Friday, July 14, 2006


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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is awesome! This is an inspiring story. Wish you all the best Henry and have a happy holidays.

3:27 PM  

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