted (particularly when I got involved).

The exercise was tailored to people's deficits, and always seemed included a combination of rehabilitation, simple cardio and strength. We were helped into machines if we needed it, encouraged and cheered on by the two stroke ward nurses who run the program, Debbie and Caroline, and a physiotherapist, Donna, as well as the volunteers, all of whom had had strokes in the past.

I never thought that I would be glad to get on a treadmill, but the feeling of being able to walk, even slowly, and even holding on desperately was magnificent. Being in the hospital gym gave me the confidence to start going to a regular gym again, and gave me measurable results for the work I was putting in (see below for details).

Both have proven very useful: I have been enjoying going to the gym and pool four times a week for a while now, and making measurable gains in fitness means I have something to point myself to when I feel like I'm making no progress. The pace of neurological change and recovery is sometimes so slow that the effort it requires seems almost not to be worth it. So I stagger, I think, is that so bad? Can I live with double vision, after all, I'm functioning? 

I refuse to accept neurological deficits, though, and making progress at the gym or pool, however small, gives me enough feedback to persist until my brain does a lot better job of recovery than just good enough.

At least as useful as the exercise, though, were the tea'n'biscuit (cookie!) chats. Less for their content, which was still excellent pragmatic advice of the sort you're more likely to get from a nurse or therapist than you are from a doctor. More for the fact of being in a room with a couple of dozen other people who had had strokes too.

I'm not much of one for support groups. I mean, sure, in theory, but for me? I would have said not, and I would have been wrong. I had underestimated how isolating my stay in the hospital and in-patient rehab facility had been. I think in the twelve weeks before ASPIRE I talked to maybe three people who had had strokes, and that just wasn't enough.

With ASPIRE we had people to share notes with, tips, gripes, and everything else. People who understood in a way that nobody who hasn't had a brain injury truly can what it is like to be recovering from neurological deficits. How it feels when you're worse at everything you put your hand to, if you can even do that. And more, the volunteers were two or three years past having had their strokes and were back doing some of the ordinary things that are still beyond me.

It's hard to say which aspect of the program benefited me the most; they worked together to set me on a solid path of recovery. I recognise that there's quite a way to go, but I'm far better equipped for the journey, now.

Penultimately, the posts I'm making about stroke recovery and so on are now public, whereas before you had to be a special flower just to see them. As soon as I figure out how to make the old ones public, even the Ultimate Urine Victory, I shall.

Addendum: boring progress part (weeks 1 -> 12)
Treadmill: 10mins @ 2kph, no incline -> 10mins @ 4.5kph, 5.0 incline.
Cycle: 10mins @ L2 flat, 58rpm, 5.88km -> 15mins @ L7 Hill, 80+rpm 8.07km
Rowing machine: 3.29m/500m for 500m R5 -> 2.09m/500m for 1500m, R7.
Trampette: 4'30" holding on for dear life -> 5m, no hands
Free weights: 3 x 10 x 1kg curls -> 10,8 x 8kg, super: hammer curls, raise, squat
Lat pull-down: 3 x 10 x 6.25kg -> 3 x 12 x 16.25kg
Weight: 91.4kg -> 85.7kg

I'm fitter and stronger now. Find me on Fitocracy.

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