Friday, October 31, 2014

My Best Friend's Mom



My BFF is Tony Colter. 

Tony is currently a DJ on Sirius/XM on BB King’s Bluesville and Watercolors (smooth/contemporary jazz).  Check him out, he’s good.  I’ve known him since eighth grade and that my friends is a long time.  Tony is my brother but I really want to talk about his mother, Jeanette Colter. She always was and always will be Mrs. Colter to me.

She also had a stroke.

I was in New York then, hadn’t had my stroke yet, but more important knew nothing, I stress nothing, about stroke.  Wasn’t even on my radar. Her caregiver was Tony’s sister, and my dear friend Vickie, who told me her mother’s story.

Mrs. Colter had a benign brain tumor and as a result of that surgery, suffered a stroke. Vickie told me that afterwards she had problems with aphasia, which is defined as an impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write. A lot of words for ‘something is wrong.’  Mrs. Colter also suffered from occasional seizures and took a drug which helped her with those seizures.

Take a deep breath because this story starts off not so good but ends up a whole lot better.

While Mrs. Colter was going through rehab and relearning how to write, to drive, to speak, I was busy with my career and starting a family.  She and my mom were best friends and I heard about her trials from my mother as well as from Tony. She got better and better and then…I had my stroke.

By then I was no longer at the network and had moved to Florida to be a news anchor at WKMG, the CBS affiliate here in Orlando.  One day I flew home, to Maryland, to see my friends and family and Tony. I have to tell you, I was Best Man at his wedding to Doreen and am godfather to his daughter, Karley.  After staying at his home, Tony drove me to the airport and I had my massive stroke on the jet back to my home. Soon it was me rehabbing, and learning to walk and talk again. While doing that I learned a bunch about stroke because, well, I had to. This was my new life.

Just about everyone who has had one thinks they’re alone and wonders why it happened to them.  I know I did. You want the world to stop because you have and let me tell you it doesn’t quite work that way. Life marches on.

This is where Mrs. Colter came back into my life.

My television career seemed to be over, my days were filled with rehab and the nights were the worst. In the dark it seemed like you had way too much time to reflect, to think that maybe this was how the story was going to end up.

Mrs. Colter, who also now lived in Florida, came to visit.

The first thing I noticed was how you couldn’t tell that she had even had a stroke. She looked great. Her husband, Colonel Colter, was there as was Tony and my wife Denise.

We had a grand old time, she laughed about how her handwriting was awful, post stroke, and told me to keep doing what I was doing.  She told me that having a stroke wasn’t necessarily the end of the line.

I needed to hear that.

One of the things I’ll never forget…we went into my den which has pictures on the wall from the old days. Me with Ali, me with Jack Nicholson, me with President Clinton (all Denise’s idea, I went there kicking and screaming lol) and I said to Mrs. Colter, “I had a good life.” She said, “No, you HAVE a good life.”

 It’s a story I tell to this day.

I speak all the time around the country, I want people to see that stroke affects everyone -gender, age, income, race, it doesn’t matter.  I want survivors to see my face, the face of stroke. I also want people to know there IS life after stroke.

She taught me that.

Thank you Mrs.Colter.



                       

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Some of what has happened along the way.

Like a ring around the bathtub after a bath, having my stroke left me with residue afterwards that I still deal with to this day. There are survivors who deal with more and there are survivors who deal with less.

These are a few of mine.

My right arm, my right hand, shakes. When I first came home from the hospital it was real hard to control, as well. I remember I reached out to hug one of my little kids and inadvertently hit him right in the face. He looked at me like hey, why did you do that? I was aghast and thought to myself Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

A bit later on I was in Atlantic City for a conference and the night before it began they had a meet and greet and I went.  Here’s the scenario…I had a glass of ice water in my left hand and my watch was on that wrist.  Someone came up to me and asked me did I know what time it was.  I carefully put the glass in my right hand to check the time. Bad move. As I was looking at the watch my right hand shook so badly that I spilled the water. On me. Aghast again. And embarrassed, but sometimes you have to laugh at the absurdity of it all. I’ll bet if you ask any survivor they can tell you a story like that.

Therapy.

I used to pick up coins to help with the dexterity, still do. I wrote in a notebook every day to also help but here was where I took a different path. Writing with my right hand was squiggly, shaky, and I said heck with this.  I learned to write LEFT handed. People tell me that they could never do that. I reply with you could if you had to. I do everything left handed—shave, eat, brush my teeth, drink, I even throw to my twins left handed. Not good but it’s getting there.

A guys gotta do what a guys gotta do.

Balance.

Ever since my stroke my balance has been out of whack. If I turn too fast to my right it throws me off and I’ve been known to stumble.  If I have to walk on a straight and narrow side walk or navigate through people sitting cross legged on the floor, I have to really concentrate to make that happen and even then sometimes it doesn’t work the way I want it to.  But sometimes it does.

My equilibrium is a problem also.  If I lie flat on my back without my head being raised I get sick to my stomach and my head feels weird. First time it happened I thought I was having another stroke. Now I know not to do that, and if I do, not to get freaked out by it. If anyone knows how to tighten your stomach muscles without the up and down of sit ups, I’m all ears.

Just a few my friends.

Don’t give up. Never give up.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stroke Words

Two words I’ve learned a lot about over the years.  Caregivers and hope.

A caregiver can be a wife, a husband, a sister, a son, a grand daughter, it’s a long list. What they all do is help people like me. When I got married I said those vows, my wife said those vows, you remember them, ”For Better or for Worse.” Didn’t think about them too much on our wedding day. And truthfully didn’t think about them as we were busily taking care of other things, kids, jobs, vacations, bills, just living life.

And then my stroke hit.

Those vows took on an even bigger meaning. The 'for better 'part? Pretty easy.  The 'for worse' part, a bit trickier. After my stroke I found myself trying to make sense of being blindsided.   I was in the hospital where I couldn’t go to the bathroom by myself, heck I couldn’t even get out of the bed. I used to wait for the doctor to tell me how I was that day. I love to read, it was too hard to concentrate to make that happen.  I love Jeopardy, couldn’t follow television at all. I was tired all.the.time. Took naps all.the.time. There was more but you get the picture.

That’s when my wife turned into my caregiver.

What do caregivers do? They champion every little thing YOU do. Hold your hand when you need it.  Feed you when you need it.  Help you do things that aren’t spoken about out loud. But help you do them. And quietly wonder about the future and wonder how they, we, got here. When I finally went home, it was even more intense for her.   Help you walk, help you talk, help you with therapy. Drive you to therapy.  I had a bench in the shower, she used to shave me, cut my food, help me get dressed. Buttons were always a problem. Playing with our kids, our young kids, was hard. Everything was hard.

She helped bring me back to life.

What did I learn over the years? That angels walk this Earth. That saints do, too. Look in to the eyes of a caregiver and you will see kindness and love looking back. Sounds like harps should be playing and trumpets blowing. Well, they should. There are some people who leave with a, ”I didn’t sign up for this.” There are many who don’t and to them I say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Hope.

I’ve always said that hope is a powerful thing. It is. When you are a survivor you have to have something to shoot for. A reason to get up every day. Hope is that thing. It’s a reason to think things will get better. Many people have no idea of the world we survivors live in. I’ll let you in on a little secret. My stroke was almost nine years ago. Sometimes it still feels like it was yesterday. I still read aloud just about every day. I still exercise just about every day. I still think everybody knows. They don’t, but you think they do. When you have a stroke other people forget, you never do. And that’s where hope comes in. Hope that tomorrow will be better than today. Hope that the future will be much better than the past.

One of my favorite quotes is a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for.

Amen to that.

Hope.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

What I've Learned After My Stroke

Every stroke survivor knows the date of their stroke. It’s like your birthday, you never forget it.

The day that changed your life.

Mine? November 15, 2005. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how things were before the stroke. That’s because your life was a certain way then and it’s a certain way now. But never forget you have a second chance at this circus called Life.

Let’s continue with tips that help me navigate in this new world.

Food…

I love, really love, all the stuff that’s bad for you. I just re-read that and chuckled because it’s been that way my whole life. Pizza, cookies, chocolate, french fries, cheesy french fries, the list is a long one and I did my part to keep all of them in the black. Now it’s a cavalcade of vegetables and fruit and chicken and fish and…things that help keep the bug- a- boos at bay.  Reading this you'd think I’m some kind of saint.

I’m not.

But, I’ll say this, having a stroke scared me. Laying in a hospital bed, weak as a kitten, will definitely get your attention. And then you begin to think about what do I do to keep the wolves outside my door in the future. That’s where change comes into focus.

This being a saint kind of thing won’t fly in that I eat things that aren’t the greatest for you.  The key is I don’t do it every day. Let me explain…if you told me I couldn’t eat chocolate chip cookies ever again, I’d eat every one I could find. Today. But moderation is a good word. You can have your treats, just not every day. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t remember the last time you had something, then go ahead and have some.

Not a lot, some.
But go right back to being good.

Halloween is a bad time for me. I’m at the door giving out Butterfingers and Three Musketeers and did I mention Snickers? I love Snickers and that’s not good.  Trick or Treaters and me. Think about that. It’s a good thing it’s once a year. The holidays are tough, too, and I’ll bet you know why. Plus I have eleven year old twins and the pantry is full of land mines and booby traps.

A few hard and fast rules that I stick to… around where I live is a McDonalds, a Burger King, a Taco Bell, an Arbys. I’ve never, repeat never, eaten from any of them. Fact is I never eat any fast food. Well, Five Guys, which should be outlawed, but rarely. Fast food is bad for me so I try to avoid it at all costs. Chick-fil-A and Chipotle and Panera Bread make a good salad, but be careful.  The key is what you put ON that salad. Low cal Vinaigrette-good, high cal Ranch dressing-not so much.  Also try the dressing on the side as opposed to drowning your salad in it.

Fried foods are also bad. I haven’t had fried chicken in…I can’t remember when. If you like it try baking it. ALL fried foods are a no no. Try to avoid them, as well.

Serving size, portion control is also very important and was hard for me to get used to. I've been 'jolly' most of my life and over eating was just what I did. Well, guess what? It's a new day and portion control has moved up in the line. It's fine to be full but not stuffed.

All of this is like putting money in the bank.

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I am a Stroke Survivor

I am a stroke survivor.

There are those who don’t know what that is and there are those that do.  More on the ones that do, later. But for those that don’t it means you went through the fire of having a stroke and lived to tell the tale.

All strokes are like snow flakes-different. Mine was an ischemic stroke, a blood clot stopped the flow of oxygen to my brain. I was in a coma for two days. Can you say bad? My stroke was bad and I almost died.

But didn’t.

I’ll speak later about those early days, the rehab, the dawning that life would be different.  But first, what I do now, nine years later to help get and keep the odds in my favor of never having a stroke again.

The stroke survivors who are out there know that surviving comes with a bit of baggage. Yes, we’re still here but you have to be always on guard, always vigilant about never being in that dark place again.

These are a few tips, a few things I do to help those odds work for me. First…

Exercise.

People think that means joining a gym. That takes money and if a gym is in your budget, I’m fine with that. If it is, do the elliptical for 30 minutes every other day, if you can.  Start with baby steps, I did.  5 minutes at first, then graduate to ten and on and on till you work up to half an hour.  I say that amount of time because you don’t want to do too much, hurt something, and have to sit until that something heals.

Same for the treadmill but keep in mind that the knees come into play with it and they will let you know if something is wrong or if you’re over doing it. Low elevation is fine but remember you’re not training for a marathon and do what’s right for you. The key is to raise your heart rate. The heart is a muscle and the stronger it is, well the stronger it is. That’s a good thing. One thing, my stroke affected my dominant side. I’m right handed, and my right side doesn’t work like it did pre-stroke. You may be in that same boat but know you have company in there with you. I had to make adjustments and be extra careful so I wouldn’t fall down but it can be done. Don’t let your worries stop you from the help.

Now on to exercise that doesn’t cost anything.

Last time I checked walking was free. Moving is key and walking falls right in that category. Notice I didn’t say power walking. Just walking. Walking helps the heart, the flow of blood, and helps those odds I’ve been talking about work in your favor. Start small and work up.   You don’t have to walk ten miles, start in front of your house or apartment. Then maybe to the end of your street. Then around the block. There is no hurry as you’re not training for something. Try to get out there as often as you can or as often as you feel like it. But get out there. And keep in mind, out there includes trees, birds, neighbors, fresh air, good stuff. And don’t worry about what people might think or say about this person slowly moving along.

You’re on a mission.

A healthy one.

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