Thursday, May 30, 2013

NOT another stroke!

On May 28, 2013, I thought I was having another stroke. The last stroke happened on January 13, 2012. So, this was a massive shock.  How could it happen again? Why? Why me? Again?

The day was normal, but I had an episode when I could not remember my last name. I could not read simple emails. I was so disappointed and terrified.  My wonderful wife tried to reassure me even though she rushed to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise

For a surreal 28 hours, I was at St. Al's undergoing tests. Pokes and prodded and given shots.

I had another MRI. Nope. That was not it which is great. During that 45 minute test, "I came back." Whatever happened, I recovered quickly.

Then, I had a "EEG" (electroencephalograph) measures brainwaves of different frequencies within the brain. Electrodes are placed on specific sites on the scalp to detect and record the electrical impulses within the brain. Negative. Also great.

So, what happened? It was not another stroke. It was not an aneurysm. It was not a seizure. So, this is great news!  Basically, “it” was my strokes from last year healing.

But, if that is great news, why am I so nervous? That bad stroke happened at 5:00 am, and 17 months later, I was on the same floor…waiting to see if it might happen again. It did not.

Maybe, I am concerned that the stroke healing will continue in a bad way?  Maybe, I am realizing that I might have another "issue."

One of the great nurses I met when my initial stroke happened 17 months ago was with me yesterday. She knows me. She looked in my eyes, and made me repeat that "I did NOT have a stroke or seizure! Repeat after me! I did NOT have a stroke or a seizure!” 

In a nutshell, she told me something like this is "a pebble in the road of my recovery journey."

I realize all of that. "This is a long road" or "I have the opportunity for a second chance."  Was yesterday a setback or was another opportunity? Two strokes in January last year, and “anomaly” yesterday? Or maybe, “three strikes and you are out?” 
Are these platitudes?

Rationally, I know that. But, this is my life and my reality.  Should I be scared?  Should I be prepared for the worst? So many “maybe’s....”

As I waited for the clock to strike 5:00 am, I thought about the book and movie "Love Story."  The wife in the story died so young.  Remember the first line of the book?  "What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant? That she loved Mozart and Bach, the Beatles."

If I die too early, what would people say about me? I love my wife, Heather, and my beloved son, Ethan, my brothers, the Beatles, my family and friends, mystery novels, old black and white movies, photography, pot roast, and Russian history?

My parents had the luxury to know that they were going to die. That is an odd statement, but they did not leave anything left unsaid. So, for me, what if it happens again? Is this a second or third chance for a wake-up call to prepare that what is inevitable?

17 months. January 13, 2012 and May 29, 2013. What is the next date for my journey? Should I be running from my fate and hiding or living life with gusto?

For me, this thought is raw considering the last 36 hours. So raw.

I will not run. I will live my live to the fullest. Scared? Yup.  But I am so pissed off. God? Fate? Nothing? Whatever! I will beat this in some way. 

I will prepare for the worst, but I will not give up.

As Admiral Farragut proclaimed, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Our son is funny!

Our son is so funny! This is  some random examples:

Yesterday, my son would not pick up his clothes. I admonished him. Exasperated, he said, "Daddy, you are almost like a mom now. Stop it!"

Ethan said, "Dad, you're quite a nerd."

When Ethan wants to pass gas he yells "Dad! I'm going to crack one off!"

When I won the Sacred Heart school board election I told Ethan that I just want to help. Ethan said "Dad! I think the stroke has affected your brain." And then he laughed and laughed.

Today at the Y the attendant told Ethan "are you having fun with your grandpa?" Indignantly, Ethan said, "He is my dad!" 

Ethan said "Dad. Let me introduce you to be quiet." 

My son and I played darts last weekend. I beat him...a lot. Ethan said "Daddy, your stroke helped your game big time!"

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cleopatra and High Plains Drifter!

I love movies. I've always loved movies. Some of my earliest memories were about movies.

In Twin Falls there was an afternoon movie and after school sometimes I would watch old classic movies. When my mom had a day off at work, sometimes we would close the drapes,  make popcorn and watch old black and white movies. "Sorry, Wrong Number" was one of Mom's favorites! 

My dad liked to go to drive-in movies. I have a great memory of Dad making corned beef and cabbage and then taking the stew to the drive-in movie! This way, he would enjoy the meal, his beer, and his Pall Malls….

When my stroke happened, I know that they were concerned about my comprehension. Could I watch a movie? Because I had trouble with reading -- still do -- could I follow plots characters, etc. because they believed that I had to have had memory losses because it's the severity of my stroke, would I be too frustrated to watch a movie or a TV show or news on television?

In those dark days I was so scared that I didn't even think about things like movies, art and books.
Because I was so terrified when the second stroke happened my family and my friends took shifts in the hospital making sure that I wasn't alone.

A great friend of mine who had a mother who had a stroke,  started to read aloud to me. That was a break through. Though I couldn't communicate very well, I followed along and I retained the information.

On Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 5:30, the nurse brought my dinner. The food was surprisingly good at the hospital but I felt that I was getting to be like Pavlov's dog! "Dinner at 5:30!" I digress!

Alone with my dinner, I was secure enough that my friends and my family didn't have to be with me. Actually, I wanted to be alone for the first time.

I decided to watch "High Plains Drifter," an old Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western.

This was a test for me. I was alone. It would be a long movie. I wasn't sure that I could follow the plot. Could I concentrate?
After the movie I realized I could follow everything about the movie. I remembered the actors and actresses. I remember the plot line. 

This was probably a small victory in the scheme of things, but I was so happy.

Even now, 16 months later, that movie is a vivid memory for me. 

Unsure of my future, at least I have movies!  

Yesterday I went to the Regal Cinemas and watched "Cleopatra" on the big screen. This was a one day showing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Cleopatra experience.

I went early just in case that I couldn't get in. There was no problem because they're only two people in the Theater! 

But, alone (almost literally) I watched this classic movie. I relished the experience, my independence, and my love of movies and art.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Is this it? Really....

I joined the YMCA a last week. Part of my recovery is that I need to exercise. I've never really been an exerciser, And through the years I joined several gyms. And then I would get busy and lazy and I didn't go.

But a stroke gives a lot of incentive to work out. Literally it could be life or death.

In the hospital every day they would make me exercise. At that point all of the sessions were for half an hour.

I remember that they would tell me that I had to hop on one leg. That was scary! I could not balance at all.

Then I would ride a stationary bike. The therapist would talk to me about my life. Because I couldn't talk almost at all, I was so frustrated!

I have a full life! I have a son! I have a wonderful wife! I love my brothers! I am the director of a company dealing with construction! I am one of the trustees of the College of Western Idaho!

But in those sessions I don't think the therapist really knew who I was because I couldn't talk. I was a cocoon trapped in my  mind.

The therapists always had to accompany me and they used a belt to make sure that I would not fall. I have the belt as a reminder.

Also they use the Wii Fit program. I could not even do simple yoga.

When I got out of the hospital and I was doing therapy, one of my therapists said that I could lift small weights.

I did some of it but it was very awkward and cumbersome for me. Also my right arm was so sore because I was essentially paralyzed for a while.

Now 16 months later after my stroke, I really want to go work out.

My wife called our neurosurgeon about the possibilities about exercises. At the Y, there is a room set up specifically
to help with strokes and heart attack victims. St. Al's rehab has a great program.

When I met with the gym instructor at the Y, he told me that I needed to have a medical release form. So many forms dealing with my stroke and this is just another one!

Finally the doctor sent the records and the gym instructor told me that I can't do much.

I cannot lift much weight and I cannot exert myself cardio wise.

So why do I have a membership?

The gym instructor told me that I have some options. So he is giving me exercises dealing with an exercise ball and resistance bands. I can  ride the stationary bike also.

So I'm doing that routinely now. I think it is helping me not just physically but psychologically as well.

But it does beg the question. Is this it? Am I so fragile that they are concerned that I will have another stroke?

If I have  a headache I am so paranoid that I will have another stroke. My wife and I want to remodel our backyard. That entails lifting cement  stones. Can I do anything at all?

In the hospital they asked me about my hobbies. Other than working, my hobbies included my family, reading and woodworking.

I can't read anymore to the extent that I want to. And because of my eyesight on my right side, I'm concerned about woodworking. Should I sell my tablesaw and my miter saw?

Am I having to deal with so many limitations that I can't do things that I want to enjoy?

I used to think that my body was failing me physically. Basically I was getting fat and older and lazy. But I could always work out and fix that stuff.

But now I don't think I can fix this. This stroke affected me in so many ways physically. And now psychologically and emotionally as well. Why? Because  it simply pisses me off.

Stroke: The gift that keeps giving....

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Diminished expectations and strokes?

When a stroke happens, it usually takes time to realize allthat is lost.  You have to deal with your recovery first: therapy, doctor’s appointments, family pressures (there is alot of pressures for caregivers and the stroke survivors), and health issues.

At that time, you do not think about what your future holds other than getting better and short term financial pressures. What about disability insurance and social security? Do you have those resources?

When my stroke happened, I was dazed and confused. My wife had to deal with all of that “stuff:” Taking care of me, my son, financials, appointments, etc. She was – and is – a god send.

But, time passes. You get better every day. “Every day” is relative: I still cannot read and write very well, and I have moments of melancholy and depression. I struggle with my emotions sometimes, but that is understandable considering what happened to me.  

When you emerge from your stroke, it goes in phases. You emerge and you think that you are alive. You emerge and you are grateful to have family and friends for a support system. 

Then you think about work and if you can ever work again. What is my future? Everyone calls and offers support, but months go by. You do not want to be a victim, and you do not want to dwell on the stroke and the aftermath. You sometimes want to be alone and in seclusion.

Finally, when you are secure that you will not die, you start to think about life before and after. It seems ungrateful to think about material possessions. You should be happy to just to be alive. Life is gravy after a stroke. So, when you dream again, is it ungrateful to think that you might want a vacation, a new TV, or a car?  I've always wanted to have a 1961 Lincoln Continental with suicide doors. But I don't think that will happen now. What about retirement? Hmmmm.....

What happens emotionally when people raise money for you, and now I want “things?” Material things? I feel so guilty sometimes when I want things.  

I always assumed that I would have a great job. I always wanted to go to Europe. We wanted to travel. We wanted to make sure that our son had the opportunity to go to a great university.

Is this it? It seems that when you have a stroke, you do not think about things like that until you get “settled.” Do I have a “settle-forlife?” At 50, then 51, and now 52, will have a life of diminished expectations?

Even now, I have trouble reconciling my fate. Is that ungrateful? Is it expected? Is this the process of recovery and grieving? 

I just do not know.