Friday, July 18, 2014

My Grandma

My Grandmother had a stroke this week. It was an ischemic, brain stroke. It was caused by a clot that blew up from her heart into her brain. 

She has lost most of the use of her right side. She can move the limbs when she’s lying down. She can kick and reach for things but the brain cannot connect to the leg and tell it when and how to move. Thus, she cannot walk or squeeze things with her right hand/arm. She doesn’t want to eat very much either. However, the hardest thing to see was her loss of speech. She can say words in spurts, she asks “How are you”, she says “That’s enough” when she doesn’t want to eat or drink anything else. However, conversations like we used to have are long gone…

She will go into acute therapy. Acute therapy is an all-day program, she will stay overnight in the facility as well. The program is considered very intense and the idea is to get back the use of her speech and body parts before too much time goes by.  The idea of acute rehabilitation is as follows:

  • The patient should gain independence in caring for one’s self by being able to get around by  walking or using a wheelchair; perform dressing, bathing, toileting and other activities of daily living; eat and swallow effectively and safely; and be able to communicate and solve problems. How much independence the patient gains during his/her stay will depend on the patient’s condition. 

My grandmother may regain things or she may not… Strokes are not new in my family. My sister and mother have both suffered strokes. They both recovered to an extent; however, they too have lost parts of their brain. 

A stroke is a weird thing because it can totally disable you in so many ways or it can slightly disable you. The brain can bounce back or it can be permanent. My grandma had an ischemic stroke caused by a blot clot, described as follows: 

  • Cerebral embolism refers generally to a blood clot that forms at another location in the   circulatory system, usually the heart and large arteries of the upper chest and neck. A portion of     the blood clot breaks loose, enters the bloodstream and travels through the brain's blood vessels until it reaches vessels too small to let it pass. A second important cause of embolism is an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation. It creates conditions where clots can form in the heart, dislodge and travel to the brain.

The after effects of a stroke are incredible. The loss of blood to parts of the brain for even a few moments has devastating effects. A person suffering from a stroke will almost always face a harder life down the road, emotional difficulties, physical problems, communication troubles and the pure frustration of no longer being who you once were is enough to cause even the strongest of people to break down. 

I cried when I saw my grandmother the other day. I drove home crying knowing that she will never be same. Most of all I know how much she would hate being like this. Grandma is one of the most independent, strongest women I’ve ever met. 

She is 96 years old and she still lived on her own and she did not want to move. She did not want to go somewhere warmer or smaller even though recently she’d started to struggle with some things; she wanted to stay at home. 

Grandma grew up in a small town and was a coal miner’s daughter. She was in the middle of big brood of children and she came to Chicago when some of her siblings ventured up this way.  Her family was extremely poor during the depression and they used to sit by the coal trains hoping a few pieces would fall out so they could heat their home. They grew most of their food and Grandma remembers wearing her brother’s jeans with holes in them because that’s all they had. Whenever we would go to the store she would be so appalled at the jeans for sale that were tattered. She couldn’t believe people paid for holes in the pants when she was forced to wear her clothes like that…

Grandma did some amazing things her life…she was strong when faced with an abusive husband in the late 1940’s and left him even though women didn’t do that. She stood up on her own and took care of my father with the help of family until she met the man I called Grandpa. She married Sal and they had 2 more children and spent the next 50 years together
Grandma is the kind of grandma that told bad jokes, drank root beer schnapps with you on your 21st birthday, says swear words and then laughs and she loves to talk about everything. She will sit and talk with you at her kitchen table for hours.  During that time she will bring out the red tin of cookies and put on some coffee. She’ll take out a bottle of wine if you want. Eventually she’ll bring out the pots and pans and cook soup. She may take you downstairs or into the attic to look at ‘stuff’… she may ask you to go ‘bumming’ around and just check out some garage sales. While you are there you feel warm and loved, and you won’t want to leave.
Sometimes, I would get busy with life, school, work, my own health, my daughter and I wouldn’t see Grandma for a week or more.

 I always felt bad when I’d call her and say “Hi Grandma, this is Nat.” And she would say “Nat, who?”… And then she’d laugh and we’d talk…

I don’t know what will happen now. My grandmother is 96 years old. She has had a major stroke. She is tired, she is weak. She has vascular disease and several other heart conditions. I look at her and know that one day I could end up in the same way. 

I have vascular disease and heart problems, I build up too much plaque and yes a stroke is a strong possibility for my condition. I have seen many people suffer a stroke now and I know that the brain doesn’t work right afterwards. I wonder what’s going on inside there… do they know I’m here? Do they know how fragile they are now? 

My heart hurts right now… I wish I had done more for my Grandma. One of the ways in which I always feel cheated about my own health is that it prevents me from doing things to help other people. Grandma needed someone to clean her floor for a long time but I couldn’t do it. I physically can’t manage something that big. I couldn’t even help get the boxes out of the attic. I want to tell her I’m sorry that I didn’t try harder, that I wanted to do more…

All we have in this world is today. We cannot guarantee a future. We cannot change the past. Live your life being the best person you can be. Laugh heartily, laughter will ease pain. Most of all- LOVE those around you. Your family, friends, your children, your parents and grandparents…whoever makes up the circle of your life, love them with all your might and tell them often!! 

I am in awe of the people I have surrounding me. I reached out for help knowing that there was a chance people would shun me but I have had people reach back. I am getting closer to my goal and I am starting to feel less scared. My health will not get better, I am still facing a long road of heart problems, however, the burdened has been eased. Some of the bills have been paid and the threat of not being able to get my medicines is gone. I still have a huge a hospital bill to take care of at the University of Chicago but the doctors have been paid, which means I can still see them at their offices. I am still at risk of not being able to be admitted to the hospital should I need tests… however I am going to keep my fundraising efforts intact and continue to reach out to everyone.  

 I not only want to reach my goal financially but I want you to understand how you can make a difference in the lives of people around you. I want you to realize that it isn’t just about money, it’s about health, learning how to better care for yourself, it’s about realizing that we all face something BIG in our life and how we handle it determines how we survive it. 
I want you to know who I am and how you can help others that may be facing life threatening illnesses. 

The fundraising so far has made a significant impact in my life and for that I am eternally grateful. Those of you that have helped know in your hearts that what you did for me and my family is nothing short of miraculous. Yes, in my heart it is a miracle to have YOU in my life. The fact that I met you, know you, and shared part of life with you is my miracle. 

Live, Laugh, Love, keep your heart flowing and when you lay down tonight remember those around you need YOU as much as YOU need THEM!

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