This week marks the twelfth anniversary of a life-changing experience. On Aug. 22, 2009 I was in the hospital going through tons of tests answering friends’ questions about my condition and yes, working just days after having a stroke.
Back in 2009, I was a 52-year-old workaholic. Nothing made me happier than my busy work schedule of running from assignment to assignment covering the three Amity towns of Bethany, Orange, and Woodbridge for the Amity Observer Newspaper — Remember that one?
On holidays, I’d find the best backroads and make it, on time, to wreath-laying ceremonies, tree lightings, craft fairs, parades, etc. and I never felt burned out. It’s just what I did.
At one point, I worked at the newspaper, had a part-time job at a grocery store, took evening EMT classes at a community college, and, my personal favorite, gave my Golden Retriever, Baron, nightly intense obedience training sessions in an empty parking lot near my home. I also went to the gym 4-5 nights each week.
Back then, I was focused and had a sharp mind.
On August 17, 2009, after weeks of ignoring classic symptoms of transient ischemic attacks (TIA) or mini-strokes — most obvious was when my foot was dragging behind on a treadmill at the gym, it happened: I didn’t turn in a completed newspaper to our graphic guru, Mario, by 9 p.m. the night before deadline day. Mario always took an “ok” front page and rearranged things to make it look “great.”
Mario knew something was wrong, but, I just thought I was having an off night. By the next morning, I still hadn’t written any of my front page stories and half of the inside pages were empty as well, but I wasn’t concerned.
Every Tuesday, for years, I’d gone into the office, finished the busy work necessary to get the completed paper off to the printing plant, and then started working on the following week’s edition.
But on this particular Tuesday, (Aug. 18) I roamed around the office, didn’t do much real work and I was oblivious to the fact that four other newspaper editors were depending upon me to get my butt in gear and finish my paper so they could finish theirs.
At 2 p.m. I wandered into Mario’s office with a photo, or a question or something, and he said, “What the F#@k is wrong with you? You’re four hours late.”
I looked at him and asked, “What time am I supposed to be done?”
He glared and said, “11 o’clock, the plant keeps calling me. You’re holding everything up.”
I looked at the clock, counted back in my mind, and, still, nothing registered. I couldn’t imagine why everyone in the office was mad at me.
Eventually, with some forced help, the newspaper DID get out that day, just uncharacteristically late.
To make a long story short, and spare you all the boring details, It took two days for me to finally go to the doctor. Our company had just changed insurance carriers and I wasn’t sure if I was covered, so, I didn’t go.
One of the original stroke images
Those two days were a blank, I don’t know how I functioned, or if I felt any different, the one thing that’s for certain is that Baron was by my side when I was home — he was my shadow.
When I finally did go to the doctor, a co-worker showed up in her office out-of-the-blue, and answered all of the questions about symptoms and insurance for me, since, by that time, I was completely incapable of answering anything.
After a few seconds with me and my friend, the doctor came to her own wickedly accurate conclusion and sent me for an MRI. Within 30 minutes of leaving THAT office, the doc was calling to tell me, “You had a stroke. Go to the hospital, NOW.”
Yet Another Stroke
In August, I spent nearly a week in the hospital with test after test, visits from my daughter, and just a couple of other people (I wasn’t that popular, I guess).
Luckily, to stave off the boredom, I had my laptop with me and I was able to get some work done, in spite of strict orders not to do anything for the newspaper while I was recovering. One specific memory was interviewing Patti Clark from Maple View Farm for the last installment of my Open Farms series. My Executive Editor said someone else would do it, but I insisted since I’d written all of the other parts of the series and wanted to keep it uniform — she reluctantly agreed, mainly because there was no way to win an argument with me regarding the Observer’s content, even if I was supposedly resting after having a stroke.
Before I returned to work, I had another smaller stroke — not a TIA, but a stroke — still, I was so lucky not to suffer any obvious lasting complications.
I remember walking into the photographers’ office and asking Wayne Ratzenberger if he had a second. “Wayne, how do I turn this camera on?” He gave me a quizzical look and responded, “Oh, Come On!”
I told him honestly, “Wayne, seriously, I can’t remember what to do with it. I’ve had this camera for about five years, and right now, I’m clueless.”
Realizing that the strokes had damaged part of my brain, he kindly took me aside and gave me a quick tutorial. Wayne had the patience of a saint, and I will never forget how sweet he was to me that day. He died about 7 years after that, and I still miss him.
I will print Part Two of this saga in November, but in the meantime, if you’re not familiar with my case, to this day, I do have difficulty with comprehension, memory loss, and seizures — staring into space and being easily distracted by “shiny things.”