May 27th 2003 & 2016

Stroke Awareness Month Tawpic of the Day: Image-_1-5_27

Touchy subject.

Controversial topic.

What does the word “life” mean to me? What matters to me in my “life?”  Do I have a “comfort zone?”  If I do, do I get stuck in that zone and not stretch myself?  Where do I stand on the subject of “change?”  A friend of ours often says, “If I am unwilling to change the little things, I will be unable to change the big things? At our coffee date this week, this was the tawpic Tim and I discussed.

Over his black coffee, Tim talked about being used to change.  Change came easy(er) to him. He grew up knowing that change was a fact of life.  As a child, conditions changed a lot and Tim somehow intuitively knew that he was powerless over the changes adults made in his life.   As an adult, he had moved a lot from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to town and coast to coast. He constantly changed how he looked and how he acted to try to fit into the new locations.  Life events led Tim to  a new spiritual way of life versus his previous ways.  He chose to adapt to change, roll with change, survive the change and choose to make changes.  This fluid view of a changing life, makes for a man much more comfortable in his own skin.  Tim said that his “comfort zone,” is the result of the changes.  It is a place where he finds “comfort” and is comfortable,  so different from what I believed.  I thought my understanding was how everyone interpreted the phrase. What a gift to talk like this and be able to learn so much.

I, on the other hand, define “comfort zone” differently. I am comfortable spending my day with twenty plus students in my class and hundreds more in the school.  The noise of school is comforting to me.  Speaking in front of 20 or 200 students is fine with me.  And I have extended that comfort to speaking in front of large groups of unknown adults too.  I take comfort in my 20 years of  experience.  I have a handle on the needs of my students and the curriculum they are expected to master.  I have a tool box of methods that work well for me. In this sense, my comfort zone is similar to a strong foundation.  I can build on it. The first school I was at, was my home for 18 years. It certainly was a comfort zone, but also gave me a foundation to stand on when I chose to leave.

This was made so obvious when I left that school and moved to my present school.  It was so strange and foreign and anxiety provoking.  Just the ride to school, for example, was way out of my comfort zone.  I knew every tree, house and business on the 6 minute drive to my old school.  The trees in front of my old high school were hundreds of years old.  There was a beech and maples and an oak.   The leaves turned gold, yellow and brown in the fall.  Branches fell due to savage ice storms in the winter.  Each spring the maple had greenness first.  I knew the road with my eyes closed.

It only takes 4 minutes to get to my school now.  But the roads head west, not east.  There are three ways I can easily go to work.  I varied at first, but now stick to one route with a coffee shop break at minute 3 of the drive. There are a couple of houses that I watch throughout the seasons.  I am watching one stand of trees change in particular. I have “my parking spot” at school which I can get if I get there by 7:05am.  But the car is not on auto pilot for the commute yet, after almost 2 years.  In my always very brief commute, I think about the day to come or breathe deep and think about the transition home.  I try to use the “me” time well. A lot happens inside my head during this short drive.  I don’t really focus on the scenery outside the car.   I had no idea how the road became a part of MY journey even when I wasn’t really paying attention to it.  Curious.

That is a professional comfort zone.  In my personal life, I can get settled and find comfort in so many ways, now.  The walk around the block that I take Gus on is tried and true.  I rarely deviate.  My apple pie recipe, crocheting a granny square afghan, driving to Wessyfoo, Sunday breakfast of bacon and eggs, my remote control, and decorating my house for any holiday is in my comfort zone.  In fact, these activities become a meditation of sorts.  I can feel my body relax and my mind slow down.  I find peace in “the doing” of many of these previously admitted items in my comfort zone. In that way, the comfort zone is a blessing.  Peace is certainly a desirable state for me.

There have been many times in my life when I lived in the “comfort zone” out of fear. I feared failure. I feared the unknown.  I feared change.  I feared myself.   I hid in the comfort zone, “the known” and called it “rooted in tradition.”  Bull.  It was “root-bound” in the safety of the past.  Before, during and for a long while after my stroke, this was my home.  I lacked faith to venture out.  I didn’t believe that there might be, could be, or was a path which had a firm foundation AND led towards a future filled with hope.

I do believe that now. So I do have a comfort zone, but is not super-stayed-and-stagnant.  Since I made peace with my stroke and accepted change as a fact of life, I change an awful lot, often.  For me, living life on life’s terms, works best  when I rely on and celebrate the traditions of my roots. The wonderful actions of my family before me and things they collected, I cherish.  When I honor the great treasures of my family or community I feel solid and strong.  Then I use that strength to take a leap of faith and try something new.  I am constantly amazed at the places, people, 4 leggeds and skills in the world.  And I am bowled over by the fact that when I tip-toe out of my comfort zone, I try and often succeed.  The world shows me great beauty and kindness, which I never knew was there.  Now it is not always a safe path that I choose or find myself on.  Life happens.  People I care so much for choose a path that leads them away from me or they pass away. I have to let them go.  Places I love close and I am scared there will never be another one as good.  A special mug slips out of my hands early one morning and shatters to bits on the tile kitchen floor. An ancient tree that I believed to be immortal, dies. Something is stolen and I feel vulnerable. Sometimes the challenges and pain and heart ache are mammoth.  I have to be open to good and bad passing in and out of my life. And I can’t do this alone.  I need help.  The spirits of those around me and hope within me sustain me for today. That is all I ask for.  That is all I need.

May 25th 2003

Coumadin dose is 12.5 mg.  I take it and I try to imagine that the artery in the back of my neck is healing.  Healing, they tell me, means that it is opening up wider, back to the original state.  So I try imagining the artery back there, opening wider and wider and getting stronger.   Next month they are going to do another MRI and check the progress.  I hope it is getting better.

I really didn’t want to get out of bed today.  My whole right side and especially the arm is so cold.  The weather is getting warmer every day.  But my side is getting colder.  Ick.  By the time morning comes, after the night under the covers, the pain lessens a bit.  Getting out of bed today seems like just asking for more cold and lots of trouble.   And I have no energy and lots of anxiety.  But Nurse Lola demanded that I get out of bed, face the day and FEED her. So I did.

The truth is that, today is scary. Today is the day.  Today they are going to take my PEG tube out, whether I like it or not.  I don’t need the suction.  I don’t use the Kangaroo.  My swallow is improving, though there is still pooling of food going on. So Carole scheduled the removal of my PEG tube.  I told her it was too soon.  I told her I didn’t think the swallow was stronger.  Maybe it was even weakening.  I asked what would happen if my swallow disappeared again when I was home alone and they had already taken the tube out?  I showed her how well I had taped the tube to my tummy now.  The tube was no bother to me.  Why do they have to take it out now?  What will happen when the next stroke comes if I don’t have my tube?  She said that my swallow was stable.  I said, “Please, not yet.”  She said, “It’s time.”

I had tried to buy some time.  It didn’t work.  The wheels were in motion.  I was to show up at 930am for same day surgery.  It was a simple surgery, they said.  Everyone in my family was so excited for me.  I was getting so much better, in their eyes.  They seemed happy for me.  Every one of my friends and all the nurses and staff at my hospital thought that this surgery was great news.  I tried to believe that they believed it was a good thing and that I was ready.  I mean, they knew me here at the hospital and when something happened, they would be right there.  And it would be good to be able to wear more of my regular clothes and not worry about ripping the tube out or feeling it tug and pull with zippers and waistbands and such.  Being able to wear whatever normal clothes I wanted would be a good thing.  And I still had the suction at home, in case.  OK.  I will go through with it.  The nurses check me in and tell me how awesome it is that I am doing so great and getting rid of the tube.  They tell me that they haven’t seen someone get the tube removed so fast.  They said it was so great that my swallow had recovered.  And in that moment, I believed them.  I had a big stroke and totally lost my swallow.  And yet, here I was, standing and swallowing.   This surgery was a good thing.  I had improved.  I smiled a pretty real smile for a moment.

They were going to have to remove the tube bits that were on my insides through my mouth.  OK, I say.   They had to take them out endoscopically because of high dose of Coumadin that I am on.  OK, I say again.  In my head I realize that I am not doing that great if I am still on a high dose of this powerful blood thinner.  If I need a high dose for this long, things are kind of bad.  I might be “stable,” but it doesn’t sound like I am getting better.  I realize that they are going to pretty much knock me out, to go through my mouth. NOT OK.  What if they mess up my swallow during the surgery?  I can’t lie back so flat like they want right now.  What if I can’t breathe or swallow or the artery is hurt again?  NOT OK, I scream inside my head.  Once they give me the dopey drugs, all protests stop.  They better be right about this surgery.  The next minute I am waking up and the doctor is saying that I did great and everything went great.  Dopey or not, I try a swallow and it works.  So far so good.  Definitely dopey, I ask him to move the mirror so I can look at the place where the PEG tube was.  Doctor swivels the mirror and me so I can see a bandaged belly with nothing else sticking out.  It looks so bizarre to me, so flat.  Still dopey, I ask him where MY tube is.  He smiles and raises his eyebrows.  I guess I looked serious.  So he showed me my tube.  It had just been cut off and what was in his hand was the bit I knew well.  There it was.  That was mine and it was no longer attached.   The next words were not mine, although they came out my mouth.  “This is a big deal.  You are amazing.  Can I have my tube to take home?  Will you autograph it?”  He stopped.  The nurses stopped.  They laughed out loud, a real good belly laugh.  I don’t think this is the usual conversation that they have with their patients.  And then I realize that I am not an ordinary patient.  “Please.  I had a stroke and I want the tube as a momento.”  The Doctor agrees.  One nurse wraps some hospital tape around the tube.  The Doctor takes the tube and a pen and signs.  The nurse puts the tube in a big hospital Ziploc type bag and hands it to me.  I love it.  Totally cool take away from this event.  And I really am grateful that the Doctor did such a good job.

My home directions tell me that I might get a sore throat and not to get worried.  It says I can eat and drink normally, for me.  I might have one of my leftover cans of formula. Easy. The paper says to keep taking all my medications and the Doctor also says that I definitely should take my Coumadin. The discharge instructions also say that I will be silly-headed for a day, and so I should rest. Mom will drive me home and then I can just rest and take care of the babies. The paper says that I should not sign any legal documents or make big decisions until tomorrow.  That is OK by me.  I made my big decisions already today.  I decided to show up for the surgery.  And I got my tube back, autographed by the man himself.  I am surprised by the last thing on the paper.  It catches me off guard and sticks hard in my still dopey mind. I get really angry inside because I don’t understand the words.  What do they mean? How can I possibly do that?  What was the Doctor thinking to write that to me? Who am I now? What is my life now? Why did I have to have a stroke?  Is this all there is?  In the “Special Instructions,” is a handwritten note from the Doctor, only 4 little words.   “Have a good life.” Image-_2-for-5_27


May 27th 2016

*I have saved my baggie with autographed tube for 13 years.  It was always in my big, black binder.  It was always there.  It is not there now.  Where is it? And now that I am writing about it, I am desperate to find it. I have been ransacking the house for weeks.  No tube.  So now, I am asking for help.  Some pray to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost items.  My Buddhist Reiki Master, had her own twist on this.  She called out to “Tony!!!!!!!”  This personal approach appealed to me.  So today I ask Tony to lead me to my tube.  If you could ask too, that would be great.


On the professional front, this teacher became the student today.  I learned a lesson the hard way.  On a hot day, with temperatures rising well into the 80’s, in a classroom on the top floor with sun blazing in and a mere 12 days of school left, I stepped out of my comfort zone, totally inadvertently. It was one of those accidental, unplanned events. I didn’t do it on purpose.  I didn’t think about doing it.  I didn’t mean for it to happen. But it happened anyway. (Life is good.)

I think it was heat induced.  I really don’t do well with the heat and humidity.  It’s a stroke thing, one post stroke condition I have, that doesn’t seem to be going away this year.  Some of my stroke things come and go or change their degree over time.  I still can’t regulate my body heat.  I am still kind of robotic with that condition.  My body takes a long time to adapt to sudden temperature change and doesn’t like extreme temperature much at all.  I try to ignore the conditions and be “normal.”  I look normal even when the hot temperatures have me in their grips.  Inside, I am boiling hot as if I was in a sauna. But I am not red faced or sweating.  Inside, I am exhausted as if I just ran a marathon.  My muscles move slowly, I feel heavy, my arms and legs ache, and I can’t catch a full breath.  But all you see, is my shoulders heaving a bit in effort. Light hurts my eyes and noise hurts my ears.  But I just sit quietly in the back of the room and focus totally on the task at hand.  I look like I am “busy.”

So, today is one of those days that I realize “I am just not that powerful.”  Today I am reminded that I am a stroke survivor and things work a little differently inside me.  I see and hear and feel what’s going on with me, as hard as I try to ignore.

The heat got to me today.  We turned the lights off and turned both fans on high.  I sat at my desk and entered the math grades into the computer while the kid’s transitioned to reading.  G2, in her t-shirt that says “I don’t need Google, I’m GREEK. We know everything,” had things well in hand setting up for the next subject. I don’t sit much at my desk. But today, I thought I was leading by example.  I appeared calm on a hot day.  And I was keeping an eye on a student seated at the table next to my desk.  He was diligently working on the computer, trying to contain all the adolescent energy building inside him.  I looked like I was doing great.  But my kid’s and G2 are smarter than I am and they knew better.  That’s right. They knew the truth about me before I did.  Their teacher was goofy-brained and light headed from the heat.

Two students, seated at a couple of the college style desk/chair combos directly in front of my desk,  were starting to bicker and getting on each other’s last, hot nerve.  I had tried the usual, “Please stop talking.”  I had tried to have them turn their chairs away from each other.  I had tried to ignore.  Their classmates tried too. “STOP TALKING,” and “do your work,” was repeated several times by many different members of our class.

My next words came out my mouth when I thought they were still inside my head.  “What does “Chillax” mean?”  I said it out loud.  I knew that in my head I was saying the word to the bickering boys.  I guess I did more than just think the word.  The student working on his computer next to me, heard me and answered. He knew what it meant. “It means chill out and relax,” he said without looking up from the screen.  He was confident and precise in his answer.  And all the kids in class agreed.  They had all heard my question, were laughing at my ignorance of basic modern language and agreed that the answer given to me was correct. “How could I not know that word?  Do you know what LOL means? What about AKA Miss?”  They sounded their questions rapidly and laughed more when I answered LOL correct but drew a blank on AKA.  I looked around my room and took a few breaths. The smiles I saw were genuine and kind.  They were not laughing at me as if I were stupid.  They were playing with me, in the best sense of the world.  They felt good that they knew something I didn’t. They loved that I had asked the question for a change, without already know the answer.  And they were proud that they had been able to teach me something.

“Chill out and relax” combine to make the new word/command, chillax.   I had used this word, I hope appropriately. “Chillax” actually means something specific.  It is not just slang.  It is a contraction without the apostrophe.   I had tried to figure out what it meant.  I got as far as the “chill” part.  I get that chill means to calm down.  And with the “ax” part, I understood that as the way some kids read the word “ask.”  I tried to combine the two and it didn’t make sense to me inside my head. But I never asked anyone what it meant.  I certainly didn’t ask the experts, my sixth grade students.

But today, in our hot and bothered classroom, I tried something new.  I got outside my comfort zone.  I asked a question out loud, that I wanted the answer to for a long time but been afraid to admit that I didn’t have the answer.  Asking for help, asking that question left me very vulnerable.  I hate being vulnerable.  I don’t know why I don’t seek help from more people more often.  I surround myself with smart people, why not connect with them? Why do I assume that people will scorn me for my ignorance? Why do I think it is ignorance to not know everything?  I picture people surrounding me like hyenas and laughing at me when I reveal a weakness, and then going in for the kill.   It is such an aggressive image for such a simple situation.  Why do I limit my life and my knowledge of the world, out of insane fear?

I didn’t do that today.  And I can’t take responsibility for that action.  Before my stroke, I can’t remember taking even a small risk like that.  I did it sometimes with people I felt close too.  And on the very rare occasion that their reaction even hinted at a less than loving response, or if I imagined a hostile one, I vehemently and irrevocably banned that person from my queen-dom, forever. Well I didn’t actually cease all communication with most of them. I just never again was vulnerable, admitting a deficit or weakness to them.  I built a very tall, solid wall around myself.  I was isolated and got hurt less.  But I was also lonely and hopeless.

My stroke is a great teacher, but only since I accepted a right sized place in the world. I don’t have all the answers.  No one has all the answers. The answers aren’t always important, but the people in my life are. I can accept help, once the pain is great enough for this stubborn a** to smarten up.  My stroke and the conditions I live with make me vulnerable in ways I never was before and ways that I often try to ignore now. Ignore this side of me long enough, and strange things happen.  A miracle occurs.  I open my mouth, like I did today and the world opens up.  My life and I, am changed for the better.



That lesson at work was followed by one at home.  This time the teachers are my yard, son, husband and Gus. This lesson is part of an ongoing unit that will last until fall, and beyond.  Every year, I plant some sort of garden.  I pick out what plants I would like to try. I decide where would be a good place in the yard for the various plants to grow.  I seek some input from the family on colors of flowers or types of herbs to grow. I ask Tim to help with the heavy work of soil preparation, and he always does.  I plant. I water, but not enough.  I weed, but not very diligently. And I reap the results of my method.

Mind you, my plan was not to echo a fascist regime in my gardening style.  I did the best I could with what I knew, with the stories I told myself.  I didn’t want to bother my family too much with the work of a garden that might not interest them.  I didn’t want to do too much in the yard and step on the toes of what my family envisioned for their yard.  I didn’t want to try any plants that I wasn’t really familiar with, because I didn’t know how to grow them.  This limited my choices to marigolds and cucumbers. I did try pumpkins last summer, but as I had no idea how much water and sun they need and our backyard resembled a war zone with insane amounts of work being done on the back of the house, I didn’t harvest a simple pumplet, let alone the Great Pumpkin I had imagined in my mind.

This method limited every aspect of my gardening experience. I gardened alone. I dreaded doing much work in the garden.  I didn’t end up spending much time in my garden.  And the results were not so impressive from my garden.  There was the year that we grew carrots.  I mean, we all pitched in with those plants and sure enough, we all ate a lot of totally yummy, albeit warty to look at, carrots.  There was the difference.  We did it together.

In the greyness of late winter this year, when I started dreaming of digging in brown soil and growing green “fings.”  I thought of our carrots.  I asked Tim if we should grow carrots again.  He said that sounded good.  A week went by and I headed outside and cut the raspberry bushes, hedges more like, back to get lots of new growth.  This time “the mens” came outside too.  They collected sticks that had fallen and raked the leaves up.  Sweaty and smiling, we all 3 stood and admired our yard.  A trip to Wessy and making the daily rounds with my aunt, made clear to me how much change happens every day in a garden. In spring, new life abounds. So I started making rounds with Gus everyday and was rewarded with daily miracles of hearty plants that came up another year and little buds in new spots from plants that had spread out to new places in the yard.  I felt a part of the yard and reported the findings, daily to the mens.  A week later, I saw a post on Facebook about things that you could build that would maximize vertical space in a garden. Our yard has pockets of good sun.  But they are isolated and need to be used wisely.  Planting UP might be the way.

I sent the post to Tim and he looked at it with Jason.  We all liked the Teepee idea.  It looked like Jason could actually hang out inside it, if you built it tall enough. He liked that idea.  I loved that the teepee was good for climbing veggies, like cucumbers that Gramma Harriet used to grow and I would pick and we would eat right out of the ground, together.

Peas are a family favorite to grow too.  Since I was a kid, the peas are planted by adults and harvested by kids when adults are inside the house doing adult things. No Scanlon/Henry peas ever make it inside to a cooking pot.  They are an outdoor treat for thems that have the initiative to go get ‘em.  And beans are climbers and some kind of squash too.

Tim and I Googled how to actually make a teepee.  We watched the video separately and together, over and over.  It seemed manageable to assemble and not expensive.  We talked over supper about using the pumpkin patch area, but rounding it out from a rectangle to an oval.  We talked about not replacing the butterfly bushes near the pumpkin patch.  They had done well one year and not so much since.  I was thinking of a wisteria.  It is a very elegant plant and reminds me of my Dad’s cottage in England.  Thank God I told my gardening neighbor about this thought.  He told me that wisteria take 8 years minimum,  to mature enough to flower. I shook my head right away and abandoned that idea.  I am nowhere near patient enough to wait that long.  Hmmm.  What to put where the butterfly bushes?

A few weeks, late on a Sunday afternoon, the three of us went to the lumber store right before it closed. We picked out 8 pieces of thinish, roundish molding and asked for it to be cut to 6 ½ foot lengths. We bought a roll of household cotton twine and headed home. Jason wanted the teepee built right then. Tim tried to build it quickly while I got supper together.  We didn’t go with version one.  We piled the wood up and put the twine in the shed.  The right day would come.

A week ago, Tim and Jason cleared the sod for the new bed.  Teamwork.  I fiddled and diddled with the teepee.  I stood my construction up and we all went around and slowly worked the pieces outward, making a mighty fine teepee.  The plants would come soon.  We went up the road last Saturday after Jason’s baseball game and bought some “fings” to plant:   4 packs of yellow marigolds, two tall and two small.   Marigolds are great in the boxes near the shed, bright and cheerful.  They would also work around the pole that we three had sunk in an abandoned butterfly bush hole.  For the pole, we bought a big, big clematis vine in deep purple.  I picked out a small one, but the chap at the farm said they had bigger, more mature ones for not much more. It would flower this year, for sure.   Sold.  Supremo Clematis went in that day.  Tee-pee-clematis-day-1-5_27

And to grow on our teepee, we got beans, peas, cukes and spaghetti squash.  Excellent.  Monday, when the mens were at baseball practice, I planted the lot.  Gus helped.  He wandered and sniffed and found the sunny spots on the dirt to roll in.  He didn’t help dig, which is insane because this beagle is quite an accomplished digger. I asked Gus how long he thought it would take the bunny to come for supper?  What percentage of the planting would become a bunny snack?  It is 5 days post planting and 100% of the plants remain.  That is unexpected.  Tim remarks on how good the pole with the clematis looks.  Mom loves the deep purple color we picked.  The vine and the marigolds all around, she can see from her bedroom window.  Gus and I check the plants every day. We grilled hot dogs this week, in the yard.  And Tim fixed the grill without blowing it up, as I imagined. We did homework on the deck and munched on chips and dip.  Jason helps me water and checks if the plants are grabbing onto the strings yet.  I look forward to this day in our garden and we all dream of the summer with these plants. Tee-pee-2



May 22nd 2003 & 2016

Stroke Awareness Month Tawpic for the day: Image-_1-5_22

I am happy in this world, now.  And my stroke was and is a powerful teacher. I have someone to love: me, Tim, Jason, my family and friends, students, 4 leggeds and God.  I am blessed by their love and it makes me happy to love. I have something to do: put ribs in the crock pot, build a teepee in the garden, give Ciro a midday nosh, go food shopping at Trader Joe’s, take Gus for a walk, make Lime Blueberry Bread, plan lessons for the week, watch The Golden Girls while folding laundry, clean cat barf, vacuum, stack left over lumber to give to a friend to build his chicken coop and fruity cereal marshmallow treats with Jason “just because.” I am blessed with the day’s work and I am happy being of service.  I have something to hope for: this day, the next, making my son smile, a hug from Tim, Ciro’s 15th birthday next week, spreading the message of FAST, how good the ribs might be at supper, the banana split challenge I am doing next weekend, a good night’s sleep, seeing my students graduate on June 14th,  the new recipes I want to try this week, planting the clematis that might grow better than the butterfly bushes, listening to Garrison and being inspired by his news, helping friends face troubles and walking through the day with them,  and enjoying a big, refreshing, bubbly gulp of a new seltzer flavor in a great mug, with no straw, this afternoon.Image-_2-for-real-5_22

I am blessed with hope all around me and in me and I am happy when I share hope with others. This is certainly an all-inclusive, A+ recipe for a happy day.  I choose this for today.




May 21st 2003

Coumadin is holding steady this week.  My daily dose is 12.5 mg.  It’s a pretty high dose, but right now it is fine with me because of how I can take the medicine. I can swallow my pills when I drink my water.  My Swallowing/Feeding Caregiver Instruction sheet says so.  Well I guess it does.  The sheet says that the caregiver can let me have “all liquids.”  I am my caregiver and I say,  I read the sheet and I can have “all liquids” and swallow my pills. I follow “Techniques required to improve the individual’s swallowing safety.”  The individual is me and I want to be safe.

For extra safety, and most important to me, I use a bendy straw, all the time, for all liquids.  Carole suggested them to me.  We always see the bendy straws at my hospital.  They make things so easy.  The tube gets the momentum of the liquid going and that helps the swallow.   The shape helps the most.  I don’t have to tip the glass up and bend my head back to take a drink.  I can’t bend my head back.  I know it will be bad for my artery.  I know I will stroke again.  I can’t do that.  Please let me be safe and keep swallowing today.  Please don’t let me aspirate and die or stroke out because I eat or drink the wrong thing.

So this morning I took my pills after I fed all three babies and took Lola out.  I followed the techniques, put the pills way back on my tongue.  Then I take a sip of water through my blue bendy straw.  Today I picked blue.  The bendy straws come in the primary colors.  Then I make one big swallow and shoot the pills down my throat with the water. Then I take 3 dry swallows after the sip of water.  It is a weird sensation to take a dry swallow and have it work. I check to make sure there is no “pocketing” or cheeking of the pills and that my mouth is clear.  I use my finger and check.  I did it.  “Down the Hatch,” is what Gramma Harriet said every morning after she washed down a handful of pills with her bird glass full of OJ.  Every day she said it.  So now I will do that, just with a straw.

I didn’t eat breakfast today.  Or yesterday.  I can’t eat bread or bread products, so I won’t have toast with jam.  I can’t have cereal with milk either as that is a combination food (solids in liquid.) But that is not why.  I really like being skinny.  I really, really like it.  And I don’t like much about me right now.  I enjoy drinking water or eating apple sauce. That feels good and tastes good and I am good at it now.   I’d love to eat a banana, but I can’t eat it with the Coumadin.  Bananas have loads of potassium and they are not on my diet right now.

I guess that I got out of the habit of eating. And now, I wouldn’t want to eat in front of anyone, except Carole anyway.  All the focus has to be on the eating. I have to do my take a bit or sip, then take 3 empty swallows, then take a drink after each mouthful of food and eat slowly.  I have to make sure I swallow everything before I put anything more in.  I have to make sure there is no pocketing of the food before I take more in.  It’s a lot of work.  I can’t focus on who I am with.  I can’t break break and I can’t be social.   How I eat is kind of freaky and anti-social and I am going to avoid it.

I can sit quietly with people.  I am not choking on my own spit anymore.  I don’t spit into tissues or use the suction.  I am not hooked up to the kangaroo and I don’t have to hydrate through the tube anymore.  In those ways, I am a lot more normal.  I can blend in.  I can hold a glass and have a few sips of a drink.  But I am not going to have everyone stare at the freak show as she feeds.  I don’t need that humiliation.  And I do need/like that when I see my friends or family, they can say that I am doing better.  They comment on, or I do, how much weight I lost.  After all this, I am not fat.  That is something to talk about. I just want to blend into the background and be a part of everyone else’s normal lives.  I just need a break from me right now.

Today and 4 times this week I have DPNS with Carole.  We still have much work to do.  Carole wants me to be able to eat breads and combination foods.  She wants to make sure the swallow is stable, the reflexes are strong and that I am truly healed and safe.  I believe her and I want to do the work.  I met with a dietician this week for a one-time thing.  She wanted to make sure I knew to eat three healthy meals every day.  I do know what they are and how to make them. I told her how much I love to cook and that I can drive so it should be a snap.  That is the truth.  I told her about what I can and cannot eat right now.  She read that in my file, smiled compassionately and made suggestions about the importance of good nutrition.  I know I should do it.  I know she wanted me to.  So I lied and told her I was doing it.

I get to start Physical Therapy this week.  Now that the swallow is improving, improving enough to schedule the surgery to take out the PEG tube for real next week, my Doctors want to add in working on my weakness, flexibility, strength and God knows what else.  My evaluation was good.  I was in my comfort zone, in the big room outside Carole’s office.  It was a good place to start.  We sat for a bit and I answered a bunch of questions while she took notes.  She got my starred particulars up front and on top of the paper, “vertebral artery precaution, don’t extend neck, don’t over rotate neck, basically don’t go near the neck, and PEG tube.  On the lines she wrote down that I had a stroke.  I had TMJ spasms and left side weakness.  She wrote down that I had coldness in my right side, but spasms and tightness on the left, with “gait deficits.” I had a car accident a few years ago and got extensive chiropractic following it.  My medications are duly noted.  The social history gets me: “lives alone with pets, no children.”  That is true. But what does it tell her?  Nothing good I guess.  She records that I am not having pain right now.  Totally true.  My body is on mute.  She has me walk around while she watches.  She has me squeeze the thing with my hand to measure strength.  She taps my elbows and bends my knees.  I flex my arms and try to squat without falling over.   She makes a lot of notes, including that I have glut weakness. Really?  I will have two appointments of PT this week and she will arrange them to coincide with my appointments with Carole and not make me do anything that will yank the PEG tube around.

In the end, we sit back down and she writes down my goal:  I want to “walk normal,” I say. I can’t believe that is what I said.  It sounds so weak to me. My goal?  In my head I am screaming about my goal.  My goal is to have my life back, to be normal, to wake up and find this was all a bad dream. But all I say is the thing about walking.  I am such a goober.  Why do I know what she wrote? I have gotten pretty good at reading the notes as they all write them, upside down.  I peek at my papers when they get up.  I read about myself when they move or look away. I pick them up and scan them when anyone leaves the room during an appointment.  I try to memorize what they write about me and say to me.  I don’t understand me anymore.  Maybe whatever they are writing will help me.  Please help me.




May 21st, 2016

Well, it’s been a quiet week in Worcester, my hometown.  Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion, a long running music/variety show on public radio, created a town. And every week he takes about 10 minutes during the program to tell you the news of Lake Wobegon.  He always begins like I did just now, except with the name of his town.  Since I was a little girl, I have loved that opening and that town.  Every Saturday night at 6pm in Wessy, we would tune in.

Garrison would open that way, and then go on with the zaniest tales of his townsfolk.  I really loved how the everyday workings of his community could be so funny and poignant.  I wanted to live there, to be a part of such a community: simple people doing extraordinary things.  At the end of the weekly installment, he would have the same closing line: “And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon; where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.”  I grew up as a child, hearing and wanting to believe him, into a woman and knowing that what he said was true.  (And I certainly do live with good looking mens.)

On September 9th, 2009, Garrison had a minor stroke.   I remember when I heard the news.   I was in a place of recovery, seeing my stroke as a gift, not a punishment for sins committed.  Jason was almost 8 months old and thriving, keeping his parents in a constant state of exhaustion and loving every moment.  We had just bought our home and were settling in for the fall.  My much beloved life at this point was a direct result, I believe, of living with my stroke and seeing it as part of the plan for me.  I was living life on life’s terms by that point and wondered how Garrison would weave his stroke into his story.  Garrison speaks of his stroke here:

And so after the Heart Walk, Botox, Vet visits, baseball, student strife and Tae Kwon Do tournament, it was a quiet week in Worcester.  Well, quietish.  Monday was school and a staff meeting.  The kids haven’t really settled down, but I am handling it better. I am relying on G2 more and focusing on the kids who want to do something, joyfully for the final month of their elementary school.  Jason had baseball practice in the afternoon.  While Tim took him, I baked fresh muffins for breakus, put supper together and did some writing.  I love the quiet, for about 5 minutes and then I start listening/wishing for the mens to come home.  We went and hung out with some friends for a cup of coffee and a bit of crocheting after supper, always a good combination.  Tuesday was good work at school, for me.  I faced the day to the best of my ability.  I tried to leave work at work and focus on Jason’s two Tae Kwon Do classes in the afternoon.  But my heart hurt from the icky vibes of the day.  And I don’t like to hurt.  So I got a bit cranky instead.  That is not much better for me and certainly no good for the mens.  Wednesday and Thursday were good days for the park after school.  The fresh air and sunshine always helps.  It feeds me some hope for the next day.  And watching Jason and all the kids play, with so much passion and energy and joy, is a gift.  Maybe if I had played too, the exercise would have helped me sleep better than I did.  But the benefits for a bystander are minimal, and I had chosen to watch while they romped.

I got a bit of food shopping done before supper. But Thursday evening, I knew I was off the beam.  Hurt heart turned to crankiness and now was on its way to seething putridness concealed under a VERY thin veneer. I kept trying to restart my day, to let it go. But I wasn’t having much success.  After supper, I turned where I always turn for comfort, food.  Just over a year ago, a dear man and fellow teacher passed away suddenly.  He was a truly good gentle man, not much older than I.  Whenever times got tough at work and we needed bucking up, we would plan a lunch for our staff.  It always did the trick to turn tears into smiles.  We all felt better eating together and sharing yummy goodies.  I forget what I would bring, but he always made Ham Salad Sandwiches, with pickle and celery, on a soft roll.  I never ate ham salad ever, unless he made it.  And then it was the absolute ultimate comfort food.  I don’t know exactly what the ingredients were in the sandwiches, but I know he added a big ole dose of love and laughter.  I know it was in there, because we all had happy hearts and smiles after one of our lunches.

So, at the supermarket, when the deli lady asked if I wanted anything else, a voice not mine said “Yes.”  I came home with ham and celery and pickles and a plan to honor my friend and buck up myself with Ham Salad Sandwiches. After supper, I cleaned up the dinner dishes and then went out into the back yard and cleaned up Gus’s presents.  Thank you Gus!  The mens headed out to play catch and I headed back into the kitchen to mutter and make the Ham Salad.  There was a smell coming from the trash can and I had no patience. I didn’t wait for Tim to do it.  I didn’t ask him to come up and do it.  I did it all by myself. I pulled the trash bag up and out and brought it outside to the shed.  But back in the kitchen, it didn’t smell better.  It was worse.  And I saw bugs and as I looked into the trash can I saw post-apocalyptic toxic sludge and to top it all off, maggots. Flesh eating, corpse devouring little maggots were in my kitchen.  And I was alone.  I was alone with my stupid seething self-centered childish tantruming self. I did not call to the mens to take care of the trash trauma, so I could make ham salad.  Nope.  I muttered and swore.  Gus, Ciro and Rondo came to watch.  It was me versus the maggots. Not a fair fight as I was out for blood right then.  Only annihilation would make me feel better.  So I gagged three times and grabbed chemicals, paper towels and the trash can.  Out the back door I charged.  I banged the sludge out into a bag and sealed it and stowed it away, praying the bag wouldn’t explode without oxygen.  Or I prayed that it would explode, on somebody who was on my poop-list-du-jour.

The sound of the hose spraying the can, the odor and my cursing brought the mens around to my side of the house.  They took over the vile job.  I provided supervision through swearing.  When I was handed a spotless, sweet smelling trash can, I headed back upstairs to swear some more, light a candle and make ham salad.  I thought the mens would be right behind me.  I mean, I told them to head directly into the shower and “wash those maggots right out of your hair.”

But they had their own ideas. The mens insisted on finishing their round of catch. Bleech!  I went, speechless, upstairs where I changed my clothes and scrubbed up to the elbows. Mystified by my mens, I began chopping celery and pickles for the salad.  How could they let the trash get so bad?  How did I miss the ick?  How could they clean the can without a gas mask and minus the gagging I had for my brief part of the job?  How could they go right back to play, after the job was done?  Weren’t they full of the heebie-jeebies like I was?  They were nasty and gross to be able to carry on with their game, I thought as I mixed mayo and pickle juice.  I was up here, cooking and cleaning while the dirty ones freely played, I thought as I ground the ham. And then I heard it.  Right as I put all the ingredients together and started to mix, I heard Jason giggling his butt off in the backyard.  He was laughing. I was not.  He and Tim had it right.  Play. Do the work that needs to be done. Play. It was that simple.

And with that, my vibe changed.  I took a breath, let go of the work and set about to play with my food.  When the mens came up, they tasted the ham salad and right away made sure that tomorrow there would be Ham Salad Sandwiches for lunch on the job that Tim had for Friday..  My plan A was to have it for dinner.  But Plan B made the working mens happy at noontime and I made chicken quesadillas for supper Friday, which made me happy.

My mood was improved, but not so stable.  I need to keep practicing the positive happy behaviors or I revert to cranky, sullen self-centeredness.  It is my default setting and leads to isolation, which is death for me.  But I know this about myself today.  So, to keep the good vibes rolling, I made a big pot of Gramma Harriet’s meat sauce. Whenever I went to the Cape to see my Gramma, we always had spaghetti the first night.  I opened the back door of her kitchen and with one whiff of her sauce, I was happy.  I was home.  In mild weather, with windows open, I knew what was cooking when I pulled in the driveway.  That smell.  And she would stir it with a well loved wooden spoon.  There would be garlic bread and salad too.  And Gramma Harriet would wear an apron she’d made, that I have now.  So many times we would sit down to eat, and smile.  She would take me to the beach in her sporty new cherry red Corolla  and we would put our feet in the sand.  Or if it was cold, we would sit in the car together.  She would teach me how to sew and then help me make things that were pretty.  We would build a fire in the fire place.  We’d pick big cucumbers out of her garden and eat them outside, still warm from the sun.  We’d go to the Cuzzin’s house and watch cuckoo movies and giggle together. Everything I did with her was special and I knew when I was with her, I was important and we were happy together. (Yes, we had our spats during the summers I lived with her.  But even those, she turned quickly into a great story to tell me and her friends.   The sour feeling did not last.)

Every time we shared a moment together, Gramma Harriet would say, “this is something for the Good Memory Department.”  I would wait for her to say it and then absolutely agree with her.  I mean, after all, once I went back to Worcester, she might be lonely and the house would be so quiet.  But she would be comforted by all the good memories of our time together. I imagined that Grammas kind of lived on the good memories of their grandchildren.  It was a very happy self-centered notion, I admit.

I remember the moment, right after she died, when I realized the bigger truth of her words.  It was all for my “Good Memory Department.”  Every time she said it, she was making sure we took time to notice the moment, appreciate it then and store it for later days.  I have so many things in the “Good Memory Department.”  I was there at the time. I was there with one of the 2 best grandmothers in the world. I loved her and she loved me.  And she made me stop and be in that moment, with her words.  And she made them file into sacred stores inside me to comfort, amuse and hug me when she wasn’t there anymore.  Her words, and that practice was a precious secret to living life on life’s terms.  It was a gift to me to know what truly made me happy in life.

The meat sauce meal made for me, by her, made me happy.  It was that simple.   It is that simple still, if I practice.  So I made the meat sauce and set it to smell up my house all day.  I picked up our new Rain Barrel in Forest Green that morning.  We had one, but it cracked quick.  This one promises to collect water off the roof and store it for watering the new clematis, plants that will grow on the teepee soon, second year strawberry plants, herbs and many, many marigolds.  I hope so.  I got the rain barrel and was still home in time to Jason’s baseball game with my family.

At this game, we played on the big field where the National Little League Champs had played their home games.  And today, two kids announced the names of all the batters as they came to the plate.  What a rush.  I heard Jason’s name and saw him smile with pride.  I heard his teammates’ names and saw them smile bigger and stand taller too.  The kids laughed and ran and hit and tried to catch, and played.  Tim and I and all the families sat and watched and cheered.  It was a happy moment.  It was definitely one for “the Good Memory Department.”

Today we putter about and plant “fings” that will grow.  I am trying to make ribs for supper. We’ll see what happens. The mashed potatoes to go with the ribs were tested by all three of us.  They are definite winners.  I hope there are some left for supper.

Nothing big, but the week has been full.  It has been simpler than the previous weeks,  even though I try to complicate everything.  It has been quieter, even with my shrieks and fits. In a quiet part of the week there was space for the brand new, best idea from Tim.  He has a lot of them, if I hush long enough to hear them.   “You should reach out to Garrison Keillor.  Tell him that you have listened to him since you were so little.  Tell him that you saw him at Mechanics Hall.  Tell him that you love Lake Wobegon and play his stories to your students.  Tell him that you had a stroke too.  Tell him about the blog and see what he says.  You never know.” My husband is the best; to listen to me, love me and make me and my life better. He is the technology guru in the family. Tim reaches out to the world with his questions, over the net and over the phone.  He thinks of these things.  I don’t. Strike that, now I do.  Why not reach out?  So, I just contacted Garrison on the Prairie Home Companion website.  I sent a Post to the Host. I used Tim’s words and told Garrison my story.   And I feel so good right now about simply sending the email. And   I feel so extraordinary to be a part of this amazing family where I get to be with Tim every day.

Every single day he gives me these gems.  I think the gifts like that are there for everyone, every day.  But you have to look for them, cultivate them, seek them and grab them.  I didn’t always do that.  I wanted someone else’s life with their grandiose adventures.  I specifically did not want my daily struggles and chores.   But I do now. They are the simple things that make my life extraordinary today.  And in this town, this woman is strong, her mens are good looking and our son is totally above average.



May 18th, 2003 & 2016

Stroke Awareness Month Tawpic for the day:


These words are like lyrics to a “fight song.”  The words are bold and determined.  There is no grey area, it is a black and white concept.  I certainly held on to that idea early on after my stroke.  From the moment that I survived the first night in ICU, I grasped this concept.  I knew that I would weather the storm.  And that was all I could do then, just physically cope from day to day.  I could, and did, face each day on sheer determination alone.  It was that simple.  I survived.

But, things have changed for me.  I have changed. (What a gift!) I still survive. It is what I do.  But I also thrive.  I have “grit.”  Grit is a concept that was introduced to me 2 years ago by my new principal when I switched schools after 18 years, talk about change.

We watched Angela Lee Duckworth talk about “grit” as the real key to success in school.  I identified with her message, as a key for living my life on life’s terms.  She defined “grit” as “passion and perseverance for really long term goals.” I totally agree.  And I have GRIT today.  I want things out of my life and I work towards them with joy and sustained effort.  Do my goals change?  Of course, all the time.  My friend and mentor talks about “making plan A.  Then God laughs and we meet plans B, C, and D.”  Do we still make plans? Of course.  But we are happier if we realize that plans change because we have practically no control over life.

Right after my stroke I survived. My goal was to go home and then drive my car and then eat. Check, Check and Check.  But that was not my truth. That was not the story I told myself.  I believe that my underlying belief and goal was that I would get better and go back to who I was before my stroke. I wasn’t that happy before my stroke.  That was irrelevant.  I wanted to go back to the comfort and security of that “known life.”

What I know now is the ludricrous, insane nature of that story.  How could I go back?  How could I not be forever changed by my stroke?  How can I not be changed everyday, by everything I experience? And why wouldn’t I embrace change?  Change is the real constant in life.  I can count on change. And I can grow and change for as long as I live.  What a gift.

I didn’t see that essential truth for a couple years after my stroke.  Surviving is what I did, because it was all I knew and what I believed about myself.  Don’t get me wrong: there are times now when I survive, because it is what I do.  I focus on getting through. And I do.  And there have been times like this recently.  If you are lucky enough to survive, life happens.

But I do not spend whole days in survival mode.  There are moments where I put my head down and get through tough, nasty things that happen in my life.  Every moment I am not reflecting on the spiritual truth to be gleaned from the strife.  I am not the Zen senior master Shifu, from Kung Fu Panda.  I am not that evolved.  I tend to be more like Po, the young impulsive foodie panda.  I have moments of calm, punctuated by stretches of chaos.  But I don’t live in the survival mode anymore.  Whatever the storm, it passes and gives way to sunshine and new life.


May 18th 2003

After revealing my swallowing prowess to Mom on Mother’s Day with the applesauce trick and telling my Dad about the Cadbury Crème Egg incident, I prepared for the ultimate “reveal,” to Carole on Monday morning.  It had been a longer than usual weekend with all the developments.  When I woke up in the morning with the swallow still intact, I began plotting and planning how to break it to Carole.  It had to be, let me figure how to put this, worthy of her.  I mean, I can’t imagine that her job has a very positive vibe.  A lot of her patients seem to be worse off than I am.  She has worked a miracle with me.  And I totally don’t think that she has any idea that it would happen over the weekend.  She didn’t talk to me at all about what to expect, or seem to think it was likely that this would happen, this fast, if at all.  All I can do to say thank you to Carole, is to make it a really good surprise.  I want her to see her success, first hand.

My appointment is at 9:00am at my hospital.  I get there early again, but I don’t tell the folks in the waiting room my secret.  I brought my suction and a wad of tissues.  No one seems to notice that I am not using it.  Don’t they realize how different I am?  Don’t I look different?  Things have changed, can’t you see?  Thank God Carole is on time coming out to get me for the appointment.  She always is prompt, but today I don’t think I could wait an extra second without giving away my secret.  Inside me, I am doing cartwheels and screaming and eating a hamburger.  But outside, I sit calmly in my seat and don’t wiggle even a bit.

I see Carole turn the corner from the hall and walk through the PT area.  Her white coat is fresh and bright on a Monday morning.  I wonder if it is a new coat, it should be for a day like today. I smile and say hello and begin asking about her weekend as I follow her purposeful walk back to the room.  In the room, we sit for a second and she gets set up.  She pulls her chair over to be able to face me.  The swabs are set up on ice in the big bowl.  When she gets up to grab the trash can and bring it over to next to her table, I get up saying I need a tissue or something from the corner table.  Carole nods, acknowledging me.  The corner table has a box of tissues, some cups and a pitcher of water.  That pitcher had become part of my plan the second we walked into the room. My execution was seamless.  As she turned to get the trash bucket, I got a cup and hid it in front of me.  As she sat back down on her chair and prepared her chart and pen, I poured an inch of water into the cup.

I knew she would notice the cup right away when she lifted her head to begin the DPNS.  I would only have a second to make my move.  I sat. I held the cup.  She got a swab in hand.  I began raising the cup to my mouth.  She raises her eyes to me.  I open my mouth and take a small sip out of the cup.  Carole’s eyes bug out.  She cries out loud.  I swallow.  I smile.  She stands up and sits down.  “What did you just do?  What just happened?  No!  Are you ok?” Carole can’t stop making comments and asking questions.  Her face has turned red with excitement and matches her fiery hair.  This is too great.  I did it.  I surprised her, in a good way.  And she did it. She brought my swallow back.

The clock is ticking on our session.  It is 9:09am.  A miracle has been revealed and celebrated in under 8 minutes.  But there is much to be done, says Carole.  The swallow is not back all the way.  It needs to be re-trained in a certain way.  We cannot back off on the DPNS.  The stimulation needs to continue to ensure the swallow does not regress, but instead gets stronger.  I need to follow a strict program of what to eat and how to eat it.

BUT NOT UNTIL TOMORROW!  What was that?  Don’t eat until tomorrow? We will have our regular session of swabs today.  Carole will stop a minute early to schedule a Barium Swallow for tomorrow.  She will set up this special test, with a bit of luck, during our scheduled time tomorrow.  She needs the information from this test to make and submit a plan to the hospital, now that things have changed.  But until I have that test, all things should maintain.

For the next half hour, we will do all our swabs and stimulate the swallow, I hope.  For the rest of the day and night, I will bolus feed the formula into my tube for nourishment.  For the rest of the day and night, I will add the water to my tube for hydration.  For the rest of the day and night, I will crush my pills and get them into me through the tube, to keep my blood running at the right pace.  Until I see Carole tomorrow morning, I will resist the urge to try to eat and drink the old fashioned way, I hope. I will do this because we don’t really know what the status of my swallow is until the test tomorrow.  Carole says we need to proceed in the correct way as indicated by what the test says, for my health and safety.

There is one major exception.  I can “manage my secretions.” I don’t need the suction.   Carole reminds me of this extraordinary achievement as my shoulders sag and hunch with the news about not trying to eat or drink until the test tomorrow.  I try to rebound, for her sake.  I stop frowning and blink back the tears and the whine about to escape my lips, for her sake.  I don’t want Carole to be disappointed with me.  I don’t want her to worry about me until tomorrow.  I will (try to) be a good patient, for her sake.

I don’t want her to get in trouble.  I have been “in the system,” long enough to understand that there are very rigid channels that have to be gone through to satisfy the hospital and insurance.  They want things done a certain way, or they will not “cover” the procedures.  Everything that they do to me, and for me, has to be “authorized.”  Otherwise, if they don’t deem it to be required, I get a big bill in the mail.

It has already begun.  The mail used to be filled with get well cards that came in bright colored envelopes with beautiful handwriting and the best stamps adorning them.  Now the mail is filled with statements, decisions and bills, all arriving in white business envelopes with New Times Roman font in black, printed on the outside.  The contents tell my fate.  What do I get to do to try to get better?  What do they deem necessary for the patient? What am I allowed to try, according to their judgement? I have never met them, but they determine my schedule and progress.  They decide how and when I move forward.  They, whoever they are, have the control and the power.  And it is hard to sit with.  Today, I know that my body is better.  This part is working better.  I know it. But for Carole, I will sit tight.  For the next day and night, I will do it their way.

Tuesday Morning at 9am finds me back at my hospital.  I meet Carole in a different part of the hospital.  We are on the first floor now, south side.  We are in the depths of the hospital, far away from any rooms that might have real light from windows.  I was in this room before.  They brought me here on a gurney or in a wheelchair. I can’t remember which, but I was on wheels.  It was right after the stroke.  They brought me in to evaluate my swallow, which was “absent.” It didn’t take them long to figure out that the barium test was useless.  They put some liquid into my mouth, told me to swallow and then watched as it oozed back out my mouth and down my chin.  Someone handed me a napkin.  They realized that there was not some swallow to be measured.  It could not be marked on a scale of 1 to 10.  It was a zero.  My swallow, and I would argue my spirit too, was “absent,” as defined in medical terms.

So as quickly as they wheeled me in, they wheeled me out.  I remember how “less than” I felt at that moment.  I remember so little about how I felt right after the stroke.  But I remember feeling so insignificant in that moment.  I felt humiliated and degraded to the point that I wished I were dead. I knew that I had no swallow.  I knew I would fail whatever test they were going to have me take.  I knew it.  But no one asked me.  And sure enough, I didn’t even really start the test then, and I failed.  And no one asked me how I felt.

Here I was back again, in that room, faced with that Barium Swallow test.  But today, the room seemed brighter.  Carole was with me this time. That’s a good thing. She makes me feel safe.  This time I walked in the door, under my own power. Today, I sit in the big chair, and do what they ask me to do. This time I have a swallow.  There is something to measure.  I know there is, not that anyone asks me.

And I know what my reward could be, should be for passing the test. I saw the reward last time.  I saw what people get for passing the test when I was in my room on the Neuro floor.  I heard about the prize from other speech patients: Lorna Doone Shortbread Cookies. That’s it! The rectangular yellow package with aqua blue lettering and the red Nabisco triangle in the top left hand corner was the holy grail of my hospital. I am not sure why this particular cookie was the material used to evaluate levels of swallow.  But it was.

And inside, the sugary, buttery, crumbly yumminess awaited and surely satisfied all that gained access.  I remember that I had this cookie down the Cape one time, at Gramma Harriet’s house.  That was decades ago and I had only had a few.  But I remember that they were yummy and I left no crumbs.  I had never bought them for myself though.  I guess I was more wrapped up in cookies with chocolate, like Chocolate Chip Cookies, Oreos or Milanos.  They were my go to choices.  I was too young to go for the simple shortbread.  That was “my grandma’s cookie,” not the choice of hip, happening youth.  How silly that notion…  Here in my hospital, I swear there was a black market ring going on for the Lorna Doone.  I mean, our hospital was cool.  We had a Dunkin Donuts, a pizza shop and a sandwich shop too.  I had smelled the coffee with my very own nose. I had had to sit with my family in the atrium while they ate.  I knew there was “real” food in this hospital, beyond the hospital food, which didn’t look too bad either.

But the Lorna Doone Cookie, oh that golden cookie, had a certain undeniable attraction for all here. Certain nurses had them as snacks. They kept their stash somewhere safe and seemed to give them out to certain patients for special treats.  Sometimes they would run out of the Lorna Doones and talk about when the next delivery might be, like they were on a separate delivery schedule than other snacks.  I don’t imagine the cookies were that much more expensive than other snacks.  Why wouldn’t they be on the same order of snacks and in the same volume and delivered at the same frequency?  Why the secrecy?  Why the mystery?

Carole had a few packages locked in her desk for her patients.   When a patient had Lorna Doones in a session, I might see the package wrapper in the trash can, under a layer of my swabs.  There were never any leftover cookies, not even a crumb.

So today, during the Barium Swallow, my eye was on the prize.  Would the swallow be good enough for the Lorna Doone?  Carole made sure I was sitting up straight in the big chair.  She stood beside me and walked me through the test.  The Lorna Doones were sitting on the table, along with cups of water and applesauce. I kept my eyes on that yellow and blue pouch while I did my best on the test.  I did what I was told. Hold this in your mouth. Swallow this.  Swallow that.  Swallow three times. Wait…Check, Check plus, Check plus, Check plus.

And the prize was mine.  I tried to eat them slowly and carefully, but I admit to rapid devouring of the sweet, buttery, golden, and yummy shortbread cookies. Carole went over with me and sent me home with, a strict set of guidelines for eating. We would continue the DPNS four times a week for a while.  The swallow was not secure, she needed me to know that and be careful.

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She wanted me to set up an appointment with a nutritionist. I would need to start PT too at the hospital to work on my lesser disabilities now that my swallow was improving.  She said the PEG tube removal surgery would be scheduled soon.  All this she said.  And all this I committed to as my new plan.  I could do this, with cookies.

May 18th 2016

The past few days have been a roller coaster.  There have been high highs and lows.  I am not very good with the roller coaster anymore.  I used to live in the drama and crave the chaos. As my students say, “you been there Miss, you done that.” Now I really do better with keeping things low key, middle of the road, kinda routine, and on an even keel.  But sometimes life gets crazy busy and stuff happens.  That is ok, sometimes.  I love that my life is filled.  I would not want it to be empty and alone.  That is my choice.  It is my choice, too, to respond quietly and calmly to high highs in my life, and not react viciously, sarcastically in ways that harm myself and others.  Those are my choices.  And so I agree and often quote Charles Dickens’ words in A Christmas Carol. “May you be happy in the life you have chosen.” Yup.

A recent high, high is the Heart Walk and one of the final activities for the year in that area is the Cookie Raffle.  Every child who makes a donation to our red wagon, gets a raffle ticket with their name on it.  The tickets are kept a big bucket.  If you donate more money, your name goes in again.  So the more you give, the more chances you have to win.  And what you win is a Sugarhouse Cookie.  Each year, I pull out all my heart shaped molds.  I make a double or triple batch of Sugarhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie dough and bake 5 different sized BIG cookies.  The cookies are wrapped.  They are brought to school and my kids pick the winning tickets out of the big bucket of raffle tickets. Image-_4-5_18

This year I made 5 big heart shaped cookies from a double batch of dough.  I love seeing the faces of the kids as they collect their prizes.  “Wow, it’s such a big cookie and it’s shaped like a heart!” exclaimed one second grade winner, with eyes bugging a bit out of his head as he carried away his Big Cookie Prize. What a gift!

Another definite high high was our first time going to the Hanmi Tae Kwon Do “Heart of Massachusetts Tournament.”  Jason actually wanted to be a part of the tournament.  Brave.  The young master suggested that he enter the Forms, Breaking and Sparring events.  He did.  Impressive.  We showed up for the day before 9am to make sure we got a good seat.  Good advice and we followed it.  Inside the school, which I had never been to, were swarms of people from our studio and others.  They were busy getting ready for a day, with their tags and bags, shirts and gear.  They knew what to do and where to go and we did not.  On the inside, I was a bit scared and out of my comfort zone by a lot. On the outside, I hope I appeared calm and encouraging for Jason.  He found a group of his friends to stretch, play and practice with.  I snuggled into a spot on the bleachers and waited.  A young man from our studio, already a black belt, sat quietly beside us.  I had seen him many times at the studio and I wanted to respect his space here today.  But I asked one question about the tournament and that led to quite a good chat. He takes a moment of calm and peace to get ready for the day.  This is his 9th tournament and for him, what works best is not running and playing before, and using a lot of energy.  He needs a quiet moment, and takes it.  He gave me the inside scoop on how things work for the day.  I felt so much the better for the chance to get to know this remarkable young man, just a little bit.

Last year there had been just over 100 competitors.  This year the numbers swelled to 200.  And each competitor has a team from their studio and family and friends to support them.  The gym was packed. Crowds of people I don’t know in a new place, doing something I don’t really understand, loudly, is tough for me.  It is outside my comfort zone. I know that I spend my day in a big, very loud building with 400 or so kids and I only really know 50 of them well.  But somehow, the smells, sights, sounds and activity of my school became a comfort zone to me over time.  This venue is not my school.  And I am a bit uncomfortable. But I am there.  I am glad I am there and I am doing things to make myself feel safe, like talking to the young man.  And I am there with my “mens” and for Jason.  I can show up today. After all, this day is not all about me.

At days’ end, I can reflect on the event.

  1. First and foremost, Jason is amazing.  He is talented.  He is dedicated.  And he was able to maintain great focus in the midst of all the hub bub.  I couldn’t do that.  He won a gold medal and 2 bronze.  I am proud, so proud.  But I can’t ooze too much of this when he’s around, don’t want his head to get even bigger. Tee Hee.
  2. The day was long.  It was 2 hours longer than we thought and we left early.  But all 3 of us had the stamina for the day.  Jason to focus and demonstrate skills all day, and Tim and I to sit stillish and quietish on hardish bleachers.  Well done!
  3. Our studio is the best studio, for us.  The event itself and all the students and masters involved, demonstrated a level of grace, dignity, agility and strength that was, if I were to give it a teacherly grade, A plus-all the way and all day.  Really and truly beautiful to see what they have taught and so many have learned.
  4. Lack of manners, ticks me off. I mean why can’t folks sit down, stay seated and stop talking all the dang time. I wanted to unleash my teacher voice several times in the morning.  Tim helped me see what an over the top loony direction I was heading in. And I did calm down before actually acting on the bezeek thoughts.  I am so grateful for him.  I need a hand of reason in my life.  He is it. I hope I help him half as much as he saves me.

And 5.  Most important note to self: Next year we can bring our own food into the event.  We didn’t think it was allowed.  So I went hungry choosing not to eat what they sold. Tim and Jason went broke trying the foods they sold.  Meanwhile, our studio friends were smarter than me, with a big cooler bag.  I saw it opened and spied 3 bags of cookies, nuts, juice, sandwiches, seltzer, water and a big bag of already unwrapped rolo candies.  They had mercy on me and I ate 3 Rolo treats.  That chocolatey caramel yum on my tongue, vastly improved my mood and made the day better.  Next year I already have a plan to come prepared.  Even if we can’t bring food, we will come.

A low point of the week continues to be some choices that my students make that I don’t think are the best.  The combined effect of their less productive and cooperative choices is a pretty chaotic and kind of hostile vibe in class.  One student, in particular, is seriously struggling.  He is in pain and I can’t take it away.  I hate that feeling.  So I try each day to add sunshine and sweetness to the vibe.  Some days it works.  Some days, not so much.  I am just not that powerful.  But I do have the power to leave that vibe at school.  I choose not to bring that trouble home with me. That is a good choice for me.

Another low point centers around home.  A member of my small, but strong family is sick.  He is in the hospital where he needs to be.  That is a good place to be.  They will help him while he is there.  But I worry.  I can’t make well.  I am just not that powerful.  And worrying doesn’t help.  As a family, we have lit a candle for him and we say prayers.  That we can do.

And stroke creeps in as the day’s final low.   Seems that stroke is never far from me.  It is never far from most, I think.  When one person has their stroke, their family and friends, neighborhood, job and religious community are forever changed.  The effects ripple out like waves from the person who has the stroke all the way out to the edge of their community.  Today, a coworker with one of my favorite names, came to me with sad news.  The father of a staff member had a big stroke last night.  My coworker didn’t have many details.  But he wanted to share what he did know, with me, the resident stroke survivor.  He said that it was sudden and it was bad.  He didn’t know how long it was before the father got to a hospital.  He knew the father had been transferred already from one hospital to another.  We found out from another staff member that things don’t look great to the father who just had his stroke.   His child is of course absent today to be with family.

My coworker came to me and all we can do right now is say a prayer.  Check. We talked about a card or meals going forward, but not right now.  We talked about the heart wagon and heart walk and all the good work we have just done in our little community raising awareness for stroke, getting the message out FAST.  We are helping make a difference in the 80% of strokes that are preventable.  But this father’s stroke is here.  It hit home.

I talked about the present system that gets someone care when they do have a stroke and how I don’t think it’s good enough.  I told him how Time is Brain for someone who has a stroke.  Every minute in the stroke, kills 2 million brain cells.  The right care needs to happen fast.  It is frustrating.  The state is trying to coordinate care, but it is not happening yet.  A possible plan for a better system is stuck in political gridlock. And that is not good enough for me.  My coworker with a favorite name listened to me vent and came out with a great line. The system should “do what makes sense, not only what makes cents.”  A brilliant and probably accurate line.  But stroke doesn’t wait for us to get ready.  It comes.  And it blows one life and all those who care about him, to smithereens.  It strikes fast and severe.  And here it is again, near me.  But I could be there for my coworker, with a favorite name, to talk to.  We could pray.  And we will be there for our coworker in the days to come.  I can be there for people today.  And they come to me, which is incredible to be a part of a caring community who see that I have something to offer.  I am so lucky.  Most people who have strokes are not so lucky.  I just wish for a day when new strokes don’t savage so many lives, quite so frequently.

With high highs and lows, I do what I can to find balance.  I bake.  Tonight after a walk with my 2 and 4 legged “mens,” I made a batch of my own Lorna Doone Wannabees.


They are too hot to eat right now.  But the house smells sugary and buttery.  My house smells like Lorna Doones! V. Cool.  And with that blessing, I am more than content to climb into bed and cozy up with a cup of tea and a velvet eared beagle.

May 12 – 15th 2003 & 2016

Stroke Awareness Month Tawpic for the day: Image-#1-for-5_12---Copy

“We believe what we tell ourselves.”  Hmmm.

After 43 years, I have to agree.  Nancy, my Buddhist Reiki Master, would talk about the “stories” that we tell ourselves.  She said that often we “have old tapes running in our heads.”  These powerful tales become truth. I became defined and limited by the stories I told me about me, and about life.  In 2003, my story was one of a warrior. I told myself to survive my stroke and rehab.  I defined myself as a fighter.  I fought and I won a couple rounds.  I didn’t die from the stroke.  And I drove again.  And I got my swallow back. But after a while, those tapes weren’t enough.  I existed in survival mode. The body healed but the spirit was sick and dying. Today life is very different: intentionally, on purpose and authored for joy on a daily basis.  The tapes are not old ones. And the stories I hear, make and tell myself, change daily.

Story I lived in April 2003:  Fight on Rachel!  Don’t give up! If you just get your swallow back, everything will be ok. Everything will go back to normal.

Story I lived in the rest of 2003 and beyond:  I can swallow.  I survived.  I did not get my life back. Everything is not ok. Nothing is the same except the mechanics. I am not a teacher.  I am not loveable.  I don’t know who I am.  I don’t like what I see.  Why did I have a stroke?  Why me? Why me?  When will this be over? Why can’t I just die?

Stories I live today:  Why not me, have a stroke?  I was saved for something.  How can I best be of service today? What can I create and share? What do I dare try today? What would my mentors and angels want me to do today?  I can be a better teacher.  I need more coffee.  I love my family.  What else can I make Blue for Stroke Awareness?  What should I bake today?

What are your stories?



May 12-15th 2003

I feel good about the work with Carole this week.  She did a lot of note taking.  She said there were many responses.  But now it is the weekend.  I am alone and there is no stimulation.  The Coumadin dose was upped from 12.5 mgs for the week to 12.5 alternating with 15mgs a day.  The blood is too slow.  That is not good, especially on the weekend when there is no one. On the feeding side, I am quite a professional.  It is good to have the mobility, not being attached to the Kangaroo.  Lola and I take short walks now, up and down our street 5 times a day.  She is my nurse and I follow her instructions.  She says that walkies are good.  So we do.  Ciro is spending a lot of time during the day on the porch relaxing in the sun.  It is good to see him relax a bit.  At night, he is right by me with Lola.  The two of them seem to take turns watching me.  It’s a good thing. My baby Zoebug is having a bout of her barfing.  Is there bulimia in the animal world?  She seems to have a good stretch, put on a bit of weight and then turn around and throw it all up til she is back to skin and bones.  Now is one of those times. I give her food and love and keep an eye on her.

Weekend nights are the hardest.  The sun seems to set earlier on the weekends, although scientifically I know that’s impossible.  The nights are so long anyway.  And there is no work with Carole during the days to get me tired or make me feel like I am doing anything. After the evening walkies with Lola and cookies given and a can slammed, then what?  More time to be alone and worry.  I check my pupils in the mirror a lot more now.  I check for even pupils.  I check for the pupils to react as I turn the bathroom lights off and on and off and on again.  I think I am doing ok.  But I am not sure. So I check a lot because I am alone for so long on the weekends.  No one would know if it came.  I want to be able to call 911 before I can’t speak or move.

Tonight I check an awful lot.  I just can’t get comfortable.  When it is time for my last can of the night, I head into the kitchen where I keep the cans.  I get it ready, undo my tube and pour it in.  As I say the “glug, glug, glug,” something happens.  Something was different.  Breathe. Breathe, Rachel.  Get your suction.  Where is the suction?  Grab the phone.  What just happened? I found the phone.  I have the suction.  I don’t need the suction.  My mouth is dry.  I don’t need the suction.  I said the “glug, glug,” and I think I swallowed. I think I did.  Did I?  Focus, Rachel.  You can do it!  Grab your suction in one hand and the phone in the other.  Be ready now.  Do it again.  I did it. I swallowed.  Yup, all the parts from the lips to the tongue, over the back of the mouth and down the throat, worked together to take that spit down the old fashioned way.  It feels so weird.  I better check my eyes.  Maybe I hurt something when I swallowed. Maybe it is right before the next stroke now.  Lights on and  Lights off.  Nope, the pupils are reacting fine.  I head back out to the kitchen, looking for Lola.  I stand very still and tell her to watch me.  I focus on the sequence, visualize the spit sliding down inside me.  And then, I do it.  I swear, that dog smiles at me.  I do it again and again.  I am smiling a lot and babbling to Lola.  Ciro and Zoe come to see what’s going on in the kitchen.

In my mind, I think about how I have to test out how good this swallow is.  Tonight I am the Freaky Strokey Frankenstein monster.  But I am the Scientist too.  It is middle of the night in my fortress.  I have to know. I mean, spit is one thing.  But what about food? Could I? Should I?  Of course I should.  I mean, why not?  If I can’t swallow something more, then I will just dig it out with my finger and suction.  I’ve got the tools for swallowing problems. I mean, what’s it gonna do to me if it doesn’t work? What do I have to lose?

I grab a can of formula and quickly slam it back down onto the counter.  Really Rachel? You are not going to break this fast with that crap, are you?  I guess it counts as sustenance.  It has kept you going.  But is it meant to be actually taken orally?  Nahhhhhhhhhhh.  So get something else.  And get it fast, before the swallow disappears again.  But what?  The cupboards and fridge are bare of food, except cat and dog food.  I haven’t had any need for food.  There is none.  Oh great. It’s the middle of the night, and I haven’t got any food.  I start pacing  around the house, rage and sorrow building.  It is night and the babies get excited by the laps I am doing.  But it is not play time.  Focus Rachel.  I stop in the dining room and breathe.  And there it is;  the answer to my prayers.  (Chocolate is the answer to just about any question imaginable.)  There is the stash of REAL English Cadbury Crème Eggs that my Dad brought me.  The set of 9 is complete, minus one.  I had my Godmother over two weeks ago and I asked her to eat one, enjoy, and tell me every last gosh darn detail of the experience.  She didn’t want to.  But I was losing hope of swallowing, it was egg season, I had the eggs, and she came to visit and I really had nothing else to offer her. She did it for me.  And she told me every touch and taste and smell detail from the foil wrapper, through to creamy milk chocolate with the yellow and white cream inside, not too sweet. Very thick and rich cream with the perfect thickness of chocolate covering the liquid heaven inside.  She walked me through the whole thing describing every single detail.  I knew at the time that she really didn’t want to, but did it for me, and I was so very grateful.

I had put the rest of the stash of 8 eggs on the big shelf of the built-in along with Ken’s Maple Syrup.  My sterling silver coffee service and favorite footed tea pot kept them company.  I went right to them.  I took a plate from the set of china.  And I moved to the dining room table behind me.  But I did not sit.  I stood strong.  I found the seam in the foil and gently peeled it back, carefully trying to get the foil off in one piece.  The chocolate underneath is smooth and perfect. There is not a nick or a ding on the egg.  Some eggs get bashed and damaged in transit, but not this one. I smell it all over.  There is the sweetest smell ever from Real Cadbury Crème Eggs.  Whenever I read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and Dahl describes the chocolate waterfall, the one that Augustus Gloop falls into, I KNOW what that smells like.  And I know what it tastes like.  It is this Egg. Every single Cadbury Crème Egg is consistently sublime.  It doesn’t change.  It never disappoints.

My mouth doesn’t open wide easily right now.  The muscles are all buggered. During my sessions with Carole, I stretch and get the mouth working good.  But right now I am not very patient.  I don’t really want to do the stretches.  I don’t even know if this will work, if I will work.  So I better cut the egg into pieces.  I get a small knife from the kitchen and bring it back to the egg on the china plate on the table.  I do sit down now.  I cut through the perfect thickness of chocolate once.  Now the egg is in two pieces.  My hands are shaking.  I stop cutting and tell myself to pull it together.  Calm.  I do and I take up the knife again.  I make another cut.  I do it right this time.  Well done.  Stop cutting and try Rachel.  Try to eat before the swallow goes again.  I put down the knife and pick up a small piece of the precious chocolate with a good sized dab of the crème on it.  I can smell it coming to me as I raise it up. I open the mouth and pop it in.  I shut my mouth and I stop thinking.  I stop planning.  I am not the scientist anymore.  I chew a bit.  And then I just swallow the creamy, chocolate, gooey goodness.  I do.  I do.  It goes right down.  But it does feel strange and the bits and bobs inside me are confused.  I do have to sort of tell it to keep going, all the way down to my tummy.  I think all of me forgot this thing called eating. When it is done, that one bite, I find that I am just sitting there in my dining room.  I have no idea how much time has passed since the first swallow.  I check the clock on the tv.  It is after 11.  And I notice how quiet the house is.  And the street beyond is quiet too.  Strange that it should be so silent there, when inside me there is so much life and noise right now. Regular folks are sleeping by now, even on the weekend I don’t see many lights on in the neighborhood.  I can’t sleep now.  I can’t rest.  I sit right back down at that table and eat that egg.  Carefully and methodically, I eat.  Slowly I make sure that I swallow each bite.  And I do it.  And now I look at the clock again. It has taken time to eat the egg.  It is after midnight.   It is a brand new day.  And today, I swallow.

I can’t settle down.  I can’t settle into bed.  I sit on the couch and watch TV.  I keep the suction near, just in case. So much is happened tonight.  And it is a good thing.  But I am not comforted. I feel a bit more uneasy than usual and I am not sure why. I know I am getting really tired and I know it is really late so eventually I crawl into bed and doze. When I wake up, I reach for the suction.  Then I remember and I try and I swallow again.  It still works.  I am still swallowing. I go to the kitchen and pour in a can of formula after I feed the babies.  I have to take the Coumadin, colase, etc.  They are in pill form.  I don’t dare try that maneuver. And I don’t try to drink the liquid canned formula either.  Liquids, I have learned from Carole, can be tricky to swallow.  I do what I know works and crush the pills and pour the can in my tube.

Today is Mother’s Day and I have to go over and visit Mom after church.  I am going to bring her some flowers.  And I will sit with her while she has lunch.  I take Lola with me, because hmmmm.  Why do I take her?  I need her.  I feel safe with her.  On the way over, I stop at Price Chopper to get the flowers.  I bring the suction with me in the car.  But I leave it there with Lola while I pop inside.  I have the tissues wadded in my hand if I need them, but so far, so good.  The flower department is right near the door on the left.  But as I walk in, I turn right.  I head straight past several aisles and then turn left onto aisle 9. I go halfway down the aisle, turn left and stop.  There in front of me are the little tubs of applesauce.  I pick up a pack.  Just one pack.  At the “home” and from Carole I have learned that applesauce is the right consistency for people with swallowing problems.  It is thick, but not too thick and thin, but not too thin.  It is not hot or cold, but room temp and that is the best.  It is bland and not spicy and that is the best too.  I have to try this out today.  I have to see if this swallow is real in the daylight. Now, I head for the flowers, totally unaware of what I buy.  I take the flowers and apple sauce to the register.  I check out.  As I am standing there at the counter, inside my head is screaming, “I can swallow.  I can do it. Yesterday and for so many yesterdays, I couldn’t.  But today I can.  And I am going to eat this applesauce. I will!”  But I don’t say a word out loud.  I know better.  A person yelling excitedly about being able to eat, essentially baby food, is likely a nut job.  I don’t want that right now.  I just want to be normal.  So I pay for the apple sauce and flowers and no one there knows.

Over at my Mom’s, I give her the card and flowers.  She is very appreciative and sets about getting a vase from the cupboard over the stove.  She picks the blue purple metalicky glass vase fills it with water. She is chatting to me about church, she saw Farmer Ken and he sends his best to me, while she trims the flower stalks and arranges them in the vase.  She cleans up the counter, throwing away the stalks and washing the knife and cutting board. She puts the flowers on the dining room table next to the two candlesticks in the center.  All the while I am thinking of the one tub of apple sauce that is inside my purse.  My purse is sitting on a chair in the corner of her dining room near the chair that I sit at.  I have a wad of tissues in my hand.  But I haven’t used it for my spit.  Very carefully and quietly, I have been swallowing my spit while she talks.  Focusing on the swallow is probably why I haven’t really heard much that she is saying.  My mom gets her lunch ready, bread and cheese and fruit are cut and arranged nicely on the plate.  I only brought one tub of applesauce into her house.  The rest are in the car.  Lola is under the table, hopeful that Mom will drop her or give her a bit of cheese or cracker.  As she is eating and chatting about the sermon at church, I get up and go to the kitchen.  I grab another tissue, but I also grab a spoon. I head back into the dining room and sit down on my chair, with my purse on my lap.  While Mom tells me about the hymns that they sang, I open my purse.  I put the apple sauce on my lap and the purse on the floor.  Without fuss or t-do, I put the tub on my placemat and begin peeling back the foil.  I am not sure when Mom notices what I am doing.  When she does she asks what I am doing.  I hear her in the distance, but I don’t look up.  And I answer that I am just going to show her something.  I dip the spoon into the tub and get some sauce on the spoon.  I lift the spoon, open my mouth, and in it goes.  And down it goes.  And now I look at Mom.  I think she was holding her breath.  Now she exhales and smiles.  Slowly and carefully I take my time, but I eat every drop of cool, smooth, sweet sauce inside that tub.

I tell her about what happened last night with the Cadbury Crème Egg.  I will call my Dad and tell him when I get home.  It has been 12 hours now and I am still swallowing.  I have eaten the egg and I have eaten the tub of applesauce.  It’s a good thing, right?  I look ok, right?  This is what I ask her and she asks me if I am ok doing this.  I am not sure.  But I have done it. I tell her what I know about applesauce being a good consistency for me to be eating.  She seems to accept that.  The chocolate egg, late at night, worries her a bit.  “Was that safe?” she asks.  I don’t know, but I see Carole first thing tomorrow morning.  If I am still swallowing then, she will take it from there.

After I am sure she thinks I am doing ok, I head home.  I really want to eat more applesauce.  I am not hungry.  But I want to taste the sauce. I want that sweet blob of sauce inside my mouth, on my tongue and inside my cheeks. I want to feel it move around and then send it rocketing down my throat.  I will not try anything else.  But I need to do that.

How do I tell my Dad this story?  I am still in doubt about what happened in the dark to me alone last night.  How could the swallow just switch on like that, in that moment?  I don’t believe in miracles. But it was gone and then it was there.  I can’t believe I ate the egg, except I can see the wrapper in my trash, and I was there. And are there magical healing properties in the English chocolate?  I mean it seemed to help my swallow on all fronts. And I can’t understand where the spit in my mouth has gone for the past 18 hours.  My Mom was floored by the applesauce and she saw me do it.  I saw the total shock and awe on her face.  The scene played out fine in one take.  It was right out of a thriller flick.  It is also an Easter resurrection story of sorts, complete with miracle.  But we are not a religious family. And this part of my story was sweeter and family friendly with the transatlantic traveled Cadbury Chocolate as the centerpiece. It is a fictional, wild, fairy tale to be sure.  And that is how it should be told.

I dialed the international code for England and followed with the cell phone number to reach my Dad and Step Mum on the boat.  With any luck, and I do believe in luck, they would be moored somewhere there was a signal.  “Ring Ring,”  trilled the line.   I had gotten across the Atlantic.  My Dad picked up and I launched in with my tale.  It was a dark and stormy night, I began.  Well it was dark, but not stormy, except inside my own body.  No, I was not so dramatic in the telling.  Last night, I told them, I got my swallow back.  And I wanted to eat.    I had to break the fast. But there was nothing in the house to eat, except for one thing.   I had the Cadbury Crème Eggs he had brought me at my hospital for Easter.  And that is exactly what I did.  I broke my fast with the only food I had at home, the good stuff, real chocolate that had crossed the Atlantic with my Dad, because it was Easter and that was our tradition. I heard him laugh and in my mind I saw him smile, with tears.   That was the story, the simple, inconceivable truth.




May 12th 2016,

Tale of Tears and Toenails

(A 6th grade Soap Opera-so says my “gem”)

As all good stories begin, once upon a time there was an exceptional 101 year old, neighborhood school in our fair city. And in that exceptional school, there was a sixth grade class nearing the very end of their elementary school career.  The lights of middle school loom large and bright.  Fear of the unknown, growing up and pimples, runs deep through every child.  And every child has been performing difficult deeds spanning many days, in the subjects of mathematics and literature to show the kingdom their level of academic prowess.  The tremendous trepidation of 7th grade, coupled with extreme exertion has made for some less than ladylike and gentlemanly behaviors.  Children have been seen doing and heard saying that which should not be, in school.  Respect for the Elder Esteemed Educator has waned.  Defiance is on the increase and due diligence to duty decreases daily.  The Elder Esteemed Educator (me), AKA E3,  has lost heart, been beat down, humiliated, ignored and is otherwise not feeling the good vibes right now from her young prodigies.

To illustrate this vibe is one of the daily conversations between E3 and sweet Shakespeare.  This wee one can’t be more than five years old.  Shakespeare and E3 meet at days end every day, when the wee one loads onto a great yellow carriage with a score of her fellows to go home for the night.  Each day the line, or lately lump, of children file up the carriage steps.  And each day Shakespeare stops the line and pauses.  She raises her thoughtful eyes to E3 and queries, “Miss, Did any of the youth say bad words to you today?”  She has heard about and indeed been witness to some foolish comments directed at E3.  This apparently insults her sweet sensibilities.  At first E3 would tell the wee one that she had indeed borne some discourteous language.  Then E3 changed her response to asking Shakespeare how her day was and had she done her best.  Both E3 and Shakespeare daily agree that they have done the right thing by their varied tasks.  E3 looks forward to the angelic face that always checks on her day, stopping a flood of fellows in their tracks and makes sure all is well for her endeared educator.

E3 greets each new morn with good heart puts her mind on the potential of the day.  E3 and the Greek Goddess coteacher, AKA the G2, valiantly lead the students through their day.  But the sassy and silly, brazen and bold behaviors of the many are taking their toll on our 2.  When the bell tolls at the end of day, E3 and G2 wearily, weakly and sadly stagger to their trusty steeds and ride off home for the night.  The evening is not one of rest for our two.  Love of home and family sees them on an endless journey in service of their beloved spouses, children, church and 4 leggeds.  Laundry, food shopping and meal preparation, cleaning, washing, teaching, organizing and activities of the beloved heirs fill the hours til sunset, and beyond.

After educating the youth, E3 ran home and changed clothes.  Water was grabbed, a quick cuddle given to Gus and the heir was picked up from his academy.  All celebrated with an hour at the park, soaking up sunshine and enjoying the fresh air with friends.  It was glorious.  When they returned to the Blue home, bedecked with bunting and lanterns of blue in honor of Brain Attack Awareness, the heir worked on homework dutifully.  E3 prepped supper for her family.  The 4 leggeds were fed and cuddled.  E3 bathed herself and supervised the heir.  She set about to finding and making a suitably divine double chocolate cookie as a Thank You for a coworker who had generously given our E3 her prize winning basket of canine goodies.  (Insert image of cookies and link to the recipe here.)

With this accomplished, she rounded up Ciro for his annual vet appointment.  The other four leggeds in the blue home, Gus and Rondo would have their visit tomorrow, together.  But the Green Eyed Elder, sweet love of E3, Ciro would go to the vet by himself.  This ensures complete attention of the new Doctor could be given, undivided, to himself.  The ride over the roads was a noisy one for E3 and Ciro as he howled a sad, desperate song in her ear for the duration.  Once at the vet, a mistake was discovered.  The visit was unnecessary.  There was no need for a needle today.  Elated and still in possession of her coins, the two went home and all in the Blue home enjoyed the marvelous meal of perfectly grilled Hamburgers and fixings. Ahhhhhh, bliss!

After supper, E3 and her Magnificent Man aka M2, relaxed and enjoyed a great Red Sox Game on the telly.  The heir to their throne came loudly upon them, crying pain and distress over the severe hangnail of the big toe on his left foot.  E3, tsssked the toe nail, for growing so long and breaking off so deep.  There would be pain for sure in the removal of the offending nail.  She offered the clippers.  She offered the scissors.  She offered to tear the nail right off. But each loving offer of help, was vehemently denied by the heir, repulsed even.  In fact, he exclaimed “Mom, I don’t TRUST you.”  What did he say?  What did he mean?  Oi, the knife in her maternal heart struck deep.  E3 excused herself and behind the closed door of the loo, she broke into sobs.  Hot tears ran down her face. Her shoulders wracked with the rejection.

But tears are not in E3’s nature.  She is, as one sweet friend often regales, “too blessed, to be depressed.”  This is true and E3 began to calm and collect herself with this awareness.  The muscles in E3’s face are another great reason not to weep, for they are spastic in nature after our dear lady endured a brain attack, years back.  When she weeps, the muscles in her face freeze and her visage contracts into a distorted, less than beautiful sight.  Before this dreadful event occurred, E3 took deep breaths and gave herself a “good talking to,” as her beloved Grandmamma Harriette of Cape Cod had taught her.  E3 weighed the day’s events, both home and school.  School had worn her down severely revealing an emotionally sensitive side rarely seen for our dear lady.  The heir had issued but one snide comment.  Her reaction was way too grandiose for the offense committed.  She was assured, in her heart and soul that the heir adored her.  Yes, on a daily basis, he would banter and word joust with E3 and M2.  To be sure, he was flexing his wings and often the result was sassy and stinging.  The safety and security ever present in our Blue home was felt by all who resided there. There was no question about that.  Fiery Personalities and Passion abounded, but always the root, was love.  And so E3 reflected that she must “check herself before she wrecked herself.”  This wise wordage adorned the walls of her classroom at school.  Tonight she, herself, would heed the wisdom that she oft quoted to the prodigies.

And sweet slumber fell over the Blue home.  On the morning of the 13th, E3 geared up for a good day.  Copious cups of coffee with cream filled her tank.  She kissed M2 and Gus, patted Ciro and Rondo, and after blowing the heir a kiss of luck, headed off to school.  Prodigies this day were at peak volume.  Undignified arguing was done by one usually, on the beam student.  Young Carter engaged in offensive word jousting against a much esteemed colleague of E3. Shocking.  Other prodigies were invading each other’s space and making a mockery overall of the days academic pursuits.  Sadness fell across the sixth grade of our exceptional school. It was barely an hour into the school day and a black cloud of less than coolness, shrouded our heroes once again.

E3 and G2 exchanged knowing looks across the school room.  The unity of their spirits gave E3 an idea.  Perchance, she might tell the prodigies a tale, of toe nails and tears. In the bleak desolation of this moment, would she bare her soul to the youth and risk the full rejection she had but sampled from the heir the night before?   Would the minute flicker of hope for peace inside her, be enough to bring forth a tale that might inspire the youth for better thoughts and deeds? She wavered for a moment and then began.  All youth closed their mathematics for the moment. E3 began to tell the tale, the very same tale I have shared with you, dear reader.  And with each sentence she quietly, carefully, gently and oh so honestly uttered, the black cloud lifted inch by inch.  “You see, my dear ones,” she said, “it is not enough to just get by and make it til the last day of school.”  Our next 23 days together are too precious to me and to you to dishonor them in this foul manner.  Each day is a gift and I have learned that things change on a dime.  If today is all I have, then I must enjoy and celebrate this day, with you.  I love my life.  And you are in my life.  And I do not just “get by.”  I am worth more than that.  I cannot afford to refuse the gift of today, when I am not guaranteed a tomorrow.  My brain attack has taught me this. So come along with me. Dear ones, you are nearing the end of this part of your childhood.  You can see that your life will be in your own hands fully, in a matter of mere years. This is terrifying and exhilarating for you, I know.  But do not continue to practice this basest of behaviors.  You know that I will not assess you the “mean” way.  You are not merely the average of all your day’s efforts.  You are a work in progress. You must do better for others, be better for yourself and strive for greatness in each breath.  That is a pursuit worthy of your time, and mine.”

The words were said.  The day continued with mathematics, literature, science and geography.  At day’s end E3 and Shakespeare met again before the great yellow carriage. “Miss, did the kids say bad things to you today?” she kindly queried.  This day, E3 smiled big, paused for a moment, and gently cupped the wee one’s face in her warm hand.  “No, my love, today was a gift we all enjoyed.”  The words were true and heartfelt.  With Shakespeare’s face still at hand, E3 inquired how her day had fared.  Had she heard bad words today or had it been fair?  The wee one answered, “No bad words did I hear, Miss.  But Saint Nicholas, my friend- the lad behind me in line- was not saintly at all.  He slapped me across the face. Indeed he did.”  With that, she uttered a hope for a better tomorrow and head held high, climbed the steps into her carriage, and headed for home.

E3 didn’t what to think about what Shakespeare said.  She was caught off guard.  Her own day had been so much improved from the previous.  There was a pink cloud of joy and peace around her.  This news startled her and darkened the pink cloud a bit.   The one comment was not enough to darken her spirits for long.   As she charged over the roads towards the Blue Home, she smiled.  This moment was to be cherished.  E3 had followed her heart and been true to her sensibilities.  Fueled by the strength of her convictions and with the support of her angels, goodness had triumphed over evil, for a bit.

The Blue home was again bustling with activities of the day.  There was so trip to the park for the young heir.  The promise of playing football with M2 after supper was enough to keep the lad on track without tantrum.  Homework was done, reading begun, and water and snack devoured with relative serenity.  Young heir prepared himself with uniform and belt for Tae Kwon Do.  The practice of which centered his energy, conditioned his body and regulated his spirit.  He awaited M2 to bring him to the studio.  E3 flew to the attic and got the cat carrier, dog harness, lead and several towels.  The back door was locked to limit the whereabouts of Rondo.  He hid in plain sight in the living room.  It didn’t work.  E3 scooped him up and jammed him into his carrier.  Cage door secured, Rondo began a whining discontented yowl.  Gus happily got into his harness and lead under the misidea that he was going for a walk.  The heir opened doors as E3 came forth with cat carrier in the left hand and dog lead in the right.  Three in the car hurried to the vet, one 2 legged and 2 four leggeds.  The heir waited at the Blue Home for M2.

At the vet, both were checked in.  “Do you have any concerns about Rondo?”  the tech queried.  “Rondo bags many bats from our attic.  But it seems to agree with him.  He is the picture of health.”  Notes were made in the file for the Doctor, while chuckles came forth steadily.

“Do you have any concerns today about Gus?”  the still smirking tech asked.  E3 lovingly began, “He’s our best puppy luppy.  We love him so.  He is not the more slender since last year.  And above his hips there is a large bubble.  It is not tender or seem to be a bother to our Gus. I worry a bit, but my beagle friends tell me, it is a beagle thing and not to be alarmed.”  Again, notes were made in the file for the Doctor, while the tech shook her head back and forth in bemusement.

E3 remained v. concerned about meeting the new vet.  What would she say about Rondo, AKA Batman?  Was he overly robust?  Was the onset of rabies imminent? Would she look shamefully at the girth of Gus?  Would she report E3 to the DDS (department of dog services) for the condition of his nails which remained untrimmed since the last annual visit?  Was it neglect?  What were the masses above the sweet Gus’s haunches?  How much would this cost?

Dr. V came in and led the visit and her meetings with E3’s beloveds with treats.  For each lovely she produced a suitable pillow on which they would lie while being examined.  And when the needle drew near, she distracted them with a sumptuous vittle.  Neither of my babies ate the treat then, but did appreciate the obvious sign of respect being given in the offering.  Both were marvelously behaved.

The results of the visit are as follows:

  • Rondo weighs a perfectly perfect 11.5 pds, up half a  pound from last year.
  • Rondo has the shiniest softest coat.
  • Rondo took his shots very well.
  • Rondo needed an extra booster of rabies shot as he will not cease and desist destroying bats.
  • Gus can be lifted onto an exam table by a mere mortal.  I saw it.
  • Gus gained 3 pounds from last year and weighed in at 46.3 pounds.
  • Gus’s weight gain went unmentioned and seemed to elicit no concern.  Therefore Gus is perfect, as we knew.
  • Gus’s bubbles and growths on haunch are not a problem.  They are and I quote, “his new love handles.”
  • Gus’s breed being beagle, apparently has a beloved and ever expanding sized status with the veterinary world.  The beagle is not held to similar health/weight standards.  I want to be a beagle.
  • Gus has almost no teeth left.  Evidently beagles don’t need teeth to gain weight.  Again, I tend towards a beagle.
  • Gus did extraordinarily well with his manicure and pedicure.  A true gentleman.
  • The bill did not make, me, E3 faint.

With glowing reviews and a clean bill of health, the 3 headed home for a supper of chicken and quinoa and green beans, oh my, with her Blue Home family, prepared by her mom.  Scrumptious.

Another was over and slumber beckoned.  All had exerted and all needed rest.  To bed with all!  Good night!

The new day would dawn and back to school E3 would go.  And the youth were back to the youthful tricks.  The moment of glee and peace was over.  The pink cloud passed, fueled by some preteen sass and attitude. The day was spent being truly human and wavering between acts of great kindness and mild baseness. Cellular Division was scholarly explored, but the volume of Rectangular Prisms, not so much.


Weekday exertions gave way to weekend celebrations.  The Blue Home celebrated the anniversary of the return of the swallow of the Brain Attack survivor, E3.  True to tradition,

We brought out the Real Cadbury Crème Eggs that have long since expired for eating, but not for admiring and due reverence for their magical and sacred powers.

We brought out the celebratory seltzer bottle, a truly blessed batch named “Unicorn Kisses,” The name is truly venerated by the family as a reference to a mystical, mythical beast, smooches of love,  and the most importantly as the name of E3’s father’s beloved Narrowboat, in England.

We brought out this year’s real Cadbury Easter EGG of the Dairy Milk, in purple majestic foiled splendor to devour on this blessed day.

And so, befitting the genre of our tale and the nature of our epic’s heroes, we can proclaim with confidence to all:  THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER, just for TODAY!  (nowhere near THE END of their story.)



May 10th 2003 & 2016

Stroke Awareness Month Tawpic for the day:  Image-_1-5_10

I can certainly identify with these words.  Most of the time and most of the people I know, don’t understand what it means to be ill or disabled or in pain, when you don’t look the part.  And I don’t wish that most people truly, personally know how I feel.  I do not want them to identify with what stroke survivors can go through on a daily basis.

Right after my stroke, I did look and act sick and different.  I was disabled in my speech and I couldn’t eat and I moved super slow and stiff.  I shuffled my feet when I walked and couldn’t move fast or far.  You saw Rachel and you knew she was ill.  But over time, I have changed and healed in many ways.  I don’t often look or act sick (other than the colds and bugs that are shared when you work in a school), I hope.  In my head, I think I sound and look a lot worse than I do. In my head, if I am very honest, I mostly see the Rachel that my students 6 weeks after my stroke: weak, suctioning, drooling and drooping.  My view of self was so altered by the sudden severity of my stroke.  The pictures of me stuck in my head, and stick there still. I know what this stroke survivor’s body and soul deals with on a daily basis.

In reality, now, I don’t look the part of someone who has had a stroke.  You could say, that now I have the “invisible illness.”  My face doesn’t droop too severely, I only slur my speech when I am totally exhausted, I can swallow and eat, I don’t drag my foot (much) and I haven’t got a claw hand.  I don’t look sick.  Even 13 years out from my stroke, at age 43 I am still well below what society thinks is the appropriate age for stroke.  I am not elderly.  I am still too young to have had a stroke.  (Although, the statistics will burst that illusion, if I just become aware of the facts.)

And it has been 13 years, I do look fine and I am still young, so what is the big deal about having my stroke.  It’s over, right?  It’s a part of the past, right? I can work.  I have a family.  I don’t need the machines anymore.  Aren’t I fine? What do you think?

Everyone has a story.  If you survive, life happens to you.  In fact, each face we meet, lives with a whole host of daily dilemmas, scars and past war wounds.  We never know what somebody endures and survives, and so we teach our children to be kind to everyone they meet.  We know, in our hearts, that what we see of our fellows exterior is not the whole story. I don’t want to imply that I believe that we are ALL ill.  No, but we all have an “invisible” self that would feel better, be better,  if we were all a bit kinder and gentler with each other.  It’s that simple.


May 10th 2003

Yesterday the Coumadin dose was 15 mg.  During my session with Carole from 11-12, I was encouraged that there were responses in several areas of my mouth and throat.  She had to break more often to make more notes.  This is good.  I try to visualize the responses getting stronger and stronger and working together.  On the way home from the hospital, a leaf or something fell towards the car and I saw it out of the corner of my eye.  On reflex, I tipped my head back and looked out the sunroof to see what it was.  Oh crap!  I don’t want to tip my head back and sever the artery.  All night I wavered between visualizing the DPNS working on my swallow and my artery erupting from my tipping my head back.  No sleep.

Today is a new day and I am not swallowing or stroking just yet. Coumadin is back down to 12.5 mgs today.  They tell me to add one extra can of formula today to my “feeding” schedule.  I guess they think I have lost enough weight.  I think not.  The one benefit of this d#@n stroke is that I am skinny. I know that it has been quite a rapid 30 pound drop.  And hey, it’s not like I am recommending that anyone have stroke for weight loss as an good alternative to Jenny Craig. But I am 30 years old, sitting at home alone with no man, no babies, recuperating from a big ole Stroke!  For the first time in my life, I am not battling my weight.  I have lost weight and am considered skinny by those charts that hang in the doctor’s office.   I am going to vainly and smugly enjoy that simple fact about me, for today.

I have Carole at my hospital for DPNS from 9am to 10am.  I get there way early and just chat with folks waiting for the PT or OT or Speech appointments.  I am ready with my suction in our session.  She is moving fast with the frozen swabs.  She grabs the packet and rips off the top.  The swabs are flying around my mouth and throat quickly jabbing at the dead receptors.  The cold vapor is still rising off the new swab. The used swabs are chucked into the trash can with one hand while the other reaches for a fresh packet.  Sometimes Carole misses the trash can and the swabs land on the floor.  I have time to grab them up, make sure they get in the trash, and swing my head up with mouth open wide enough in time for the next swab.  Quite a team we are making these days.  Carole marks some reaction in the points on my tongue and at the back of my mouth.  They are almost in sequence even.  But the swallow needs a powerful thrust and contraction of several groups of muscles, in sequence, to get the food down.  A few perks of reaction, at a couple of points is nothing to write home about. I don’t get excited about a few blips on the radar.  I just get back to work and make sure I don’t keep Carole waiting.

May 10th 2016

Woo Hoo!  The “Crack” was a big hit at school with kids and staff alike for a post-test reward.   You just open the container and this sugary buttery cloud wafts dreamily up your nose.  Ambrosia! All testing students smelled the sweet treat before testing, dreamed of it during testing (or perhaps it was just me with visions of “crack” dancing in my head) and tasted the reward after testing.  The indulgent nature of the sugar was too much for some students. Some students knew better and politely declined to eat the treat. No worries!  Giggles abounded as the kids devoured.  They worked so hard on the testing, I mean all really tried and worked towards solutions. I brought the remnants to the staff lunch room.  When the bell rang at the end of lunch, I left the container on the table and my coworker giggled and said, “You can’t forget the crack!  It might fall into the wrong hands.”  Laughter and sugar, and outdoor recess in brilliant sunshine that is finally here after a week of cold rain, is the best reward in my book.

And after school, I have another “Woo Hoo” to shout!  Yippee works too.   Today is BOTOX DAY for me.  It has been six months and I am seriously ready. I get the botox, which is the poison botulism in a medical form, to deal with the spastic muscles in the left side of my face and neck. Spasticity means that damage to the brain during the stroke, blocks messages between muscles and the brain.  So the muscles are stuck in a very strong contraction, involuntarily for long periods of time.  The spasms decrease mobility and can be wicked painful. The muscles spasm, thus the name “spastic.”

The sternocleidomastoid muscle which runs along the middle of your neck and sends tendons off all over the place are arguably the strongest muscles in your body.  And that’s the one that is spastic on this stroke survivor.  You probably are familiar with the “claw” hand on stroke survivors.  The hand is curled up and not able to be uncurled and used with much dexterity, if any.  This is a very common condition for Stroke Survivors.  My brain stem stroke gives me conditions all over myself with a bit less rhyme or reason than the norm.  Remember that the right side of my entire body has no feelings of heat, cold or pain. That is a blessing if you have spasticity, I suppose.

So my left side spastic muscle in my neck and on my face leads to pain like someone has the left side of my head in an iron vice and is really turning the screws. Cozy. It also messes with the trigeminal nerve which is responsible for a lot of face sensation and things like chewing, speaking and making my nose run wicked bad too.  Fun.  It gets hard to breathe through my nose, so I become a mouth breather. Ick.  And at night, trouble breathing and pain and congestion really help make for a good night’s sleep. Not.

I am so grateful that I have the 3pm appointment with Dr. K, my beloved neurologist at my hospital.  From school I dash home, give Ciro a nibble of wet food, brush my hair, give Gus a quick cuddle and grab Dr. K’s treat.

I always bake for my neurologist.  He, and anyone in the neuro office that he shares with, is always appreciative.  Gramma Harriet taught me well.  Good service should be rewarded, and home baked goodies rarely fail to please.  Thank You’s are so important.  I am not great with the written notes, but I am consistently dedicated to giving thanks with goodies.

I am so grateful to be able to do something for Dr. K.  His care of me since day 1 in 2003, is second to none.  I only see him twice a year now, for the Botox which gives me such a miraculous relief of pain for a month or so. Each visit, I give him a big hug.  We talk about our families.  He asks me how the baking is going.  This time, I can tell him about the writing I am doing. Each time I see him, I ask if it is getting any better out there?  Are people listening to FAST and getting help soon?  Dr. K tells me that it is not much better.  People still think that if they get a good night sleep, they will be better in the morning.  Not with a stroke.  Time is Brain.  I want to spread this message so badly.  80% of strokes never have to happen, if we heed the warnings and PREVENT them.   Every time I see Dr. K, I want better news from his end and I want to tell him about what we are trying to do to get the message out.

Back in the day I saw him all the time.  I had multiple MRIs, consultations and new treatments for the variety of neurological conditions that came over time and was constantly being re-evaluated on the healing process of my artery.  Was the artery opening back up?  Was it healing open wide enough?  Were there any pockets?  I had no real idea what any of this meant back then.  But I felt safe with him.  And now, he helps me.  I am a good patient for him. I trust him.  And so I must bake. His favorite in Chocolate Zucchini Cake.  But today I have Blueberry, Lemon, Zuke Bread with a Cinnamon Sugar Swirl for Dr. K.  I made two loaves.  As it is the first time I am trying this recipe,

one loaf was immediately cut up last night for tasting.  I mean, what if it were horrible?  I couldn’t give Dr. K something gross.  We have to taste test, right? So we did and it passed with flying colors.  My mom noted that it might be a contender for my Quick Bread entry at the Spencer Fair this year, High Praise indeed. I mark the recipe on the August page of the calendar to remind me.

Once I have the goodie in hand, Image-_2-5_10 I  pick Jason up from school. The two of us go to my hospital together.  Jason goes into the fantastic hospital gift shop and picks out a present.  Yup, I go to the doctor and he gets a present!  He picks out a plush, stuffed Siberian Husky.  He doesn’t pick the smallest one either.  It is a great choice and I buy it because it sits next to the stuffed doggie that I got when I was in the hospital for my stroke.  Thirteen years later they are still selling the same puppy: If it ain’t broke, why fix it?  The stuffed dog, quite beaglelike really, was a gift and a comfort and treasured by me to this day. I tell Jason about my puppy at home and we introduce them when we get home from Tae Kwon Do.  Image-_2a-for-5_10

New treasure in his hands and bread gift in mine,  we ride  up the glass elevator and sign in to the appointment.  The office already has my dose of Botox.  I called the specialty pharmacy a month ago, ordered, and paid for my dose to be delivered to my hospital.  Today I make a copay for the visit when I arrive. The ladies that manage the office are so nice and always so impressed by Jason. One, is a big Red Sox fan and I am glad our team is doing well so we can chat cheerfully.  The second lady saw me on TV in the Heartwalk PSA.  She thought it was me, but she wasn’t sure.  And she wanted to check with me but had no idea when I’d be in.  But I did come in and she did remember and I was flattered she recognized me. The new canine treasure in Jason’s arms brought about a whole chat about dogs.  We showed a snap of Gus and she showed her Pitty, Beau.  Then she HAD to show us her new granddaughter.  What a gift!

The nurse took us into the special room and we made ourselves comfortable.  This is no ordinary botox that I get.   No one just takes out the needle in a regular office and injects the botulism into wrinkles on a forehead.  (Believe me, I have urged and bribed Dr. K with goodies to get him to put some of the Botox into the ever increasing deep wrinkles on my forehead.  But he never does!) This special room has a big machine.  It is an Electromyogram Botox appointment so I assume the machine is the electro part. It makes a lot of noise and gives a lot of info to Dr. K about the level of spasticity in my muscles.  Based on the levels that he detects through lines stuck on me, he knows right where to inject the Botox.  This Botox essentially paralyzes the muscle for a bit.  The spasm stops, so the muscle can move with ease and be a bit more under my direction and guidance.  I have had great success with this treatment.  There is a risk that my swallow could be affected as he is poking about in the same region of my body to inject the botox.  But I trust my Doctor, and have felt only good vibes after treatment, never a problem swallowing.  So it is full steam ahead.

When Jason was little, he sat outside the room or went for a walk to the desk when Dr. K came in with my dose. He might have been a bit put off by the needles or noise.  Recently, he is intrigued by both and chooses to stay for the visit.  So this time, I ask him if he will take some pictures during the procedure for the blog.  I want to get the wires, machines, needles and bizarre facial expressions I have to make to help Dr. K find the best spot to inject.  Jason is all for it.  But he says he will have to take a video too because he needs to get the noise from the machine.  Seriously?  Yup.

Dr. K comes in and I give him the goodie.  He says it is too much and I shouldn’t have and then tucks it under his arm to bring to his office while he gets my dose of Botox.  He says he heard I spoke for the nurses and says they were impressed.  I love that he hears about me through the grapevine and is proud of his patient.  He introduces me to a woman interning with him who is going into rehab medicine.  Excellent.  He asks if I need the Botox and I answer yes before he finishes speaking.  I am rude to interrupt, but v. excited to get treated.  Dr.  K leaves to get my dose and the intern asks me about my rehab experience and a bit about my stroke.  I get going, excited to share.  Jason chimes in too.  And the three of us pass the time happily talking about stroke stuff.  (Does that sound bizarre, happy and stroke in the same sentence? Truth for me though!)

When Dr. K comes in, I hand Jason the camera.  Dr. K attaches two probes to the back of my neck with the lines that run to the machine.  I face the wall. Dr. K asks me to resist his push and grimace, to make the muscles really pop.  I do and he takes the needle in hand, inserts it into my muscle and pauses, turns on the machine which shares great banging info and slowly injects some Botox into the muscle.Image-_3-5_10

The needle is big and goes in deep, I think.  The muscle is hard and painful, I know.  As the medicine goes in, the pain is sharp so I dig my hands into a fist and wait, forgetting to breath.  I say the pain is sharp, but I am a wuss and am not sure this description is accurate.  Dr. K stops the machine and takes out the needle.  He repeats this in 4 or five locations on the left front side of my neck.  Jason records the lot.

The needle comes out.  The machine goes off.  Dr. K removes the lines and wipes that seeps a bit where the injections went in.  Jason tells the intern that last time, “the blood gushed a lot from each hole in my neck.  This time is nothing.”  Out of the mouths of babes.

I give Dr. K a big hug and a handshake to the intern.  The next appointment is made for November and Jason and I head out, up the stairs of the atrium, past the waterfall and out to the car.  I love the sky outside my hospital.  We have to fly home and get Jason changed up for double Tae Kwon Do.

The neck, my neck hurts a lot right now.  I try not to worry about a possible harm to my swallow from the poison that I dearly love.  I focus on the pain and visualize the medicine meeting the muscle and doing its job.  At the end of the day, the pain fades.  All in our house are tired from the day and I am optimistic that tonight I will finally, at last, after a couple of months, sleep well.  That is something to be so grateful for.  And I am.

May 7th, 8th 2003 & 2016

Stroke Awareness Month Tawpic for the Day:  Image-_1-for-5_8

It’s another way of saying, living life on life’s terms.  It’s another way of putting the Serenity Prayer.  I need to hear this message 100 times a day, every day.  I KNOW that my default setting is isolation.  But  today I also KNOW that my human happiness comes from being  with my peeps, always (2 legged, 4 legged or no legged nature.)  So I must “retrain my brain” for life on life’s terms. 

This stroke survivor has to practice good things, every day  to really know stuff.  “Retrain the brain,” is the phrase my Crochet Guru taught me.  I saw her making beautiful blankets that grew and grew.  And she told jokes that made me laugh and laugh, when I didn’t know I could.  When she heard that I was a stroke survivor, she told me that I should learn to crochet and make Granny Square afghans.  She told me that she had read research that said that this particular stitch, when you crochet it, actually reconnects synapses in the brain. The repetition of the action, from hands to brain, actually makes the brain healthier.  I believed her and did as I was told.  I believed that I could be teachable.  And I had faith in my Crochet Guru to teach me.  I think it works, for me.  And even if it doesn’t, I got an endless supply of blankets that people seem to be loving getting as gifts and I love making.  So healthier brain or not, I am happier and that’s good enough for me.

       May 7th 2003

       15 mg. of Coumadin is the dose for today.  That is up 2 and a half mgs.  So today I will take 3, orange 5-mg, tabs crushed in the PEG tube. I guess they think that the blood should run a bit faster. I guess they think the blood is too thick and running slow.  I guess that means it might get stuck going through the artery.  I guess the artery might not be healing right.  I think the next stroke could be today. 

       I have Carole at 10am down at my hospital.  I need to pick up more of my pills at the pharmacy. The post office is next door, so I will mail the mother’s day card to my mom then.  I have to put the car insurance bill in the mail too.  VNA might come today or tomorrow.  And my Godmother, dear friend and coworker, will visit today after school.  Busy day.  And I get to drive myself today.  The route of errands is mine to make.  V. Cool.  I bring the suction machine packed in its bag.  I made sure to charge the battery last night.  I am all set on formula for now.  I will bolus a can when I get home from the errands.  That will be lunch. Right?

Driving is good, but weird.  It comes back easily and I feel strong driving.  They told me I was safe to drive and I believe them.  Sometimes when I am stopped at lights, I reach over and grab my suction tube.  My mouth is full of “secretions.”  I turn the suction on and very quickly put the tube to my mouth.  I get the “stuff out” and drop the tube back to the passenger seat.  I hope I did it fast enough. I hope no one saw the tube and me using it.  They will think I shouldn’t be driving because I use the tube.  I am not well enough to drive and they will call the cops.  What if a cop sees me use the tube?  I make sure there is no cop around when I grab the tube.  Should I pull over and park when I use the tube?  Is this legal?  They said I could drive, but do they realize that I have to use the tube?  My mouth is clear now.  I don’t think anyone was watching me.  The light turns green and I am on my way.

At my hospital, Carole goes through the swabs at great speed.  I have to use the suction a lot today, but I keep up with her and she never has to wait long.  Usually, I grab the suction when Carole turns to her chart to make notes on where she used the swabs and if there was a reaction.  She has made a couple of notes today that there were a few reactions.  They are happening like fireflies in summer, not predictable or sequenced, but definitely visible.  Definitely real. We need to work on the sequence of reactions.  A lot goes into a swallow.  I never knew.  But now, as Carole tries each area in order, I visualize a blinking firefly on the hot summer night.  I visualize watching the firefly on a very specific flight pattern. 

After the session is over, I notice all the folks working on their PT and OT in the big room outside Carole’s little room.  I think I want to work on the flexibility and strength now that I am driving.  But they have said that right now, all I get is the Speech.  But I watch them for a minute before I check out and visualize my muscles getting stronger too.  I hit the pharmacy and the post office on my way home and accomplish both goals.  I do bring my suction into both stops in case the lines are long at the counters.  I have to use my suction at the Post office but I escape the pharmacy without needing to use it.  I cannot look at the lady behind me in line when I use my suction at the P.O.  I cannot bear the pity look. 

At home, I am grateful to visit with my Godmother, dear friend and coworker.  She is exhausted after school, but still has a smile and stories for me.  And she says that everything is set for me to visit school tomorrow.  I don’t want to go.  And that is the understatement of the year.  I really don’t want to go there.  But she says that I am expected.  She says that she will be there.  And if I go tomorrow, I don’t have to do it again. With that thought in my mind, I know that the Coumadin will do its job today and I will not have the next stroke today.  I have to get to school tomorrow.  And then we will see. 

May 8th, 2003 

       Today is my Dad’s Birthday.  This year it falls on a Thursday.  Some years, his birthday is on Mother’s Day, but not this year.   I will call him later.  Or maybe I should call him now.  He is on the boat with my step mom. Do they have passengers?  Or?  I have no news, but I should call.  He might be in a place on the canals where there is no signal.  So I should try now.  But I have to get ready to go to school.  I try now.  I do not reach him.  But his voice is on the message and I say Happy Birthday.  I wonder where they are and what deliciousness they will eat for his birthday.  Are they moored up in the countryside and going to grill lamb chops maybe?  Or are they in a town where they are right next to a good pub or a fish n’ chip shop for a meal out?  Will Dorothy make trifle or Chocy Cake or what?  I hang up and get dressed. 

I gotta be extra careful taping up my PEG tube.  Last week, I came out of speech and got into Mom’s car at my hospital to head home.  As I sat into the passenger seat, I didn’t notice that my tube was not taped up across my belly.  It was loose.  I didn’t notice.  I just sat into the car, careful to roll my head forward.  (I NEVER tip my head back at all.  That will sever the artery.  I know it.)  So I sit in the car and HOLY HOLY HOLY PAIN.  I have never felt anything like it.  I moan for a second and quickly check myself so as not to alarm my mom.  When my breath comes back, after a couple minutes, I tell her what happened.  My PEG tube was loose and I sat on it.  It was pulled, yanked from me and stuck under me.  The pain, shock, tugging, yanking, gut grabbing sensation was unlike anything this girl ever knew.  In that instance I got a glimpse at how boys feel when they land on their “crown jewels.”  I told my mom that and we both giggled.  I know the sensation I felt is not exactly as a man feels when he hurts his “privates,”  but I truly think that I got as close as a girl can get to knowing that pain.  It does take your breath away, for sure.  But after a few minutes, I moved on. 

       So the tube is safely taped across my belly and I have clothes on.  They are still home clothes, not school clothes.   But the top is a sweater that I haven’t worn since I got home.  I brush my hair.  I spray perfume and put a little powder on my death pale face.  That is as good as it gets.  I head to school.  I use the suction at each of the two lights on my 5 minute drive.  I sit in the car for 5 minutes and use the suction.  There is nothing in my mouth, but I sit.  The car is turned off and it is getting hot inside the car on this sunny day.  But I don’t get out yet.  Finally driven out of the car by lack of oxygen, I walk as tall as I can,  towards the loading dock door, which I pray is open for trash to be taken out.  It is.  I head through the empty cafeteria and try to avoid the lunch ladies.  They spy me and wave and say how good it is to see me.  But I can’t stop and chat.  If I stop, I won’t make it. 

I head into the office and wave again and try to smile back at the people staring at me.  I know they care about me, but there is pity in their eyes.  I can’t stop and sit and chat with anyone.  I have to make it upstairs.  I walk up the ramp, winding around to the third floor.  In one corner of the ramp, if there are no kids, there is a sort of blind spot where I can suction before I hit the classroom.  I take a second and suction.  At the top of the ramp I could go right in the side door of the room that was mine.  But I don’t.  The side door to the second grade class across the hall is open, but I rush past that too.  I hear kids and see my fellow teacher.  But I rush on.  I head down the corridor and go through the double doors into the pod that has the three first grades, two second grades and two third grade rooms opening off it.  I go through and rush into the teacher’s bathroom. I suction is safety, even though I know I blew past kids and teachers recognizing me, their shock and talk,  I need 10 more seconds before I can face. 

  1. I have to go in.  There is someone by my side.  I can see through the glass pane in the door to a mass of kids, their hanging papers, the bright red, yellow and blue cubbies, the flag near the board, the alphabet above it and a lady teaching above the heads of smiling kids. She is taller than I am and skinnier than I was when it was my room.  She has curlyish hair in a bob, I think.  I can hear the laughter of the kids, the sound of a pencil sharpener whirring, a chair scraping the floor and the teacher  giving a direction, “OK. 1, 2,3, eyes and ears on me.” I don’t open the door.  I don’t know who does.  I don’t step into the room, only into the door way.  And so I am in the colors and sounds of the room.  I see warm smiles,  busy blinking eyes  and hands covered in marker and paint pointing at papers they have done that I must see.  I hear a hundred voices at once.  I smell pencils and snack.  I can feel the heat of all their bodies and motion.  But I don’t go a step further into the room.  I watch and see. I see the teacher lady moving around asking kids to show me a few things.  I watch and listen.  I don’t know how long I stood there.  My mouth is full.  I say goodbye.  I think I drooled a bit.  Crap. I have to go. 

I turn and now I am out the door, around the corner, through the double doors and behind them in the corridor, I suction.  I breathe.  I can’t remember getting to the car.  I don’t remember the drive home.  I can see and feel and smell all that was in that classroom still.  But it is not mine.  I am home now.  I am cold.  I can’t speak to Lola or Ciro or Zoe.  I feel like I could cry, but there is nothing inside me to let out.  I am so cold.  I strip off the sweater and cover the tube with plastic wrap.  I head for a hot shower.  Lola sits on the mat outside the tub.  Ciro is on the sink.  Zoe plays with the tissues in the trash can next to the sink.  She finds a q-tip and bats it around the bathroom.  I stand under the stream of hot water.  I stand for a long time.  I did it.  I went there.  And now I am back.  Slowly and mercifully, that which I saw at school, all that I smelled, and everything I heard fades a bit from my eyes.  I focus on breathing and standing tall.  I focus on washing my hair and rinsing it well.  And eventually, I turn off the water.  I open the curtain and there are my 3 angels.  It is time to feed them.  I have to take Lola outside.  My hair will air dry. I am due for a can of formula and there is a Poker Tournament coming on soon.  




May 7th and 8th 2016

Some days are tougher than others.  Friday was a tough one at school.  I am overly sensitive right now.  And I hate being emotional and touchy feely.  I think that doing all this writing about the early days after my stroke is a really good thing, but I am sure it is bringing up a lot of emotions.  My Reiki-Master- Buddha Nancy taught me that “if I really touch the pain, it will lose all power and disappear.”  I know it is true.  And I know it is time.  But it is hard and I am raw.

 My students are going through their own things.  I would not, for $1,000,000 go back to their age. The brain is on fire with growth, but so are the hormones. They are on the razor edge of child and adult, and it almost always draws blood.  My students are no different than I was.  And yet, I kept every crazy thought and pain and feeling inside me when I was their age.  I was silent in my agony.  My students are more vocal.  They share their angst, loudly, angrily, with me.

And I am not wearing my usual super hero shield which deflects all this energy back into the universe and absorbs none of it.  For it is NOT about me.  My friend/angel Jennifer told me over and over, “You are just not that important Rachel.  It is not all about you.”  This may sound harsh to some.  But to me it was/is the greatest comfort, relief and gift. I would worry about whether or not so and so was talking about me.  Or I would worry about whether I did the right thing.  Or I would whine about how this one and that one seemed upset by the color socks I had chosen that day and should I go home and change them. And my friend/angel Jennifer would tell me, “you are not that important, Rachel.  It is not all about you.”  And I could breath. I could get right sized and move forward.

In this case, on Friday at school, I know that my kids are not angry with me.  (Although the words they yelled at me could be interpreted by a thin skinned person to be that.) They are not in strife or turmoil over what I do, have done or will do. (Although some behaviors could be interpreted by less strong veteran to be insulting or rude.)  I have reviewed my actions and words, and they were all good. No,the pain and outbursts of the few students (not the majority) are NOT about me.  I am not that important. Usually I know that in the moment and can let it go.  Today, not so much.  I left work feeling pretty poopy, to be honest.  But I did the next right thing and picked up Jason at school and headed to his friend/my friend’s house for a play date.  We moms of our sons have become friends.  And she is a gem.  We chatted.  I listened to her and saw some of her great work of the day. She listened to me about my day.  And as I shared the happenings with her, the pain and poopy feelings lifted.  I got right sized.  Her nodding head, encouraging words and smile, healed me.  I was utterly exhausted when we left, but infinitely better at heart. 

At home, we had a quick nosh of cheese, crackers, salami, and 2 cupcakes that Tim had brought from the Queen’s Cups.  I had wanted sugar at school.  I had needed sugar at school.  Tim brought me sugar (the cupcakes) at school, but I wisely chose not to spoil either the cupcake or my tummy by eating them when I was so emotional.  I gave 2 cupcakes to the two students who joined my Heart Walk team and were going to come to the walk the following day.  The other two cupcakes came home with me.  I love it.  Tim and Jason and I made meat and cheese sandwiches and had at the cupcakes with forks.  The crumbs were cleaned with finger tips and I felt better.  We dashed to bring Jason to Tae Kwon Do class.  I did the food shopping.  After we unloaded the groceries, we jetted back to the studio for the Board Breaking Evening.  Jason, and about 60 other kids, broke boards in 3 rings of the studio.  No child broke all their boards in the same way.  Some boards took many tries to break.  But teachers encouraged and all families cheered and clapped for every single student.  The smile on everyone’s faces with the accomplishment of a split board was huge.  The room was alive from the energy of the audience and participants.  What a rush!  And I was only watching…

Back at home, in the dark, I baked the rest of the cookie dough into Blue(ish, not green) cookies for Stroke Awareness Month. I have given up on a name for them, we just eat them.  That’s the best.  Then Tim and Jason and I headed to bed.

Saturday MAY 7th was the Central MA Heart and Stroke Walk. I defrosted some chicken bone broth that was accumulating in the freezer and threw it, chicken and veg into the crock pot.  Tonight, after the day, there would be hot, homemade chicken soup for supper. Today is also Kentucky Derby day.  I found a recipe for a Kentucky Hot Brown Casserole and would make that this afternoon to go with the soup and the race.

So the walk was really here. After all the preparation and planning, it was here.  And in keeping with May of 2016, it was raw and cold and damp outside. There have been years at the walk when people walked fewer laps because it was so hot.  Or maybe I just walked less those years and used the heat as my excuse.  This year folks walked more, I think to keep warm.  Other years, after walking Tim and Jason and kids have played ball on the field kicking up lots of dust into the dry sunny sky.  Not this year.  The field was wet.  There weren’t many kids and the air was a bit too cold for good football. I got my white survivor cap at the survivor’s table again this year. But this year, another woman got a white cap when I got mine.  We smiled and patted each other, one stroke survivor to another.  That was the only other white cap I saw that day.  But that is still a 100% improvement over last year.

Tim had managed to turn the FAST bumper stick I designed and the title he had given the blog, into T-Shirts.  And they were done yesterday.  He made it happen, with the help of a great recommendation of Guertin’s from the great friend who runs the shop where Jason gets his baseball cleats.  Tim had gone down to Guertin’s shop and organized the design format and picked a color and paid and they had made them and now here they were.


Everything about the shirt and how Tim did them, amazes me.  They’re perfect. 

And Tim wore one to the Board Breaking Event last night.  And right away, a woman we never met, commented that FAST was about Stroke Signs.  And she proudly rattled off Face, Arm, Speech and Time to call 911.  It was amazing and exactly what we thought could happen, spreading the message of FAST somehow and helping prevent the 80% of strokes that can be prevented.  I knew it was that simple and the first 5 minutes debuting the shirt, proved it to me and Tim.  Yes, we did a fist pump right there, right then. 

So I had to wear my shirt for the Heart Walk even though it was 40 degrees out. I went up in the attic and found the bag of thermals that Barbara had given me before she moved south upon retirement to a warm land where thermals don’t exist.  I found the bag and quickly put on a nice warm thermal shirt and all day thought of my friend hugging me from far away.  It did warm my heart, but the thermal shirt with T-shirt over it didn’t quite warm the rest of me.  It was like Halloween when I was a kid. If I had a costume that I wanted to wear, there was no way that I was covering it up with a coat while trick or treating, just to avoid pneumonia.  Nope, not me.  Too vain.  The shirt looked great for the heart walk.  But the cold in my bones today is brutal.  Oh well.  I could have done what my supah smaht student who came to the walk with his mom did.  He slipped the T-shirt OVER his winter coat.  He was warm and sharing the message.  Oh, the genius of youth.  Not my youth though, he wore the t-shirt and covered it with a flimsy sweatshirt.  He was happy and unzipped to reveal the shirt for pictures which made me happy.  Tim was probably freezing cold too, but he wouldn’t tell me and “dampen my spirit.”  HA HA on the weather related funnah. 

At the walk, I saw my AHA guru and he absolutely gorgeous 5 month old son.  I had reached out to the AHA over the internet years ago and become connected with her.  Year after year she has given me opportunities to be involved and to help. She has watched Jason grow and change.  And now her son is here.  I had seen pictures, but this was real and so much better. Her hugs to me and Jason and Tim are the best.  She admired the shirts and asked if she could buy one.  “Of course not,” Tim and I said as we gave her one from our bag.  And she put it right on, right then, over her AHA work jacket.  That was great.  I couldn’t stop purring inside at my pride over my family and the joy of seeing her growing family.  It was a great moment.  In retrospect, I might not have been purring, I might have had the onset of chattering cold bones.  Hmmmm.

Many members of my team were smart.  They submitted their donations online and stayed warm and cozy that morning.  So our team looked to be just us 3 Henrys.  And then I saw my supah smaht student and his mom.  There they were, ready to go.  And so we were 5 with the power of many.

 The demo team from Hanmi Tae Kwon Do came.    In white uniforms on a grey day, they stood in formation on the green field.  The rain spit and then the music came on.  For 3 minutes, their moves made the crowd hot as if it were midsummer. They were on fire.  As soon as they were done I said, “I have cookies.”  I didn’t think.  I just spoke.  Who says things like that?  I do, I guess.  And I did have cookies.  And they did devour them.  Their yum yums and smiles warmed me a little bit more. With all that warmth and spirit fueling us, we did our walk. 

As we rounded the far end of the park, I saw a minivan pull in the gates. A few more steps and I heard a voice say they were looking for “Mrs. Henry and the Heart Walk.”  I stopped and there was one of my students with her collection envelope in hand.  She wanted to get her donations to me.  She had said in class that she would try to come.  And here, at an obscure gate of the park on the opposite side of the city from school was my student.  And at just the moment when she asked, there we were on the exact part of the route where she was.  There are no coincidences.  I squeezed her in a big, huge hug.  She found us. What a great surprise gift.  Thank you God.

We only did one lap.  Jason only played a couple minutes on the field.  The icecream truck that was parked next to our car, turned on his lights. So of course, in the almost ice, gentle falling rain, Jason and the supah smaht student got icy cones to cap off the event. The heated seats in the car felt so good on our ride out of the park.  Usually we cap off the healthy walk with a big Italian deli sandwich and icecream.  We earned it. Right?  But this year, a cold meal did not appeal. My face/jaw was literally frozen pretty well shut from the cold morning.  So, unlike my usual selfish nature and driven too it out of necessity I asked Jason and Tim what they wanted for lunch that day.  Jason was too busy with his icy cone to answer just yet.  But Tim had a quick answer.  “What about Coney Island Hot Dogs?”  And that was it.  We had to go.  Ever since I have known Tim he has told me good stories of Coney Island Hot Dogs where he had gone as a child with his dad or when he was at the Boy’s Club.  It was such a good memory for him.  And with 36 years in Worcester, I had never evah been to this Worcester institution.  And so with Tim’s suggestion, the choice was made.  It was just after 11am and I wasn’t sure they’d be open.  But they were. Tim said that you go in the door and go left to the counter and order.  I agreed that I wanted the works on mine and a hot drink and then headed off to the ladies room.  I had not been able to face the cold outdoor port a potties at the walk and so was now quite focused on my mission at the back of the restaurant.  (And for any and all who are interested in such things, it was the cleanest nicest one person bathroom.)  Tim ordered and when I came out, the “mens” were heading for a booth up front in the window that Jason had picked.  We had our pick of the booths then as there were only a handful of customers.  But by the time we left, the line was 20 deep down the counter and booths were filling up.  And the wait then would have been worth it. So yum.  And Tim said we had to add our initials to the walls.  So we did.  Image-_3-for-5_8

And we devoured our dogs.  I was grateful for the hot tea Tim got for me.  As I wiped my mouth with my napkin and patted my full belly, I saw that they make homemade macaroni and cheese.  We have to come back soon for that, definitely.

We headed through the cold rain and got into our house where the chicken soup was smelling like the cure to all that ails me.  I added two layers of fleece over my clothes and put together the Kentucky Hot Brown Casserole I found the recipe tootling around Pinterest last week.

 We headed off to see our friends and I enjoyed a bit of crochet time on my latest blanket.  The colors are inspired by Easter and a basket and flowers.  But the pace of the afghan says it will be ready in late summer, not for spring.  My yarn ran out before I completed the row. That particular yarn is necessary to the blanket but just not long enough.  It is a discontinued yarn so only one thing to do, pull out a few rows and use the yarn on a smaller part.  So I happily pulled out the old work, wrapped up the yarn into a ball and began to redo the desired yarn, and sipped countless cups of hot tea:  A pleasant afternoon and home to the food and the race.


After supper, Tim and Jason assemble the mother’s day gift that I picked out for my mother for tomorrow.  Jason really does a great job putting it together.  I think it is a great gift.  It is practical but still v. cool.  And Jason can help her with it.  Fingers crossed.  With that done, we settled to bed early and slept a bit later than usual.

May 8th 2016

Today is Sunday and it is both Mother’s Day and my Dad’s 80th birthday.  Jason greets me as my eye cracks open with a wonderful card and story that he made at school.  He can be so sweet, sometimes. I will enjoy this moment. Jason and Tim give me a frame that says MOM with a picture of Jason a few years ago wearing His Red Hat and Cape from the Heart Walk.  Jason was born with chylothorax which makes him a heart disease survivor hero, like his Mom.  One year he got the hat and cape at the walk.  He still pulls out the outfit at times.  And I love the picture.  He and Tim are certainly my heroes!  Tim also gives me a hilarious, and seriously good cookbook.  You see, every week as I make the food shopping list and plan the future meals, I ask him what he would like to eat. Tim’s canned answer has become, “chicken, pork or steak.”  And I answer, “great idea, we’ll have eggplant.”  I never know what the f@#* to cook and he doesn’t dream of food the way I do.  (except when the suggestion for Coney Island Hot Dogs came out of his mouth yesterday.  That as inspired.)  So Tim got me a cookbook, WHAT THE F@#K SHOULD I MAKE FOR DINNER? The Answers to Life’s Everyday Question (in 50 F*@#ing Recipes)  by Zach Golden.  The middle two letters of the first expletive look like a fork and knife crossed.  For real?  Yes, this is the perfect gift for Tim’s wife and Jason’s mother: a woman who dreams of food but stumbles with turning that into the edible meals required by her “mens” three times a day.  The actual recipes are make me laugh and drool, but in a good way.

What a way to start this day, laughing with family, over food.  The day continued with the blissful pampering of the “mens” doing all the laundry.  Well in reality, Tim did the laundry and Jason thought about helping.  They played a game of chess on my dad’s chess board.  Image-_-5-for-5_8

It was a very quick game and not ending to Jason’s advantage, but both loser and winner shook hands firmly. And no one cried. All the Sunday odd jobs that I do for the week, Tim did for me.  He always wants to help, but I get going, not talking, just moving, through the list in a tornadic fashion and then they are done and there was no chance for assistance.  Today I was banished to write, in the study with cups of tea and coffee and Ciro curled up behind me.  I left the kingdom to the king and now I must say thank you. I went out to Trader Joe’s late today and alone.  I called my Cuzzin on the way to and my dear friend and mentor on the way home.  The weather in Tennessee and Florida is very different than in Massachusetts today.  But talking to them during my ride, brought the sun out for me for a time.  Good stuff.  Speaking of good stuff, I loaded up at Trader Joe’s with more yummies than we can reasonably consume.  I talked my way through the store to all the folks that are there every week.  They are the best people and have known Jason since he was an infant.  Even without him with me today, they still smiled and we chatted. Jason stayed home and tried to lure Tim into playing 10 games rather than doing  10 chores. 

After lunch, I settled back in to the study with Ciro to write some more.  I bounced up to get moving a bit and make a cup of tea after an hour. My Dad called as I was making the tea.  We had a great chat about his birthday celebration earlier in the week with my aunt who is working in England just now. What a gift to imagine brother and sister together with old friends in a special place. It sounds like they had quite the celebration.  My dad was getting ready for bed after a day as lock keeper duty. 

So when we hung up and I set the kettle to boil for a second cup of tea, I remembered that tomorrow at school, we are testing again.  This time is will be math.  And I have to make “Crack.” White Chocolate Cracker Candy is the more innocuous name for it.  My Crochet Guru introduced this delicacy to me as an alternative to the Caramel Matzoh Crunch that I make for Hanukah.  It is a close cousin to the crunch, but instead of matzoh this uses saltines, and instead of brown sugar you use white sugar and instead of semi-sweet chocolate you use white chocolate.  The name is certainly cause for alarmed excitement. The product guarantees similar results as the Monkey Balls from the previous round of testing.  This treat will surely have them laugh out loud and release pretest jitters or console posttest blues.  

I told the kids that I would make them “Crack” for Monday and I must be true to my word.  Yes, this treat is sinful to make and consume.  And yes, it is questionable to give it to young brains trying to excel on a test. But I will let you judge.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. 

Cover the paper with two sleeves of Saltine style crackers.

In a heavy sauce pan, melt one cup of unsalted butter with 1 ½ cups white sugar.

 Boil for 3 minutes while stirring constantly.

 Pour this hot goop over the crackers as evenly as you can. Bake for 12 minutes. 

While this bakes, please scrub your sauce pan in hot soapy water. 

Seriously, if you don’t do this NOW, the sugar will become a permanent part of your pan.

Your choice.

When the timer dings, take out the sheet and spread a full bag of white chocolate chips on top.

Put the sheet back in the oven, with it turned off, for about 4 minutes.

Spread the chocolate, which is now melted, as evenly as you can over the top. 

Put the tray somewhere to cool. (I used the front porch on this cold damp day in May.) When it is cool, crack it into good sized pieces of “CRACK.” 

Here is the end result.  Can something that looks this good, ever be wrong? 



While you contemplate this deeply essential ethical dilemma, I head off to bed to snuggle with Gus and rest the cold bones a bit before the new week.








May 4th, 2003 & 2016

Stroke Awareness Month Tawpic for today: Image-1-for-5_4    Discuss.  (This Stroke Survivor needs these words today.  Sorry, I will use the first person when I tawk about myself.  I am paying the price today of doing too much and not being present.)


May 4th 2003          

            12.5 mg of Coumadin today.  I have to up the dose of Colase and get my innards working more efficiently, if you know what I mean. I get to Bolus the food into the tube. It is so strange to me to intentionally, on purpose, put nutrients into myself, bypassing the throat and pour this “shake style goop,” directly into a manmade hole in my belly.  A hole that resists healing around a chunk of plastic (a kind of gasket I guess) that leads the tube through skin and fat, a lot less fat  than a few weeks ago, through and into my stomach.  All the internal workings from my mouth to the throat to the esophagus down inside me are dormant.  I imagine them as an abandoned cowboy town in the Wild West, tumbleweeds roll through empty streets.  The wind whirs about picking up dust and taking it through broken windows into an abandoned saloon.  So I crack a can of formula, undo my taped up tube and “Bob’s your uncle.”  I actually make “glug, glug, glug” sounds as I pour it in.  I don’t feel hungry before I pour and I don’t get full afterwards.  Oh well.  It works.  They say I am stabilizing and getting stronger.  And Carole says that there have been a few reactions during my sessions.  Maybe more soon?

My Cuzzin is coming up today.  That makes it a good day, especially true as today is one month since the stroke.  A whole month, and life goes on I guess.  But I worry about the 10 o’clock hour.  I fear what will happen.  My Cuzzin won’t be here til a bit after that time.  But she will come and then I will be ok.  I feel bad for all the driving she has to do to come see me, only to stay for the afternoon.  And then she drives all week for work.  My Cuzzin goes all over the Cape helping people find and keep jobs that are good for them.  I never really realized the importance of what she did before April 4th. But now I do.  Not everyone can make themselves fit into the specific requirements of a job that they want or are even qualified for.  And what we are able to do for work and want to do, changes over our lifetime.  I see that. We, I mean me, don’t always know best about how to help ourselves.  And sometimes, always lately for me, can’t help ourselves.  Sometimes, all the time for me, I need help from qualified professionals, like my Cuzzin gives to her clients. 

So after her work week is over, she drives two hours each way to hang with me, and she helps me.  I am so grateful that she comes.   My Cuzzin always brings fun things to see and smell.  She has stories of life by the ocean.  She smiles and I laugh.  Sundays pass quicker when My Cuzzin comes and she brings a warm, alive, feeling into my house.  We take Lola for a walk.  And I can and do go a little bit further, without even really trying or thinking about it.  I just follow my Cuzzin and take each step with her.  (Let’s be real.  I haven’t even made it all the way down my street, but I am further along each week.)  It is a good kind of tired when we get back to the house.  And the house is happy with her there.  She plays with Ciro, Zoe and Lola. Their toys get dusted off and end up all over the place.  She talks to my babies and moves around the house, sitting in different chairs in different rooms.  We don’t even hang out in the bedroom while my Cuzzin visits.   And when she leaves, before the traffic gets too bad, the house stays feeling warm and safe. Her laughter and energy lingers.  It’s like the house has life in it and it smiles.  The smile lasts on the house, my 4 leggeds and me, into the new week. For that, I am so grateful. 



May 4th, 2016

        We are 4 days into Stroke Awareness Month and things are coming together here.  The reinforcement blue lights have come for the front of the house.Image-_2-for-5_4   It looks pretty good.  I did add a deep blue house flag.  It has a great blue heron on it.  I saw one at Elm Park on May 1st so it seemed like a sign to me.  The blue heron is a brave regal symbol for the month of stroke awareness.  And you can’t get a blue, stroke awareness house flag,  Yet. Note to self:  Next year, I need to do the pear tree and other shed with blue lights. 

Inside the house, I have the blue mugs out: the new blue glass tea mug from the outing with Mom and Jason, a blue and white mug with the skyline of Provincetown (a town I love) from a friend I love, and a sponge painted blue mug with a heart on it from Mom.  I have a blue plate out that comes from a powerhouse lady friend of ours who passed away a year ago. On the plate I can put the “Blueberry Thrill” cookies I just made.  I have a standard cookie dough recipe that is tried and true for me.  I added blue “things” to it: chocolate covered blueberries, milk chocolate bars with rice krispies inside, crushed butter wafer cookies and a splash of blueberry soda.  Bizarre set of ingredients on paper, and maybe the dough even looks slightly more greenish than blue, but they work, believe me. Image-_3-for-5_4         Image-_3a-fir-5_4

        I finally finished the blue fleece throws that go on a kitchen chair and the recliner.  Every year on Black Friday, Jason and I trek out to Joann Fabrics.  They have an incredible sale on Fleece that day.  I load up for the year.  Jason picks out a new fleece for a winter blanket, this year was Pokemon.  I got a raccoon and deer covered pattern for a new blanket for Wessyfoo. There are so many incredible, snuggly, soft, and decadent warm fleece patterns. And the price is only one day at year.  This year I also got Blue with White Polka dot fleece.  My hope was that I could make Stroke Scarves, with the FAST letters somehow on the white dots.  I couldn’t figure out whether to embroider, draw or iron on the letters.  And the fleece is so thick to make a scarf.  And as May is Stroke Awareness Month, is fleece the right medium for the message in spring?  So the fleece stayed folded in the study, waiting.

 And then the idea came.  For years, I have been putting two pieces of fleece together, cutting strips the entire way around and knotting the two together to make a tie blanket, very thick and luxurious, and no sewing.  But I had wanted to try a new technique.   Pinterest showed the way. There is a rotary blade cutter that makes holes like a paper hole puncher on fabric as it rolls over the material.  V. Cool, if it works.  I Googled the success of the tool, especially for a techno eejit prone to hurting myself with said tools, and was encouraged that it might work for me.  The item was purchased. I pushed the tool cover to reveal a very sharp blade.  The blade, I kept my fingers away from and rolled it around the edge of the fleece, and then used the holes to crochet a border into. It is a super simple way to use one layer of fleece and use up lots of bits of yarn.  (And my hands fatigue quickly with all the cutting if I do the scissor method.  I totally ignore that tiredness, make the blankets for Christmas and then wonder why I can barely move my fingers for two weeks.) The Blue Polka Dot STROKE fleece, became two throws in the past few days.  Image-_4-for-5_4 Ciro immediately cozied up to the one in the kitchen.  It must look good if he thinks it is good enough for him. 

Outside the house, the blue lights shine.  Inside the house, there are blue blankets, mugs and baked goods. And on me, there is blue too, of course.  The Blue Handbag is out for the month from my collection.  Tim got me this handbag for World Stroke Day a couple of years ago.  I mean, I had to have it, Right?  Right…  And there are blue clothing pieces for all layers, except the undergarments. Yet!  You see my dear friend Jennifer taught me that you must have matching and beyootiful sets of “foundation garments.”  You will feel better throughout the day, about yourself, if your bra and undies match! But I am lacking the former of the two, for now. So clothes are blue, and jewels too. I wear the necklace my Cuzzin gave me that day I got home from the “home.”  It has been reworked a bit over the thirteen years.  I love each reincarnation and the Cuzzin who makes em.

         On my right hand, for the month, I have two sacred blue rings to alternate between. One is the antique Navajo turquoise from Jean Granny.  (Good story about that.)  And the second is an antique, blue glass ring that I found on a wonderful post stroke trip with my college sister/friend.  On a scenic jaunt one day with her and her daughter, we stopped in a small antique shop.  And there, I found this ring.  Nothing special to most, but treasured to me for the company I was with and the good memories it brings when I wear it.  Both are blue, and along with the handbag,   musts for MAY.  Image-4a-for-5_4

       And then there is Teacher Appreciation Day at Jason’s school to bake something blue for. I have been thinking about my college sister/friend.  One time, long ago, she took me to the Jordan Marsh near her house.  It had the bakery in it.  And they made those famous Blueberry Muffins.  I had heard about them from Mom and Gramma Harriet who got them in Boston when they were young.  I always made/make my Gramma’s recipe for blueberry muffins which comes from an old yankee cookbook called, RAIN, HAIL, and Baked Beans. But when my sister/friend had me try the Jordan Marsh muffin, I knew that someday, I would make it myself.  The store closed up shop years ago, but Yankee Magazine recently published the recipe.  Yippee.  I love thinking of that happy day with my sister/friend and I love trying a new recipe.  And I have to bake with blue “things” this month. I must.

So yesterday, after school, I set about to make the muffins for Jason’s Teacher Appreciation Brunch.  (Of course I doubled the batch to have some for “the mens.” More is better, right?)  The picture with the recipe showed a paper liner for the muffins.  And I thought that it made sense, but didn’t use them.  As the muffins baked, I finished reading the recipe which ended up highly suggesting paper liners as the number of blueberries involved makes the muffins tough to get out of the pan.  Classic Rachel to finish reading the recipe AFTER the food is in the oven. 

As the muffins baked, I prayed for their safe and whole exodus from the pans.  I mean, these are for Jason’s school.  They have to look good.  I let the muffins cool totally in the pan.  That was a suggestion from the recipe.  And then I used a thin metal spatula, which I usually spread frosting on cakes with, to carefully loosen the goodie.  I took my time.  I found myself gripping the spatula tightly, with all my might.  And the result?  Successfully excavation of 12 good looking muffins for the incredible staff at Jason’s school.  Image-_5-for-5_4

I see something while I am baking the muffins.  And I know that my Jean Granny is with me, in spirit for a reason.  She is there because I look to my hand and see a tissue wadded in the palm, held by thumb.  The other four fingers are free to function.  I can bake, talk, teach, pack lunches, fill the bird feeder, clean the house, decorate and even drive with a tissue snug in my hand.  Jean Granny always had the tissue “at hand.”  Ha Ha on the funny!  Her hands and that tissue were always a comfort to me.  It’s strange the way I remember the hands of people.  Faces fade sometimes, but hands working, strong hands, are clear to me in my mind’s eye.     For Jean Granny, after her stroke and later in years, her nose ran.  I guess she found a way to be prepared, deal with it, compensate for the ooze.  At first it was a linen hankie in her hand.  As an antiques collector and Yankee, she had quite the collection.  There were ones with lace or pretty flowers on them.  But over time, and after the stroke, tissues often appeared.  They were, and are, not nearly as stylish, but they are easier in the hand and gentler on an active nose. 

        I look my own hand and see the tissue.  Two things come to my mind. The first is that I love how she loved me.   One, of countless stories I could tell to illustrate this BIG truth in my life is a follows. Jean Granny always told me this story about myself, over season and years she told the same story.  We used to walk around the yard.  Our route would start from the kitchen, where something fabulous was surely baking, go down the back steps, head out around the garden and perch on her bench for a minute.  Then back out and down past “the dingle” and the old apple tree to the “brick, ” AKA the brook.  The path was tried and true.  I can see it in my mind’s eye.  But this particular day, I was only just walking and talking, twoish I guess to be my age.  We reached the side yard with the sun shining and the daisies and buttercups coming up.  As I teetered, Jean Granny offered to hold my hand and help me walk to the brick.  My response was to grab my own two pudgy hands together and say “No, I hold my own hand.”  I wonder why this story stuck in her mind.  What did she see as its’ magic and meaning?  And why did she repeat it me so many times?  What understanding of myself, or her,  or life was I supposed to get from this moment?

        Countless times she told me and all around us, this story.  Countless times I have told this story. And the meaning changes over time.  Certainly today, I tell this story and feel the love and magic from Jean Granny.  One thing that I have known for my entire life, is that I had the two best Grandmothers in the world.  And they loved me. To feel that love around me 41 years later is a gift I treasure.  What is more important in life?  That feeling is what I run to and strive for and seek every minute of the day. It is what makes me feel human.  It makes my life matter.  And yet, that love is always in me and with me.  It is ever present and available to me, if I slow and see it and be still enough to feel it.  So as I catch sight of the tissue wadded in my hand, I think of that. 

        The second thought that comes to mind is, “yikes.”  I have gone too long, way too long for me, on warp drive and not really, seriously for me, slowed down to be present in my own skin.  I have really seen Jason and Ciro and Tim and Gus and my students and, and, and.  Who is missing from that list? Me.  I haven’t been listening to my body. And as the right half of my body is kinda quiet all the time: no pain, heat or cold sensation as it is, unless I do lots of Reiki, which I haven’t been doing. My body is half on very low volume/ mute all the time.  I mean, I banged my right arm hard the other day as I came around a corner too fast.  I said to myself that it would bruise up nice in a few days.  But I didn’t feel it happen.  And without pain, I didn’t really slow down to check if I was all right, register that it happened or consider slowing down to avoid a future bruise.

And the left side of my face has the spastic muscles which make breathing and talking and sleeping tough at times.  If I am stressed about work, check, or it has been almost 6 month since my last Botox injection, check, or if I am worried about the big bill I get from my insurance on top of the money I already pay to buy the Botox dose and the copay for the visit to my neurologist to get it injected, check.  If I am angry at the insurance company for setting the amount I need to pay so high and the amount they cover so low for the Botox because I am an outlier in needing this treatment within the population and yet it is so very very helpful to me and I don’t make a huge income as a public servant anyway, check, check, CHECK, CHECK!  If all this is whirring inside me, I ignore my stroke survivor body and soul.

        I don’t want to miss out on anymore of my days.  I have too many things that I get to do, can do and dream of doing every day.  I get “tornadic,” is that a word?, in my actions.  I whirl physically and spiritually.  “I move fast,” as Gramma Harriet used to say, about herself as she filled her days with activities and making things.

 But when I don’t listen, my body talks louder and louder until I have to listen.   My body screams at me and then slams me on my butt.  My face locks up.  I can’t fully open my mouth wide.  I get an ongoing headache on the left side of my face and skull. My nose runs more and I find myself with a tissue 24/7.  My tongue doesn’t work as fast and so my speech slows and slurs a bit.  My bones ache.  The cold feeling gets into the right side until the bones feel like they are teeth, chattering in the Arctic. I get even more klutzy and clumsy and bash my body into any and most available walls as I whirl.  On and on it goes.  And check, check, check on all of the above.  So last night I got body slammed by my own body! And today I am home sick from school.  I am down for the count. I do rebound quickly IF I slow down, and do the things that they taught me: rest, sleep, warm compresses, and massage my face like they taught me in PT/OT and Speech years ago. Today this teacher is getting a lesson, at home.

The Golden Girls are on TV and Gus is on the bed as I write this.  Tim just got back from taking Jason to school, with the muffins.  Jason went into school alone.  He didn’t want to walk with Dad on his mission to drop off the treat for the staff.  Jason gave his hugs at home, but at school, he goes in alone.  I admire his independence.  I feel bad for his, slightly rejected and dissed, Dad.  I am glad to be in bed, cozy and warming with a cup of tea, in a Blue mug. 















April 30th and May 1st 2003 & 2016

Todays’ Topic:  Image_1for5_1 (2)  Tawk amongst yourselves.


April 30th and May 1st 2003

4-30-03 I see Carole from 11am to 12 noon at my hospital. (The session goes so fast.  I am a good patient.  I open wide for the swab and try to feel the cold.  I try to feel the swab.) Coumadin is at 12.5mg Feed 180/ 9hrs

5-1-03    VNA comes, Karri.  4pm to 5pm Carole. (It is late for my appointment.  Carole and so many are heading home soon for the weekend with family and baseball games and maybe a first barbecue. I  am on the ball today.  I open wide for the swab and can get to my suction before she reloads swabs for the next round.  I got it going on.  I try really hard to have something inside me respond, react to the cold swab.  I visualize it. Maybe next week.) Coumadin is at 12.5 mg. Feed 200cc/8 hours

I see Dr. K, my neurologist next week. (I will not ask him why I had a stroke, again.  I will not ask him if I am going to have another stroke, again.  I will not ask him how much I will be able to recover, this time.  I will only ask about the coldness.   This coldness on my right side is savage.  IT feels like ice, only tight and painful ice. It feels like the arm will just crack right off like a broken icicle.   I mean, I feel like ice on the right side.  My right side hurts.  That’s how I should tell Dr. K.  In bed, I have Lola lie on my right side and I imagine her warmth becoming my warmth.  Eventually, if she stays near, I snooze and don’t think of the cold.

I put a call in about driving again.  They think I am more stable, so it will be safe.  When I hear back from the powers that be, I am going to visit school.  I am going to visit when I can drive there on my own.  At least I will walk in under my own steam from the driver’s side of my own car.  They won’t know that, I know.  But I will know and it is something. Everyone says that I am missed at school.  My kids are so young.  They sent me beyootiful cards that all say “get well.”  But some of my school friends say, and I believe, that the kids really need to see me, for real.  I don’t know what they will think of me.  I don’t know how it will help.   But I will go to them because, because… I am unsure how to finish that sentence.  I guess I will go because they asked me to. 

 My suction is sort of disguised in the backpack bag thing.  I can go into the teacher’s bathroom on the pod, just outside the back door of the classroom, before I go in the room.  I can stay near the back door, where there is a light out above.  In the shadows, I can say hi for a minute.  I don’t have to sit down.  I won’t stay long and I can head to the bathroom to suction when I need.  I also need tissues.  I hope I don’t drool in front of them.  But that is only a plan right now.  I have to get the legit ok to drive.

Beautiful cards come regularly from everyone.  I save them for the evening.  I get a lot of love in the mail every day.

Bills come regularly from everyone.  I open them right away. Today is a bill for speech.   Each session with Carole costs how much??????????  $1,843.00  Image-_2-5_1  I am sure Carole doesn’t get paid that.  My bill totals $28,900.75 for speech so far.  But I only owe $140.  But I can’t swallow.


April 30th and May 1st 2016.

        You wish you had smell o’ vision and taste o’ vision here the other evening.  The school day had been long.  The week had been long.  And I was preoccupied, no, be honest worried for someone I know.  I hate that helpless feeling I get when someone I care for is suffering.  Life is not being good to him and I cannot fix it.

 I can hold his hand.  I can look into his eyes.  I can tell him that I KNOW what he is going through.  I KNOW it is hard and it hurts.  I can tell him that I am sorry it hurts so much.  And I can try each time I see him, to allow him to and make space and opportunity for him, to have peace and joy, if only for a moment.  And I can pray.  I pray to accept whatever the day brings me, and keep him safe.

         I did that.  I don’t know how or why I was able to  reach out to him and connect.  I think, no, I know my angels were involved. Thank you.  But the feelings sit and slosh inside me like the sludge in a clogged drain, nowhere to go.  And so I bake.  The day was long, the sun was setting and I bake.  I spy the bananas, just right ripenesswise and too many for breakfast tomorrow.

 I just saw a recipe that would be perfect.   Yahhhhh, like I don’t spend the bulk of my time googling foods… I saw a recipe for Chocolate Chip Banana Bread with Peanut Butter Frosting. Image-_3-for-5_1  And I bake.  The house smells sweet.  I imagine the sweetness blessing all for the night.  I smile and head to bed.  For the weekend ahead is busy. 

        Jason has his second baseball game.  He is incredible.  The amount of focus he has for the entire game, on the ball in play, on all his teammates and cheering for them, on a player holding at second base that he can chat with, on the location of HIS batting helmet at all times, what his coaches say to him about his “good run to first base,” and his focus on where his fans are in the stands to give a wink to, all this he does.   Proud Momma am I.  And after the game, he downs the water and granola bar I brought for him, and is chatty and smiley and all around ready to carry on with the day.  Phew, much better today.  Jason carries on with the good vibrations all afternoon.  He enjoys the sun and tosses the basketball around with his Dad.  I hear the giggles from both, and I smile.  In the backyard, I make the weekly collection of Gus’ “donations,” for the week.  Then I walk around the yard and water a bit, all the growing things.  The bleeding heart is almost blooming.  It is a new one this spring.  (The contractor from he** last summer trampled my ancient, beloved bleeding heart.  I am not nearly as bitter as I was.)  This bleeding heart is pure white.  I had forgotten it was a change from the old one.  It is beautiful and delicate, but super strong too.  Love it.

        After the yard and Gus are sorted, I tackle the BLUE lights.  Tomorrow is May first. May is Stroke Awareness Month. And as I decorate the house for every season and holiday, of course I gotta decorate for STROKE month.  Our color is blue, as I have told you.  Yes, stroke is a part of heart disease and the American Heart Association.  Yes, the American Heart and Stroke Association are one big organization.  Yes, the color of heart disease is red.

But we are a “Brain Attack.” The Stroke Association makes wonderful Stroke Strings, Blue Stroke strings for stroke awareness. Image-_4-for-5_1  Power to End stroke has a blue logo.  So Go Blue for STROKE in May, I say.  And I have been collecting blue lights for the decoration. After Christmas, the blue winter lights are on deep mark down and I snatch them up for this month and World Stroke Day, in October.  So today, as Jason and Tim play ball, I excavate the blue from the attic.  I hang up what I have, and get Tim’s help with some of it.  But it is not enough.  At sunset, Tim goes outside with me and he agrees, the house needs MORE BLUE.  Have no fear, additional blue will arrive at the house on May 2nd and be hung right away. Then I will share.

 My theory is this:  Most people are aware of the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness.  The cause has done a great job “branding” the color pink and raising awareness, and money. Most people are aware of the red ribbon for heart disease. Most people recognize the red dress symbol to Go Red for women’s heart health is February.  And many public buildings, like the statehouse in Connecticut for example, actually GO RED with lights on Go RED day in February.  Buildings with their lights and people with their fashions, go RED all over the country, for that day.  It raises awareness. I want to do that with BLUE, in MAY, for STROKE. It’s that simple.

One way that awareness is raised for the AHA and ASA, is through Heart Walks.  All over the country, at different times of the year, there are walks in our communities that raise money and awareness for Heart Disease and Stroke.  And, all the money raised by the event, stays in our community and helps with research, advocacy, awareness, prevention and treatment.  The event is local, and those involved are local.  It is a great way to become “a part of” and not be “isolated from.”

My journey with the began in 2003. I reached out over the internet to the AHA in the fall, and the Boston chapter let me know about my local heart walk.  That year, the walk was in the fall.  It was at Institute Park, which was right next door to where I had grown up.  I had played in that park most days.  And the Heart Walk was there.  I did not sign up ahead of time. I did not join a team.  I did not raise money.  I just showed up, with Lola.  It was fall and everyone was back at school, busy with fall and family.  But we were not.

 I registered for the walk, as a Stroke Survivor.  I remember how strange it was to identify myself as such.  The people at the booth were so friendly, and seemed curious about me and my story.  But I was not ready to do more than just check the box on the form. So we walked, just a half mile that year.  But we did it.  And although we arrived alone and knew no one there, we did not walk alone.  Our former mayor was there.  I forget why.  And as Lola and I started to walk, he joined us.  And we chatted.  I told him that I recently had a stroke.  I knew who he was.  I told him that I had been a teacher in the city, before the stroke. He listened to me. He walked with us.  It was sunny that day.  And I remember that I was not cold for that half mile. 

It was a start for me.  And although I did not continue much with the walk or the AHA/ASA for a couple of years, when I was ready, I came back. And I got strong.  I got involved.  And I got better. I started a heart walk team with the school nurse at my former school.  We raised money by collecting spare change and we raffled off the big cookies.  We walked together and were joined by other staff.  The walk was in the May now and that felt right.  After all, it is Stroke Month.  The walk was downtown.  We walked through the city. We walked by my hospital.  (I walked by my hospital, did not go in, but talked about my time there and cheered for them for saving me. A very healing journey.) I walked with a team of coworkers and friends and their families.  And I saw people on the walk I knew, from the city, from church, from City Hall.  Then they walk moved down near the lake.  It is so pretty there.  That is where it is this year.

Every year I am a part of the Red Hat wave.  At the walk, survivors of heart disease are given a red hat to wear for the walk. I don mine with pride.  I look around and see many people like me walking, all ages, survivors.  Before the walk begins, the RED Hats are asked to stand together for a group picture.  And when they tell us to, we all wave our hats above our heads, together.  And people cheer.  It feels really good to be together.  I love that part. 

Then two years ago, when I signed in at the survivor’s tent,    the hats changed.  Image-_5-5_1There were red hats for heart disease survivors and now white hats for Stroke survivors.  Hmm, I thought, recognition that we are different from heart disease and this is our month.  I like it.  So I put on my white hat with pride.  And I admit, I strutted a bit back outside over to Tim and Jason.  And later, I cried a bit.  (I would cry more, but the spastic muscles in my face get all fired up when I cry.  I can’t breathe at all.  The left side of my face totally locks up for several minutes and snot abounds.  Not pretty.  As it is hard enough to walk a couple of miles, with my wonky breathing, it would be impossible if I were to have a good cry.)     But I want to have a really good cry.  And here is the reason:  for two years, I am the only WHITE HAT I see.  RED HATS abound.  Their numbers are strong.  There are all ages, shapes and sizes wearing the Red Hat proud. 

But I am alone in my White Hat. I cannot see one, even one other White Hat, like me.

You see MOST people with Stroke are not as lucky as I am.  They are not strong enough to walk.

Or they can’t get out of bed.

 Or they don’t know about the walk. 

Or they don’t see themselves as able to get involved with the AHA/ASA as a survivor.

 Or they don’t have any money to share with the event as a survivor. 

Or they only identify themselves as stroke victims.


Or they did NOT SURVIVE their STROKE.

  It’s that simple.  It’s that sad. 

But this is a new year and we will see what we see on May 7th at the 2016 Central MA Heart Walk with Columbus Park Has Heart.