Four Months In

Julie, teddy (and several other critters) go for a trip to SRH

Teddy and I were headed down to Spaulding yesterday, and we thought we had everything figured out! (I really mean, I thought I’d figured it out—teddy is a stuffed animal and they’re not noted for their thinking skills.) I was taking him, with a couple of other critters, down to Spaulding Rehab Hosptial (SRH) as gifts for patients. This was my fifth trip down in the last four months doing this, and it should been been old hat, but there were a couple of key differences between yesterday and the previous trips…

In the four years since my stroke, I’m usually down to Spaulding (in Charlestown, Boston) anywhere from once a week, to four or five times a week. It’s been less often with the COVID restrictions, but the groups I’m working with are now COVID-equipped and have opened back up to patients (me for my PT and doctor vists), study participants (me in my 4th and upcoming 5th research studies), and teaching assistants (me in various PT and OT classes—these are paid gigs.) Let’s just say, I’m there a lot!

When I started my e-commerce site in early July, I ordered stuffed animals to go with my books. When I read how the manufacturer partnered with non-profits to donate their animals at cost, to needy organizations, I thought, “Wow! I can do that too!” And SRH was my goal! (I had received a large teddy bear when I was in Spaulding, and I wanted to pay it forward!)

Gus and Arctic Hares
Gus in early July, surrounded by Arctic Hares, wondering if anyone will buy them during a pandemic.
September's take! Note the two spying on this bunch, wondering when it will be their turn!

My three visits in July and August coincided with my periodic checks for my Vagus Nerve Stimulator—my 4th study mentioned above. (My VNS is an implant, much like a cardiac stimulator, but the leads run up to the vagus nerve in my neck. The implant tells my brain to make more brain cells—since I’d lost so many with my stroke.) The office that I go to is a short walk from SRH, and I didn’t mind carrying the shopping bag (filled those times with two or three animals for SRH.) But that changed a lot in September!

In September I had four animals, and two were large. That doesn’t mean much to most people, but remember I only have one working arm, and to travel any distance that arm needs to be supporting me through my cane. I had a grocery bag (with handles) that I squeezed the animals into, and I thought I was fine. (I would have been, if I was going the same short distance that I had in July and August.) But in September my PT started up again (it was via Zoom May through August) and it was 3/4 of a mile from my PT to SRH, and back again! (Parking is expensive in Charlestown, and I always leave my car where I don’t need to pay!) The bag was too heavy to allow me to walk properly, and it kept swinging into the cane and knocking it out from under me.

So I had a plan for my October trip to SRH! Teddy and friends would ride in a backpack. Teddy was, in fact, bigger than any backpack I had, but I could fit him in with just his arms and head sticking out the top. The other two critters crowded his feet, but they weren’t going anywhere! (The photo at the beginning of the article is of me and the critter backpack ready to head on down to SRH!)

The backpack was wonderful! Everybody arrived at SRH without cane mishaps or any other malfeasance. Though, I didn’t appreciate how long it would take walking, or that I hadn’t heard back from Leah Terrill (the Child Life Specialist who’s been my contact for these gifts). When we couldn’t reach Leah by phone, I fell back on my other source—Stacey Z! (She’s the buddy who gave me Leah’s name. But I hadn’t spoken to her in four months.) Stacey Zalanowski is the Head of Physical Therapy for the Stroke Floor and the Brain Injury Floor at Spaulding Rehab Hospital. (A couple of years previous she was my PT.) I’m standing there in the hospital lobby and I hear this laugh from across the room. It was Stacey!

I was quite the sight! Backpack on, with a giant teddy bear sticking out the top, Stacey figured out the mysterious message she was given to go down to the lobby! She happily accepted the critters, and three more patients at Spaulding Rehab will soon be smiling too!

Stacey Zalanowski accepting animals

The balloons and flowers in the photo were for Richard, the security guard, on his retirement after 33 years working at Spaulding Rehab Hospital! I remember him when I was here four years ago, through my visit yesterday, and he’s the best!

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