I’m so profoundly grateful to be here after my stroke -- which happened while DRIVING in the MIDDLE LANE of I-95. (A safe crash by my mother, who grabbed the wheel from the passenger seat and headed into the guardrail, was my initial savior, along with two Good Samaritans who stopped to help.) This followed by two hospital stays, lots of PT, OT, speech and an eventual pacemaker ... it's been quite a hike. But I’m here!! And thrilled to be spending this New Year’s eve with my favorite guy. Thank you all for the love and encouragement along the way. May your MMXVIII be filled-to-the-max with happiness + good health, peace ✌🏻 + love .
"I came for the colonoscopy shot," I said to the person at Pain Management registration. I knew the word wasn't right. I knew it began with a "c" but it just wasn't coming. "Wait, don't tell me," I said. "It's, um, um ... the Cortisone shot."
Words are sometimes trippy. While an in-patient at Phelps Hospital last summer, my speech therapist said, "The words are there. You just need to get them out of the file cabinets in your brain."
The Cortisone shot is for my right upper arm. The pain was excruciating for months until my mother piped in, "Maybe it's from me grabbing the wheel so hard." I was clenching it like there was no tomorrow when she leaned over from the passenger seat to veer the car into a guardrail on I-95.
After MRIs, xrays, etc., what we had all thought was neurological damage was actually bone and muscular.
"If you could sign this," said the assisting nurse after the Cortisone treatment. "It's for instructions on what you can't do and tells us you understand what was done."
"My handwriting sucks post-stroke," I said. "I used to have beautiful handwriting."
I moaned to myself and longed for the day I didn't have a stroke. When people told me (as egotistical as it sounds now), "Wow, you've got beautiful handwriting." And I did. You could actually read what I wrote!
AND THEN I THOUGHT ...
What if there was a shot to improve handwriting? You look at the monitor and watch as the Cortisone serum seeps into your upper arm. Afterwards, you're handed a pen and a piece of paper. You shake your arm a few times. You begin to write. What started as scratchy, illegible scrawl is now beautiful handwriting with flourishes and distinction. You did it!!
Every morning, before gearing up on news, weather, email, and Instagram, I go into the guest room and take a seat on my meditation bench. I set the timer for 20 minutes, close my eyes, and the mind chatter begins. I think about how lucky I am to be here; what would have happened if my mother wasn't in the car when I had my stroke; what about those two Good Samaritans who stopped to see what was wrong? My mind is stuck on replay of every detail and then I slip into my mantra (which I actually lost post-stroke! It just didn't sound right. [I had the syllables inverted.] My yoga instructor gave me back my mantra.)
After each meditation session, I end with this one thought: I am in control of whether I have a bad day or a good day. I can go left or right.
The left lane is feeling sorry for myself; my right side is weaker, my right-hand shakes if I have it in a certain position, it's hard for me to find words when I talk sometimes, I have double-vision, my body is ache-y, why did I have a stroke ... and on and on. But I tell myself the left lane is not an option. I do not want to start the day with negativity.
Instead, I take the right lane. I am determined to have a great day. Not a good one, but a great one. I may not even believe it, but by saying it, I'm opening myself up to positive thinking and good juju. I say to my husband, "Today is going to be a great day." He smiles and kisses me goodbye.
So today, you can go left ... or right. You can have the mindset to sit in the proverbial boogy room and wallow in negativity. Or you can dance, sing, and jump in the sunny room and glorify that you have another day. As for myself, even though I might not really feel it (see paragraph 3), I am determined to have a great day.
This year I brined the turkey the night before. When I took it out of the refrigerator on Thanksgiving morning, the salty/sweet brine had blobbed over to one side of the plastic bag, covering only half the turkey.
I squished the liquid around and prayed this would work as a last-minute fix-it until my 20-something son strolled into the kitchen and asked, “Mom, shouldn’t the turkey be in the oven by now?”
I acknowledged the wisdom and bled the brine from the bag. What was left was a bird that had butterball-smooth skin on one side only. I turned up the oven to 325-degrees, rinsed off the bird and gave it a pat-pat, herbed and spiced it, stuck a peeled apple in the cavity, placed it in the oven and slammed the door.
“Respect me and I will respect you,” I said as I gaped at the turkey through the oven door window.
“How long will it take?” my husband asked as he entered the kitchen from reading by the fire.
“A few hours,” I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t put the turkey on the roasting rack. I tried to cover up and casually opened the oven door.
“Can you help me with something?” I asked. “If I lift the turkey will you slip the rack under it?”
I hoisted the 15 lbs. of raw meat and my husband adjusted the rack. (He was such a help when he wasn’t reading. By the fire.)
“Great! We’re all set!!!!” I added a few extra exclamation points to cover-up my mounting anxiety.
“Mom, you should close the oven. Every time you open it, it loses heat,” called my 20-something daughter from the living room.
That’s when we lost another half-hour from the cooking time. The oven temperature dipped to a chilling 315.
Once the bird was back in the oven, I decided to grab a glass of cranberry juice. As I went into the fridge and moved a pint of heavy cream (which would later be whipped and served with pecan pie), the bag of green beans (which would be sautéed with almonds), the container of oysters (which would go into the stew), I realized there was still so much to do before sitting down to our holiday meal.
Poking out from behind the cranberry juice was a bag of fresh savory herbs that I had specifically bought to season the turkey.
Once again the bird came out of the oven. I removed the apple and tossed the bouquet into the cavity.
“How’s that turkey coming along?” someone called from the living room as I prayed even more heat hadn’t escaped from the oven.
The telephone rang and it was my sister, a culinary whiz known for her grace in the kitchen.
“How’s it going? Do you have the bird in the oven yet?” she asked.
“I hate cooking turkey,” I whispered into the phone. “This is my last time. I swear. It’s too much pressure.”
“Oh, come on, Bonni. All you have to do is put it in the oven and wait for the plastic thing to pop up.”
It was then that I remembered that I also hadn’t wrapped the bird in cheese cloth, a technique she had taught me to help keep the turkey moist.
“There’s too much attention on this one single thing,” I whispered. I was certain my green beans almondine would not be judged in the same way as my turkey.
“I’ve got a ton to do,” I said. “Can we chat later?”
I imagined my sister already in her velvet hostess skirt, and here I was sweaty and overheated in a black polar-fleece that was covered in drips and blobs of everything I was making on the Thanksgiving dinner menu.
“How about some Vivaldi,” I shouted calmly (is that an oxymoron?) to my husband, who was on chapter crazillion as he continued to read. (By the fire.) I was counting on The Four Seasons to mask my opening the oven yet again so that I could pull out the turkey and wrap it in cheesecloth. If anyone walked into the kitchen, I could always say, “I’m just giving the turkey a little basting.”
I had planned for a 4 o’clock sitting. By this time though, the turkey was barely cooked. Its white pallor mocked me.
My favorite comments of the next few hours were:
“When will the turkey be ready?”
“I thought we were going to eat early so that we didn’t feel too full later?”
“Did the thing pop up yet?”
Are you joking? The turkey had at least more three hours.
“It’s not quite ready. I promise it will be though,” I said.
“Well, did you test the temperature in the oven?” My son was back.
From the drawer next to the stove, I hastily grabbed what looked like a meat thermometer. I stuck it in the bird and watched the temperature rise.
“See? It’s almost done,” I said.
“Mom, that’s not a meat thermometer,” he said. “It’s a wine thermometer and it stops reading at 72 degrees!”
I grabbed my glasses and watched the dial soar from “sparkling wine” to “dry white.” It blew past “Beaujolais,” “Chianti,” “port” and “good red.” Truth be told: I broke the wine thermometer using it as a turkey thermometer.
“Let’s just not look at the turkey for a few hours,” I begged my son as I slammed the oven door for the fifth time.
The timer finally popped up. “Dinnertime!” was announced and I proudly placed the perfectly cooked turkey on the holiday table. The bird glowed and I enjoyed the ooohs and aaaahs. We all held hands and shared what we were all most thankful for.
Familial conviviality ensued... until mid-laugh, when someone inhaled a tiny piece of stuffing and had to go to the emergency room. (I kid you not.)
Lessons learned this Thanksgiving?
#1: I hate all of the attention focused on The Turkey. (Didn’t someone say that lobsters were plentiful on the shores of Massachusetts when the Pilgrims arrived? Would it be disrespectful to our founding fathers if I took a leap and served crustaceans?)
And #2: Once again, through the drama of it all, there’s nothing like family and taking a moment to pause to count our many blessings. I felt deep gratitude knowing that I overcame my annual poultry phobia and had cooked my last turkey... until next Thanksgiving.
or you can read it here. It's the whole megillah, from start to finish. (Well, not exactly "finished," but but you get the drift.)
It was Easter morning. I picked up my mother to bring her to our house. Being that it was a Sunday—and a holiday—traffic was light. This, it turned out, was a lucky thing. Because I happened to have a stroke on Interstate-95.
I was driving and suddenly looked at my right hand shaking as it rested on the console. My mother screamed, “Bonni, pull over! Pull over!” She waved at me but I didn’t understand. There was a disconnect.
She leaned over and veered the car into the right shoulder, where it collided into the metal beam guide rail. I remember two college-age people in a white car run up to my side of the car. Imagine driving and seeing a car slowly crash. They must have known that something must be very wrong.
The next thing I remember is watching these two Good Samaritans run back to their car. They must have gone to call 911. And then I was out. Now, 7 months later, I wish I knew who they were. I would thank them profusely. They saved my life.
I had had a stroke. The first hospital I went to by ambulance and was given a clot-buster, also known as tPA (tissue plasminogen activator). The drug, given intravenously through the arm, needs to be within 3 hours after stroke symptoms begin. I was then whisked by ambulance to Yale-New Haven Hospital, who used the innovative Lazarus technique. This next generation technology is only two years old and focuses on acute ischemic strokes. Inserted into my groin, the technology facilitates the capture and removal of clots with what looks like a thin fishing net attached to a metal wire. Once the doctors reached the clot, they trapped it in the net and removed it from my body. It’s a lifesaving procedure and I’m lucky to have received it.
I awoke in ICU, where I was for three days, barely able to talk or move. Meanwhile, my family was in a panic not knowing what the outcome would be. Would I be able to talk? Walk? Most importantly, would I make it to my son’s wedding, which was in six weeks … and would I be able to have the mother/groom dance?
I was later moved to a recovery unit, where I gained enough strength to walk. Slowly. People still had to help me. When I was finally on my feet, I was sent by ambulance to Phelps Memorial Hospital for inpatient rehabilitation.
I was one of the lucky 695,000 acute ischemic stroke victims in the U.S. Every day I live with right-side weakness. I’m self-conscious that I might look and sound “stroke-y.” My husband says, “Your voice is lower, but it’s not ‘stroke-y’. You just speak softer and slower. Your words are more deliberate."
My once beautiful handwriting is now a scrawl. Even as I type this, my hands are shaking and I have to use the “delete” tab often. I have weakness in right shoulder. My vision is double.
I was told that I would be going to see my cardiologist, neurologist, eye doctor and more for the first few months after the stroke. I also go to speech, OT (occupational therapy) and PT (physical therapy).
There are so many ifs; what if my mother hadn’t been there to steer me over to the side of the highway; if the two Good Samaritans hadn’t stopped; if I didn’t have the excellent treatment from Yale-New Haven Hospital; if I didn’t have the love and support of family and friends?
Every day I wake up and think, “I could choose to have a bad day or … I can choose to have a great day.” Not that I don’t have bad days, but I’m determined to do everything I can to get strong.
A friend recently asked me, “Name one thing you are thankful for.”
I thought about it and responded, “I’m not thankful; I’m thank-full.”
As for making it to my son’s wedding, I made it! I walked him down the aisle. (Who would have ever guessed I needed a walker just months before?) And the mother/groom dance was truly one of the best moments of my life. In his speech before it, my son said, “I learned about how to love someone from my mom.” The music he chose was perfect. The band played a lilting “The Way You Look Tonight” from Father of the Bride. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
I’m thank-full for many things, but most of all, for being here, and for being able to share this story with you.
It is interesting that my last blog was posted on April 15, 2017. I suffered a stroke the next morning on, of all places, I-95.
It was Easter morning and I went to pick up my mother. En route home, traffic was light.
I remember looking down at my hand shaking on the console. In the distance, I heard my mother screaming, "Bonni, pull over! Bonni, pull over!" Unbeknownst to me, I was having a stroke. She pulled the car over and we crashed on the side of the highway.
Two Good Samaritans stopped. They were college-age - the man had long hair, and the woman had a knit cap on - ran up to the car. The only thing I remember was watching them run back to their car. They must have seen us slowly crash on the side of the highway since it was my right side that was numb. They called 911.
They saved my life. (Seriously. THEY SAVED MY LIFE. If you see anyone in a white car with the description above, please let them know.)
Watching them run back to their car is the last thing I remember, except for a brief rush of an ambulance crew running me into the hospital. I watched this from above. Was I dead?
I awoke in ICU. Two days later. Unable to move or speak. My family was around me waiting for me to wake up from the surgery. I later learned that I initially went to Stamford Hospital. They gave me a "clot buster" and I was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital who could better handle a stroke like mine. They used something called a Lazarus procedure whereby they use a tool which goes up through the groin and captures the clot in a mesh net. Yale-New Haven has only been doing the procedure for two years. TWO YEARS!
So much has transpired since: ICU for 3 days, 4 days where I graduated from diaper to walking assisted to the bathroom, and then walking (assisted) in the hallway. This followed by 2 weeks of in-patient recovery at Phelps Memorial Hospital.
My rooms have been like a floral shop. I received so many flowers and gifts. I have a pile of cards, literally, 8-inches high. Once home, beloved friends have visited me. I feel the love.
I am five-months out (really six, but I was on my butt for an entire month). People tell me that I look good and that they would never know I had a stroke. I'm in speech, PT and OT. I have weakness on my right side. My right arm is killing me. I am fluent in my head but not when I speak. I feel stroke-y. But ...