The S Word

She gave me permission to write this.

We were all sitting on the couch watching the end of the basketball game. She, and the young one, and I. She looked at the vase of flowers and said, as Northwestern was losing the game, “Hey, those need more water”.

She started to get off the couch, said she was dizzy, her legs collapsed under her.

I caught her.

I’ll get more water for the flowers, I said.

Something didn’t feel right.

I re-watered the flowers, hurried to the cabinet in search of a blood pressure cuff.

It was over 180. Way too high.

We are going to the hospital. I think you are having a stroke, I said.

She refused.

After a phone call to the person she listens to most in the world, her son-in-law, she still refused to go…

But then her blood pressure went higher.

She didn’t want the neighbors to see the paramedics so calling 911 was strictly out of the question.

But we got her to the car and we drove to the hospital.

She was alert enough and maybe frightened enough in the car to argue about the route I was to take.

When we got to the ER her blood pressure was 225/130.

Yep, that’s high.

She was indeed in the middle of a stroke. She could not write her name. Thankfully she could speak – but speech was slurred. They admitted her that night.

It was a pesky little blood clot in her brain which caused all the trouble.

Maybe that – and the Northwestern Basketball Team.

Since I live across the country I have to say that she had excellent manners in having the stroke while we were sitting with her. We just happened to be in town.
Spring break, you know.

As it turns out, she doesn’t remember anything from those four days in the hospital. She was then transferred to a residential rehabilitation place in a swanky part of town.

But you know, they worked her 4 hours a day – physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy.

They put an alarm on her bed.

She was labeled “impulsive” by her first rehab nurse.

“You are impulsive”, said the nurse. “Just want to jump out of bed and fall on the ground.”

Even if she tried to stand up with the walker they gave her, a loud screech would sound.
The alarm eventually – and I mean eventually – trained her to stay in bed until she had assistance.

Impulsive indeed.

I wanted to call her walker “Johnny”. Johnny Walker. In honor of what I felt like drinking those days.

In the beginning there was a bedside commode for her use — and in time they let her venture, with assistance, to an actual bathroom, with a door. Hurray for small acts of privacy.

The idea that you are having a stroke – have had a stroke, is such an overwhelming idea…especially when you do and go everywhere and are super strong and independent “for your age”. Those small, aggregate, devastating losses which add up to your new life: twenty-four hour companion care, loss of driving, inability to prepare or even carry your own food, inability to bathe yourself – or even to stand in the shower.

Increasingly irritating indignities.

When she was discharged to her home, I was able to come back and meet her and attempt to manage the million-and-a-half details associated with the new life.

When the reality of it all began to hit and she insisted on doing some things she really had no business doing…I began to tease her.

“Bedside Commode”, I would say. I am going to get you a bedside commode unless you calm yourself down and allow me to help. Of course the Bedside Commode is an absolutely annoying indignity which allows you to have close geographic proximity to your own waste products.

Now don’t get me wrong…it is a wonderful invention and a miracle if you really need it – but if you are fortunate enough to be able to make it to a bathroom – even with assistance and your walker, then a Bedside Commode is an excellent tease — a mode of behavior modification

It is hard for her to say what she had.  Stroke.   We call it “the S Word”.

The first thing that she asked me to bring her in the hospital was a small cosmetic mirror and her eyebrow tweezers. Well, the best I can say is that tweezing one’s eyebrows is excellent occupational therapy.

As I said in the beginning, she gave me permission to write this.

She likes to take Johnny Walker into the closet to pick out her clothes for the next day. The closet is a death cubicle, where the walker can catch on any number of things and she can go down. All for the love of just the right burgundy jeans.

I am on automatic. I rewrite my list of things to do three times a day. I am craving sweets…but there are none in the house, really, because she cannot have them.

But don’t ask her. She thinks she can have everything.
She is still adjusting, as I said before.

Adjusting is just…a bitch.

She knows that she is not herself. But I promised her that I would tell her the truth about what she can and cannot do. Even if it is hard to hear.

And hard to say.

We are taking it day to day. We are making appointments to see doctors and physical therapists and occupational therapists…but the schedule is iffy. She is tired and doesn’t know why.

Your brain is healing from a trauma, I say.
And I say it again.

And again.

More later.


    • Thank you, Joe. The nature of life is that we all have already or will go through all of this. It is the contract we have signed when we agree to be born.

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