Monday, December 4, 2017

"Justice League" and Memories

I started to blog in June of 2008 mainly as a sort of a diary to keep my memories of my son. I knew that time would pass to quickly. And it has. I wrote this post on June 18, 2008 with this photo:

“Though Ethan is expressing his individuality and independence -- often proclaiming "I can do it myself" or "I need my privacy" or "I want to ride down the street alone," there are times when he is a daddy's boy and wants nothing more than to curl up in my lap. There's really nothing better than that, and I know the years will rush by. I'm enjoying these special moments as I can.”
That sentiment has not changed despite the years. As he approaches his teen years, I relish the special moments we share.
On Saturday, my son and I spent the day doing just stuff. We both got haircuts. Our wonderful barber mentioned that Ethan is getting taller every time he gets a haircut.  He is 12 years old and about 5’5”. 
Of course we all laughed that his haircut takes a long time because he has really thick hair unlike his dad.
After that, we had lunch together. Simply have a quiet lunch with my son made me sentimental. He chatted about school, hinted about girls (not too much because I am just the dad), friends, dreams, his interests, music, etc. I often grinned when he would make an irreverent comment.  After lunch, he rated the cheeseburger and fries. “It was a 7 Dad.”

When we got the check, I asked him if he had any money. “Dad. I paid the tab for you, Mom and me on Black Friday using my lawn mowing money. Do not push your luck!” And he laughed. I paid. 
That afternoon, we saw the movie “Justice League.”  As we do rating his cheeseburgers and fries, we rate previews and the actual movies. The scale is the proverbial “Up or Down” plus “1 to 10.”

That rating system has been in place almost 6 years.
After my strokes when it was difficult for me to speak at all, Ethan avoided me. Starting to see movies together helped with our healing process. My wife would drop us off because I could not drive. In the darkness of the movie theater our raw feeling of loss started to heal. I did not have to talk. Often, Ethan would hold my hand.  "Everything is find Dad."
After the movie on Saturday, we headed home. He went upstairs to his room, and I followed. I hugged him saying, “Ethan! Thank you for hanging out with me today. We did really do anything other than just being together.”
He hugged be back, and said, “I really love you, Dad.”
I went downstairs feeling really emotional and teary eyed. He yelled from his room when I was on the stairs, “Dad! Everything is fine.”
Perhaps this blog post seems pretty “oh hum.” Just an ordinary day.  Yet, it was everything to me.  When you almost lose everything, nothing is ordinary.

On the cusp of being 13 years old in January, Ethan is exploring is his world and dreaming of his future. Wait for me Ethan! Hold on!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Burger King Grudges and Christmas

I went to Burger King today, December 1, 2017.

I had a "Whopper." Nothing happened.

So, why do a blog post about it? Well, this was the first time I went to that specific Burger King on Overland and Orchard in Boise, ID since Christmas Eve in 1974.

The difference is 15,683 days.

On Christmas Eve Day in 1974, my brother took me to that Burger King. It was supposed to be a quick lunch because we are finishing last minute Christmas shopping. After that, we drove to our dad's house, the trouble started to "brew."

In other words, both of us got food poisoning. It was a Whopper!

I remember moaning for a couple of days.

Our mother was the champion of grudges. I had a grudge against Burger King for decades.

Nevertheless, it might be another 15,683 days for me to have another Whopper again.

I am my mom's son after all. Grudges, food poisonings when you are 13 years old, and ruining my Christmas still reverberates through the years.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


Today my wife and I had lunch at a popular restaurant. I asked the waiter where the restrooms were located.

It seems pretty simple.

I had an Instant flashback about when I could not go to the bathroom alone.

When I got out of the hospital it was on my son’s 7th birthday. We went to a restaurant and my son took me to the restroom. I was scared. I had no concept signs or gender. My son guided me to the “men’s room.”

Because of my aphasia, I did not even comprehend the alphabet, men’s, women’s, etc.

Several months later, I went to a local restaurant. I was so confused and I went into the wrong restroom. I was so embarrassed and I didn’t tell my wife for several months.

Three times, I peed in the sink rather than in the urinal. I only noticed when I realize that I was washing my hands where I just peed.

Those early days after my strokes were humbling in general. Losing your sense of self is tough. Agonized about the embarrassment of not knowing how to go to the bathroom.

It’s been almost 6 years and I’ve come along way. And I’m still embarrassed.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Airports and Aphasia

In my career I used to travel all over the nation. Navigating airports, freeways and my hectic life was second nature. In October I had to travel three times. I went to the New York City, Denver and Las Vegas.

It’s like my old days. And I do not miss it.
Practically, the condition of Aphasia is difficult to understand. There are many types aphasia.

Right after my strokes, looking at gates in airports stumped to me.

For example, this photo of a random gate “B 18” seems relatively simple. However, aphasia manifests itself in different ways.
“B 18” did not register in my brain first. I could not understand numbers or letters. Just symbols to me with no cognitive correlation.

In addition, “B 18” could be unrecognizable for some aphasia survivors. Instead of seeing a letter and a number you might just see an unrecognizable distortion in your field of vision.

I could not drive after my stroke for several reasons. My brain was in a fog and my reaction times made me too scared to be on the road.
In addition, simple reading of highway signs what’s the problem. When you could not even understand your name, the concept of reading a highway sign such as “Speed Limit 40” is dangerous. My brain didn’t connect to the images on signs.

I am grateful that I can drive again and happy that I can function like I do considering my aphasia.

This is the reason that I am getting better: Neuroplasticity is the change in neural pathways and synapses that occurs due to certain factors, like behavior, environment, or neural processes. During such changes, the brain engages in synaptic pruning, deleting the neural connections that are no longer necessary or useful, and strengthening the necessary ones.

It seems my brain has recovered enough that I can deal with my aphasia, read and drive.

Monday, November 6, 2017

God’s plan for me?

Today I went to Saint Alphonsus Hospital have lunch with a fellow stroke survivor and two wonderful people who work at the hospital. One is a nurse and the other one is a speech therapist.

Both of them are saints in my eyes.

The speech therapist told me that a 35-year-old man just had a stroke and has aphasia like me.
After lunch, we visited him with his speech therapist, his fiancé and his parents.

His dad commented that he read a poster about me. I forgot that there is a poster of me on the rehab floor.

The basic reason for the poster is to give people some hope. I agreed to do the poster just because I wanted to let people know that there’s always hope.

Is fitting that I have lunch with a stroke survivor and his wife who visited me in my hospital room five and half years ago. I thought my life is over. They really comforted me during those dark days. He said that God has a plan for me and it might be giving hope to stroke survivors. And I agreed.

We both talked about giving back and being useful. I actually said that when I have dark days where I just want to crawl into a hole and hide, I realize that I cannot.

I am grateful that I have the ability to reach people and use my strokes story.
Was it a coincidence that 10 minutes later I found out about this new stroke survivor?

I do not think it was a coincidence.

When I met the stroke survivor today, I could see in his eyes the loss. He seemed scared which is completely understandable.

We chatted and I basically said that I could not talk at all after my strokes. I sad that every stroke is different but you will get better.

Perhaps this is God’s plan for me.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A deleted life

Recently I got a new cell phone. Changing my phone led me to update a lot of information including contacts and “frequently called numbers.”

On my phone I had several “ favorite” cell phone numbers. I had my my wife, my brothers, my sisters in law, and Heather’s relatives.

But I also had several close friends that I used to call all of the time.
We don’t call each other anymore.

I just deleted those favorite numbers. It’s interesting when a life-changing event happens and your priorities change.

I did add my son to my favorite list. That makes me feel old!

I also updated my huge contact list. Honestly, there are many contacts who are dead. My contact list goes back at least 25 years.

In addition to deleting those souls, I am deleting professional contacts that are not useful to me anymore.

It is interesting to go through your past. Were they even worth it before my strokes? It’s all about priorities. Mine have changed.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Headaches and pin cushions

For about three weeks I’ve had pretty severe headaches. Since my strokes 5 1/2 years ago, I’m pretty in tune with all aches and pains. In particular, when I get headaches I get pretty focused.

Nevertheless, I just assumed that the headaches were caused by too much stress. The only thing that would take the pain away would be a Norco. And even that would basically dull the pain but not take it away.

When I had my strokes, I had a very consistent pain. My left temple throbbed and I had right side vision auras.

These recent headaches have been completely different. I would note the severity and the locations of these headaches just to make sure I wasn’t having another stroke.

In those three weeks, I only had two days with no pain. At my Idaho Aphasia Support Group last Wednesday, I told the group about the headaches. I also told the group that my wife said many times that “ given your history of strokes and seizures don’t I think it would be wise to check it out?” I always responded saying that these headaches were different so I wasn’t concerned.

At the support group, a stroke survivor — a woman of course! — essentially said, “Just like a man! What is wrong with you! Listen to your wife!”

I told my wife about the support group, and she laughed replying “ Women are always right.”

Finally, I went to the ER last Tuesday because the headaches we’re not getting better, and I finally realized that I needed to “check it out.”

Back to Saint Alphonsus Hospital again. The doctor remembered me because he ordered an MRI for me a couple years ago. When a doctor remember you it is somewhat embarrassing.

I described all of my symptoms and he ordered a CT scan rather than an MRI. Getting a CT scan should be simple. However, I have “bad veins.” We always ask for the best vampire in the hospital. It seems they can never find a vein or my veins “roll” or “blow.”

This was the same. Three different nurses, an hour and a half to find a suitable vein, and many tries and bruises just to do a simple three minute procedure.

I was chatting with one of the three nurses or maybe the doctor about my veins. Because I have this congenital condition called fibromuscular dysplasia which affects my arteries, I asked if that condition might cause the collapsing veins.

They simply don’t know. Nevertheless my arms now look like pin cushions.

Five hours later, the results were in: headaches we’re not caused by any further brain damage. That is great news!

On the other hand, we still need to figure out what is causing the headaches. Since we got the results of the CT scan, headaches have been better. Perhaps the headaches were a self fulfilling prophecy: I was getting more headaches and I got headaches worrying about it.

It is a conundrum.