Brain Stem

June 1, 2010


It’s the casual conversations that trigger old memories.  I was admiring this piece call “iron man” from Minneapolis based artist Frank Haenel as he was explaining the brainstem which was removed for the finished piece but can be seen here prior to completion.  The term herniated brain stem was as foreign to me as could be some three years ago.  This was a situation my mother was facing just a couple of days into the ICU when everything seemed so dire.  The wide halls of the unit on the second floor seemed lightly staffed in the evenings when I would make my second or third trips to the hospital for the day.   The lighting and the noise seemed eerily subdued. I can’t say how many patients were in the horse shoe shaped corridors but my only concern was for my Mom.  Lety was just taken off life support from the emergency room and was breathing on her own.  The medical staffed wanted to re-intabate her again as a precaution but dreadfully warned me that they may not be able to remove the tubes after that point if my mother did not start to recover.  My mother long ago had expressed to me that no extreme life extension measures should be taken and that she would not want to be on life support.  The neurologist on duty explained they would be able to apply a solution into her to see if that would reduce the swelling in the brain.  This stroke was not that long after Terry Shiavo’s ordeal so this decision resonated well within me.  It was time to wait and see.  Nurses would come in and check the pupil of her eyes.  I was so shocked to see how dilated they were.  It seemed every few hours they were getting bigger and bigger as the brain was pushing against the back of her eyes.  A swollen brain has no place to go within the confines of a skull.  She was not a candidate for a procedure where a small piece of skull is removed to ease the pressure I was told.  By the next morning her pupils appeared to retreat and after a slow lingering pace she seemingly cleared that hurdle…for now


Family Guy has stroke

May 24, 2010

Family Guy episode McStroke:

This episode was about strokes after Peter Griffin ate 30 hamburgers and had a stroke. The humor is pretty brutal but based in truth. If this is the first exposure people have then it’s a start.   Awareness is the key.  Prevention is one of the answers.

Walking to the pool

May 19, 2010

Indoor pools on a hot day in particular always feel steamier.  The automatic door holds just long enough to require a second press of the large handicap door opener.  I don’t know if there is a standard amount of time handicap doors stay open but it can reveal the sunken pace of  a person who has essentially relearned how to walk again. 

Walking to the car, from the car, in the building , through the door, into the room, to the chair…Walking.  What a deliberate series of actions and movements it takes to walk.  When done in a much slower motion, watching the sequence of movements gives me time to think about it. When my mother had her stroke, her walking again seemed so far off… the seriousness of her condition had everyone worried about survival.  The walking would come much later.

Mark McEwen

May 15, 2010


This is Mark McEwen sitting with my mother Lety just before his presentation at the Stroke Symposium at Dr. Phillips Hospital in Orlando.

Stroke Symposium

May 15, 2010

Let me tell you about the health event sponsored by the Dr. Phillips Hospital in Orlando with guest speaker Mark McEwen.  Mr. McEwen is a stroke survivor and both Lety and I were very interested in meeting and listening to him speak.  I had begun reading his book Change in the Weather to gain insight from his experience.  The book is very enlightening and I recommend it.  One key point Mark made that I could relate to most was how the family also was in rehabilitation with Mark in dealing with his stroke.  Anyways, the event was one county away and so we rose early just before 6 am to be ready and factor in the drive time.  I have learned its best to prepare in advance as much as possible.  Since I am not a morning person, I loaded the wheelchair in the trunk and helped her select her dress which she wanted to wear that day the evening prior.  We arrived just after 9 am and Mark was not due to speak until 9:30.   The parking garage was conveniently located and offered ample signage and direction.  Lety likes to walk as much as possible with either her quad cane or hemi walker but when distances are too great or time is short she will rely on the her wheelchair which we used this morning.  It also provided mobile seating for her.  The polite security guard assured us we were in the right spot and the event was just a little behind schedule which suited me fine.  I imagined since some in attendance were fellow stroke survivors they would need time to travel as we did.  The lobby was cool and arranged with several chairs and a platform stage for the speakers.  Mark McEwen would be first followed by a board certified neurological surgeon and the medical director from the rehabilitation center my mother also attended during her recovery.  There were 5 or 6 booths setup offering free blood pressure screenings, stroke information and a goodie bag for all attendees.  Lety and I had a few minutes to explore a room where Mark was seated and would receive guests and fans before and after including a book signing.  I remember Mark McEwen from his time in television and was familiar with who he was.  He had a presence about him that I’m sure people closest to him can relate better than I.  He was both engaging and friendly while chatting with my mother and me.  We were fortunate to have him for a couple of minutes before he spoke.  So after signing our book we went out to take our seats.  Mark took the stage and gave an inspiring presentation.  His monologue was peppered with stories he outlined in his book.  A touch of humor rounded his nearly hour long speech followed by a Q&A.  It was good to hear him in person.  As he was wrapping up the talk, several members of the audience were gathering and huddling in the room to meet Mark up close and personal.  There were books on hand for purchase and autographs.  By this time we were just passed 11 a.m. and Lety and I took stock of the time.  We decided to head on home with the long drive.  Unfortunately we did not stay long enough for the other speakers.

This day was a planned trip to the Central Florida Stroke Club that meets regularly on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month.   My mother Lety would attend and travel with her caregiver to these functions which are held within a Methodist church building.   The lower level or basement housed a conveniently large size room equipped with a kitchen facility that allows for preparation of light appetizers, snacks and beverages.  It includes an upright piano for group singing  which they did not do today as the monthly board meeting was in session.  As members gathered around circular tables arranged  in the center of the room a speaker prepared here presentation and demonstration of her company’s occupational rehabilitation device which Lety attempted.  image

 This was my first attendance to such a gathering.   Most members were stroke survivors and others included their spouses.  The kindness and supportive nature of these people is most striking as they relate the degree and progress of their own rehabilitation.  It seems while some were further along than others the progression of recovery and hope keeps everyone coming back and moving forward.



May 6, 2010


Each step takes us further…The image above was taken at the conclusion of an hour long water therapy excercise where Lety is exiting the pool by climbing the stairs.  There was a time when 2 nurses, 1 physical therapist, my brother and myself could barely help her sit upright in a hospital bed.  That day was nearly two months following her stroke.  We did not know how far she would come.  Lety first learned of this therapy while attending a local stroke support club meeting where Mark her therapist was presenting the value of water therapy.  She has been going ever since then on average one to twice weekly.  Her progress has been steady and this is something she looks forward too.