Each week since, I have taken him to Johnson’s Beach on the Russian River in downtown Guerneville, usually with a friend or three in tow, to swim for about 20 minutes. The Russian River is much better suited to the purpose of therapeutic swimming; it is flatter with a sandy bottom. Once we arrive, I load Ali up in his wheelchair and let him wade around with his wheels in the shallow water for a few minutes. Then I take him out of his wheelchair and, holding onto his “float coat” (life vest thingy) with one hand and rear harness with the other, I walk him into the water until it is deep enough for him to not touch, and then I toss a tennis ball until he seems like he is getting tired. At first we did this for 10 minutes but I have gradually increased the time to 20 minutes. I always expect him to crash after all that exercise and I need to be careful he does not overdo it, but surprisingly he never seems tired afterwards! Juli says anything that gets his back legs moving is excellent therapy, and swimming is great cardio and good for him psychologically. So that is Plan B. Out with the treadmill, into the river…stay tuned!
Category Archives: Physical Therapy/Rehabilitation
Both Dr. Tieber and Juli were happy with Ali’s progress at his re-check appointment on Friday. Dr. Tieber thinks he definitely has some pain sensation and this is good. She did not seem concerned about the cross extensor reflex. She said this is just a sign of a severe upper motor neuron lesion but does not mean he will not recover motor function. We put him in the underwater treadmill and he did well. When the tank filled up with water and Juli (who was in the tank with Ali) let go of him, he was able to stand with the weight of the water helping him. Although he wasn’t able to walk by himself on the treadmill, his left leg was definitely moving. Juli said he was not strong enough to break through the water on his own, but he was initiating movement and then she would help him complete the arc of a forward step. The right leg is his weaker and though she did not feel it moving she thinks there is “something there.” I am going to bring him back for hydro-therapy appointments once a week moving forward. He will only be in the tank for about 5 minutes each session until he gets stronger. Combined with the exercises we continue to do at home, it is my fervent hope he will continue to improve a little each day. I know he can do it!
I am happy to report that the move went very well! Except for the unfortunate accident I had involving a beer bottle, my wrist, and a lot of blood. No, I wasn’t drunk! I wasn’t even drinking. I swear. I was unloading my van, trying to get Ali’s big orthopedic bed out, when an errant 6-pack started tumbling toward the door (in that weird combination of slow and fast motion). A couple bottles hurtled past me to the ground and smashed in the gutter and in my panicked attempt to keep more from falling somehow I caused another one to crack open and the jagged pieces hit my wrist on the way down. What a mess…glass and beer everywhere (hi, new neighbors)! Once the blood started gushing and I saw where the three main cuts were (one was right in the suicide place, scarily near my vein, and the other was so deep it would more accurately be described as a “gash”), I started to get faint and called my roommate Maggie at work, just so someone would know where I was in case I passed out and bled to death, and she came immediately with our dusty ALDF first aid kit and bandaged me right up. She is awesome!! Why is this relevant to my Ali blog? Well, it was my right wrist and it was really painful (not to mention disgusting) for a couple days and I need both my hands and arms to deal with Ali without hurting us, so it was tricky. But a little over a week later I am completely healed and trying to be much more careful around glass. Although I think I may be accident prone.
To get to the raison d’être of this blog, Ali is doing really well and has settled nicely at our new place in Petaluma. He is using the ramp successfully and the park across the street is very convenient for us. I take him there 3 times a day (2 on work days) to exercise, go potty, and do ten minutes of standing exercises in his cart. He and Rita, Maggie’s dog, are getting along great and I couldn’t ask for a better canine roommate for him right now. She is pretty low key which is good, because he wanted to play immediately when he met her, and when Ali plays he throws his whole body into and even likes to spin around (his infamous “play spins”), so I had to watch him pretty carefully to make sure he did not overexert himself. It has been interesting adjusting to life outside of one room, because of course he sometimes wants to travel from room to room, or greet Maggie and Rita when they come home, and meet new people when they come over. I have to watch him so he does not drag himself, which he definitely was trying to do a lot at first (and still does sometimes) and when he wants to get up I run over and grab him by his Walkabout rear harness (aka his “shepherd handles”), which I leave on him all day until we go to bed, and assist him by lifting his rear legs so he can walk where he wants using his front. The rest of the time he is on one of his beds. Getting to and from work has been a challenge (obviously compared to the convenience of living in my office, ho, ho, ho). Everything takes so much longer, getting him in and out of the car is kind of tricky (and making sure he doesn’t get himself into some weird position while I am driving), but we are getting into the new routine. Last week we were able to join in our first staff dog walk since his surgery over two months ago, which was great. The other dogs were not quite sure what to make of his wheelchair at first, but it didn’t stop Alec from his favorite activity while walking with a group dogs – trying to pull to the head of the pack so he can be the first one in what must appear to onlookers like a dog parade.
I still need to keep his walks short and it’s better for his joints if he walks on grass (hence the park across the street being so convenient), but Juli, his rehab therapist, says eventually he can take long walks in the cart. For now though, she emphasizes that physical therapy is the most important thing I can do with him in the cart, more important than going on walks, and I need to keep doing his exercises throughout the day. She showed me a new exercise where I assist him to sit and then stand several times throughout the day for one minute. She came by last weekend to help with his cart problems and showed me a way to get him to urinate in the cart and it is working so I am very happy about that! Moreover, she believes she see some slight movement at the top of his back legs, where they meet the rest of his body (this is called “proximal motor”). She also believes he has deep pain perception (I pinched his tail once in front of her and she saw him react – the reaction I could not get for the neurologist during our initial re-check exam back in March). Since Juli believes Ali is showing some improvement, she suggested I make an appointment at Animal Care Center with the Dr. Tieber for another re-check. She said because she is not a doctor she can only “assess” Ali’s condition but not “diagnose” and thinks I should get a neurologist’s opinion on what she believes she is observing (i.e. some return of motor function).
After we see the neurologist, Dr. Tieber, we are going to have a rehab appointment with Juli and put Ali in the hydro-therapy tank for the first time. I really hope Dr. Tieber confirms what Juli is seeing. I feel like he is improving too – it seems like I can see his legs moving slightly sometimes in the cart – but I am afraid to get my hopes too far up. Our appointment is on Friday morning. Wish us luck!!!