In the beginning, when Anna was recovering at UVA Hospital, her recreational therapists helped her find ways to do the things she enjoyed doing before the stroke. One of the things Anna loved to do was crochet. She was lightning-fast, having learned from her second grade teacher, and had been working on a blanket before the AVM rupture occurred and stopped her in her tracks.
With Anna’s left hand unable to assist, the therapists showed her how to secure her work to something stable with a clothespin to hold it in place while she crocheted with her right hand.
As time went on – months, maybe even a year – Anna was able to feed the yarn through the fingers of her left hand using her right, but she had to do it very carefully, and even then, the yarn often slipped out from between her fingers. The work was painstaking and incredibly frustrating, and she would have to stop after a few stitches. For a time, she lost interest in pursuing that particular hobby. Even so, every now and then she would go back and give it another try.
Then, as even more time passed, Anna’s hand gained more movement and strength, and she began to have more control – not to the level it was before, but so much better than at first. She kept trying.
Even though it has been over seven years now, Anna’s left hand continues to improve. The gains may be in the tiniest of baby steps, but over time, it’s easy to see how far she has come.
Over the course of the summer, Anna has crocheted a blanket large enough to cover her bed at college. She crocheted 117 patches of varying colors and then sewed them together to form the blanket. She designed it herself, without the use of a pattern – not surprising, because Anna lives in a world where she does not always fit the pattern. More than that, she thrives in it.
We spent last week at the beach for our vacation. One night, when we were relaxing back at the beach house, Anna casually mentioned how she had just unlocked her phone and replied to a text with her left hand.
“I didn’t feel like putting down my drink,” she said, shrugging it off. “It was only one word,” she added quickly, seeing what I’m sure was over-the-top excitement on my face.
“What was the word?” I asked.
“Good,” she answered.
Yes, it is.
On the last day of our vacation, we were shopping at a popular tourist spot, when we passed by a man coming out of a shop. He was in a wheelchair, and I immediately noticed the telltale signs of stroke recovery: lower leg wearing an AFO to hold the foot in place and prevent toe drop. Arm propped up on a pillow to keep it elevated and prevent it from dangling over the side, exposing it to injury.
He glanced at us as we walked by. I wanted to stop, to say something, to tell him to have hope. Things will get better, I wanted to tell him. It will take time, but you will get there.
But I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to embarrass him or make him feel more self-conscious than he was undoubtedly already feeling. Instead, I prayed for him as we made our way back to our car. I hope, somehow, he felt what I wanted him to know: That hope and faith and hard work will get you there; you just can’t give up.
When I think of Anna’s years of therapy, of the journals I filled with notes about her at-home exercises, so afraid I was going to hold her leg incorrectly in a stretch, or forget to have her do a particular exercise, all of the daily checklists we made – so much of it, at the time, she couldn’t quite do, or it felt to her like it wasn’t helping. It reminds me of The Karate Kid, when Mr. Miyagi instructs Daniel to do the “wax on, wax off” and “paint the fence” exercises. In the day-to-day monotony of performing those same movements over and over (and over) again, Daniel can’t see the point to what he is doing. Then, one day, when he must put what he has learned to the test, he sees that what he had thought of as pointless movements have developed his form without him even realizing it. He couldn’t see it at the time, but all of those endless sessions of “wax on, wax off” gave him exactly what he needed.
Hope is the joyful expectation that something good is going to happen. Whatever the “wax on, wax off” is in our own lives, we must keep doing it and never lose hope that we will get there eventually.
So many miles Anna has traveled, one small step at a time. It is no different for the rest of us.