I continued to go to the gym on the stroke ward a few times a week. Most days we worked with my arms and legs in slings. One day toward the end of January, the physios decided it was time to start ‘sitting’ balance. As the name suggests this was trying to teach me to sit up.
I was with 2 physios I felt comfortable with and trusted. As always I was keen to move forward with therapy as quickly as I could.
I remained in the stroke chair. The physios would help me to sit up straight, and I would then try and maintain a sitting position. I had no control of any of the muscles used in sitting. As soon as the physios let me go, I would start falling to one side with no ability to correct it.
The physios thought that if I could see myself in a mirror, I might find it easier. If I could see which way my body was leaning, I might be able to adjust accordingly. The word mirror immediately filled me with dread. My life, my body and no doubt my appearance had changed significantly since I’d last seen myself in a mirror 6 weeks earlier. I wasn’t quite ready to face it.
I blinked furiously. ‘No’ I don’t want to see myself in a mirror. The physios were the voice of reason, and when it was clear that this could help my recovery, I really had no choice.
So off went one of the physios to get the mirror. It was the biggest mirror on wheels I had ever seen. There was no getting used to my recent facelift bit by bit in a small makeup mirror! It took me several minutes to find the courage to lift my head. When I did, I was quite taken aback. The muscles in my face were still almost completely paralysed giving my face a strange blank look. My hair hung unbrushed around my face. I saw my trachy for the first time – a tube going directly into my windpipe. My body was limp and lifeless. None of these details were unknown to me, but to actually see them all at once, was something of a shock. As I took in this image of the ‘new’ me, I burst into tears. It was so hard to reconcile this image staring back at me with the ‘me’ I knew well. The thought that I might look like this for the rest of my life was devastating.
After a few minutes, with the help of Steve, I calmed down and re-focussed. We went back to sitting balance. I could now see in the mirror as my body began to fall to one side. As hard as I tried to correct this, I was unable to engage any of my core muscles. This was exhausting and after about 10 minutes, the physios decided we would try again another day.
This video was taken on the day I first saw myself in the mirror. If you look closely you can see me blinking yes and no as the physio asks me questions.