Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Bond. James Bond."

In college, I was introduced to philosophy and psychology. Freud and "Ego, the Id, and the Super Ego." The fundamental notion that "l think, therefore I am" by Rene Descartes.

But, what happens when you do not know your name? If you do not know your name, the word "Mark" is nothing. And, "Dunham?" What is a "Dunham."

When my stroke happened, "I could think, therefore I as was a conscious being" but I had no clue about my name.

"Bond. James Bond." I could have been named James Bond for all I knew.

In the hospital, everyone was telling me that "I am Mark Dunham. Mark Patrick Dunham." I had no reason to doubt my family, friends, doctors, and therapist, but I was not capable to understand the connection between language, letters, and my name.

I could not conceive what the alphabet was even if I could understand my name.

In the initial days of my therapy, the therapists would firmly try to connect the dots. What is the "alphabet?" What do those symbols mean? Before I could think about my name, I had to remember letters.

Those early frustrating days when I could remember "A" and "Z" but nothing in between. At the same time, the therapist were trying to connect me with anything. Over and over they would say "comb, hammer, tooth brush, etc." Days passed. Over and over.

This was one the hardest things I have ever experienced.

I cried because I could not say, express, and remember my families names. I blocked out my name. All I wanted to do was to remember "Heather" and "Ethan." I realized that they were my wife's and my son's names, but the concept of the "letters" of "Heather or Ethan" were simply gone.

One day when I cried, I begged one of the therapists to print flash cards saying "Heather and Ethan."

I practiced a lot, and I realized in my head that "H, E, A" had common letters.

Then, the "comb" and the "hammer" struck a chord in me. My dad had a black comb. My brothers and my grandfathers were carpenters.

It was fuzzy at best, but it was a glimmer of hope for me. "Heather. Ethan. Dad. Comb. Hammer. Brothers." Letters. Words. Concepts.

It was so slow going. ABCD.....XYZ. Filling in the blanks. Over months.

"Mark." What is a "Mark." I should have had a better name!

Just a glimmer. "I AM Mark Dunham." My identity is "Mark Dunham."

As the months progressed, I remembered the alphabet in stages. Even know, the letters "P" and "K" are odd to me. It took me months to comprehend "Patrick," my middle name. I walk a lot, and say over and over "Mark Dunham" and the alphabet.

It is getting so much better.

But, numbers are a different story! Or a different blog post.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hospital smells and pot roast!

My son hated the hospital. I did not like it either, but that is another story! My son said that the smell was awful among other reasons.

The smell was awful.

The soap was "medical." And, because it was the hospital, that soap was everywhere. Before my stroke, I remembered that soap when I had to go to my doctor. I remembered that I thought this odor was obnoxious, and I scrubbed off the offending soap as soon as I could.

The stroke was bad enough but I could not stand their soap! And, because I could not communicate, I could not tell anyone what was bothering me about the soap. Of course, that is trivial considering that I had enough to worry about, but the smell was so bad.

I have described about my communication deficits, but who knew that I had a communication smell deficit as well! When you cannot communicate, you cannot describe in words about smells and tastes. Think about that? I did not.

There are some "apps" that stroke survivors use to help with descriptions when they cannot speak. Emotions, pain, tastes, smells, etc. I used some of those apps until I could communicate better.

But, just like a song that brings you back to a instance of your life, a smell can make a memory. A pot roast reminds me of my dad. A chocolate milk shake reminds me of my mom.

The soap that hospitals and doctors' offices use routinely is "standard" I guess.

For 18 days, I had to deal with their soap. My wife knew that something was bugging me. Finally, she had a "aha!" moment! She something like "Is the soap bothering you?"


So, my wonderful wife got soap from home for me to use.

I had a routine doctor's appointment the other day, and that bad soap was everywhere! It instantly flooded me with memories of the hospital.

All in all, I would rather have pot roast....

Friday, March 8, 2013



Mark Dunham, the former head of the Idaho Association of General Contractors, has had an eventful year. Until January 2012, Dunham was hard at work preparing for the coming legislative session, working on issues such as pre-lien notices and support for the health care exchange. He has served as a board member for the College of Western Idaho since its inception in 2007, and holds many other volunteer positions.

On Jan. 10, Dunham’s work was halted by a devastating stroke that hit him early in the morning at home. Three days later, he had another one. He spent 18 days in the hospital, and when he came out, he had to re-learn how to talk and overcome other physical and cognitive difficulties.

The stroke has changed Dunham’s world. In June, he left the AGC, and in December he joined Risch Pisca as a lobbyist. In December, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter appointed him as a commissioner to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association. Dunham takes things more slowly nowadays, and much more thoughtfully. Idaho Business Review talked to Dunham about how the stroke affected him personally and professionally.


It’s interesting. All of the doctors and therapists and my family and my friends ask that. Often, peoples’ personalities change. They get mad easily, or they are very subdued. So all of the doctors and therapists would always ask, ‘Are you fine emotionally?’ For me, physically I am just fine. They tested all that emotional stuff, they tested my memory because of the severity of my stroke, they knew that I should have had a lot of memory losses, and I didn’t. So I’m very, very grateful.

But emotionally I am different. I guess I never really thought about my mortality until the strokes happened, I took a lot of things for granted. I have a great family, my wife and son, but until you almost lose them, you don’t realize how you take things for granted, like working late and traveling extensively for work. I want to be with my family and friends more.

I have three older brothers. We were close, but we didn’t talk or see each other very much because we had different paths with work. When my stroke happened, it galvanized my relationships with my brothers. My brothers were there at the hospital every day. They supported me.


I was a multi-tasker before that was the term. I was so busy with the CWI and lobbying
and AGC and I was on some boards. I took for granted that I could do everything. I never thought that I couldn’t do something. I was very aggressive, I was very sure of myself, so this was a wakeup call for me to realize that I am subject to the same limitations as everybody else. Now, when I need to write or express my thoughts, it’s a conscious effort. It used to just flow. Now, apart from my professional work, I now want to educate people. I believe that I can make a difference by speaking about strokes. Maybe I can help by giving voice about my stroke in laymen’s terms.


A neuroscientist named Jill Bolte Taylor had a massive stroke and wrote a book about it
called, “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.” Everybody gave me a copy of that book. The problem was, I couldn’t read. But Sen. Elliott Werk, his wife is a physician who specializes in brain injury rehabilitation, delivered a copy of that book on CD rom for me to listen to.

My friends did a huge fundraiser for me. You take disability insurance for granted, but
without that, our finances would have been ruined. Imagine you are trying to recover from the stroke, you are devastated physically and emotionally, and they are telling you that you probably can never work again because of the severity of the stroke. After the strokes, I lay awake a lot. If you have no money for your family and you still have to deal with the physical impacts of the stroke and recovery, what do you do? This was new to us; I had always assumed I could keep working.

I had 500 people turn out for the fundraiser. I couldn’t believe how many people cared enough to help. Alex LaBeau from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry said to me, “Mark, you’re lucky. You get to attend your own funeral, and you didn’t even die.”


My right arm was partially paralyzed, a loss that is not visible now. I have some vision issues. The stroke caused loss of all communication. But by the following June, I could do Power Points again. I was asked to do my presentation for a stroke support group at Saint Al’s, and one of my slides is about how lonely a stroke is. Imagine being trapped in your body, you can’t talk, you couldn’t write, you are devastated emotionally, you are so scared, you think you’re going to die, and even if the doctors and your family tell you you’ll be OK, you’re not sure. My Power Point showed how terrifying the stroke was.

I got out of hospital on Jan. 27, on my son’s 7th birthday. On Monday I went to see my therapist for the first time, and they told me that first day that I was covered for 20 visits. My wife talked to them, because I couldn’t. She said, “20 visits?” They said, “That’s pretty standard.”

It doesn’t matter if you have a massive stroke, you usually get 20 sessions. If you have a knee injury, you get 20 sessions. That is crazy. So far, I’ve had about 240 sessions.


I talk about what happened to me. I say, “Before,” and then I talk about my career and my family, and then I talk about the stroke. I talk about the signs of stroke.

The cause of my stroke wasn’t high blood pressure, it wasn’t a lifestyle, I didn’t smoke. I have never smoked a cigarette, ever. I drank some beer. I was very healthy. My point is, certainly, I want to caution about lifestyle changes and you should be healthy, but for me, it was because I was so healthy that I wasn’t paying attention.

I can talk about preventive measures, I can talk about recovery, I can talk about support groups, I can talk about options for therapy. I can talk about insurance reform. There’s a big story to tell. Maybe I am the conduit.


My doctors and my family are concerned that I am doing too much too soon because I
need to take my recovery slowly. I am continuing with my therapy. So, I am not “working,” but I am lobbying primarily on the Transportation and Economic Development Zone plan. I am doing some things with education. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I attend some legislative sessions, but I concentrate on my therapy and living.

I am still very driven. I would be incredibly bored if I weren’t doing something, and I want to make a difference. Making a difference for me is lobbying, and working with the CWI trustees. I want to help students.

I need to make a difference.

I am still formulating my role in life now, but I need to realize that I am a changed man in so many ways. I am just grateful that I have a second chance in life.