Monday, April 20, 2015

Strokes and Dads

The other day, I was talking with my 10 year old son about my childhood. He is getting more mature. The nuances of life make him ask questions about my life and our ancestors.

He asked about when I was 10 years old like him. “Where did you live? What did you do every day? Who were your friends? What were your interests?”

He does have some information, but now he genuinely wants to know.

During the drive, I drove him past my dad’s mobile home.

“Your dad lived there?” he said surprised.  

“Yup,” I replied. 

Mark and Stan Dunham! New Mobile Home in 1971
When I was 8 years old, my parents got divorced. We were in Twin Falls, Idaho, but my dad moved to Boise after that because he get a job promotion. Your Grandma remarried and we lived in Twin Falls. However, my dad bought a mobile home. At the point, that was all he could afford.”

My son asked, “Did you see your dad much.”

I said, “After the divorce, I actually had a much closer relationship this my dad. I did not really know him because he worked all of the time. After the divorce and when Dad moved to Boise, I spent weekends with him a lot. I would ride the bus from Twin Falls to Boise. During the summer, I would spend several weeks in Boise with Dad even the he was working.”

“Wow!” our son exclaimed. “When you were alone, what did you do? Were you scared?”

Twin Falls, ID Bus Depot 
I laughed and said, “Well, there was no cable TV so I could watch three channels on a black and white TV. Or I read. A lot! During bus rides and when Dad was working, I read the ‘Hardy Boys.’ I also drew a lot. I would draw alien worlds or cityscapes. I could not go outside because of safety.”

Our son asked about “What did you eat? Could you use the microwave?”

I laughed again!  “Hmmmm. No! When I was a kid, no one had microwaves. The stone age!”   

Incredulous, he asked, “What did you eat?”

I smiled. “I learned to cook when I pretty small. Not just soup. Full blown dinners. I would make dinner for Dad! I loved to cook. Even now. After the strokes, I was so upset anyway, but I dismayed that I believed I could never cook again.”

He asked, “Where you lonely?”

“Good question,” I said. “Maybe? But I did not think about it. This was my life. I grew up really fast, but I am grateful. I had a sense of independence because I had responsibilities young in life. I did not know any difference.”

Our son raised his eyebrows and said, “Mmmm. Wow.” And then he changed the subject.  

I love that my son and I talk about mature things. Because of my strokes, he has grown up too fast also like me. I am proud of him. Sometimes I sense that he is also lonely like I was. He is funny, smart, and gregarious. But, sometimes when I watch him, I see him looking off in the distance. Sometimes he seems distant. Wonder what he in thinking? What will be his future given his parents and my medical issues?

In an old blog post, I referenced a comment about me. When I was 24 four years old, I friend of mine said “You have an old soul.” I am concerned that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

When my dad was dying, in the hospital, Dad said, “I worked too much. I thought that providing for my family was just making a good living. I realized later, being a good dad was not just about the money. It was being present. If you ever have a son, Mark, please be involved in every way.”

I think of my dad every day. When my son and I have discussions like my dad living in a “trailer,” I am happy that my dad and I became close in that 60' x 12' trailer.

Yes, I grew up fast like my son:  “Like father, like son.” Yet, I am thankful that my dad and I had such a special relationship where we talked about everything in our shared lives. Hope my relationship with my son will grow like with my dad and me.  

I think my strokes were a blessing disguise. I am a stay at home dad now. My dad would be proud. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Aphasia? You can't be just a little bit pregnant!

After my strokes three years ago, I remember one of my many doctors and/or therapists saying something like “If you had to have a stroke, you are much better off than if it happened even a decade ago.”

There have been so many advances in stroke and aphasia rehab. Rather than stroke survivors not getting intense rehab, many stroke survivors did not have a lot of hope. Sit on the couch!

I do remember one doctors telling my family and me that my second stroke was so severe I probably could not do much. “Them are fightin’ words!”

In the 80% of my brain that is left, I continue with my recovery. The biggest problem is aphasia. I have blogged about it probably too much.

For example: When I wrote this word “probably”actually wrote “problely.” I knew it was not correct. In my head, I was trying to type “probably.” Nevertheless, I typed “problely.” The very useful Microsoft Word tool suggested potbelly” instead. 

So, I cheated and used “Siri” on my iPhone to get the exact word I wanted.

This is how I type my blog.  It is very time consuming but cathartic for me to express myself.  

Here is yet another definition from the “Aphasia Hope Foundation: Aphasia is an acquired language disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate. Aphasia impairs the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing. Aphasia can occur suddenly, often the result of stroke, or it can occur over a period of time as a result of a brain tumor.”

I assumed that my aphasia would get better. However, I have read a series of “Tweets” that make me realize that there is no cure for aphasia. 

The “Aphasia Hope Foundation” wrote this: Can aphasia be cured? Thus far, no medicine, drugs, or surgery has been known to cure aphasia. Speech therapy is often provided to aphasic patients, but it does not guarantee a cure. Speech therapy is intended to help the patient utilize the remaining skills and learn complementary means of communication. Research and surgeries in the areas of brain repair and regeneration may provide for a ‘partial cure’ in the near future.”

Another group I follow on Twitter just posted this:  @AphasiaAnswers: There is no cure for aphasia, but with hard work and support, a person can return to a normal life.

I “Tweeted” this in my response: “I am tired of the term ‘my new normal.’ It's simply hard.”

Nevertheless, it seems to me that my aphasia is getting better. Perhaps, my aphasia is mild or maybe the INSENCE THEREAPY I have had for three years has MINIAMZE my CONSCUOUISE of my aphasia.

But, when I just typed this, this came out on my keyboard. What I really tried to type was this: “Perhaps, my aphasia is mild or maybe the INTENSE THERAPY I have had for three years has MINIMIZED my CONSCIOUSNESS of my aphasia.”

Like the old adage, “you can't be just a little bit pregnant.” I have aphasia. It seems that I have been dealing with it and somehow I have been compensating ever since.

The fact that I am doing this blog means I have the ability to “communicate” in various ways.

This short blog post took me over two hour to write/type. In the “old days” I would have written this in a couple of minutes.

I am most grateful that I can work around my aphasia. Or in my aphasia-speak, “gibberish.” Or from the Urban Dictionary:  "Bullshit: I blatant lie, a fragment untruth, an obvious fallacy." Or, my new normal.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Big Bang Theory, Stroke, and Forgiveness

I love the show “The Big Bang Theory.” I never watched the show until I was it in the hospital after my strokes. Now it is my favorite show. I love the character of  Dr. Sheldon Cooper who has no filters. He said things that I wish I could say. But, I have filters. 

I went to a lunch a few days ago where a Congressman spoke. It was like old home week in some respects. I saw so many people from my different worlds: Political, medical, insurance, hospitals, lobbyists, housing, real estate, etc.

Many people said things like “you do not seem like you had any medical issues” or “you look great.”  That is nice to hear.

But, in actuality, because people know that I had a stroke (or two) and I have no visible disability, those same people think I am just fine and completely recovered. Invisible brain scars....

“Thank goodness you are fine now! So, what are you doing these days?”

I smile and say, “Well, I am on some boards that keep me busy.”

“Really? So, what else do you do?”

Because a polite and a lobbyist, I grin and say, “I am raising our son. With boards and our son, this is a full time job.”

The conversation lapsed after that.

In THEIR heads, I assume they are thinking “That is it? Really. Dunham seems just fine to me.”

In MY brain damaged head, I scream silently “What that hell! Do you have any idea what I have been through? The doctor said that my stroke was so severe I would NEVER do anything at all. Lie on the couch and try not to think about what you have lost. Just accept your destiny. That fact that I am even here at this lunch is a miracle and you wonder what I do every day? Do you have any idea what apraxia and aphasia are? Do you have any concept of mind blowing headaches and despair that I experience a lot? Really.”

Well that might be a little extreme! Nevertheless it is hard to explain what I feel when people say that you are completely recovered. 

Like Dr. Sheldon Cooper, I want to say: "That’s no reason to cry. One cries because one is sad. For example, I cry because others are stupid, and that makes me sad."

However, in the Bible, Luke 23:34, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

So, I say, “ I am just fine. Thank you.”

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Great essay about brain injuries.

What You Will Learn From This: Living With Head and Brain Injury. – The Manifest-Station