March 29, 2008

Crazy Glue on my Shoes

Some times I hate listening to music. It makes me cry too often. I mean, who wouldn’t cry over lines like: “I can only give you love that lasts forever…” when your stroke survivor husband is sleeping in the other room and you’ve just finished watching The Way We Were?

I loved that movie when it first came out in the early ‘70s. Plot: a Jewish left-wing intensely political woman falls in love with a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant who, by his own admission, had everything in life come too easy for him. It was that movie that made me fall in love with Robert Redford. (Insert a big sigh here.) Barbara Streisand as a movie star I can take or leave but the way she sang the theme song of that film still gets to me.

“…Memories may be beautiful and yet what’s too painful to remember we simply choose to forget…”

We see bits of ourselves in most books or movies. After all, life-experiences are for the most part timeless and universal. I was never as political as Barbara’s character, Katie, but I was certainly far more political than the guys I dated back before I met Don. I was more into sociology, philosophy and social causes, too. I’m eternally grateful that none of those relationships ever worked out but in my twenties I didn’t, of course, see it that way at the time. I dated a lot of aspiring couch potatoes back then and I never would have been happy if I'd have gone on to a life that included serving beer and snacks to the boys every Sunday afternoon while they rallied their favor sports teams towards the play-offs. "Me man. You woman." I love the fact that with Don I was able to grow in a direction of my choosing with his full support and encouragement, and I like to think I did the same for him.

“…So it's the laughter we will remember whenever we remember the way we were….”

I look back at all the memories that Don and I made together over the years and I know deep in my soul why I view these caregiver/survivor years as just another chapter in a long book of chapters. We’ve done a lot of living and growing together. We've explored the outer envelope of love and respect in a way that appeared unconventional to the causal eye but really wasn't.

Thumbing through our memories isn't about wishing for the past. It’s about loneliness that is often hard to bear. It’s about being two peas in a pod that is hanging on to the mother plant by a thin thread called the future. It's about worrying about the wind that will come along and knock the pod to the ground. The cycle of life goes on, seed to plant and plant to seed.

I suppose some people will misunderstand a caregiver who spends an evening looking back over her life and wondering what would have happened if she’d taken door number one or two instead of door number three. I don’t view my reminiscing in a negative way. It's not a wistfulness or longing for the past. Maybe that's because I realize that I didn’t turn out all that bad and that my choices led to a good place despite the bumps in the road along the way. Reminiscing, for me, is about going back to the past to gather strength to go on in the future. And memories are part of the commonalities that bind Don and me together. They, along with soul mate kind of love, makes our commitment to one another stick like Crazy Glue on our shoes.

“…Memories light the corners of my mind. Misty water colored memories of the way we were...”

Jean Riva ©

Photo: Don and me, circa 1973

March 25, 2008

Giving Back

"Everyday I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of others, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving." Albert Einstein

I ran across this quotation today and thought, Wow, he sure took that self-talk seriously. Albert Einstein gave the world many things including his research in the photoelectric effect which scored him a Nobel Prize in Physics and led to our understanding of the quantum nature of light. Well, not exactly "our" understanding. I could read theories and principles of physics until I am calcified in the grave and it would still be gobbly-glop to me.

How lucky we are, though, to have the combined knowledge that mankind has passed down through the centuries---our concepts of science as well as mind, body and spirit---each generation building on the last. How lucky we are that we don't have to start from scratch every so many years to re-invent fire, wheels and Spanx's undergarments. But aside from Einstein, I wonder how many of us have ever thought about our responsibility to give back with the same measure as we've received. And would the "measure we've received" be the same for each of us? Should it be or could it be? I don't understand physics, for example, so I can't give back in terms of ground breaking scientific theories. No, it will be up to others to figure out if the earth is hurling off its axis and in danger of being sucked into a Black Hole---or does that only happen in sci-fi comic books?

But maybe for me, and others like me, it's enough to give back what we can in terms of the love, logic and sensitivity bred into civilized society one caring set of parents to their children at a time. Maybe it's enough for us to take care of our young and elderly, recycle cans, and save turtles from becoming road kill. We can't all be Albert Einstein. But some of us can be Leonard Bernstein's or Brad Pitt's or nameless, do-good people doing the best we can to give back the same measure as we've received. Maybe it's enough for ordinary minds to recognize and nurture the good in the world and ignore or fight back against the bad.

I guess this is all just another way of saying that each of us has talents or skills to add to the pot of soup cooking over the communal fire. Add what you can, when ever you can.

Jean Riva ©

Photo: Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize Photo, 1921

March 21, 2008


We all face our own mortality although some of us are good at pretending it doesn't exist. Usually I'm able to ignore thoughts of dying or of losing someone I love, but sometimes the concept slaps me in the face and can't be ignored.

Last week I had one of those slap-downs when we were waiting at the hospital while my husband, Don, got a heart catheterization. A catheterization, according to the American Heart Association is a procedure where a cardiologist threads a thin plastic tube (the catheter) into an artery and manipulates it into the chambers of the heart and coronary arteries. Also according to the AHA "the test measures blood pressure in the heart and how much oxygen is in the blood." The catheter injects dye into the coronary arteries that can be viewed and studied with an overhead camera.

Don had four heart by-passes done about eighteen years ago and, I'm told, they usually have a life spam of ten-twelve years. Sure enough, Don's catheterization revealed that one of those by-passes is completely shot and "will never come back." Two are still going strong and the forth may be a candidate for a stent someday. Maybe.

Before the cathe started, Don was wheezing from what I thought was a cold so they sent in a pulmonary doctor to do a breathing treatment. He kept asking ominous questions regarding Don's past smoking history and he seemed surprised that he wasn't using oxygen at home. In short, he scared the blissful, head-in-the-sand attitude right out of me as thoughts of emphysema and lung cancer filled my head. The next hour of waiting for a blood test to come back that would prove one way or another if Don's wheezing was from bronchitis or something more serious was extremely difficult. When a person, like Don, had been a heavy smoker for a lot of years you can't help thinking that lung cancer is going to be the piper that demands the last coin in their pocket. Thankfully, the cause of the wheezing was ruled to be 'bronchitis' so they went ahead with the catheterization instead of admitting Don. He dodged another bullet.

For the next few days I worried about the 'what ifs' ahead of us, borrowing trouble from the future and generally forgetting the caregivers' Cardinal Rule about living in the moment and appreciating what is here, right now. The bottom line, I finally had to tell myself, is that after all the testing and all the worrying nothing has really chanced. Don is still in my life and he still finds life worth living. We don't have to say good-bye just yet and I don't have to make my way alone in the world. So I made a conscious choice to go back to a land where ignoring our mortalities makes sense in a crazy kind of logic that demands no explanation from those who have been there, done that. ©

March 15, 2008

Fess Up, Anyone for Gluttony or Greed?

Lest you think I never write anything except stroke and speech related stuff, I'm going to share a tongue-in-cheek look at two of the Seven Deadly Sins that I wrote for Associated Content. Yes, it's slightly irreverent but what else would you expect from a senior citizen with too much time on her hands?

But if you really want to read something stroke related, Cooper (our dog) blogged about Don's stroke in his entry titled, Daddy's Little Service Dog. Click here.


I've already written about lust in the first of this four part series, so I might as well tackle the other two of the Seven Deadly Sins that fall in the category of excessive love of earthly pleasures: Greed and Gluttony. If Dante could lump the sins of lust, greed and gluttony together in 'Purgatorio' I can, too. After all, without Dante to rank the sins would we even have---on second thought, let's not go there! I don't want the natives to get restless here.

We all know something about greed. Or we think it's about amassing money or worldly goods and hoarding it all for ourselves. Literally speaking this is true, I guess, but how much is too much? Who decides when we've got enough Ding Dongs and dollars in our cupboards to ward off future catastrophic events? Greed, as in one of the Seven Deadly Sins, only makes sense when we hold it up against The Virtue in which that sin offends. Here, that virtue is Generosity.

Okay, so sharing is good. I think I read that in a book titled, 'All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.' So in theory if we share our Ding Dongs with the cat and..... Click here to read the entire article.


March 7, 2008

Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks

People dealing with aphasia and apraxia will understand my excitement at having my husband finally---for the first time since May 21, 2000---try to spell a word that he couldn't verbalize. It's the first time he's done that. It always shocks me when Don comes up with something new like this. The brain really is a mysterious place where spontaneous healing can happen. After he did that, I recognized right away that this could be an important break-through so I tried having him write the word on paper. It didn't work. He could only write half the word, just like he could only spell out half of it with his voice. Then I had him write my name on paper. And he could do it! The only word he's been able to initiate in written form until now was his own first name and that took five years for that to happen. This week he added my name to his list of written accomplishments. How cool is that!

After his group class at the college on Thursday, I told the speech therapist/professor about this new development. She agrees we need to start trying to build on the change that appears to be happening in Don's brain. So it's back to doing homework at the kitchen table again. This time we'll be working on spelling and writing.

March 1, 2008

Plumbing 101: Aphasia Style

We hear about the stroke survivors who have anger issues when dealing with speech problems, but we don’t often hear about the caregiver/spouses with anger issues.Well, I have them in this household. Not often, but once in a while the angry out-bursts come out of me from seemingly no where and when I least expect them. It feels like menopause all over again.

Last night I was working on the computer when Don wanted me to come in the bathroom. Right Now! Major important! Emergency! Everything is an emergency on the Planet Aphasia.

"Okay, the toilet is temperamental," I was thinking on my into the bathroom, "and it’s either plugged up or the chain to the flipper do-hickie is off its ring again." But after a short examination, I found out that both of these things were just fine. No real or semi-real emergency. No visible problem.

Don pointed down to the turn off valve that goes to the toilet tank. Then he gestured with his hand in a turning pattern and said, “Eeekkkk!”

“Don,” I answered, “The water IS turned on.”

“Eeeekkk,” he repeated.

So dutiful wife that I am, I turned the valve off, then flushed the toilet to demonstrate that the toilet tank will not fill up when the water is turned off. “Is this what you want?” I asked. “Why do you want the water off?”

“Eeeekkk,” he repeated more forcibility and with another hand gesture that was rotating in the opposite direction. “EEEEeeeeKKKKK!”

So dutiful wife that I am, I turned the water on again. Then I ran my fingers all around the valve and reported that it wasn’t leaking. “Did you see a leak?” I asked. I got the rotating hand gestures and sound effects again for an answer.

For the next fifteen minutes the valve went on and off a million times and the toilet was flushed repeatedly. And all I could get out of Don in the way of an explanation was that sound effect that was starting to grate on my nerves like fingernails on a blackboard. (And, boy, does that saying date me!)

It was at that point that Shrew-Lady took over my body and she started yelling that she’s going to sell the house. She hates toilets, and she hates plumbing problems. She threw in a few swear words and her tantrum was starting to make my blood pressure rise. Recognizing that out-out-control feeling, I knew that Shrew-Lady needed to leave. So I grabbed her by the arm and we marched out of the room. I threw my head back over my shoulder and told Don, “I don’t want to see you or hear you for half hour. I’ll be in the time out chair!” My sense of humor was coming back.

A half hour passed and like clock work, Don and his wheelchair came rolling up beside me and he said, “EeeeeeeKKKKK” with a hand gesture rotating one way, and then he did a short rotation of his hand in the opposite direction. “Eeekk.”

My aphasia decoder ring FINALLY broke the damn code. “You want me to turn the valve on full force then you want me to back it down a couple of turns.”

“YES!” Then the kissy-face stuff started in as Don plastered kisses on my face and hair. It was his way of telling me that I finally figured out what was so all-consuming, damned important for him to tell me.

“Don,” I said with a deep sigh, “You forgot who my dad was. I already know that about water valves.”

“Oh,” says, and rolled away laughing.

Such is our life on the Planet Aphasia.

Jean Riva ©