Saturday, June 21, 2014

Stroke, Rote learning, and TV remotes!

When I was a child the first time I saw a TV remote I was mesmerized. I was shocked that you didn't have to walk to the TV to change a channel. This was in the late 60s.

When I bought my first TV when I was about 20, the cost to have a TV with a remote was very expensive. 

Fast forward to today's TVs and remotes, it is a given to have a TV remote. TVs, technology, and remotes are expected. They "are" like air and water. Working a TV remote is "rote."

Definition of "Rote:  1 : The use of memory usually with little intelligence; learn by rote.”

It is a very simple yet obscure word. When you have a stroke, the meaning of rote -- "memory usually with little intelligence" -- doesn't tell the whole story.

The first inkling I had about my stroke that early morning when it happened, I could not turn on the TV with the remote.

"How odd," I thought! I used a TV remote thousands of times before. When the stroke happened, the fact that I could not use the TV remote was a sobering first clue that I was having a stroke.

Tried and tried to get it to work. A television remote is rote until the complicated maneuvers made no sense in the midst of my stroke.

When my second stroke happened (in the hospital three days after the first stroke) my TV remote was a clue for me. I could not operate the TV remote even though I was getting better in the hospital. And then "BAM!," I had a massive stroke. Was paralyzed and I could not get to the call button to alert the nurse. I laid helplessly watching TV until they found me.

After that second stroke when I was in the hospital for two weeks, the hospital TV remote was very simple. However, it took me several days to figure out the simple TV remote until it became rote.

When I came home, I was nervous about that TV remote -- the intial scene of the crime as it were! I was very apprehensive to see if I could figure out that damn TV remote.

And I could not. I would try to change channels and I just volume, but I got so confused and angry.

My wife was very patient trying to explain how to use the TV remote. Over and over, I practiced and tell it became rote.

Simple tasks like using a TV remote when you have a stroke is mind boggling. Pun intended! 

Rote is an obscure term until you have a stroke. The brain tries to make new pathways: TV remotes, personal grooming, cooking, driving, having relationships, adjusting to not working again, etc. 

When the fog clears in your head when you have a brain injury, the mind takes over. Rote is the way the brain helps an individual to recover. When the haze clears in your brain, a TV remote is so commonplace that you don't have to think about rote. It just "is".

I'm going full circle. I am channel surfing just like I was that awful morning when I could not figure out my TV remote.

It's good and bad. I am channel surfing a lot. Because I can. The problem is I'm watching too much TV.

Because I can!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Anonymous Blogsphere and my strokes!

It is hard to believe that my strokes happened almost two and a half years ago. Sometimes, it is a distant reality. However, most of the time, this is a vivid and startling reality even now. When I wake up in the morning, I have to realize that this is NOT a dream.

So, how am I doing? It depends. I continue to be grateful for my recovery. Every day, I know that it could have been so much worse. On the other hand, I still have invisible deficits.

I participate in many stroke support groups because, until you have a stroke, no one can really understand the ramifications of strokes, recovery, and deficits.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute have insightful information about “Life After a Stroke.” Their website is

The intro says The time it takes to recover from a stroke varies—it can take weeks, months, or even years. Some people recover fully, while others have long-term or lifelong disabilities.

Ongoing care, rehabilitation, and emotional support can help you recover and may even help prevent another stroke.

If you’ve had a stroke, you’re at risk of having another one. Know the warning signs of a stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA) and what to do if they occur. Call 9–1–1 as soon as symptoms start.

Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room. During a stroke, every minute counts.”

For me, here are some of the issues I confront everyday:

“Medicines to help you recover from a stroke or control your stroke risk factors.” I take medications to control stroke and seizure risk factors.

“Need to take anticoagulants, also called blood thinners. These medicines prevent blood clots from getting larger and keep new clots from forming.” I take blood thinners.

“Easy bruising.” I bruise so easily now.

“Trouble communicating after a stroke. You may not be able to find the right words, put complete sentences together, or put words together in a way that makes sense.” My biggest frustration is aphasia. Aphasia is an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write. To understand aphasia, here are Aphasia Simulations that are helpful:

A stroke may affect only one side of the body or part of one side. It can cause paralysis (an inability to move) or muscle weakness, which can put you at risk for falling.  My right arm was paralyzed for a time, but I am lucky that it got better. However, I still have issues with balance sometimes and my right peripheral vision is affected. So depth perception is an issue.

“After a stroke, you may have changes in your behavior or judgment. For example, your mood may change quickly. Because of these and other changes, you may feel scared, anxious, and depressed. Recovering from a stroke can be slow and frustrating. Really? Of course this is awful for the most part. Stroke survivors would love to get their lives back. However, life is not fair, and we have to make the most of life though it is different.  
Part of my therapy and my “outlet” for frustration is my blog. I try to make a difference though I realize sometimes it is far too personal. It is odd that I am a private person, however, it seems that a blog is anonymous which is ridiculous!  In the blogsphere, my blog is forever and NOT anonymous.

I will continue blogging for my sanity and, hopefully to help other people. 

For those who are reading my blog, who are you? Why are you interested? Where are you from? I would love to know. However, I understand that concept of "Anonymous Blogsphere!"

Friday, June 13, 2014

Strokes and father's

I was lucky to have two fathers: My “real” dad and my stepfather. When I think of Father’s Day, I have several examples of a “father.”

My Dad was a complicated individual. Even though I lived with my dad for 8 years, I did not really know him. Sometimes, the memories are great. Often, the memories are nonexistent or bad because I was scared of him. Perhaps that was normal because he was the disciplinarian.

When my parents were divorced and Dad moved to Boise, several weekends a year and during the summers, Dad and I were forced to have a relationship. There were some rough patches in those early days, but I found out that I loved my Dad.

Even now, when I make scrambled eggs, watching cartoons, BBQ’ing, etc, I think of my Dad. He became like a great wonderful older brother to me.

My step father was my “real” father. When my mom married my step father, I was 8 years old. The comparing of fathering styles was evident. My dad used a belt to enforce his rules. My stepfather, on the other hand, was so calming and reasoned when he had cause to discipline me.  

A belt was a harsh punishment, but it made me resentful. For my stepfather, all he had to say, “You let me down, and I am disappointed.” His words were more punishing than my dad’s belt.  

However, I realized later that my mother married two wonderful men who were similar in many ways. They were very intelligent and incredibly smart, irreverent, quick witted, successful, devoted to their families, selfless, compassionate, etc.

Though different in many ways, I realized now that they were more similar than I ever knew. Mom had great tastes in husbands!

When my second massive stroke happened January 13, 2012, my dad had been dead for 18 years. However, when the hospital staff was rushing me to have another MRI, I distinctly heard my dad saying, “Mark Patrick, you will be fine. I love you. You will be fine.” Though confused and scared, my dad was with me.

After that stroke, my parents arrived from Twin Falls. Mom and Karl, held me tight and said, “You will be fine. We love you.” They passed away 10 months after my strokes.

Often I tell people, I had three great parents. My three parents helped me during what was the worst day of my life. I am grateful for them.

I was blessed to have two great dads. On Father’s Day, I will remember them with love. I think of them every day.

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Growing up in the 70's, usually I had a great sun tan. No sunscreen at all. I remember getting a base burn followed by baby oil.  

Also I had blonde hair and blue eyes. So I was predisposed to have skin cancer. I've had surgery for skin cancer and I've had countless appointments with my dermatologist freezing off skin cancer issues just to be safe. 

This week I had a check up, and they froze off a lot of concerning skin cancer issues. Only three stitches today! I thought I was bulletproof. Now sunscreen is my friend!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

"Mad Men" and little boys

I have rarely watched “Mad Men.” I do not have the time, and sometimes, the story set in the 60’s is sad for me.

I was born in 1961. When I was born, it was a simpler time. By the end of the decade, everything was different. The world was different.
Assassinations. Political upheavals. Vietnam. Czechoslovakia. I remember being scared about the world.

Personally, it was a difficult time also. My parents got divorced when I was 8. My dad moved from Twin Falls to Boise. Our last Christmas in our shattered family was December 25, 1969. We opened Christmas presents, and when we were finished, our dad drove way in that morning in his Buick station wagon.  

My world crumbled.

This morning, I happened to watch “Mad Men” and the episode when Don Draper and his wife told their kids they would be divorcing was awful to watch. It was also at Christmas time. Their little boy was about 8 years old, and he sobbed. He held his dad tightly. The scene dissolved with the dad and son crying softly together.   

When I watched that episode of “Mad Men” today, I thought about I good friend of mine who got divorced last year. His 9 year old son is moving out of state with his mom. It is devastating, and when I watched “Mad Men” today about divorcing parents, I ached for my friend and his son.

I often think about my dad that foggy Christmas morning. Driving to Boise and checking into the Thunderbird Hotel which is now the BSU College of Business building. That afternoon when he was unpacking his few belongings, what did he do?  I often think about mom also.

My parents were heart broken. They were broken. They were worried about their kids. They were trying to deal with their own personal demons and fears. There were no winners that Christmas.

Now that I am 53, I have years of experience. I wish I could talk to my parents. How did they cope really, trying to keep it together? They did the best that they could. But was it enough? Were they too selfish? Or, was it better that they got divorced? Our wonderful stepfather made a difference in our lives.

What is the legacy they left? Four boys they loved desperately. They were scarred until they died. So too, I was scared and scarred. Perhaps, I still am. What was the effect on my brothers? We are all driven to succeed. Who knows?

The scarring perhaps manifested in my driven nature. I had to get great grades. I had to get a great job. I had to be successful. I had to make a difference. Throughout my career, I have made a difference. I have plaques and I have a trophy wall. Is that enough?

Even now since my strokes, I still try to make a difference. Yesterday, I participated in the American Heart and Stroke Association “Heart Walk.” I am on the Board of the Association. A friend of mine who is also works at St. Al’s posted a Facebook photo about me saying I'm so inspired by this guy! No stroke could keep him down - he's a fighter!! Thanks Mark for all you do for our community, and for your help educating the public about the warning signs of stroke.”

That is so nice. But not really deserved. I do want to help spread the word about strokes. If my trophy wall, my awards, my success, and my “name” will help, I will continue trying to make a difference in the world.

However, I wonder if my 8 year old self on that dismal Christmas of 1969, explains who and why about me? That scared little boy in 1969 became the 53 year old man I have become.

I think of my friend and his son. I think of my dad in the Thunderbird Hotel. I think of my 8 year old self. I think about my 9 year old son a lot. What is my legacy to him?  Awards. Elections won. Plaques.  Whatever.  

Being a great dad is the honor that means the most to me.

I wonder a lot about life, damage, and wonderful possibilities.

 Just life I guess.