Friday, July 14, 2006


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.


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