Mike Learns to See Positive

Published Friday, February 17, 2006

In July of 2001, Mike Thieman, a fifty-three year old Pitt Meadows Harley Davidson enthusiast, took a break in his kitchen after a motorcycle ride. Mike began to “feel funny” and his right arm and leg fell asleep. Mike decided to wait the odd sensation out, so he sat watching the minutes tick by on the clock. After ninety minutes with no change he called his wife Teresa.

Mike clearly explained the situation to his wife. Teresa, however, did not hear the clear version that Mike heard in his head, but a slurred version. Teresa told Mike to call an ambulance. He was convinced he could wait it out but called for help.

Mike, who had never been admitted into a hospital before, assumed he would walk out and go home the next day, that he was just experiencing a temporary problem. It would be six months before Mike would leave the hospital system and when he did leave he would not be walking out.

Mike had had a cerebral hemorrhage, a stroke. The right side of his body and the left side of his face were paralyzed.

Mike was transferred to Eagle Ridge Hospital where he worked extensively with a rehabilitation team who “taught me things I had previously taken for granted, things I had to relearn to do in new ways”.

Mike’s speech was slurred and often indecipherable. His daughter was the first to understand his speech and translated his words for others. He attributes her ability to understand him when no one else could to the fact that he was the first to understand her as a toddler. “She was just returning the favour,”  he said. Mike worked for months with a speech therapist to improve the clarity of his speech.

Being right handed Mike had to learn to make his left side the dominant side of use. He worked with the rehabilitation team to adjust to the new realities of his body.

After five months of rehab Mike went home. Mike immediately began to think of ways to occupy his time, making allowances for his body’s new reality. Knowing that he was unable to walk or to balance a regular bicycle because of ataxia, the loss of balance that followed his stroke, Mike bought a trike from Maple Ridge Cycles. He uses it as often as possible, weather permitting, often going for rides of 10km or more. Mike also creates woodworking projects by using a Driemel Twist Saw which requires the use of only his left hand.

The adjustment to life after his stroke was long, hard, and full of frustrations. Mike had to sell his motorcycles, leave his job of eighteen years, learn to depend on others for things he once did independently, and learn to let go and grieve for the person he was before the stroke so that he could move forward with his life. It was hard not to dwell on the negative but with the support of family and friends Mike learned to move forward, to keep busy, and to not take anything for granted.

Mike also found, and continues to find, comfort, friendship, and understanding at the weekly meetings of the Ridge Meadows Stroke Recovery Program. The group meets to have fun, to listen to guest speakers, to enjoy therapeutic activities, and most importantly to meet with others who understand the shared experience and frustrations of recreating a life after a stroke.

The Stroke Recovery Program meets every Friday at the Ridge Meadows Seniors’ Activity Centre. For more information call 604.462.0380 or visit www.strokerecoverybc.ca