This is my story of living on my own (with help) after living in rehabilitation centers and a nursing home following a life-changing stroke 4 years ago.
By Yvonne Stegner
I didn’t think this day would ever arrive! After a few last-minute good-byes, the most difficult to fellow-former Slope County resident and new friend Monica, my oldest daughter loaded up me and my remaining belongings (most importantly my pots of outside flowers), in her handicapped-accessible mini-van, and we headed from Dickinson to Bowman, North Dakota on June 21, 2018.
Passing through Slope County was poignant, as I pondered the fact that I wouldn’t officially be a Slope County resident anymore. I decided that Amidon and Slope County would always be my old “home”, and reminded myself that planet Earth is just a temporary home to us Christians. I would do my best to make the house in Bowman where I was going a welcoming place for others.
When I reached Bowman, I was met by my husband, a lady from the personnel agency he contracted with, and one of my soon-to-be helpers. Communication would be a challenge, as this helper spoke and understood little-to-no English. The other helper, who arrived that evening, was a bit more fluent, and with the app on my iPad that could translate my English requests into Spanish, I figured we would get along just fine.
The first few days were spent settling in and unpacking, keeping scheduled clinic appointments, and dealing with unexpected household emergencies. The hose for the kitchen sink sprayer decided to explode, and the toilet I used chose to plug up, necessitating a trip to procure a toilet plunger. Some needs are universal and don’t need translating! And it sure pays to have friends that know how to handle domestic difficulties!
It is also awesome to have friends that bring things like bath towels to a person in their time of need. Sorry guys, but it’s obvious a man has set up a house when there isn’t a bath towel to be found in the house. REALLY?
I was biting my nails to get out and plant some flower and vegetable seeds, but Mother Nature had a different idea. As friend Ron joked, “it’s hardly stopped raining since you (Yvonne) moved to Bowman”. Hay appears lush and plentiful and crops along Highway 85 wresemble the “amber waves of grain” mentioned in the song “America the Beautiful”. After the parched summer North Dakota experienced last summer and many other growing seasons, I sure wasn’t going to complain about the blessed rains!
One thing I have relished about “life on the outside” is seeing familiar friendly faces at area businesses, and being hailed by name by many of them. Physically-handicapped people certainly have a more difficult time functioning in society, although many business and other places have accessible doorways and some even have power doors. Those places that don’t are quick to open doors for those who don’t have an escort to do so.
The first few weeks I was satisfied with myself for lining up mail delivery, setting up a checking account at a local bank, acquiring a debit card, and refilling my own meds. I had previous experience with handling my own money, opting not to use the resident trust account at the nursing home. I believed I “learned from the best” (my paternal grandmother) at how to hide money. But these days banks are a safer option! As far as meds go, I feel comfortable, and even relieved, to be in control of this part of my life. At the nursing home nurses had many tasks, and sometimes made mistakes in dispensing my pills. I sure didn’t want to be ingesting something I didn’t need! Opening a can of smooth A&W root beer by myself was an accomplishment that left me feeling satisfied with myself. I wasn’t craving soda, but I have been frustrated for 3 years that I lacked the strength to open a can of soda pop.
A negative that happened in the first few weeks was that one of my helpers had a family emergency and had to depart suddenly one Sunday evening. I hated to see her go, because she seemed to take delight in gardening, as I do, and she planted my peas much quicker than I would have been able to. I wish she could have reaped the fruits of that labor. At the time she left, I think she was doubtful those peas would even emerge from the ground. I savored the “fruits of her labor” (and the dedicated watering and harvesting of others) several times during the summer. Up until freeze-up those die-hard vegetables were still producing snow-white blossoms!
A positive that resulted from her departure was that the lady who arrived in her place spoke English, which made my life easier. She is also familiar with American meals, and understands how to prepare the many foods that our cupboards were generously stocked with.
Speaking of generosity, I am continuing to be humbled by how much love was poured into this house that I am privileged to call my new home. I keep my ears open to learn of kind gestures and donations from friends and family. At this point I know I’m blessed to have a ramp enabling me to traverse across the step leading into the house, a small deck adjacent to the ramp for sitting outside and for my flowerpots to make their home, freshly painted walls, kitchen cabinets overflowing with delectable things to eat and always-needed paper products, and my character-filled old post office window and bars that I rescued when the Amidon Post Office counter was remodeled. I love old pieces of history!
I got to travel to Spearfish SD to help my mother-in-law celebrate 80 years of youth at the city park in town. While holding down hospital beds, I can recall thinking that I would never see that picturesque park again.
I continue to appreciate the opportunity to see new territory too. Recently my oldest daughter broached the idea of riding along with her to Gillette, Wyoming, to help celebrate the first birthdays of my nephew’s twin girls. My first venture into Wyoming since the stroke, and the first time I traveled at 80 miles per hour (legally). Woo Hoo!
The next day was a small victory in my recovery (but a victory nonetheless). I was able to lift my right foot onto the foot plate of my lift using my own strength. Actually it was a regained ability that I was looking forward to attaining again. I lost this ability in June when I took a fall in the nursing home and I was then required to keep my feet on the foot pedals at all times, causing me to lose mobility in my right foot. Word to the wise: wear your seat belt, especially when speeding! That was the real reason I fell out of my power wheelchair, but I couldn’t admit that at the time of my tumble because I didn’t want my powerchair reduced to “turtle speed” again!
I had the privilege of attending the “World’s Fair”, otherwise known as the Slope County Fair, at Amidon. Gorgeous quilts to gaze at, many familiar friendly faces, 4-H and open-class exhibits to peruse, mouth-watering foods to feast on, and a hilarious night show to be entertained by. Best of all, I felt useful because I had a cashier job to do for a few hours!
Labor Day was spent driving the Enchanted Highway north of Regent and admiring the awe-inspiring and huge metal sculptures placed strategically along the roadway. Following that was a picnic-style lunch at the breath-taking Painted Canyon overlook of the North Dakota Badlands. Completing the day was a motorized trek around the scenic loop of Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora. The highlight of that drive had to be experiencing a North Dakota traffic jam, which was caused by a herd of bison meandering down the hot pavement looking for morsels to eat and a cool drink of water!
I can tell strength is increasing because I can now snap open the lid of my new insulated water cup. Now to be able to snap it shut…A few weeks later I felt exhilaration when I achieved this small goal!
Realizing small goals satisfies me, as I feel “slow progress is better than no progress”. But will this be enough for physical therapy here in Bowman? Absolutely every place I have been on this stroke journey has said “we can do no more for Yvonne”, but I believe God continues to travel with me, enabling me to progress, albeit painstakingly slowly