Monday, July 24, 2006

By the Evans Family

Copyright 2006-All rights reserved.

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Expect 1 -2 chapters per month.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006


When I first emerged from the coma, time took an eternity. That was probably due to the fact that I was transitioning from leading a frenzied life to laying perfectly still on my back all day. I thought I was in the ECU for months; it turned out to be just 22 days, much of which I spent in a coma. I usually lay awake all night, watching the second hand go around to pass the time. Basically, my body was in excellent shape because I had been a health nut, and I just did not need much sleep after lying in bed all day. What I really craved was action of any type - bedbathes, rubdowns, anything. Just try lying perfectly still for a couple days without talking to see what it is like. The only difference is, I had no choice and no way out.

They say the passage of time is relative, and after what I have been through, I couldn't agree more. It has made me reflect. We are used to thinking of some animals as having very short - say a year - lifespans. But to that animal, I doubt it SEEMS short. They are born, know their parents briefly, and spend what must seem like endless days learning about their world before they die. We do much the same thing - only we may know another generation . In the big picture, neither of our lifespans is significant in view of the earth's existence. What, so one lives one/five billionnth years and the other eighty /five billionnths? So what? The best micrometer in the world couldn't tell them apart. What does seem to make a difference is the rate of change - when I first got sick and overniight went from hyperactive to motionless, the passage of time seemed to take FOREVER; but now that I am in a routine again things have reached an equilibrium again. Not that it is the same equilibrium as a normal person - I am used to things taking a long time and so I appear patient to everyone else. I can't put math to it, but the rate at which time appears to pass is inversely proportional to the rate at which things around us change. Remember how days seemed to last forever when we were kids because everything was new to us? And how time flies now that we have established routines? Well, it doesn't take the Earth a shorter period of time to orbit the sun, but our PERCEPTION has changed. I'm not trying to make any grand revelations here, but am just trying to make sense of what happened to me. The more change you allow (Or, as in my case, is thrust upon you), the longer life seems; and the more of a routine you follow, the faster time seems to fly.

Humor me for a minute while I play philosopher. Let's take that one step further. It is hard to conceive of a change more drastic than the one I experienced -one day an overactive father, CFO, and husband; the next day a motionless mute. As a result, time almost stood still while I adjusted to my new reality. That begs the question, how far can you stretch time/space? Now imagine the smallest distance we have measured, the size of some subatomic particle, versus the largest; the distance across the universe, measured in lightyears. There is no reason to believe those represent endpoints-why couldn't we be just be a subatomic particle ourselves in a much larger reality? What is so special about five billion years, the age of our universe, especially if time is so elastic, as it was for me? What came before? What will follow? What happens when there are no heavenly bodies revolving around each other to mark the passage of time? What role does religion play? Above all, if we are just the product of some cosmic accident, why haven't the trillions of stars/solar systems in the universe produced many races like us? Once we answer these questions will the questions stop? Or have we forgotten how important yesterday's questions were, like, does the sun really revolve around the earth, and why can't man fly? It seems to me that religion and science continually struggle to answer these questions, and will never converge. Religion maintains that we are unique and at least momentarily finite, while science refuses to acknowledge anything that can't be routinely repeated. Perhaps this endless struggle defines existence; certainly The Inquisition put as much weight on the questions of the day as we do on today's questions. If this all seems incomprehensible, now you know what it feels like to be able to do nothing but think.

What really brought the elasticity of time into focus was my side yard. I had been landscaping it right before my stroke. When I got home, I wouldn't give up on it. I typed out directions for my kids and my dad. To my surprise, they didn't read them carefully, when they read them at all. It was a good lesson. People don't like to be told what to do, and writing is a terrible medium for urgency. I learned another painful truth - what I used to do in a few minutes now could take weeks or years, if it got done at all. First, I had to find someone actually interested in doing it. Then, I had to get the parts. Then, I had to communicate how to do it. Finally, I had to watch it being done, because very few people follow directions. Without the art of communication, my reality existed only in my head. I soon learned to take what I could get and be happy. Not easy for a perfectionist, but the other choice was to do nothing. The lesson in all of this was that time was suddenly greatly expanded. Say, for example, I wanted to move a board from my driveway, a task that used to take me a few seconds. Now, I have to wait for an opportune time to ask someone to do it- that is, when I am near the wood and they have time to use the Board. This alone might take a week. Odds are they won't do it. I then have to wait for another opportune time and try again, until I get lucky. The whole process might take a month or more. The garden I started before my stroke still isn't done, and it has been four years. I had planned on it taking a few weeks.

OK, one more digression -evolution. While lying there I couldn't help but think about evolution and the passage of time. As helpless and as unattached to the environment as I was, it was hard for me to imagine us arising out of the mud, even given the passage of time. I am not defending creationism; that seems even less plausible. History has a funny way of compressing time. Oh, perhaps the order is right, but certainly the meaning of 'day' is not one Earth orbit around the sun. Remember; they thought the sun revolved around the Earth then. Who knows what Genesis means by 'day's? No, as I lay there I became convinced we just don't know where we came from, at least not in the way we know everyday things. The fossil record indicates that evolution likely played some role, but it does not account for everything. Like why do some species stop evolving -Cockroach - while others keep going -man>? Why haven't many other planets produced life? The biblical accounts of Creation, are very vague, even if they have a grain of truth. No, this whole area calls for our being humble enough to admit we just don't know yet to say exactly what happened, just as many things were shrouded in mystery for years before a completely new perspective revealed a generally plausible answer

. Ok, enough musings; now back on track.

I said before how it can take all morning to get up. My routine is usually this; get ready for the day and get in the wheelchair. Eat brunch - I call it that because eating both takes too long. It is now usually afternoon. I then exercise or sit at my computer for a couple hours (more results in bad posture), before they feed me dinner and then put me back to be, where I watch whatever is on TV until I fall asleep again. Exceptions might be taking a shower or going to the bathroom, either of which takes about two hours. Some days we go into town for therapy or to shop. My favorite thing is to take my electric wheelchair and speaking device into Costco or Home Depot and just look around. That is my life, and is just a stroke away for everyone. Believe it or not, I have come a long way. Some people can't even do this much.

Friday, July 14, 2006


First of all, what is 'the Board? 'Physically, it is a 12" by 12" piece of Plexiglas with all 26 letters and all 10 digits stenciled on it. The translator then holds it up between us so I can see all the letters. I stare at the group of letters that contains the one I want. The translator calls them out until I hear the one I want, at which point I nod. In this way we slowly spell what I want to say. It is very slow. Before I could nod, I blinked, which was even slower.

While on the one hand the Board keeps me from being a vegetable, it is also very tedious and drives everyone, including me, crazy. It is not easy to use for the translator. My part is also painstaking and difficult, although I am used to it.
The worst part about it is I never appear any smarter than the person using it. If they add, drop or misconstrue a word, they never remember doing it and blame ME when it doesn't make sense, even though it was THEIR fault. I can't explain what happened; they never get THAT explaination right, either. Basically, when I have no choice but to try to communicate with someone who is no good at the Board, I stick to single, short words when I talk at all. Communication at a higher level is impossible. Thus, when I am left alone with strangers they treat me like a vegetable. For this reason I am pretty dependent on my family.

When first using a Board, there are several tricks. First, make sure yes and no are clearly understood. Next work out a way to signal 'end of word'- this eliminates a LOT of problems. Work out a signal for 'I don't know'- which is often the case in a yes/no question. Focus on timing - nothing is harder to correct than a mistake. Work out a way to say 'start over'- for when things get all tangled up or you change your mind about what to say. Another handy sign is to indicate when you didn't hear the question - there's nothing like someone mumbling a question you don't understand, and then demanding an answer, to make you look mentally challenged. They have no way of knowing you just couldn't hear the question. Another thing that makes you look bad is when you try to say something, buy no one wants to take the time to use the Board. Those same people get mad AT YOU later when they figure out their lives could have been made easier if you had spoken up. They forget that you tried but nobody would use the Board. Finally, make about ten Boards so you can always find one.

One of the most insidious aspects of the Board is the way it changes your perceived personality. People don't want to spell out 'please' and 'thank you' constantly, so you learn to omit them. This gives you the appearance of ungratefully barking out orders all of the time. People also get tired of using the Board, so little niceties often go unsaid, leading people to think of you differently. You have to choose words very carefully because people often misconstrue them. They also stop when they think they get it. For example, when you want to say, "I want to go outside to see how cold it is," they might stop after "I want to go out," drop the Board, and say, "No, it is too cold." Never mind what I think.

Another common mistake is adding or dropping a letter or word and completely changing what I am saying. An example might be dropping the "let's" from "let's go outside" - the person might then just drop the Board and leave - very frustrating. The ultimate insult occurs when someone is watching TV or is otherwise interrupted when I am in the middle of painfully spelling out something. The listener often just puts down the Board to pay attention to the other conversation. The effect is to tell me (although it is not their conscious intention) "Shut up. This other thing is more important." People didn't used to tell me to shut up often - it takes some getting used to.

Some people are intimated by the Board - they think it is an IQ test and are afraid they will look stupid. the truth is that some people are good at it and some are not. If you have a normal IQ you MIGHT be good at the Board, although if you have a low IQ you don't stand a chance. I have had complete strangers get fascinated with the Board and just pick it up and start conversing with me, no problem. Other people never catch on.

I am often misunderstood because of the way questions are asked. At first, people forget I can only answer yes/no questions. Then they ask double questions, like "Do you want more or not?". No matter how you answer you might be misunderstood. Another common problem is when they INSIST on a yes/no answer. For example, they might say, "Do you want more food, yes or no?" The answer might be "Yes, if you put it between my teeth. Otherwise no." Unless they are willing to use the Board, they misunderstand - often yes or no isn't enough.

One thing the Board is no good at is yelling. It is hard to express any emotion when you are slowly spelling out words it is hard to convey a sense of urgency. And you are lucky to say something once if people don't like what you are saying and think you are repeating it, they just put down the Board, effectively telling you to shut up, something that only gets you madder. Unfortunately there is nothing you can do about it - if you show signs of being upset they just leave the room. To them, it is probably just a normal reaction when they hear something they don't like, but it hits pretty hard- they might as well tell you to shut up and go sit in a corner. After a while you realize that arguing is pointless, so you tend to get more passive with time.

I got a partially reprieve from the Board after a class reunion. A classmate, Allyson Campa, wrote about me afterwards. A guy from another class saw it and emailled me that he could help. He was VP-Marketing for a speech device company. They had a device for people like me that operated without my wife's continuous help. It was much better than the technology I had seen four years ago. Although the Board, because my wife is so good, is often as fast, the independence of this thing is great. I can even tell people to be quiet now, And no one can edit what I say, much to their chagrin. Most importantly, it is tough and simple, so any caregiver can set it up. With it, I am always free to convey my thoughts.

Another technology which works very well for me is email, because even though it may take me and my family hours to write, to the reader it looks like any other text. There are a lot of nuances to using email as your primary form of communication, however. For starters, I can only email people who give me their email, and can only have conversation with people if they answer back. Only about ten percent of emails get answered. To normal people this is not a problem, if it is urgent they just pick up the phone. To me, however, it feels like, "Shut up - I don't care if it is important - I will decide if I feel like answering." Another disadvantage is anger - write an angry email and the other personnel is not likely to answer, depriving me of the satisfaction of even having a good argument. Email also deprives the listener of any non-written feedback. I can never look at someone's face and judge their reaction, or if they even took my email the right way. Email elongates time dramatically. A simple question and awnswer may take days, a whole conversation weeks while your wait for responses. It is kind of like trying to have a back and forth conversation with someone in another city via regular mail. It takes forever. it is often my only choice

For a disabled person, it is never a question of IF you are frustrated, but how badly. For me, it starts every day at daybreak. We live on a high (2000') hill above Silicon Valley. The mornings in summer are crystal clear because we are above the Bay fog and smog below. I used to get up early and walk in the backyard to take in the beauty of the sunrise with a big cup of coffee. Now I still wake most days at the crack of dawn, but I have to watch what I can see through the window because I can't begin to get myself out of bed. Often times they can't get me up until mid-morning, and 3.00 P.M. is not unheard of - that is about eight or ten hours of lying there doing nothing. To pass time, when TV gets old, I have perfected the art of daydreaming.

Not being able to make my presence felt is another big source of frustration. People often just ignore me and treat me as if I were addled. They talk right around me as if I weren't there. Some try actively to take advantage of us while I am watching. That just didn't happen to me before the stroke, but it is a pretty common occurrence now. That is why I was so gratified to win with Nick in small claims court when he was rear-ended. The other guy was plain trying to take advantage of us. He made a big mistake - the judge handed him his head. And I showed Nick not to let himself get pushed around, no matter if you are a quadriplegic mute.

One of the struggles it leads to is how to be a good father and husband. Anyone who thinks you can talk to kids through a spelling board just has not tried it. Kids often don't obey when you repeat things many times; to expect them to hold up the Board while you REPEAT anything is ridiculous - you are lucky if you even get to make your point once. Once they learn, and it doesn't take them long, that they can shut you up by not getting the Board, all is lost! More than once I have asked a child to do something only to be told "No, and don't ask me for the Board." What kid wouldn't want to be able to flip a switch and shut up their Dad? When Jane is around, she often fixes things, but she is often busy or gone. What makes it worse is I have to stay on their good side so they will pick up the Board when I want to say I need food or water. Over time, you just have to let them learn things for themselves. I didn't die from my stroke, but I ceased being an active parent. The older boys, especially, lost an active father - their boyhoods ended abruptly when I had my stroke. It is tough communicating with my wife at times, too. Somehow we actually manage to do pretty well. That is, until we have the inevitable spousal tiff. It goes like this. Somehow I manage to upset her. She promptly launches into a verbal assault, and won't give me the Board to respond. Then I have to endure two hours of haranguing. And if that is not bad enough, if I don't lie there with my mouth shut AND look her in the eye, I pay dearly! Generally, though, she is unbelievably understanding.

One of the more disgusting things I have to endure has to do with kids and food. My kids often feed me. It gets gross when they have a runny nose, and constantly wipe it on their hand. They then play with my food before feeding me by hand. When I shake my head 'no', they misinterpret it and ask me if I mean I don't want any more food. When I ask for the Board to explain what I mean, they refuse to hold it up, saying, 'C'mon, Daddy, either you want more food or you don't. Which is it? ' The choice is clear - either starve or stop complaining. My answer usually depends on how hungry I am . . .

While we are on the subject of food, I might as well Bring up another pet peeve. About 3 1/2 years after my stroke I began to eat solid food again. That led to one of my worst frustrations. I can't really feed myself, except under special circumstances. That means I have to wait until someone else is good and ready to feed me. In the meantime, they set the plate of aromatic food on my tray, right under my nose. As if to purposely torture me, they first stuff their own face and tell me how good it is. When they finally do get around to feeding me, they do so very deliberately, despite the fact that I am famished. Worse, after they start, the slightest little thing distracts them, and they ALWAYS find that more important than feeding me. Meals can take two hours! It is ALMOST not worth it.

While I am on the subject of pet peeves, let me rant and rave a little. Another thing that bugs me is how my wife parks. It is not that she is a bad driver - to the contrary, she is an excellent driver. Rather, it has to do with her INSISTENCE that we always find handicapped parking with room to operate our lift. She will circle a parking lot endlessly, looking for such a spot. If it doesn't exist, she will launch into a tirade about the store. If, God forbid, someone has used the spot WITHOUT a clearly marked handicapped sticker, we get treated to another tirade. Meanwhile she passes numerous parking spots for normal cars. All she has to do is have the kids unload me by the door and go park. Instead, I get to spend half an hour driving around.

One of my most frustrating things has to do with my wit. Love me or hate me, people often commented on how quick my wit was. It is still just as quick, but it takes me so long to say anything that most of the time the timing is ruined anyway. In the wit game, timing is everything, so I usually just keep it to myself and laugh at my own jokes. I was always my own biggest fan, anyway.

Another thing I don't understand is how my caregivers, who know how much I fought for life, can throw theirs away by smoking. What part of tracheotomy don't they understand? "It is addictive", they whine. I'm sorry, but coming from someone who controlled his urge to eat and lost fifty pounds, and then learned to breathe well enough that they removed my tracheotomy, I don't buy it. I think they just don't care enough about life. They will, but not until it is too late.

Above all, what constantly eats me up is, why me? I don't remember doing something that was that much fun, , or doing something dangerous or stupid. This definitely was not the Darwin award. To the contrary, I was a health and safety nut - this struck me down in the prime of my life without warning - I still can't believe it. I still wake up and have to remind myself that it happened, because it is so weird. The odds must have been infinitesimal, particularly since I was in such good shape. It is something I doubt I will ever come to grips with.

First of all, I should explain exactly what is wrong with me. When the inner lining of my basilar artery came apart, it destroyed my center of motor control, leaving me quadriplegic and mute. Only my eyelids were not affected. My center of emotional control was also severely damaged, leaving me extremely labile. My senses, including touch, were not affected. Neither was my mind, including my memory, which is very good. People, especially little children, often ask me what it feels like to be paralyzed.

First of all, everything feels very heavy, almost as if I were glued down. Second, it is like someone just cut most of the control wires. I can't even try to move most muscles - I can't do anything at all. To the extent I can move anything, it tires me out immediately - something which is very foreign to me - I used to be a long distance runner. My limbs are still partially wired - I have a little movement in all of them, very little. At night my limbs sometimes lie so still I begin to get sores - I feel the pain but can't move enough to relieve them. That is the blessed curse of my situation - I can feel pain but can't do anything about it except eventually signal for help. In this way I can avoid serious injury in the long run.

Powerlessness goes hand in hand with being disabled. One day I was a 6'4", 200 Lb. executive whom people didn't bother very often, and when I woke up from my coma I couldn't even go to the bathroom by myself. Anyone could do anything they wanted with me. Let's say I was in my wheelchair and my attendant got busy. They would just leave, regardless of what I needed. It was always about what they wanted and never about what I needed. After awhile I got used to it - there is no point in fighting it because there was often no way to even express what I needed. If I got too excited because of frustration, the doctors just inject me with morphine until I quiet down, because that is generally easier for them than to figure out what is frustrating me (they don't do it to be mean). It feels very much like dog training - if you don't behave the way they want you to, they assume something is wrong with you. My wife was one of the few people I see everyday who actually takes the time to figure out my point of view. Not that she always agrees with me, but that's something else entirely. . . that is when she tells people the stroke affected my brain :).

I had always been fiercely independent, probably to a fault. With one stroke I became completely dependent for everything - eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, scratching itches, etc. I would, to this day, literally die if someone weren't around to help me, 24 hours a day. Most of us are able to take control over our own bodies for granted. Not me. Every single thing I want done, I have to ask someone else to do and depend on them to do it. They get tired of it. So do I, but whereas they can walk out of the room or pretend not to see my gestures, I cannot escape. People say I am very patient, and I am. It is only partly due to my nature. The basic truth is, I have no choice. If I get impatient, people either leave me alone and tell me to do it myself (which I obviously can't) or, if they are medical, they have a doctor inject me to calm me down. That only happened once. I learn fast.

Another thing that disappears when you go mute is any type of 'presence' you may have had. People treat you as helpless, which of course you are. Forget trying to be forceful or even persistent. Hey, you are lucky to even get your point across. No one can follow complex thoughts on the board I communicate with, so I am forced to reduce everything to basic thoughts. Typing with the head tracker does afford me the luxury of more complex thought, but it is nonetheless a terrible medium for urgency since it is inherently two dimensional. If you do try to show emotion through capitalization and punctuation, and people don't agree with you, they don't argue back. They just ignore your point of view and don't let you type anything else. Being quadriplegic and mute pretty much reduces you to being treated like an animal by most people.

If you go to the far end of the spectrum, to complete strangers, it is often worse. They treat you as if you don't exist, or are addled. I have had people wave their arms in my face, screaming at me as if I were deaf AND stupid. People often instinctively raise their voice. Occasionally someone will actually see me as a human being and talk TO me. A few people (complete strangers)have even been fascinated with the whole thing and have learned how to use the board to have a conversation with me. But that is pretty rare. Keeping my self esteem up is sometimes hard (although that is always a fleeting phenomenon with me). When I realize someone wants to ignore me, I usually just zone them out or imagine what it would be like if the tables were turned. I have even watched as people tried to take advantage of us. That is usually a mistake with Jane.

I guess the best way for me to summarize what it is like to be mute and quadriplegic is to think of a dog. In a word, it is very dehumanizing. Dogs can't talk, so many people assume 1) they are pretty stupid compared to people who can (I know some people who might be exceptions), and 2) that they have no emotions. Their behavior is shaped by obeying orderS to get treats. They like to have their heads rubbed. If people get tired of them, they put them in a room and leave. All of this could be said about me, especially when I am around only strangers. Around people who knew me before my stroke, it is different. They assume I am still at least partly the person I always was.

So we set about rebuilding our life. One of the things I really missed was putzing around the house. When I had the stroke I was just starting on the sideyard and vineyard. We decided to keep going, at least on the sideyard. The boys professed an interest in working, so we went after it. Jane wanted a vegetable garden, so we made that part of the plan. Before they inevitably burned out, the boys were pretty helpful, putting in a watering system, an arbor, and raised beds. One day, as I was staring at Fogarty Winery across the valley, I decided to email them and see if they would plant my land in grapes, which had always been my dream. To my surprise, they answered, saying they would come take a look. They did, and said it was too small for them to be interested in. Oh well - I was used to giving up on my old dreams. Then about two weeks later, the main winemaker, Mike Martella, said they wanted to plant a couple rows for me so I would at least have a mini vineyard. We redesigned the gardens and had a fence built. The 'vineyard' was really neat - perched right on the edge of a hill outside my window.

One of my friends took me on a walk in my wheelchair every Sunday. It was great to see familiar places again. It was also great to see old friends again. we even braved a trip to Colorado for a family reunion. It was great to see everyone, but the trip was hard on me. Shortly after the trip Emma decided to go home. We couldn't blame her, and decided to go without help for awhile.

One thing that happens when you are as badly disabled as I am is that certain people try to take advantage of you and your family. This happened to Nick when some guy, speeding in a school zone, rearended him in the car he had bought with dishwashing money, and totaled Nick's car. The guy somehow convinced his insurance company to only offer Nick half. Jane wanted to take it but I was mad. A friend offered to be my interpreter and we went to court. Just before the court date, they started offering Nick more mone, but he told them to pound sand. In court, the guy's defense, unbelievably, was that the police were all wrong when they said it was his fault. The judge gave Nick about twice what the insurance company had offered him. I just wanted to show him not to let himself get pushed around, even if he gets disabled.

I soon started having more medical problems. One day I woke up and couldn't see well. We feared another stroke and called the ambulance. They arrived with about ten people, and said I could take a helicopter if I needed to. I didn't, so they took me in. The doctors checked me out and decided it was a migraine. About a month later I woke up in the middle of the night with spasms - my fever was 105. That earned me another ambulance ride. They determined that I had a urinary tract infection and put me on intravenous antibiotics. Just as I was about to go home, I noticed flashes in my left eye. The first opthamologist thought he saw something and wanted another opinion. By now a black curtain was coming down. The second guy thought my retina was detaching. By the time the 'pro' could look at me, another black curtain was forming. He immediately recognized the gravity of me losing vision, and assured me he could reattach my retina as soon as the bladder infection subsided. Meanwhile, I had to lie with my head still, for two days . He finally operated on me under general anasthetic. When I came to, my eye was bandaged and sore. They apparently had pulled my eyeball out of my head, secured a band around it, and reattached the retina with a laser. No wonder it hurt! I had not been able to go to the bathroom in a week and I was constipated. Despite this, they discharged me. I told the doctor I didn't feel well, but he said that was no reason to keep me. As I was leaving my bowels let go and the nurse had to help me. They tested me to make sure I would not pass out going to the car and told my son Nick to take me. He insisted that the nurses help him, and they did, even though they weren't supposed to. Luckily my van has a bed, like an ambulance, and Nick was able to lift me in.

It turned out I had felt bad because, besides being constipated, I had a blood clot in my right arm. It was not a threat to my heart or brain, but could have damaged my lungs. My right arm started to swell and get sore, and my regular doctor confirmed that it was a blood clot and gave me blood thinners. I was very weak for a couple weeks but slowly recovered. Once again I was made to realize you can't take anything for granted. I also realized how lucky I am to have Jane. Not that it had slipped my mind.

One good thing that came from our adventure in the hospital was they hooked us up with an agency that came to the house to help Jane. some friends at St. Nick's raised a fund to pay for them so Jane could get a break. The helper brought a friend who did gardening for us. We thus made a little headway on the homefront.

We also tried taking the family to counseling but the counselors didn't seem to know which direction to take and it was too much trouble to go. My own therapy went pretty well - we started at the hospital where I originally was in the ICU. The Physical and Occupational Therapists were two little Indian women and they were very good. I was sorry when it ended. We took a break from therapy for awhile and then went to a new hospital. I had started to eat solid food and the OT, Margaret Dougherty, set me up so I could feed myself. The speech therapist, Sandra Deane, saw to it that I got a speaking computer for my wheelchair. More on that later.

Remember when I said Nick had a penchant for getting caught for doing stupid things? One hot summer night he got bored and decided to take a plywood cow from someone's lawn. He then went to spend the night at a friend's house. About three a. m., The police woke the Dad up and said there was a stolen cow in the green car. The Dad, thinking they meant a real cow, assured them there was not. They insisted on dragging Nick out of bed and making him open the car. Sure enough, there was the plywood cow, with the GPS tracker blinking madly. They ruined his sleep that night, taking him down to San Jose and booking him. They tried to call us about five a. m. to pick him up but luckily our phone was out so we slept through this stupidity. When the sheriff brought him home about five thirty a.m., the police solemnly reported that they had had two detectives working on the 'cow case' all night. I almost laughed - these were the same policemen who had refused to investigate our stolen car for a week! The local news even showed Nick's car, assuming he had taken the cow for political reasons. Only in Los Altos! Luckily Nick decided to apologize to the homeowners, whom Jane had known, and they dropped all charges.

All in all, it was nice to be back in California. We traded serious problems like where we were going to live for the day-to-day hassles of ordinary life. The kids definitely settled down back with old friends. Nevertheless, our life was never quite normal. About six months after we returned to California I began eating solid food - even chewy things like meat, as long as someone put it between my teeth. I went through another bout of eating out, especially sushi. Then my son Mike, who by this time had began to take my chewing for granted, popped a chicken nugget in the middle of my tongue. He then ran away to feed himself. Unable to chew it or cry out, I reflexively swallowed it whole. It got stuck in my throat and cut off most of my air. As I sat there gasping for air, my thirteen year old daughter Mikala jumped in. She had taken lifesaving for a babysitter course, and calmed everybody down. First she tried to give me the Heimlich manuver, but couldn't reach around me. When that failed she reached down my throat and gagged me until I cleared the obstruction. I don't know what would have happened if she hadn't done that - I couldn't clear it and was barely breathing.

So my story ends as it began - with my family saving my life. Tellingly, this time it was viewed as no big deal because strange things have happened often enough to become almost commonplace. But we have gotten accustomed to it - especially Mikala and Mike. Such is the nature of kids - they just naturally adapt.

* * * * *

This concludes our chronological history, at least for now. Next, I thought it would be interesting to record what it is like to go through life as a mute quadriplegic.

The trip started on an ominous note. We were spending the night at a motel. Emma got up early to work out. The exercise machine she was using in the motel came apart and hit her right between the eyes, stunning her and knocking her back. She refused immediate medical treatment and we drove off, with one of the boys driving her car so she could sleep. By the next day she had a bad headache, and we decided to rest a day. We called the motel but they said they weren't responsible since Emma had initially refused treatment. Luckily she came out okay after a few days. I wanted to sue them but everyone thought it would be too much trouble.

Actually coming back to the Bay Area was kind of strange. We came through the East Bay, then across 92 and the Bay Bridge to Skyline. The drive went from very built-up to rural. The air was quite dry and had the familiar smell of Eucalyptus. Everything seemed very arid compared to Montana. It felt great to be back in California. As we entered the driveway I noticed that much of the grass was about three feet long. We had hired a gardener in our absence but I guess he had decided that he only had to trim a small part of the lawn. It was prophetic - happily we had just traded the landlord problems of Montana for the everyday problems of running a household. In this case, Don mowed the lawn and that was the end of it.

Another everyday problem surfaced when we opened the front door. The tenants had, without asking, painted the interior walls. They actually did a good job, although some of the color choices made Jane cry. Worst, the hall was lime green and one of the walls in our bedroom was orange. When we had time, we had those walls repainted. We also found that a bunch of mice had moved in. We just called an exterminator, and soon we had the house to ourselves. Don and Barb chipped in and helped us move everything in and get comfortable. In the end, it felt good to be home.

One of the first things we did was have one of our traditional crab boils. Some friends of ours took care of the cooking. We only invited family - my brother's and Jane's twin sister's. It amounted to over twenty people. They wheeled me out to the edge of our backyard so I could look down into the Nature Preserve that adjoins our property. It brought back a lot of memories because I used to go there early in the morning, drink coffee and watch the deer play. When the fingers of fog drift in it's pretty spectacular. Right now, most days a family of deer likes to forage for acorns under our big oak tree, which frames the view of the valley below. The antlers silohuetted against the fog at sunset still take my breathe away.

One of our biggest fears was also allayed soon thereafter. In Montana, my brother had always made sure I got excellent medical care, and we didn't have such connections in California. However, the rehabilitation doctor was excellent - just as good as the one in Montana, whom we had really liked. So was my primary care physician - and he really took a real interest in me.

It was also nice to see friendly faces again - people who knew me before the stroke. They recognized me for who I was and made me feel human. Coming home was harder on Jane - seeing all of the places we had shared so many memories was painful for her. The kids were mixed - Steve and Mike had good friends in Montana, Nick was indifferent, and Mikala was philosophical - she said no matter where she was she would miss the people she wasn't with, and enjoy the people she WAS with. She always bloomed where she was planted, so we didn't worry about her.

The boys quickly went nuts with cars. Nick bought a nice used Nissan, and Steve bought two more Honda's - real junkers, and decorated our driveway with them. We consoled ourselves with the thought that at least the old cars gave them something to do and kept them nearby and out of trouble. They also worked on projects I had started before my stroke and generally calmed down when surrounded by old friends and familiar places. Mike went through an adjustment period but soon fit right in. Mikala never missed a beat. Our old world was coming back together. . .

The landlord decided to do something. Two months before we were to move back to California, he lied to us and said he was retiring to his lake house and needed us out immediately. We could have fought him on it, but we were tired of him and his friend. I knew that he had been wanting to remodel since before we came along. And I knew the wheelchair had damaged some walls, so I wanted to offer him some money because I figured he just wanted to redo everything anyway. However, he refused to speak to us or give me his email. Instead, he hid behind his obvious lie and watched us move to an old run down resort nearby. We hired a handyman to fix everything, which he did. Then it got nasty. After we had moved out, the landlord had he police find us and accuse the boys of shooting pellet guns at an old shack at the rear of his property. Remember, EVERYONE in Montana has at least one pellet gun, and we lived next to public land. The boys immediately denied it and gave him their guns for ballistics testing. The policeman was a real jerk, and treated us like we were guilty. Again, the boys sure didn't ACT guilty. The tests came back inconclusive, but the landlord wanted money for it anyway, along with an old couch and some miscellaneous things. It was only $2,200 total, but we had had enough and decided to fight.

The first thing we did was to call five lawyers, but none of them returned our call. We kind of felt helpless, because, unlike California, we didn't know anybody. Then Emma offered to help us. One of her ex-husbands was a landlord, and knew the law inside and out. More importantly, he was an imposing presence at about 250 lbs. He told us that it was up to the landlord to prove damages (and without videotape of the place before we moved in, we would win 100% in court). He decided to have a little conference with the other party. They demanded $2,200, and he said we WANTED to sue them anyway. This was only partly true, because we would have had to come back from California for court. Jane offered half. The rental agency urged the guy to take it, probably because they knew they didn't have a tape. The guy took our offer, and then left us alone.

Back in California, the real estate market was heating up. This, together with the fact that both of our neighbors were selling and bringing by lots of buyers, resulted in our getting a few pretty good unsolicited offers. Thus, we had yet another big decision to make. We decided, however, to give our place in California a try, since it was home to us and we had a much broader support group there. We figured if it didn't work out for one reason or another, that we could always move somewhere else. It helped that our caregiver, Emma, had decided to come with us for awhile. That meant one less thing to deal with in California. After what we had been through as a family, though, nothing scared us anymore.

About this time I became eligible for Medicare. What that meant was I was not allowed, by law, to keep my Blue Cross policy (except as a supplement). This had several ramifications. First, I lost the case manager at Blue Cross who had been so supportive - they had ended up paying for two years of therapy. Medicare cut that off right away - they said two years was a long time and if we wanted to complain to call such and such a beaureaucrat, etc. - as if we had time! On the positive side, they had no DME limits, unlike Blue Cross, who would not even cover my wheelchair. Which brings up the medical equipment fund a family set up for me. We used it to get a standing frame, a mat, a power bike, and many miscellaneous items. It was a Godsend, especially after formal therapy ended.

One of the things it got was the Cyclatone. Through some stroke of luck (no pun intended), a man in a nearby town had an aunt with a condition similar to mine. He was an inventor, and had built her a power bike for both arms and legs. I had been looking for just such a device, and since his aunt had passed on, they sold it to me. It allowed me to move all four limbs at the same time, greatly reducing my dependence on a caregiver. Once when it broke we called a guy we had gotten to know. He was a paraplegic who had been an All-Pro linebacker for the Miami Dolphins. Unbeknownst to him, he had sustained a serious neck injury playing football, and then snapped it completely in a skiing accident. He was still able to flyfish and fly a plane. Fortunately, he was also pretty handy and was able to fix the Cyclatone.

We ended our stay in Montana with a final newspaper article. It was mostly about the wheelchair everyone had rigged up so I could ambulate and talk at the same time, using mainly head movements to control my wheelchair. It was fun - we had some pictures taken in Home Depot and showed that I could be independent for brief periods of time. They kind of forgot to mention how much work it was to set up. We also took the opportunity to thank everyone in Montana for helping us out. In reality, many people had been extremely good to us. It was just the accomodations that had been a nightmare.

With the help of some old friends, Barb and Don Tate, we loaded up a truck for the seventh time in two years (and the last time for awhile), and headed home to California!

After a year of going without help, Jane was getting burned out, and wanted to hire help, The person we had interviewed the last time, Emma, was available again, and we hired her. She was pretty hard-headed, and so was a good match for me. She worked out well, and we ended up keeping her for over a year. I'll never forget when Mike asked if she was going to steal our van - he was really traumatized by Keith. She had owned a daycare, and so was more familiar with kids than Jerry and Elaine had been.

Therapy was going well, although the pace of progress slowed down. I learned to pedal a handbike without assistance, wheel my wheelchair if someone pulled my hands into position, use the Total Gym, kick a ball, etc. Around the end of the year they told me that I probably would not be in therapy anymore by June. At least these therapists were straight with me, and enabled us to plan our lives. We decided to stay until June no matter what so the kids could finish school.

About that time our California renters announced they were leaving December 31. After spending all that time fixing the place up. Go figure. It was mixed news. On the one hand, we wouldn't get rent for six months. On the other hand, they were leaving peacefully when I thought that might be a struggle. We heard later that they were breaking up, which may have had something to do with it.

About this time the speech therapist recommended I go to Missoula to Montech to see the equipment they had for disabled people. Montech is funded by the Federal Government by a program designed to help the disabled in rural areas. At first I was unenthusiastic, but agreed to go. What kind of technology could they have here? In the event, I was favorably impressed. Not only was the technology good, it was reasonably priced. I also found a power wheelchair I liked. Back home, a medical equipment vendor fitted it with a head array, so I could drive with my head. My Occupational Therapist, Denise Zander, and her machinist husband raised the seat and put on straps for my feet. We designed a special tray and had a custom plastics guy make it to hold my computer. My speech therapist's husband rigged up the chair with a power inverter, a USB hub and a place to plug in my special mouse. After all of this, I was able to drive and speak all by moving my head. Jane was wary of my new-found freedom, especially after I ran over some poor old man. She kind of liked the control that came with a manual wheelchair.

Once, Jane had a close call. She had to drive Mikala to school early one day, and discovered she had locked her keys in the van. Because they were in a hurry, the girls took Stephen's Honda. The driveway was steep, and as she neared the bottom Jane hit the brakes. Nothing. It turned out Stephen didn't want to spend money to fix the brakes, instead downshifting and then using the e-brake to stop. Jane didn't know about any of this and luckily didn't hit anyone. She came right hom, hitting the fence behind our house to stop. Jane had the car towed to a brake shop later that day.

Speaking of close calls, not long after she started, Emma tried to transfer me herself, and I ended up on the floor. I was unhurt, and Emma made me comfortable. She tended to freak out in pressure situations, and this time she panicked and called Jane. Jane interrupted what she was doing and came home and called the fire department. They came and lifted my sorry butt back into the bed, no worse for the wear. I decided to have some fun, and told all the therapists about it, and to give Emma plenty of s___ about it. It backfired. They decided it was not funny at all, and trained us on the use of the Hoyer lift. The Hoyer lift is a small hoist that lifts you up like a storks carrying a baby. I protested mightily, but to no avail. The thing is a royal pain in the neck. But at least I learned to keep my big mouth shut!

We still had our Chevrolet Suburban back in California. Our friend had it detailed and tried to sell it for about nine thousand dollars. It was in nice shape, but we had put 106,000 miles on it and it was, after all, an American car. Some guy from Tracy almost bought it, so we had my brother out there try to sell it. He had it on the market for over six months, marking it down from ten to six thousand with no takers. Meanwhile, we had gotten to know a used car dealer in Montana who said he would have no problems selling it for a lot more. Based on this, we paid a thousand dollars to have it hauled up there. The guy detailed it and even threatened to buy it himself, then put it on his lot for $9,800. Six months later it was still sitting there, marked down to six thousand. We finally gave it to my brother for $4,500, because he had helped us so much. It seems no one wanted to take a chance on an old American car.

One of the things I did to alleviate boredom was to play Scrabble. My speech therapist was pretty feisty and thought she was pretty good at Scrabble. We decided to go best 3 out of 5 games. Everyone else made book on us. Some people gave me the sympathy vote; others played hardball and voted against me because the odds made it a good bet. In the event, it came down to the last word and I won. I asked her how it felt to lose to a mute quadriplegic. Somehow the pot mysteriously disappeared, but I didn't care. I had what I wanted - bragging rights.

A few people visited us in Montana, always a welcome respite. Unfortunately, Montana isn't exactly on the beaten path, so visits weren't as frequent as they could have been. Email became my best way to stay in touch with people, and I kind of lost it whenever my computer broke. Once I inadvertently urinated on my computer and shorted it out. It took two weeks to repair and I almost went nuts. The computer guy laughed and said "it is a keyboard, not a PEEboard." That was no help!

Meanwhile, relations with the crazy neighbor and his friend, our landlord, continued to simmer. One day we got a note asking for a couple hundred dollars to repair a bullet hole in his house. Realize that this was Montana and everyone has guns. We also lived by some public property where there were old cars, empty beer bottles and shell casings. Every redneck around went there to party. The guy actually accused Nick . Nick asked him, "Why would I shoot your house? And denied doing it. " What was laughable was that when we asked to see the damage And to do ballistics tests, he said he had already fixed his house and threw away the bullet. We know our kids are not perfect but Nick sure didn't ACT guilty. He just liked to blame us for everything bad that happened because I couldn't get in his face. It was an ominous sign. . .

Once again, they began by showing us a trailer. A double-wide with a nice view of the lake. We weren't so taken aback this time, mostly because it was for such a short period of time. However, some friends pointed out that it was right across the street from a bar and not a good place for kids. We passed on it and looked at a house that the agent showed us . We took it because we really did not have any choice, provided they would build a wheelchair ramp.

First, soon after we moved in the booking agent got fired. Because we didn't get it in writing, they billed us for the wheelchair ramp. Then it turned out the house was listed for sale. People would knock on the door at all hours wanting a tour. We complained, and the landlord agreed to give us a day's notice each time. Great. Then the water stopped Working. We asked for a rent abatement. They laughed and said it was a city problem; that if we didn't pay rent we could leave. We were in no position to argue; we had no place to go and Jane didn't have time to fight it; she was trying to take care of me and the kids. We didn't know any lawyers. Luckily it was only a few weeks. Suffice it to say housing in Montana was a nightmare; we had to move seven times in two years.

Before we moved this time, though, we visited California for Nick's eighth grade graduation. This was no trivial undertaking. It meant driving 24 hours one way, and then finding a place to stay. This was a tall order for Jane, who nonetheless was determined to try. Steven was able to do some of the driving, but he was only fifteen. We got the TV, DVD and VCR working and headed out. Jane held up very well, all things considered. A friend let us stay at her place, which worked out great. For me the trip was bittersweet; seeing everyone was great, but I knew it would be over soon and we would have to go back. They did recognize me at the graduation, which was nice. The time flew, and soon we were saying goodbye and getting ready to go back again, where we had to move into a new house.

If this wasn't enough, it was about this time that our teenage boys decided to act like, well, teenage boys. I'm sure anyone who has raised teenage boys can relate. The driving age in Montana is fifteen. Although we weren't sure that was a good idea, we needed the help. Our policy is to pay half of their first car, and then they are on their own. We helped Steven get a nice little used Toyota pick-up. At first he was fine. Then he decided to pretend it was four wheel drive and pretty much trashed it going off-road. One night he called to say he had rolled it going around a corner. He was not hurt. When we saw it, we were aghast - it was a total loss. He assured us it wasn't that bad-until they finished it off with sledgehammers for fun. That night, both boys went to bed early. We were woken up at about three by a phone call from the police. They had two boys who looked like brothers; could we come <45 minutes away > and get them? At first Jane was puzzled. Then she realized the boys had snuck out of the window and taken the truck to a drive-in. It still ran . The police pulled them over for not having any taillights and ended up impounding the vehicle. Luckily they weren't doing anything else stupid like drinking or speeding. They didn't even get a ticket; the police said they just couldn't drive their truck on the road. When Jane got to the station, an officer met her at the door saying, "Your son is a genius! You should hear how he is going to make it into a convertible! " That was, well, the wrong thing to tell Jane. By the time she was through with him the cop could have walked out under the door. We attributed the boy's actions that night to a malady known to afflict teenage boys; "SAS," or "Sudden Acute Stupidity." The next day we had the truck taken to a junkyard in order to prevent any more outbreaks.

One good thing that came out of this was that Jane learned a new parenting trick. She discovered that the boys liked to sneak out of the window to do things we would not have allowed. She began doing frequent bed checks, and when she found an empty bed she would climb in and go to sleep. In this way the returning boy, who doubtless thought he had pulled one over on us, arrived to a very unpleasant welcome. It helped slow them down.

One neat thing we did back in Montana was go fishing. They had a fishing derby for the handicapped, and we entered. Seeing all of those other people made me realize how lucky I had it; but it also made me realize how much I had lost, so it was hard to appreciate it. Anyway, we hooked a fifteen pounder, but he got away. After we got back, the local TV station interviewed us, which was fun. When they asked Jane a question, Mikala, then all of ten years old, swept Jane aside and said, "Mom, I'll handle this," and took over the interview. We watched the news that night, and sure enough, there she was.

We also had fun on the Fourth of July. Some really nice neighbors invited us over, and the boys did their best to burn down their beautiful new house with armloads of fireworks. They almost succeeded. After the Fourth, we stopped by a fireworks stand that was closing up, and they gave us many leftovers. I don't know what we were thinking. There's something about the words " Free stuff " that brings out the irrational side of everyone. In any event, we were ready to party. We ended up throwing most of them away.

One night the boys were shooting off fireworks with some friends < legally >, when they decided to climb a mud cliff for more elevation. They assumed it was part of the public land behind our house. Wrong. It turned out to belong to some nut who chased the boys home with a shotgun. One of them slipped running down the hill and impaled his buttocks on a tree branch which broke off inside him. Luckily his Mom was a nurse and patched him up. We learned two things: the neighbor was a certified nut and was good friends with our landlord, who was not nuts, but heartless even though his son was in a wheelchair. It portended things to come. . .

Things actually started off pretty well. The local paper did a story on a patient each year, and this time they chose me. The reporter was very nice and the interview lasted three hours. The hospital, as would be expected, sent a muckity-muck in a suit to make sure everything went smoothly and to take some credit. It was the only time we would ever see him. All in all, it was great fun and a nice distraction. We were driving in the van one day and caught a glimpse of our picture on the front page. The reporter did a very nice job. I made a point of rubbing it in to my daughter, who loves publicity. People in restaurants even recognized me - I was famous for a day in Kalispell, Montana!

Another thing that was nice there was the proximity to the ski runs. Steven would take a ski-shuttle every weekend - it was only a few minutes away. It began to get cold in September and soon it began to snow. One day it hit -30 F and Jane called to see if the kids' school was closed. They laughed at her. We had sent the kids to public schools because there wasn't really anything else available, and in Big Fork that meant one campus and one bus for all four kids. The grade school was pretty good, and had advanced programs our two little kids got into. The High School was a big letdown - the first thing they told the boys was that C's were good grades. Basically, there were a few good students but many people were just getting by - not a great environment for teenage boys with a powerless father and an overworked mother, and no support group of old friends.

We decided to get Nick out of this environment so he could still get into the College Preparatory school in the Bay Area. Although the original family that had promised to take Nick backed down when they realized we were actually going to take them up on it, another family stepped up. At first everything was great. The family that backed down at least tried to help Nick academically. However, when Nick found out this lady was somehow getting all of his grades, he said something to her. What it was, I don't know because no one ever got me involved, but it must have upset her because she decided no one from her family would ever talk to our family again. Big help she was! And her family, who had been pretty close to us, didn't have any guts, either. Hard times really bring out people's true colors. What we needed was help with a bewildered boy whose world had been torn apart. Instead they took the easy way out and ran the other way. The family that did take him in found him somewhat confused (no surprise after what he had been through) and difficult to talk to, but they managed to keep him the whole time and kept open communications with us.

Meanwhile, therapy was going pretty well. Probably the biggest thing that happened was I gained some volitional control over my diaphragm so that I could make a quiet noise when asked. After awhile the people close to me began to be able to interpret these as words. I learned, for example, to say, "I love you Jane," for the first time. That scored some points with her! It also made me feel a bit more human.

That fall, we had found out we were entitled to another $15,000 of California state disability, but the state had kept it because we had not known to fill out some piece of paper (while we were occupied fighting not to get discharged early). They said to get it, we would have to appear in court in San Jose. Luckily the judge let us call in. This must happen a lot, because the judge was very sympathetic, gave us the money and wished us well. A few days later we got another nice surprise - Social Security said they screwed up and had forgotten to pay us $20,000 for our kids, and did. Just as we were starting to feel like Christmas had come early, our disability company wrote us a nasty little letter and said they were entitled to the $35,000 due to some fine print in their policy, and oh, by the way, if we did not mail them the whole amount in thirty days they would stop my checks. Luckily, we lived pretty simply and still had most of the money to mail them. It was no fun.

My link with the outside world, including California, was email (that is still the case). There are a lot of disadvantages to using email to talk, but it is better than being a complete vegetable. Often people don't answer, but there is something about being able to ask that is better than the alternative. I decided that speech is the main thing that separates us from other forms of life. Email became my escape and separate little world; when my computer broke I overreacted, feeling lost and isolated - often it was the only way I could express complex thoughts. Without it I just dropped off everyone's radar screen; they might have thought of me, but I never knew it. I even learned to slowly draw simple diagrams on Power Point (with assistance). It may not sound like much, but it was huge. A picture is worth a thousand words, especially when you have to use a letter board. That is no fun for either party.

Speaking of no fun brings up the subject of lability (not liability). Lability is caused when the stroke takes away your emotional control. I used to cry or laugh fifty times a day, including a few times a day over having left my life in California. It is exhausting for everyone, including the person crying or laughing. Sometimes, however, it can be pretty funny. Once we were at our kids' talent show. A little girl was bravely manglng the 'Star Spangled Banner, ' and everyone was pretending it was pretty good, as they often do at such events (I used to misquote Winston Churchill and say that ' Never have so many clapped so long for so little '). It built up in me until I completely lost it, shreiking hysterically at the top of my lungs in front of five hundred people. The more I tried to stop, the louder I got. Everyone turned around to see a guy in a wheelchair, with his whole family trying to stuff towels in his mouth. They finally gave up and dragged me into the lobby, where I eventually calmed down. Poor little girl was probably scarred for life... I actually felt really bad about it because I couldn't help it. A physician at the clinic there discovered that a low dose of Prozac actually helped me control my emotions (although not completely). That helped everybody (although it was not as funny ). For some reason, other anti-depressants did not.

I really missed California, but not for the obvious reasons (weather, etc. ). It was in not knowing anyone who knew how I had been. I had never been shy before about moving to new places, but this time it was different, because people I met hadn't known me before my stroke. They only knew me as a mute quadriplegic. I will never forget a nurse who had taken care of me there who later saw me in the cafeteria. She came towards me waving her arms and shouting, "Henry, do you remember me? " I had to spell on the board, " I am neither deaf nor stupid. Yes, I remember you!" No one there knew me as I had been, and often ignored me. They would say "Hi!" to Jane and try not to look at me. Some people who used email got to know me a little, but it still was not the same. I thought about my old friends everyday.

About this time we decided to rent out our California house. Some friends of ours fixed it up and we put it on the market. We rented it to an unmarried couple. It soon became obvious that she liked the house more than he did. In fact, she loved it- so much so that they were a little possessive. One day he emailed to ask if they could paint the walls. When I said I would think about it, he called Jane and said there was nothing to think about - they had already done it. Then they asked us to empty the last bedroom so they could use it. We reluctantly agreed - finding tenants from Montana was not easy. They stored most of our stuff, but managed to discard a few personal items, like the fly fishing rods I had made by hand. My life was so jumbled up, I was kind of numb.

The first winter ended on a deja vu moment. Around March, we asked the landlord if we could stay there for the summer, because we wanted plenty of time if we had to find another place. He said, "Sure." Then in late May he had the rental company tell us he had changed his mind. His family had decided to spend a week there, as had his relatives, and they asked us to move out for the summer. Once again, we were looking for a place at the worst possible time of the year.

Our life, which the year before had settled down, was completely unsettled. We had no permanent home, a few days to find a school for all four kids, no permanent mailing address, and very few frends around. Worse, we were subject to monthly reviews by the insurance company to let us know if we could continue in therapy - after I stood up they decided to pay for therapy every day. It seemed like we had to make a terrible decision every week. The first thing I did was to email the hospital in San Jose to see if this development would give them a better attitude. I asked for therapy every day because it obviously made a big difference. They said, 'Good to hear from you, glad things are improving, we will resume therapy two days a week." It made no sense - I had heard them complaining about revenue shortfalls, and yet they did not want me. I knew it was not the insurance company, because by now we had gotten to know them and they were both sympathetic and helpful. It would have been much better if they had just told me the usual out comes and their probabilities, instead of treating me like that. Then we could have made some informed decisions about our lives. Instead, we got the impression that those people in San Jose did not know what they were doing, like when they tried to tell Jane I would never move. Well, at least that made our decision to stay in Montana easy.

One of the first things we had to do was get a more permanent roof over our heads. To stay at Terry's meant sending Steven to 'Flathead High', not exactly what he needed. It was like a bad dream. We read in the paper that Bigfork schools were good, so we looked for a home there. The first thing we did was stuff a few hundred mailboxes with a flyer with our story, thinking someone who left for the winter would rent their house to us. We got a call from someone who set up a prayer group for the 'flyer family,' and from a real estate agent trying to sell something, but no tangible help. Meanwhile we started trying to find a rental home. The first agent showed us a place with five steps, but the second agent was a little smarter. She showed us a place with tiled floors, no step, a Lake view and a month - to - month lease. We rented it on the spot, just in time to register the kids for school. For the boys that was a shock -Steven had gotten a scholarship into the college preparatory school of his dreams, and Nick was about to start Eighth grade with his friends. They were aghast when we told them we had to move. We solaced ourselves with the knowledge that Steven could get back in the school at Christmas, and Nick's best friend said Nick could live with them if we stayed past December. The bad news was that we couldn't move into the new house until after school started.

It was about this time that we got the idea for our cookbook. I was complaining so much about institutional food that my speech therapist suggested she, Jerry and I all write a cookbook together. We all agreed, and I started outlining it. We also discovered a simple thing that really changed our lives. At night my legs would spasm and pull up, which was very uncomfortable. I, of course, could neither prevent nor rectify it. It would wake me up several times a night, and I had to wake Jane to straighten me out. For several months, we never got a full night's sleep, and it was showing. Then we came up with a plan. We tied a bedsheet from one rail to the other, just above my knees. Now when my legs spasmed, the sheet kept them from pulling up and waking us. Jane finally could get a full night's sleep. We still use that idea, with some modifications, to this day.

Before we even got a chance to move into the new rental house, THE BIG SETBACK happened. As Jane was getting me up one day, I felt faint and laid back in Terry's guest bedroom. I kept feeling faint, so Jane called my brother. He listened to her, then told her he wanted to see me in his office. Jane said I couldn't sit up so he suggested she have the ambulance take me to the ER. The paramedics arrived and hauled me out on a gurney. They did their normal tests and discovered my heart rate was 250 [normal is about 80]. I told Jane I loved her and prepared for the worst, even though I felt okay. My brother freaked out when he saw my heartrate, which was discomforting. The cardiologist gave me medicine to slow down my heart and said I had atrial flutter and needed surgery. Great-like we didn't have enough going on!

They drugged me up and made an appointment with a cardiologist in Missoula, about an hour South. The drugs knocked me out so that I could only sit up a few minutes. This is where having a private 'ambulance' was so handy. To go anywhere they would get me in the wheelchair, quickly roll it into the van, and lay me on the bed in there. It was a lot of work to go anywhere. We were lucky Elaine came along when she did, because the kids were in school. Then we got the news, good and bad. The good news was the guy in Missoula could fix my heart; the bad news was they had to keep me drugged up for two months until the blood thinner worked since the surgery could loosen blood clots. This was bad news because it meant I had to lay in bed for two long months before therapy could resume, virtually assuring that I was not going home at Christmas. To make the best of it and to preserve my sanity, we focused our energies on the cookbook. After our part was done I wrote Jerry a very nice note asking him to do his part. Instead of writing he had been sitting alone in his room watching football. The note freaked him out and he withdrew from the book. The speech therapist didn't do anything, either, so friends and family finished it. I wanted to have it done before I had to focus on therapy again. Meanwhile, all that laying around gave me pneumonia on top of everything else. Finally I had the surgery. The doctor said he got 'most' of the problem; then my heart swelled up and he had to stop. Either that or he didn't want to be late for dinner. In any event I got off of the heart medicine and resumed therapy.

I did get one nice break during this time. My birthday is on October tenth, and everyone came to our house for a birthday party. Jerry and Elaine used to run restaurants, so they knew how to handle large crowds and entertain everyone. I was confined to bed, so they just brought the party to me, and we had a blast. We had been planning it around a Notre Dame football game, but decided we didn't want to dampen everyone's spirit's (except Alicia, my physical therapist, who went to USC), so we passed on that.

After surgery, I was still weak. One of the most difficult things was sitting on the commode chair and going to the bathroom, because the suppository made all my muscles stiffen. It was so painful, I was convinced it would kill me in a few years.
One night it almost caused me to pass out - my blood pressure, normally 110, was 38. Jane called Elaine, but she didn't come down, so Jane managed to get me back in bed with the kids' help. Elaine later explained (in much more detail than we cared to hear) that she couldn't come down because of what she was doing with Jerry. All we knew was that we almost had a medical emergency.

It seemed like life those days was filled with horrible decisions. One of them presented itself when it became obvious we wouldn't be able to wrap up therapy by Christmas, and it had to do with Nick. He had been going to finish eighth grade with the kids he went to kindergarten with. We now faced the question of whether to try to send him back for his last six months. Doing so would greatly enhance his chances of getting into the high school of his choice in the Bay Area. The family that had agreed to take him, however, changed their mind, so we would have to make other arrangements. I was pretty adamant about it, and Jane finally gave in. Some other friends of ours agreed to take him, and we decided to send him back.

About this time Jerry and Elaine decided to leave, even though they had committed to staying for a year. We couldn't tell if it was because we went ahead on the cookbook without Jerry, or, if it was, as they said, because of the children. The children were a bit rambunctious for Elaine (who had never had boys), and refused to eat some of Jerry's vegetarian meals. It didn't really matter; it was probably time for them to leave anyway. They had come along at a great time and had been kind enough to help us, but we were clearly getting on each other's nerves. So we welcomed in the New Year knowing that we didn't have a caregiver, and only had one son left who was big enough to help Jane transfer me...

We decided to fly to Montana, because there was no way I would have made it in the car. The plane ride was surprisingly easy. I guess the airlines are used to handicapped people. About four guys put me in a special wheelchair and got me into the plane via elevator. They then muscled me into the seat and strapped me in. Jane insisted on flying me first class so I would have more room. We had a bunch of frequent flyer miles so it was easy. We even stopped in Seattle to see some old friends. We arrived in the Kalispell airport no worse for the wear, and one of my cousins was kind enough to drive our van up there.

My brother's family met us at the gate. It was good to see them. We took a rented wheelchair van to their house, a rancher converted to a more Montana style. I remember my brother trying to get me interested in his rebuilding projects. Unfortunately it just reminded me of how I used to be. Since my emotions were still all screwed up, I cried a lot. The 'guesthouse' was small and unfinished, but we were glad to have a roof over our heads. My brother even rigged up a window unit so I had air conditioning on hot days. My sister-in-law had enrolled our little kids in swimming lessons, which they really enjoyed. For awhile she took my kids places.

Things were a bit calmer than California at first - primarily because Keith was no longer a worry and because we hardly knew anybody in Montana to do things with. There also was not that much to do, particularly for a person in a wheelchair, since Montana is all about the outdoors. Then something happened - I have no idea what it could have been. One night, after we had been there about a month, my brother asked us to leave his guesthouse! After all we had been through and after begging us to come, and then to stay! After having converted his garage for us, he was asking us to find another place to live! This was in the summer, when Flathead Lake was packed with people, when you could not find anything! His real estate agent suggested a mobile home. We were in absolute shock - we had just finally bought a home in the Los Altos/Palo Alto and now we were being asked to move into a trailer in the middle of nowhere. I know a lot of people live happily in mobile homes; it was the suddenness of the change and the lack of control over our lives that caught us off-guard.

The strange thing was, my brother wasn't upset at all with us and continued to look after my treatment in the hospital there. My extended family had decided to do an experiment and pay for therapy every day for awhile. They did not believe the hospital in San Jose when they said more therapy was a waste of time. They were great - we just didn't have a place to live! Then along came Terry. She was with the agency we had hired when the boys went back to Scout camp in California. She had a big heart, and offered to rent us part of her house. This was no mean feat, because by the time we moved in we were eight, including my cousin and her husband. It took about a month to make all of these arrangements, and by that time things had apparently settled down for him because my brother changed his mind about asking us to leave. It didn't matter; it had taken so long to find a place that we felt it best to just take it.

About that time Jerry and Elaine came along - Elaine was my cousin. To their credit they offered to help us - they were nomads and said they would move in with us to help us if we just made their credit card payments. It was great - Elaine helped with me and Jerry helped drive the kids around. Jerry had a few oddities; he pretended to be allergic to dogs because he didn't like them. He made a point of letting us know that staying with Terry, who had two dogs, was hard for him. Whatever - we had other things to worry about. He also thought of himself as a great chef; we humored him to keep the peace. Good cook was more like it-of some things. All in all, though, they were a big help. That brings up a funny story. They were really into herbs; at least, unless they actually got sick, like when she had a fifteen pound tumor. Anyway, Mikey one time got a bruise, and Elaine went crawling around on her hands and knees to find some weed to rub on it. Steve decided to have some fun and told her what she really needed was sap from a pine tree. She believed him and started rubbing it all over Mikey. Steve had to tell her he was just joking so she would stop.

Meanwhile, Jane still had to deal with the stolen car. The first thing the Palo Alto police said was Keith had a record of stealing things, and they could not tell us during the background check because of prisoners' rights. Great, so we had hired a thief. Luckily we have a very effective theft deterrent system -we just don't have anything of value! One good thing that came out of it was that Jane brought all of our financial records to Montana so he could not get them, something that ended up coming in very handy. Anyway, the Palo Alto police then wanted to wait to see if the car was really stolen, even though we assured them it was. Even the DA would not press charges because he figured Keith would just make up a story. We just decided to file a stolen vehicle report with our insurance company. They ended up paying us a lot more than the car was worth. We finally heard in August that Keith had abandoned the car right after he took it, and the city took it to some lot. They couldn't tell us because some computer glitch kept them from finding out. The lot tried to charge us a couple thousand dollars for storing it, so we just told them it now belonged to the insurance company. I guess all's well that ends well-at least no one got hurt.

About this time we got a call from a family back home to say they were starting a medical equipment fund for me. It was especially useful given the DME restrictions in our insurance policy. We were very careful with the money after our experience with the wheelchair. We ended up getting some really neat equipment, but more about that later .

One thing that was a blast in Montana was the Fourth of July. It had been my favorite holiday growing up - I was a real pyromaniac. That sort of thing is frowned upon in California, where everything is flammable, so we went nuts in Montana. We got a big pack of mortars that Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been proud of, and we started lighting them with my brother. His neighbor, who was unstable anyway, went berserk and my brother told him off - it was not the first time the guy had lost it. Luckily, he was planning to move. We stopped firing mortars, though, and saved them for New Year's Day.

During the first few months in Montana, I learned to eat pureed food - before I had to be tube fed through my stomach. I could not tell if it was my new speech therapist or just gradual improvement. In any event, we started eating out a lot. It got to the point that Jane started worrying about how much we were spending. I replied, 'I haven't eaten out in a year.' Eventually, I got over it and we slowed down. Once someone felt sorry for our family and anonymously paid for our table. If only I had known before I ordered!

The move to Terry's house was uneventful; after all we had only packed enough for two weeks. It soon became obvious we weren't in Palo Alto any more. Terry's son-in-law wanted to take the kids out, so he took them to a big local attraction, the demolition derby. Yes, the kind where you smash up old cars until only one is left running. We didn't have much choice - the alternative was to keep the kids locked up all the time. It was just a very different culture - they also had a 'Rocky Mountain Oyster' feast every spring when they neutered the bulls - they called it the 'Testicle Festival.' They basically only have two races; white and Native American - who are often persecuted against and live on reservations. Without being judgmental, let me just say it was like living in a foreign country, especially for a person who just spent a decade in the Bay Area.

A few things stand out about the time at Terry's. One was when the boys took off to take a hike by a lake and weren't back by nightfall. I was used to keeping a close eye on their wanderings, so I was beside myself. When we suggested that we call the police, Terry laughed. 'Two boys? The police won't get worried until they have been missing a couple days. A little girl might be different.' Sure enough, they had gotten lost and showed up a few gut-wrenching hours later. Another time Terry asked Nick to return a trash can to her neighbor, who had lent it to her. He inadvertently returned it to the wrong neighbor. A week later Terry read in the paper that a trash can had been stolen on her street. She put two and two together, so Nick returned the errant trash can to its rightful owner with an apology. Such is life in a small town. It was also indicative of Nick's propensity for attracting attention for doing something stupid. More on that later.

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of all of this chaos, the therapy my family paid for was going pretty well. In particular, I hit it off with a Physical Therapist called Alicia. She started off by saying she would never give up - that she had known stroke survivors to learn how to walk years after their strokes. This was a far cry from what the 'experts' in San Jose had been telling me. She also used a technique that was new to me and worked very well - tapping my muscles to wake them up. When I started I could barely move my legs. Soon I was pushing her off the mat. We had gone to rival universities and she would goad me on by talking trash about mine. Right before we were headed back to California, she was sitting me on the edge of the mat and tapping my quads, in hopes that I would lift my butt up in the air. I was doing this on my last day in Montana when, to everyone's surprise, including my own, I stood up under my own power! Someone had to balance me, but it was still pretty amazing - everyone started crying. That pretty much did it, and we decided to stay in Montana for therapy.

Monday, July 03, 2006


The first thing we had to do was hire a caregiver, because Jane is half my weight and had no experience taking care of a quadriplegic. We didn't know anything about hiring caregivers, so we had a friend put up flyers around campus asking if any student wanted free room and board, and a job. We got a call from a pre-med student, and it sounded good so we hired her. The first thing she and Jane did was drop me on the floor. To my surprise, the boys were able to pick me up and put me back in bed. I was unhurt. The caregiver would take care of me in the morning, go to school, and then put me in bed at night. This included cleaning and dressing my tracheotomy, which I still had. The doctor lied to me when she promised she would not send me home with a tracheotomy. Anyway, after a few weeks the caregiver started to complain that our ad had been misleading. That may have been true - we never saw the ad. In sny event, she left after three months.

Meanwhile, the outpatient therapy started. This required us to go to the hospital in San Jose three times a week. Since we didn't yet have our own wheelchair van, we had to take OUTREACH. OUTREACH is a service provided by Santa Clara County, and in principle is a great idea . For almost no cost, they will pick up a wheelchair and take you anywhere in the County. The only problems are; a> your family can't come and b> it is so popular that everyone uses it and they are often late. Once we missed a van because a medical exam ran late, and we had to wait three hours for the next one. We eventually did find our own van; it was custom built by a doctor for his wife, who died before she could use it. He donated it to a charity who sold it to a dealer. It only had 1500 miles and was half the price of a new van. It has made a huge difference in our lives. It holds our whole family, and the rear seat fold into a bed, so it becomes like our own private ambulance, a feature that unfortunately has come in handy more than once.

After I was in therapy awhile, my left knee began to hurt when I was in the standing frame. I just ignored the pain, until it made me pass out. They did an ultrasound, and the technician's reaction scared me. She said, "There is a strange mass. You need to see a doctor right away." I, of course, thought the worst. The doctor ordered an MRI. I remember crying as they did it, thinking, "This is all we need." Jane said, "Don't freak out until they find something bad." It turned out to be a lump caused by a hemorrhage, which the doctor wanted to surgically remove. However, by the time he scheduled surgery it resolved itself. Jane was right again; my worries had been groundless.

I slowly began to get movement back. Not much, but everything helps. I began to raise my left hand. I remember being able to pick my own nose, and my Mom saying, " Good, Henry! " There is a first time for everything! My neck was getting very strong, and typing was a bit easier. I still couldn't do anything for myself, a fact that continually frustrated me. I finally did get to go 'swimming ,' and it was anti-climatic. First a special lift lowered me into the water, then they put foam noodles under me so I floated. I was nervous because when my head went under by accident, I could not control my breathing and inhaled water; and I was always worried about going to the bathroom. Worst of all, the lack of gravity was supposed to make me able to move more. It did not, so all of the trouble didn't seem worthwhile.

One thing which did get better was my breathing. I think in the end the tracheotomy was causing as much trouble as it was helping. By now we had asked for a different doctor, and after awhile he had it removed. I will never forget that day - at last I could breathe on my own! Taking it out was easy-they just pulled it out and put tape over the hole, or stoma. It grew over in a couple days, and that was it! It was one less thing for Jane to keep clean. To this day, when I am having a bad day, I remind myself that at least I can breathe on my own, something that many people can't do. Some solace, isn't it?

Our financial picture began to come into focus as it became clear I wasn't going to be able to work. We did have some disability insurance but not enough to completely replace my salary. I woke up from my coma to learn that I couldn't work, I had gotten a big pay cut, and would get no more bonuses and no more raises, not even to cover inflation, ever, and our four kids were still in grade school. Fortunately, friends and family jumped in. While I was still in a coma they raised a fund to help us until we could rachet down our lifestyle, which we did. When the company I worked for - - realized I wasn't going to recover, they gave me a generous termination package. After that many, many people have helped us out. Our medical costs, even with good insurance, have been staggering, but someone always seems to come through. We also used some of the money we had saved for college tuition; we will likely qualify for financial aid now. After living through all of this, I changed. I used to be the consummate planner, but now I just take things hour by hour.

About this time my Mom finally went back to her life in Missouri. She had been a tremendous help and a calming influence on the kids. Honestly, I didn't know how we would make it without her, even though she herself was disabled - her left arm was paralyzed from a car accident which almost killed her two years to the day before my stroke. Somehow Jane adjusted and we made it. During this time I was able to do something nice for Jane, because she had helped me so much. Her fortieth birthday was coming up, and I wanted to make it special. Using my computer and email, I arranged a surprise party with a few friends. I also managed to have a friend buy Jane an inexpensive diamond necklace. Now the trick was to get her to drive me to her own surprise party. We told her it was a party for our goddaughter, and she fell for it. She drove me there dressed for a birthday party. The party was a blast-a bunch of guys carried me up some stairs to get me in the house. Needless to say, Jane was floored. I even impressed myself.

Another thing I did was paint a flowerpot blue for Jane. Solid blue. It was incredibly hard, and took several weeks. It really brought home to me how paralyzed I was-before it wouldn't have taken me five minutes. I had to grasp the brush in my left hand. A therapist would then bring the paint up until the brush was wet. He would then hold the pot next to the brush, which I was able to wiggle slightly. In this way we slowly covered the pot. Mentally, I knew exactly what to do, but physically I could not. We still have that pot.

The difference between the mental and the physical was something I constantly struggled with. My body had been paralyzed in a moment; for my mind to come to grips with it would take years. For a long time I kept thinking the whole thing was a dream and I would wake up soon. My dreams were about a healthy Henry, and I learned to hate waking up paralyzed again. What really brought it all together was my side yard. I had been landscaping it right before my stroke. When I got home, I wouldn't give up on is it. I slowly typed out directions for my kids and my dad. To my surprise, they didn't read them carefully, when they read them at all. It was a good lesson, one that is true to this day. People don't like to be told what to do, and writing is a terrible medium for urgency. I learned another painful truth -what I used to do in a few minutes now could take weeks, if it got done at all. First, I had to find someone actually interested in doing it. Then, I had to get the parts, which was not trivial. Then, I had to communicate how to do it. Finally, I had to watch it being done, because very few people follow directions. I soon learned to take what I could get and be happy. Not easy for a perfectionist, but the other choice was to do nothing.

TV is often my only companion, because it only requires vision and hearing, which were two of the few things I still had. It is completely passive, which any mother can tell you. I soon learned that anything gets old if you watch it all day, every day, even football. At first I watched food shows, probably because I couldn't eat. Later on I watched The History Channel because it is often interesting, it took a couple years before it started repeating and you actually have to think when you watch it. Game shows that make you think also hold my attention; anything that exercises the mind. Everyone says my brain was not affected; everyone that is, except my wife, when I disagree with her!

One thing about my wife. She is, in her own words, 'mechanically retarded,' I guess it is my own fault for always doing everything myself. I used to hear regularly, " This ____ is a piece of junk!" That usually meant it either was not turned on or was not plugged in. At first, it drove me crazy. Then, she got better and I got realistic -she had enough to do - and started hiring handymen for everything.

About this time we made real progress with my computer. A friend figured out that my eyetracker would work with any computer, and the $13,000 computer the hospital recommended was overkill. Some guys from work ordered a regular laptop and we were in business. It takes me forever to type, and I still need someone to make constant adjustments, but hey, it's communication. Without it I would just about be a vegetable to everyone but my family.

Meanwhile, the therapists kept talking out of both sides of their mouths - they would tell me I was doing great while at the same time reducing therapy. It finally came time to fit me for my permanent wheelchair. We had never bought a wheelchair before, so we trusted their expertise. Big mistake. It cost me $4200 and reduced my sitting time from twelve hours to four - it was very painful and had tiny little front wheels - basically, it was the wrong chair. Because I had by then moved to Montana - more on this later - they refused to help me. I learned through this experience that about 70% of the people express concern but don't do anything, 20% actually do something, and 10% actually see you as easy prey. I learned to keep my guard up.

Speaking of keeping your guard up. When our first caregiver left, we asked around the hospital if anyone knew of one. My old physical therapist said she knew of a guy at her church who might do it. Since he was 6'2" and 250 lbs. and would be living with us, we did a background check. He came out clean so we hired him. At first, he was great - he was strong enough to lift me by himself, and was a good cook. Then he got a girlfriend who got him into drugs. My six year old son Mike called it - he told Keith, "You take my parent's money and drive off. You are nothing but lazy! They end up putting people like you in jail!" He should be a prophet. We had always let Keith drive our Tahoe, and he began coming in late and sleeping in the driveway - not a good sign. One day he was hit from behind. The other guy paid us, but who had time to get it fixed? Then my brother from Montana started calling, begging us to come to his hospital. He was converting his garage into a guesthouse, and he said we could stay there. We agreed to come for two weeks, to get a break. Keith, the caregiver, agreed to come along. The day before we went, he stole my Tahoe and left. We started finding parking tickets he had gotten - he liked to park in handicapped parking and then hide the tickets, which they traced to us. Anyway, we were off to a strange city with no caregiver and a stolen car to deal with ...