The Little Things
THE LITTLE THINGS
Amy D. Montague, Ph.D.
Chapter 1 Fixed
I tend to worry when life is going too well. Back about six months ago I loved my psychology practice which I had been able to maintain successfully for close to twenty years in the same office building landscaped with waterfalls, all types of trees, and flower gardens. Best of all I loved conducting psychotherapy, and I loved my patients. Home was a beach sanctuary located on the beachside of a small one-bedroom condo complex where I lived with my husband of thirty-one years, Warren. We still were very much in love. The first thing seen when one walked in was the 180-degree view of the expansive ocean. We both enjoyed sunsets and watching surfers and ocean breezes from the generously large balcony overlooking the ocean.
I had gorgeous heels to match my designer suits, pants, and dresses. I loved dressing up to go to work. I was told by a saleswoman in Nordstrom that at age sixty-seven I had the body of a twenty-year-old. I had been working out for forty years, six days a week for three hours a day. I burned six hundred calories a day. I exercised my face and neck. Half of my sixty-seven years were spent overweight. I had achieved the small body I’d always wanted. Any clothing I tried on looked good to me and I got a lot of compliments. And I was extremely strong and healthy.
One year earlier we had purchased a large fully-equipped home in the mountains called a cabin, but it was more like a house with two levels, a good buy which we turned into an Airbnb. The business went well. It was located at the top of the mountain or what felt like the top. Driving up the mountain was invigorating as the brisk fresh mountain air became cooler with the smell of pine driving up a one-lane road with views around many twists in the road of more mountains- scenic views. The upper level of the house was more like an older rustic, charming Winter cabin with a deck.
Standing out on the deck I felt like I was in the middle of tall pines filled with a harmony of the bird music. Watching squirrels, blue jays, and the sunset. The sunrise’s golden light with the sun streaming through the trees could be viewed from the kitchen window. The cabin slept, twelve people. It was a bit odd, furnished with three pull-out double beds which pulled out and back into a storage closet complete with games, books, sheets, and blankets for the three double beds. There was also a master bedroom with a view in which we felt like we were sleeping in the tall pines. The old, mahogany beautiful queen-size bed, I dressed up with romantic Ethan Allen sheets, coverlets, blankets, and matching pillows of varying sizes straight out of their catalog. The bottom level was equipped with a small kitchen, an entertainment center, and a couch that unfolded into a king-size bed. As well as a computer desk, there was also a queen-size bed in what became the study.
One of my few worries was getting older. My neck revealed my true age with skin like a turkey and various stretch marks from years of dieting and going up and down the scale. I shared a three-office suite with my two best girlfriends both of whom I socialized and worked with. Everything in my life was running smoothly. The girls told me about a doctor nearby who injected Botox and other fillers resulting in a liquid facelift. My face improved but not my neck. I had tried facial exercises for my face and neck. The exercises helped slightly. This doctor who my friends liked was affiliated with the best and most popular surgeon in the business. His office was located in the prestigious Newport Beach. My first consultation with him cost two hundred dollars which could not be applied toward the facelift. I waited for hours for this first appointment.
I wasn’t aware at the time, but the preparation for the face-lift surgery, which started weeks in advance, was thickening my blood for surgery purposes. The cost included spending the first night post-surgery in a nearby fancy hotel with a nurse he provided for my recovery since my doctor’s work included the neck which required tying tendons together. The surgery went perfectly. My nurse and I and Warren had a great night ordering room service and watching LaLaLand. My nurse remarked several times how well I was doing.
Early the following morning she wheel-chaired me back to the outpatient surgery room and the surgeon and nurses conducted post-operative care. I was instructed to breathe into a tube, but I couldn’t get the balls in the tube to rise as instructed. It surprised me and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Being very claustrophobic and feeling tightness in my neck, I experienced my first panic attack. He said not to worry that I was recovering well, and that panic was a common reaction. With this reassurance, Warren and I drove up to what we now named Sky Cabin. We spent a relaxing day and retired for that next evening in the master bedroom. Happy as the jaybirds outside our window, we fell asleep.
I awoke in the middle of a stroke. I glimpsed enough to remember that we were spending the night at the cabin. The next awareness was that I was on the floor, Warren was trying to hold me up while frantically trying to wake me up. The last detail I remember from that night or early morning was Warren’s voice fearfully pleading with me to wake up and I could not respond in any way. Then I passed out. I knew something was seriously wrong. I succumbed to the only comfort I had to hold on to, that Warren would take good care of me no matter what it was. His mother had been a brilliant nurse. He knew much more than I did about medical emergencies.
My next conscious state was becoming aware of my strange hospital surroundings, bright lights overhead. My back was aching in a way I never experienced before. Then I became aware of the hard slab of wood that I was lying on. Consciousness was returning. Etched in my memory are the bright red stripes painted on the side of the gurney corresponding to the pain coursing along my lower back. I wanted to get off that miserable thing but I couldn’t move. With no choice, I laid back down. I became aware of hushed conversations around me. Everything was foggy and I felt ill at ease in this large very public emergency room. I am a very shy person. Then I lapsed back into delirium awaking to a conversation suddenly about me. ‘’ Mr. Montague your wife has just had a massive stroke to her right brain, caused by a blockage of cholesterol, which had been building up, due to a genetic glitch in her right carotid artery, a piece of which broke off and that artery remains 90 percent occluded requiring surgery to remove it. ’‘ His words repeated in my head stinging like a bullet piercing into my heart. Later Warren told me I tried talking and the words came out like gibberish which made no sense.
My next memory was of feeling angry at the hospital which utilized this gurney that was causing me so much unnecessary pain. I have a lot of anger issues that I’ll get into later.
I awoke to the faces of my LBS [life before stroke] bringing my life back into focus. Most importantly the faces of my two beloved boys. Jaime 29 and Christopher 27, and my brother, George with whom just recently I had developed a healthy relationship for the first time. My first cousin, Glenn, this was also a newly-discovered relationship. My two best friends Carolyn and Diana were staring down at me. The three of us shared a three-office suite. Carolyn was licensed as was I. We were enjoying our individual psychology practices. Diana was Carolyn’s friend and became my friend. Both Carolyn and I were supervising Diana who was in the process of satisfying her intern hours for licensure. We were all getting along and doing well. Warren, of course, was by my side always. Seeing all their faces was like a mass of warm love passing through my being.
This was the first moment I realized I could love deeply and I started to appreciate myself and my life and even my body that I had always taken for granted. I was still paralyzed and lay there in my hospital bed like a dead slab of meat which in my mind created a huge separation for me from particularly the business side of my life. I wouldn’t be able to work like this. Their faces were creased with concern for me and possibly with relief that I had woken up at all and survived. In retrospect, I imagine they were concerned about my mind. I lucked out in this regard as the stroke landed on my right side, and I am right-handed and predominantly right brain. Initially, I couldn’t draw a clock and there was negligence on my left side, meaning that I wasn’t as aware of my left- side surroundings. Other than this my cognitive left-brain remained pretty much unaffected as well as my speech. The right brain is the more creative as opposed to the left brain which is the thinking brain. The right brain controls the left side of the body so basically, the injury to the right side caused the paralysis of the left side of my body.
Losing my body was the hardest blow to accept, the most bitter of all pills to come. Growing up with low self-esteem. The only thing I thought I had going for me was my athleticism. I ran the fastest, jumped the highest and the farthest. I was more coordinated than anyone else in my third-grade class. When it came time to form teams, the kids fought and screamed for me, Amy Rosenfeld, to be on their team.
There was no controlling my thoughts and emotions. Memories flashed from back into my past. Past and present clashed together. On one occasion it was a memory of my brother and me after we had squabbled. From out of nowhere one of my earliest and darkest memories suddenly flashed into the present following an emotional exchange in the present between my brother and me.
The memory is clear: It was 6 pm in our small apartment. My dad walked in from work and sat down at the head of the dinner table. He appeared angry at my mom and me. Even then at my young age of seven, (my brother was two). I could sense the tension rising within my dad as he stood up and suddenly whipped the tablecloth off the table and every plate, food, and glasses crashed to the floor. Suddenly he took the only thing remaining on the table and violently pitched my baby brother’s glass bottle of milk into the wall which shattered into dozens of glass fragments that landed on the rug. I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair wanting to run to my room, but I was too afraid. I wanted him to go away. I knew that at 7 pm he would descend the stairs to the basement where he spent hours as an amateur ham-radio operator and then I could relax. Following that day on, I would begin to shudder inside and suffer from anxiety at ten minutes before 6 pm every day.
I thought back to my very first night in the hospital room, bedtime was approaching and a rusty and yellowish glow was settling on my bed, the walls of the room, and covering towels, a bulletin board on which were scribbled names of my nurse, nurse assistant, and various doctors, some of whom I never met. There were also red notices announcing that I was a fall risk. I lay on my back in the bed looking up at the ceiling I could no longer sleep on my stomach the way I preferred. I was trying to make sense of what had happened to me. I was waiting for the nurse to bring me my evening medications, and I was staring at the ceiling where a very small black speck moved along the trim. I stared intently at this tiny speck for a long time to decide if it was alive and moving. This small action reminded me that I was still alive with life. The feeling filled me with a thin inner emotional lining of joy and peace. I’ve had this sensation before while camping or hiking up a mountain to glimpse the expansive view. An entirely new appreciation awakened inside for the wonderful blessings I had including my sons, family, and Warren, who may have saved my life. I wanted to get better for them.
It was 9 pm and the vampires from the lab suddenly arrived at my bedside painfully piercing my upper right arm with their long syringes which cost the hospital less money than the smaller and less painful butterfly needles. The nurse next entered my room following her light knocking on the door to take my blood pressure and provide me many pills including antibiotics which had to be taken every eight hours. I had contracted a dangerous bacterial infection in the hospital. I had never been to the hospital before in my life that I remembered except when I had my tonsils removed at the tender age of four. The night nurse had filled the water pitcher too full of ice water which spilled on me with a cruel unexpected cold wetness. Without even a sorry she bid me goodnight. ‘‘Good night to you too’’, I obediently replied. They were all finally gone and with relief, I fell asleep only to be awakened by another nurse at 6 am to give me my antibiotics for the C. diff bacterial infection I contracted from a patient in the adjoining room when I was placed into the intensive-care unit. Every day I awoke with back pain, either from the gurney or from the stroke, and my neck still tight from the facelift. Both sides of my face were framed with green stitches. My face was still numb. The face-lift surgeon warned me to expect this numbness in my face. So this was the only normal numbness in my whole body.
Then I thought back again to the first night in the emergency room, which was large and filled with patients in dormitory fashion. I was suffering from all kinds of misery including psychological pain beating myself up with the blame. My thoughts went as follows.;’ How could I be so vain as to undergo a facelift at age 67 which I really could not afford?” As well, I was a pussy Jew who obediently followed the orders of the Germans to their death camps. Had they all rebelled, their uprising would have outnumbered the Germans. Then a voice spoke out of the darkness of the large room, it had to be a nurse, a nurse assistant, or another patient responding to my despair stating emphatically that ‘ At least the Jews were good and kind people.’ I felt much better after what I referred to as my psychotherapy session. That is one of the tools of therapy saying the right thing at the right time. This comment shattered and interrupted my negativity about myself, which helped me to feel better.
The next morning, I awoke to burning hemorrhoidal pain that was intolerable. The nightmare of the bedpans was that I would push the nurse button when I needed assistance and it would take over twenty minutes until she came. Part of the reason for my pain was not being able to relax enough to have a bowel movement except if warren was there, this was one of the few occasions he left for the day to do errands. So he left only because my son, Christopher was taking his place for the day. I was truly suffering in excruciating pain by the end of the day, Chris told me that he couldn’t stand to see my face in so much pain. At one point after I phoned the nurse and couldn’t wait, I soiled myself and the bedsheets. When she showed up she yelled accusingly at me, suggesting that it was all my fault because she didn’t believe that I called when I had.
The next time I had to go and the bedpan had slipped out of my reach, desperately reaching for it, I slid out of bed and the nurses, technicians, orderlies screaming out my name and people came running from all directions shouting that I fell. They placed pillows under my head. There must have been a doctor present to order the cat scan. Christopher wore a mortified expression like he didn’t know what to do. They asked if I’d hit my head. I told them ‘no’ but they took me for a cat scan anyway. I was transported onto a gurney and rolled into a corridor with windows on both sides, one must have been open as I smelled the fresh air and glimpsed trees and flowers. I later asked Christopher for his version of the day and how he had felt. He related that he’d felt invisible and that he’d felt helpless. He wanted to leave but remained with me until Warren returned late that night.
There was no entertainment except Warren’s hooking the television with the internet. I listened to music which Chris said was good for my recovery. We also watched a lot of comedy. A few doctors came at night. They would check with me about how my body was recovering or not and I got the impression that my recovery could take a long time.
Once a neurologist came and explained that the occlusion in my right artery was not 90 percent blocked but 95 percent. He assured me that my brain was still getting blood from the left side and the time I had to worry was if it ever became 100 percent blocked. He also discussed the type of surgery required to clean out the blockage and said that with this percentage of blockage the possibility existed that during this surgery a piece of the cholesterol could break off and cause another stroke. At this point, I honestly couldn’t decide if it was more dangerous with or without this additional surgery. I was terrified.
In my mind, I heard that I could die. But this hospital would not do this kind of surgery. I didn’t know what to think or do. The truth was that I no longer had any control over what happened in my life. As long as I remained in the hospital I couldn’t take aspirin without a doctor’s prescription. I was also informed by another doctor that the hospital would not even remove my stitches. They didn’t want to interfere with another doctor’s work. Without any control over my life, I felt hopeless and fell into a depression.
I lost track of the days I stayed in bed all day. I started taking Prozac which helped my mood a lot. Another doctor came to prescribe the Prozac and informed me that this was the only antidepressant that helped a stroke patient’s brain recovery.
Then came waiting to be discharged from the hospital. Each day I was told that I would be discharged the following day and the next day would arrive and again I was told that it would be the next day. This went on for a week. It felt to me like I was never getting out of there. Thankfully my cousin and my brother stayed at the hospital with me. I received visits from Carolyn and Diana. This cheered me up. My brother helped me locate the next hospital which importantly had to be appropriate for me. This hospital talked about placing me next; into a nursing home. ‘Not appropriate’, my brother yelled at the social worker.
George was well-informed about this since he had helped my father with his stroke years earlier in San Francisco where they both resided together. George in his house in the woods of Marin County and my father in his nursing home. Probably the way my brother helped my father was by continually finding new nursing homes due to the fact that my dad constantly was being asked to leave because he was mean to everyone and ill-spirited. He must have been one of those patients who complained all the time. So now my brother, over helped me, by pointing out my left-side negligence and all the items I hadn’t noticed on my left side. He added to my worries. His overcompensation to help others was his mode of feeling more adequate about himself. My dad had left both of us with his inadequacy complex passed down from his father, an immigrant finding refuge in New York as an escapee Jew during World War Two.
Before I left that hospital my primary doctor who had been my primary doctor for my entire stay and I just learned this the day before my discharge. And like my narcissistic father he lacked true empathy. My father suffered from a profound inadequately complex passed to him from his father. The doctor stated that my brother was correct, I required an intense acute rehabilitation hospital because I was strong and had a positive attitude. And that next day turned out to be my last. This first hospital was basically keeping me alive and not focused on repairing my body. I later learned that an actor at age fifty died from the same stroke I had.
I overheard a nurse complaining about how this hospital only cared about making a profit. I was so happy to be leaving. Still traumatized, I fearfully waited hours for the ambulance to show up. Which it did, and I was transported to an ambulance on a gurney that was like a bed with a comforting mattress with plenty of sheets, blankets, and pillows.
The ambulance was small and would have been claustrophobic had it not been furnished with a large back window which provided a great view of the outside world. Which in this case was the 405 Freeway and my beautiful black Nexus being driven by my brother and Warren was driving his truck while my cousin, Glenn was driving his Lexus as we all caravanned slowly reaching familiar turf as we arrived at the rehabilitation hospital.
The Rehabilitation Hospital
By the last night at the first hospital, I was worn out and obsessively worried that the ambulance wouldn’t show at all and I couldn’t sleep. When the ambulance delivered me to this new hospital everything felt lighter. Here was my opportunity to get my body back.
As I left the first hospital, I felt as if I’d been a prisoner of war interned at a camp where I was tortured every day and I was finally escaping.
I liked the new lobby’s gift store. And in the lobby, there was a piano on which one of the older patients played a lullaby whenever a baby was born. There was a maternity ward on my floor.
I was very anxious to get started with rehab., again I was obsessively worried that the therapy wouldn’t happen. The night preceding the start of my rehab, I selected the outfit I wanted to wear. I woke up early. I hated using a wheelchair. It was one of those things I had dreaded from a young age when I’d worked with older patients in convalescent homes. “That’s never going to be me,” I’d thought. I had also worked as a candy stripper at the age of fifteen in a world-renowned rehabilitation hospital where I had fed a handsome blond surfer from California who was paralyzed from the neck down. I remember thinking at the time how I couldn’t imagine a more cruel fate! And here I was!
So I felt trapped confined to the chair. This was a more hopeful internment but it was still a hospital. Where the other hospital might have saved my life and kept alive. There was no therapy and therefore no hope. The corridors smelled the same smell; a mix of disinfectant and illness, with filtered air which made my skin dry.
My room was located in the old wing of the hospital where there was loud construction going on. The room’s view was an old city foreshadowed in old buildings viewed through outdated wooden ornamentation covering all the only windows in my room. I thought of my view at home overlooking the ocean. The last day before leaving for the new hospital my brother crushed my excitement by reminding me that this hospital was going to be the same, with the same problems.
The nurses all looked the same, acted the same. My room was oppressive, dark, and stuffy. There was the whiteboard on which doctors and nurses scribbled their names. A dark-wooden cabinet set the tone of an old schoolroom or dormitory room. The thermostat didn’t work and in the afternoons the room would be so hot and stuffy I wanted to die. Sometimes Warren and I would escape and go outside. We always told the nurse when we were leaving. We arrived on a Saturday when there was no therapy going on and the place felt dead. Sunday was my bath day when a nurse would place me on what looked like a metal toilet, covered the naked me with a sheet, and wheeled me into the shower where I was washed to the sound of her operatic-like Sunday hymns. During the week, Warren helped the one-armed version of me give myself a sponge bathe.
When I returned to my room I was told by the manager of the therapists that I would be given my schedule with breakfast and that it would be on the breakfast tray. The schedule was made up of fifty-minute therapy sessions of occupational and physical therapy and also speech therapy. Then the boredom sank in, and I was still infected with the C. diff bacteria and there was a stack of the yellow mosquito-like netting robes that anyone who’d entered and left my room had to wear including me. They were bulky and hot and this added to all my misery. I was given antibiotics around the clock, the most bothersome was when the nurse woke me at five or six in the morning for antibiotics. My guests hated wearing these robes also.
Warren packed our clothes from the suitcase and into the cabinet-like closet. A favorite blouse of mine disappeared. I have never seen it again and it’s just one of so many painful losses. Aside from the vigorous therapy, I think the best part of being there was that it marked the end of the bedpans. Warren and I developed a very efficient bathroom routine in which he would wheel me into the bathroom in which a nurse observed and rejoiced “good transfer”.
Things were getting better here. The truth was that both Warren and I were highly regarded by the hospital staff. Warren for his constant loving devotion toward me. He watched every therapy session and served as my prompter in practice between sessions. I was making good progress walking and in all my therapy sessions. Even the food was better and the first-weekend dinner included a whip-cream cake. Warren devised a way we could connect my tablet and the TV so that we could watch movies and TV from the internet including music on Pandora which Christopher impressed upon me was healing for my brain especially if I sang along. This and our son’s visits were our only source of entertainment, that was until the prison breaks which I am getting to.
When Monday morning finally arrived I was so nervous I pooped in my pants. I had to change my clothes twice. The nurse suggested that I wear diapers. I was horrified. One of the most important moments in my life was ruined. That morning I suffered from tight clothing, anxiety to get started, and wanting it to be going perfectly and it already hadn’t. My workout clothes were so tight that they were probably the most difficult kind of clothing to wear in my condition. The Minnie straps which had looked so cute at 24-Hour Fitness were the most difficult kind of clothing to get into due to the tightness. I quickly had to undress and redress. The nurse suggested that I wear diapers, and so I sat up in my bed with my diaper beneath my workout clothes at the breakfast tray.
Breakfast was tasteless scrambled eggs absent of my beloved butter, and no toast. The coffee was good as I watched the clock. I was scheduled for physical therapy at 8 am and then two more occupational therapy sessions, then lunch followed by three more sessions in the afternoon. At 8:10 am my physical therapist, Lisa showed up. As she pushed me along the Corridor, she announced that she was my primary physical therapist. Finally, here I was in a gym back in my element. Lisa helped me start walking in the parallel bars right away which I took too naturally. It felt so good to stand up. Everything went better from that moment on.
My next session took place back in my room with Brenda, my speech therapist who forced me to complete memory games, organizational tasks, always stressing for me to slow down, take my time and look at the big picture. She forced me to attempt cognitive tasks, I know I’d shied away from my entire life feeling ill-equipped to handle them. I followed her instructions every day as she repeated “Slow down, look at the big picture; now change the order. She started each session by having me go over what I had done that day so far. For the cognitive tasks, I would form order in my brain, and then she would ask me to change the order resulting in my learning cognitive flexibility which I could’ve used to pass the state oral exam for psychology. It took me years to pass.
She would appear first thing every morning to write herself into my lunch break which angered me so much at the time, but now I am so grateful for her help. I also worked with Marco, a physical trainer who sometimes confused me when he contradicted Lisa’s instructions. I learned from both of them as my walking slowly improved. The occupational therapists utilized electrical stimulation and tapping my arm for me to learn to isolate the muscle that I was attempting to strengthen and re-hook up to my brain. During one session after the therapist massaged my left shoulder and arm and then instructed me to lift my left arm up to my mouth and hold it up there for seconds, I could feel the strength that still existed on my left side and it was exciting. This was the only time I was able to accomplish this lifting of my left arm. It never happened again. I was often reminded that stroke patients take a long time to recover. It’s going to take time,’ so slow down and don’t get discouraged.’ which truly discouraged me. Slowing down was the hardest thing for me.
Patience was not my strong point at least not since raising my boys. One morning, early before my first therapy session. Warren and I ventured down to the hospital cafeteria on the first floor. The food was better in the cafeteria we discovered. On some mornings Warren would travel down to the cafeteria and bring me back an egg over medium and some toast with butter and even chocolate chip scones. He brightened my mornings.
Then Warren and I began our prison breaks, a name we derived from a current TV show. Warren would wheel me out of the hospital lobby and into the fresh air and sunshine. We first set out in the parking area just outside the lobby, and we’d park ourselves at one of their tables in the sun and enjoyed cappuccinos and lattes. When it became unavailable and started closing often we began our travels outside the hospital grounds. These were the prison breaks.
In each therapy session, I exerted such effort that I never ever even imagined I had and by the end of the day or even by lunchtime I was drained of all energy, completely spent.
We call these prison breaks because we were not allowed to leave the hospital grounds called the campus so it was fun to feel like we were breaking the rules. Our first discovery was a small bagel joint which became our Sunday brunches with bagels that were fresh and delicious. I had no idea such a small hole in the wall spot could provide so much joy.
As Warren pushed me along the neighborhood streets we couldn’t miss the Crazy Creole restaurant where together with my cousin, Glenn. The three of us continued our traditional Sunday dinners together. Glenn maintained the tradition, and he really loved the crazy Creole. Glenn loved the food and maintained our Sunday night tradition even though I was in the hospital. There was an alligator listed on the menu and I kept hearing a loud banging sound in the back of the kitchen which created visions in my mind of a large black alligator fighting and jumping back there. It was a good time for all of us. Our greatest discovery was the Thai spoon café which was located quite a distance away, but we couldn’t resist Thai food. The entry to the outside area was lined with plastic flowers and dozens of flies, another hole in the wall we entered through a broken wooden gate, and we sat on painfully- small chairs until the Thai server delivered very hot soup with lemongrass. At my first sip of the soup, my memory flashed back to my first travel experiences to Southeast Asia in June 1976 with my first husband, Alan and Larry, his new best friend. Larry ran away from home at the age of 9 which included a lot of Europe. He was a traveler in his heart. Larry talked us into making this trip to the far east. Three months in Indonesia in Sumatra, Java, and Bali.
Larry was from New York, and he reminded me of a young Woody Allen. Our first stop was in Japan where Larry remembered every historic event and the name of every emperor who ever presided over the country. We spent three months in Indonesia, three weeks in Japan. I returned to India three times, The first time I went alone. Larry, I, and my first husband spent seven months in East Africa. My memory flashed back to our travels in Thailand. This particular day we had been traveling all day down the coast from Bangkok. We were reaching the end of the long day’s journey when we stopped at a straw-covered hut. We were all hot, sweaty, and exhausted and found relief, and this same soup decompressed and soothed our bodies. My memory skips to our first landing at the Bangkok airport. As we walked through our first real taste of Asia in this very, basic airport. With plywood counters void of any hint of the modern world. There was no air conditioning, the humidity with its dampness swallowed us. We were mesmerized by hundreds of Thai women moving gracefully, glittering in silk garments adorned in gold-like jewelry and gold makeup. Many of their faces were absolutely beautiful with high cheekbones appearing like goddesses out of some fairy tale. The antiquated loudspeaker announced flights coming and going in a very, foreign tongue in this most exotic of all lands. We quickly grabbed our backpacks from the carousel, our backpacks stood out from straw baskets and cardboard boxes.
Once outside the airport, we were welcomed by suffocating humidity. We arrived and landed at Bangkok airport. As we walked through this very basic primitive Third World airport, void of any hint of modernity, we passed counters made of plywood there was no air-conditioning. Despite that cocoon of humid clamminess and stuffy air, the Thai women appeared like fine goddesses out of a fairy tale. The inaudible loudspeaker announcing flights arriving and departing in this fine exotic land was our first introduction to passing through a Third World airport. We quickly picked up our backpack easily identified in the carousel from the everyday suitcases and cardboard boxes and straw baskets.
Once outside the airport, we were instantly smothered in the clammy suffocating humidity, and we were bombarded with cab drivers all grabbing at us to follow them and too tired to resist listening to all this broken English to come to their hotel, a good hotel, give you a good price until we finally caved in to the most aggressive who quickly pulled us to his cab where he threw our backpacks in the trunk. It was air-conditioned and as we decompressed and refreshed in the delicious cold air furnished with our travel guide book we directed the cab driver through thick pockets of stopped cars. I’ve never seen traffic like this before anywhere. We made our way through big pockets of a mass of stopped cars stuck in a chaotic mess of older cars heading in different directions with no organization. Cars clouded in a layer of dark gaseous fumes at eye level, growing darker like a swarm of locusts I’ve never experienced feeling claustrophobic in traffic in which we were stopped for six hours, like prisoners in the cab helpless to escape.
Gordon was allergic to smoke and dust, and he began sneezing and coughing uncontrollably, his eyes watering as we were stopped in traffic. We felt like it was days later when we finally reached our hotel, a cheap dollar-a-night hotel. We were basically young students; I was 26, Alan was 27, and we were traveling with Larry, 25 Alan’s new best friend he met while working at a summer job at LAX as a security guard.
We finally reached our hotel late that night. The texture of the hotel both inside and out was colorless like the airport and run down. Our large empty room unconditioned and sparsely furnished with two single beds we soon discovered were covered with mildew sheets and blankets. I was already discovering that every Asian room was featured with old armories. Ours was the basic one built with cheap, thin wood with a mirror pasted to the front. The more expensive hotels showcased finely polished mahogany with fancy mirrors and fancy gold accents. In our room, there was one small light bulb hanging from the middle of the ceiling. There were two single beds, a broken chair, and a tiny table with a radio. The room was humid and hot with no fan. When we turned on the radio and exotic music floated out, I finally grasped the fact that we were in Thailand.
We discovered a large pool in the back of the hotel with coconut palms surrounding it and adorned with tropical flowers, competing with the wonderful smells of Thai food waffling out of the coffee shop on the ground level. We ventured outside the hotel into the stifling hot air mass, and we started walking up and down the sidewalks in the neighborhood around the hotel. The sidewalks abruptly ended in a short bit and as we walked up and down all the time, I felt like we were ducks bobbing up and down like targets in a rifle range.
There were drink stands on almost every corner thankfully on the day we toured one of the main attractions; the Imperial Palace, a large compound composed of one large palace surrounded by smaller temples all covered with orange shingled roofs with a green trim shimmering in the sunlight. After removing our shoes with respect, we entered the Imperial Palace, the inside walls were covered in a gold-leaf mural depicting scenes of the king propped up on a throne receiving gifts. Others were showing the hunt with animals running in all directions to escape their cruel fate.
Outside the imperial palace, the other temple’s walls, doors, and even steps were encased in beautiful tiles of fine china completing this fairyland. Like a cartoon or mirage in the middle of clammy sticky air, here the mirage faded, and I was back in my wheelchair being pushed back into the hospital lobby as Warren pushed me back into the room there sat Jamie’s handsome face reminding me of the value of life right here and now. Being back in the room felt a little lighter and softer and comforting with Jaimie there. It was around 7 pm and my favorite comic, Louie CPK’s routine was playing on YouTube. It was fun and I felt relaxed. I was becoming very aware of what I was feeling. On the right side of the brain sits the limbic system or the emotional brain. My stroke hit this including the amygdala (the rage center) and the basal ganglia (the center controlling balance).
After Jaimie left, he had to work the next day and I had my schedule to contend with, two doctors came by after he left, my primary and a neurologist. Both asked if I could move my left toes or fingers. The answer was always no, and I felt like I had failed the test. The neurologist explained that because of my occlusion being more than 50 or 60% it would require surgery to remove it which I was terrified of. And then he told us that the hospital wouldn’t do it at all. I felt frightened that I had to go on living with the knowledge that if I fell which I had already done a number of times I could die or have another stroke. I didn’t know how to live this way. He also informed me that I had to have an MRI the next day, and I am claustrophobic and was terrified.
The next day the MRI was scheduled first thing in the morning and the lab technician carried one end of a large sheet, while an orderly carried the other end with which they lifted me off of the bed and onto a metal gurney in mummy fashion. They immediately wheeled me into the elevator taking us down, down, down all the way to the bottom floor while I complained bitterly telling them both how terrified I was and of course, they said you’ll be alright – how did they know I thought they didn’t know me.
The nurse at the counter explained I would not be allowed sedation as the surgeon wanted a good clear picture. I was slowly rolled into the darkness of the tomb-like tube. The orderly at the last second told me not to move and handed me a panic button like the round base of an aspirator which I tightly clenched in my right good hand and held against my tummy. Once inside the tube I heard loud sounds of clashing metal against metal which I liked as these sounds were distracting. I heard Warren’s voice in my head repeat it’s only going to take 15 minutes then my own voice said this isn’t so bad I think I can actually do this. I felt a little excited and still scared as I began conducting my own relaxation therapy, relaxing my arms, legs, and counting down from 10 to 1 slowly trying to relax more with each count.
Then I was gently being lifted in the warm Mexican waves of my last vacation and then totally relaxed. I mentally returned to the tube and I started to panic feeling trapped inside the tube, thinking that it had been longer than 15 minutes, and they weren’t wheeling me out. I squeezed the panic button, and they quickly wheeled me out of the tube and into the open. The technician stated that I had done it, and they got a good picture! I was so relieved and feeling triumphant I had faced a great fear and won. I felt like someone especially capable. I was floating in my victory and no one said a word as I was silently pushed back into the elevator.
A small Asian woman stepped into the elevator holding a beautiful bouquet of orchids. I told her how gorgeous the bouquet was, and she handed me one flower. I took this as a reward for my valor. I felt happy and suddenly relaxed as I was rolled back into my room. My physical therapist, Lisa knocked gently and walked to my bedside, and told me I had a physical therapy session in an hour. Vampires were instantly piercing my right arm with needles of different colored ink. I remembered from college about CAT scans providing contrast by inserting different colors of ink into the veins and with heat it improved the picture with contrast, but I didn’t know any more than this. Feeling confused but aware of my newly-discovered self-pride and respect I was again mummified back onto the same metal gurney and wheeled back into the elevator for a CAT scan.
Down we went again back to the same MRI tube and I panicked as they started to wheel me into it again. I had a strong impulse to grab onto the tube entrance. I didn’t understand how it worked. The technician calmly assured me that it was open inside. So I collapsed into myself as I was wheeled through an opening into a dark, open room. As I passed through the opening to the tube I glimpsed swirling colored water rotating around the entry. It was over in a matter of seconds but this time I was angry back in my room. With my right arm still lined up with needles, Lisa returned me to my physical therapy session which I performed well and Carolyn was there waiting for me in the gym with news from work, and she described how she and Diana were seeing my patients and that some of my patients would not be returning.
I thought to myself that I was hopelessly listening to the fact that I was losing my practice and my career. I don’t think she meant for me to feel this way but I did and I couldn’t complain about anything to her, feeling guilty because she was keeping the office going, and they were using and rearranging my office. It made me feel trapped in the hospital with no control over anything in my life; I was in jail.
Again I felt depleted of hope for the future and fell into a deep depression. When I returned to my room my first sight was Christopher sitting and waiting for me. Suddenly, my hope and joy were back and I know that he saw my face light up the minute I saw him. It was good for both of us,
He stayed with me. I told Christopher about the MRI and the CAT scan and how disappointed I had been by Charlene who had no idea what I was going through. How could she? Warren could always cheer me up. You are still a psychologist he reminded me which my mind accepted and my sadness faded along with two Prozac pills. Chris took me in my wheelchair down to the lobby’s gift shop. Chris bought his favorite candy and I picked out a milk chocolate sweet caramel-filled Easter bunny. It was the beginning of Easter, and I was feeling afraid of the elevator again. I could tell that Chris was pleased for successfully helping me. I’m sure that was the best chocolate bunny I ever tasted despite the slight paralysis on the left side of my mouth, and I was convinced by my visitors that my face showed no sign of paralysis on the face and that my speech was good. I rejoiced in the small amount of health and functioning I still had. And then a very beautiful nurse whom I hadn’t seen before arrived at my bedside to finally remove the green stitches still visible on both sides of my face. Once I viewed my new face, a-twenty-years- younger-looking face. My mood was transfixed and I realized at that moment that I hadn’t felt such happiness in a very long time. I had not chosen to have a facelift to look younger, just better.
All the nurses, other patients and trainers, and even doctors told me how beautiful and pretty I was. Suddenly I had a new reason to live on. The first time in my life I felt really pretty. And I was going to be able to enjoy my new face for the rest of my life. I wasn’t even bothered by Brenda arriving during my lunch break in my room as I was enjoying talking with Carolyn. Carolyn didn’t echo a word about work this time. She told me that I had a good memory as she observed my speech therapy session. That’s been a very helpful comment throughout my life ever since.
Even Carolyn’s boyfriend showed up to visit with me that Easter Sunday. It was fun for him to admire me. It was a nice visit. We stayed in the park just outside the hospital lobby while he called his parents back East and talked about them. They didn’t stay long but it was enough. I think I bought another chocolate bunny after they left.
The days went by slowly after that. I lived from visit to visit. I felt claustrophobic in the room plus the room became unbearably hot in the late afternoons. So if I was finished with rehab. For the day, Warren and I would slip out for our jailbreaks or just hang out in the cool lobby. And enjoy snacks and a diet coke from the gift store.
Wednesdays were the day of the team meeting. They were held in the conference room with the doctors, trainers, and nurses reviewing our progress and deciding who was going home when. I was there for six weeks and passed all my goals by my sixth week. The social worker walked from room to room telling us how we had fared for the week. Finally, I got the good news that I had five more days until I would be going home. I was so happy and excited and worried all at the same time. Worried that it wouldn’t happen. That’s how traumatized I still was. I called everyone I knew to tell them the good news. Diana was always the most excited and happy for me! It was complimenting to learn that all my trainers agreed that I was hardworking and strong. On the last day, they wanted me to have therapy but told me I didn’t have to, so I opted out. That day I was angry and anxious.
We didn’t get to leave the hospital until 5 PM waiting for my wheelchair to be delivered. Why couldn’t they have ordered it for an earlier arrival time, I would get angry while Warren figured out the real reason had something to do with Medicare payments. We said our goodbyes and then made the final transfer from the wheelchair to my car which we had practiced with Lisa the day before. And we were off, I hated that city till the very end as we slowly and forever started to leave the last hospital behind us and I finally realized I was going home driving on my street turning into the driveway as we had hundreds of times before, it felt different for a moment. And then into my wheelchair and into the elevator, I was very afraid of and then still three stairs to go up before Warren lifted the wheelchair and rolled over the floor stairs to our floor.
We had a lot of practice doing this with the wheelchair on our prison breaks outings. The home was awaiting our return. The entry to my favorite home of all times was perfect as we had left it. Beautiful with a lot of white furniture in the kitchen and it’s remodeled granite countertops, light maple cabinets, and beautiful tiling and recessed ceiling only in the kitchen. The living room color contrasted with the front yard of water. Our front yard was the ocean. It had a gas fireplace surrounded by Italian tiles. There was a glass door for taking shelter protecting the shadow of the fireplace inside, The condo was furnished with a lot of very attractive Stickley oak, even a large beautiful wooden entertainment center. Browns and neutrals but this Stickley entertainment center was the most beautiful piece in the house.
Yes, I was home in my beautiful condo on the beach, with a scenic view of the Palos Verdes peninsula at the end of paradise. Yet it was no longer paradise as my wheelchair immediately began marking up the perfectly colored walls and the place was so tiny. The tiny bathroom was not much larger than the size of an airplanes’. The place was the same, but I wasn’t. My life was not going to be the same, no matter how much I wanted it to be.
Life Goes On
It’s been two years since the stroke. It felt like an eternity that I spent in the hospital or hospitals. Going home to my enclave in the sky. The thought of sitting on the balcony looking over the vast ocean at my leisure was the pill that had kept me going. I thought about it so often and so unrealistically that my thinking took on a delusional and magical quality that life could never match. Especially the life that awaited my return.
When I was finally released from the rehabilitation hospital performing the transfer from the wheelchair to my beloved 2008 black Lexus. Wanting something so much reduced the reality to a feeling of make-believe. Wasn’t it just one more of the many other delusions? But it was real, and as we pulled out of the hospital exit and began driving away my heart raced out of the mental haze. The drabness of the streets in the town I despised, appeared gray and dirty and oppressive. I was never so happy to be leaving a place! I fell into a tired state of hypnosis then, not really seeing my surroundings, suddenly overcome with fear and panic about what was to come.
As we drove into the familiar driveway to the large condo complex, I felt like I had been away years. And as we drove down to the bottom floor of the garage it was as if a large chunk of my memory was gone. It was all so foreign; retrograde amnesia I diagnosed from graduate-school learning. So odd to be personally experiencing a concept I merely studied earlier. How real and unreal at the same time.
My delivery into my new life was just beginning as Warren pushed the wheelchair into the tiny elevator that I was no longer claustrophobic with. That was kind of nice. But when we exited the elevator there were still two flights of stairs to struggle up. Warren pushed my wheelchair into the tiny condo which looked exactly the same as we had left it. As we entered the shimmering ocean was all we saw until my wheelchair immediately marked up the perfect walls of my perfect home.
The condo became very small, very fast. One by one I ran into the neighbors. There were Jack and Caren who owned a larger unit on the ground floor, on the ocean side of the complex the same side as ours. They were retired and had lived there the longest. It seemed like they knew just about everyone who strolled all along the ocean walk because visitors almost always stopped at Jack’s and Caren’s for a drink and conversation which they all seemed to enjoy. The first unit we lucked into, unit #14 went for $1800 a month because the owner had Alzheimer’s and had burned the wood paneling by the stove. The woods matched our oak furniture nicely. But after a year they decided to sell, despite their assuring us they wouldn’t be selling. We lucked out, #23 came available at the same time. The owners owned an estate on Palos Verdes Peninsula. The woman was a mortgage attorney. Her husband owned a lot of properties. Their Japanese renter was moving out, her job completed. She’d paid $2500, but they were dropping the rent to 2,250 for us. They had remodeled high end, beautifully with granite countertops. The wall by the gas fireplace was painted a deep shade of warm orange. All fixtures were modern and classy. The kitchen was out of a fashion magazine. The carpet was shag, off-white, and expensive of good quality. In the bedroom, another window broadcast a view and sounds of the ocean. It was beautiful.
The neighbor to our right enjoyed the corner space, which housed two bedrooms, of which there were only three similar in the complex. She, Kris, lived there with her daughter, thirty years old who suffered from bipolar disorder. She was convinced that no one liked her. Kris may have saved my life. She was very friendly and came by often. One day she came by and mentioned that she and her daughter were going up to Palos Verdes where Lifeline was conducting ultrasounds in a church. For $120 I could get an ultrasound done on every artery or vein in my body looked at for blockages. I already knew that following my stroke, there remained a blockage in my right carotid, 99% blockage. Both hospitals claimed that they would provide the surgery to remove the blockage. But the truth of the situation was that both hospitals released me without doing so, and I went home with a blockage and the threat of having another stroke looming. I was still a fall risk also.
Warren and I argued over my wanting to have this done. Having been home a few weeks at this point. I was still worried about it. Warren had heard of Lifeline. He said that it was a second-rate operation, not good quality, and he didn’t want to do it. He tended to mistrust churches and religious organizations. But I saw it as an opportunity to do something finally about this worrisome blockage that I walked around with. So we fought and I won, and he agreed to drive me up. Once there we ran into my neighbor Kris and her daughter. They charged me a fraction of the amount due to the fact that I only needed one artery ultrasounded. I explained beforehand that I had already had a stroke. It is my experience dealing with people, either the general public or even healthcare personnel that they don’t really listen or hear what I say. This being just another example of that. They went ahead with the ultrasound of my right carotid artery. Red sparks flew, they screamed “Go immediately to your doctor! You are a critical risk!” This sparked even my neighbor’s attention. So we stormed out of there and drove immediately to my doctor’s office where of course I couldn’t get an appointment until the next day.
The next morning the first thing I did was go to my doctor who referred me to a group of vascular surgeons. The next day I went to an appointment with a vascular surgeon. Waiting there in the waiting room surrounded by crippled elderly patients I lost sight of anything but my emotions, all the feelings I had put on hold over and over again while in the hospital. I let it all out. I started to cry and scream; “The doctor has to help me, or I am going to die.” So they still made me wait for my turn.
Turned out this surgeon after I told him my story, and he looked at me, this young sixty-seven-year-old athletic healthy looking beautiful woman took pity on me and got me into surgery the next day!
The night beforehand, a friend took us out for a sushi dinner in Redondo Beach. I was nervous but more excited to be finally getting this surgery done! Morning came quickly, and I was going to a hospital in Torrance. The hospital had just been remodeled which was nice. However, there are always problems. At the older rehabilitation hospital, there was construction going on my floor, here because it was newly remodeled there were different problems with hospital employees still adapting to the new quarters.
It was traumatic to be back in the hospital. I was assigned two nurses, one of which apparently hadn’t looked at my chart and didn’t know that I’d had a stroke. The day nurse on the day of the surgery suffered from an anxiety disorder, making me worry more than necessary. The surgeon never checked in with me after the surgery which was a bit disconcerting, but he discharged me that next day and I went home. As I laid on my bed in the bedroom of the condo with the sunlight coming in the window, I got so dizzy, I felt like I was on a merry-go-round which was frightening. But I got over it and life went on. The days were long and hot in the small space of the condo with the hot summer sun shining in. No air conditioning and so many worries: I was a fall risk and I fell several times. But at least my occlusion was finally gone. The surgery had gone well and I owe my life to that vascular surgeon!
My two boys came up from Orange County to spend some days with me, a comfort which helped return me to normalcy. Hiring in-home rehabilitation, both occupational and physical, was another task that seemed impossible when they didn’t answer their phone, so we had to drive down to Long Beach to hire help in person. Before I left the rehabilitation hospital which had assured me that they would perform the vascular surgery on my neck on the last day of my stay which was never done. They also assured me that an appointment was set up for me to receive the surgery at a hospital in Long Beach for the next week after my discharge. Similarly, I had trouble contacting this hospital which didn’t seem to recognize me. So we traveled down to this hospital only to discover that they had no record of me there at all. This is why I had to take things into my own hands and why I ended up finding Lifeline. How can our medical system be so inept and care so little? I still live with this unanswered question and with this anger.
For six weeks or as long as Medicare would pay for it, I received in-home therapy and when it ran out I enrolled in a hospital for out-patient rehabilitation as well as a stroke support group. The support group was unhelpful because there were no patients in it similar enough to me and my particular problems. The youngest woman was close to my age, but her stroke occurred to the left brain and her issues were cognitive, not physical like mine.
I was feeling alone even though Warren was always with me. He would never leave me alone. But the fact of the matter is that I was alone in my being the one who suffered the disabilities. I got rid of the wheelchair about a month after we got home. I went out to dinner with Heidi and Gene in the wheelchair and several lunches with Donna and Heidi. Then I walked with a cane.
One day I decided to make a visit to my office. When I couldn’t recognize the key to my office door, the same key I’d been using more than five days a week for over twenty years, I lost my mind! It was the strangest experience to not know which key to use. Warren was there with me. Unfortunately one of the ways I cope is to turn to Warren for help. He happens to be dyslexic which means that he has a very poor short-term memory. This has bothered me in the past, but never as much as it does now that I am so much more dependent on him. So a typical dynamic now between us is that I tend to take out my frustrations and unhappiness on him. I scream and carry on which frightened Heidi’s patient who could hear my yelling through the closed door of Heidi’s office. I can’t really blame her for being displeased with me for this intrusion into the office, but I’d always thought of her as my friend who had compassion for me. Well, it turns out that she wasn’t my friend. I am not sure why or what went wrong between us. Perhaps going into business with a friend is as bad an idea as everyone says it is.
So no more office visits for me. I felt trapped in the confines of the condo which was so difficult, no, so impossible for me to leave by myself with so many stairs. I feel grateful to my neighbor for telling me about Lifeline. She was very kind and caring.
At some point, it became clearer that the condo wasn’t working out. We couldn’t keep paying $2,250 a month without my practice. My practice plus Warren’s social security was paying the rent of the condominium on Esplanade (fancy and exclusive) on the beach.
Ok, sure fancy all that! There were still plenty of annoying problems; for example every other Wednesday, it seemed the water was turned off from 9 am to 1 pm for remodeling a condo. The building was thirty years old. There was no pool nor was there an exercise gym. Other problems were the ten-mile run every summer and other races which took place on Esplanade which seemed to be happening all the time. And at these times of races, etc. Esplanade Street was closed. So we had to park two, three blocks east. Of course, walking a few blocks to my car was not as big a problem before I had the stroke.
Nothing was the same or felt the same. Walking was no longer easy, but much more difficult. It took a lot of effort and any time I walked at all there was always the fear that I could fall. This in and of itself was a whole new reality, experience and I didn’t like it at all. We would visit the same restaurants and stores we went to previously before the stroke, and they were different because I could no longer sit just anywhere. I couldn’t sit on stools and I had trouble negotiating through small narrow spaces with or without my cane. These were all no issues before. I never thought twice about these things before.
A thought that still crosses my mind or a question “Did this happen to me because I’d taken all my healthfulness and athleticism for granted all my life!” I answer of course not, but I am not completely sure.
When my boys would come over to visit, they would drive us to lunch at a local restaurant, or we would watch movies on Netflix or Amazon. It was fun and a real treat to spend fun time with Chris or Jaimie but I felt guilty that they had to travel from Anaheim up to Redondo Beach, about an hour drive. I would have done it for them, that’s what family does for each other. But that’s not one of the little things in life as the title is suggesting. This is one of the big things in life, my boys I mean. The little things would be going to lunch. But nevertheless, the little things help.
Jaimie came up with the idea himself for all of us, our family, to find a nice, large house to rent in Huntington Beach because he loved Huntington Beach. They were renting a house in Long Beach at the time, just Jaimie, Chris, and a roommate, Dave, a good friend of Jaimie’s. Dave was ready to get his own place so it worked out. We found a great house on a great street in one of the preferred walled neighborhoods, thanks to a realtor we chose randomly. He was older and had lived in Huntington Beach all his life and knew the best areas. Far enough away from the beach to be affordable but not too far to be undesirable. Not that there were very many undesirable areas in Huntington Beach.
The house was about 2700 sq. ft. With high ceilings and beautifully landscaped. The original owner was a landscaper. It had been rented out for years, but the owner had just minimally remodeled. The kitchen was large and provided a view of the backyard, again nicely landscaped around fruit trees. I felt very guilty and ashamed that Jaimie was paying all the rent, $3100 a month which was a bargain. Jaimie got the upstairs bedroom across the hall from Warren and I. Our bedroom was huge; it was actually two rooms. Again I felt awfully guilty that Jaimie paid all the rent, but he insisted that Warren and I take the large bedroom.
Chris chose the room downstairs because it served as his own private apartment with a bathroom and two doors to close his area off from the rest of the house. There was a separate door so that he could come and go without anyone knowing.
At first, it felt a bit awkward. Chris was 28 and Jaimie, 30. So it felt a little embarrassing for them to be living at home with mom and dad again. This was the first time we were all living together again in the same house since they both moved out to go to college in Orange County where they moved into an apartment together in Anaheim. But after the initial adjustment of living together again, it slowly began to feel cozy and nice. We all loved each other tremendously and got along, unlike Warren’s and my experience with our parents. But that’s another story.
Between the boy’s furniture and Warren and mine from the condo, we filled the house nicely with furnishings. It was beautiful and so luxurious to have all that room again. Warren and my bedroom were almost too big to furnish. We could lay on our bed and watch the sunsets which were almost always colorful. Warren went with me to the gym and I got right back into my routine of working out. I even made a few girlfriends. There was also a couple who was friendly and impressed with the way I worked out. I had to tie my left hand to some machines. I still couldn’t use the left hand, but I was still strong and spent a few hours on the cardio machines almost like nothing had happened. My left knee doesn’t bend correctly, but I was still able to ride the bike, the elliptical, and walk the treadmill. I did whatever I could and after about a year or, so I was burning more calories than ever before.
It took about one and a half years, but slowly I felt at home here. I fell in love with Orange County. It has the best of everything; the best restaurants and shopping. I no longer had any money to shop with, though. I actually saw two patients from Torrance. They had called me after the stroke, and they were willing to drive all the way down to my house, so I talked with them in the living room. I feel very grateful to them. They kept me working again. I felt very capable of working with them. Cognitively I was the same. What had grown worse in my now-damaged brain were my emotions. It was a lot more difficult for me to cope with small daily inconveniences. I had little to no patience and was easily frustrated. I had one appointment with a neurologist. She told me she saw no reason I couldn’t go back to work. I made another appointment with her. She gave me the name of a therapist. Before I got to the next appointment, she canceled it and never got back to me after I left a message with her. The therapist whose name she gave me scheduled me, and then she also canceled and never got back to me. Turns out, I wasn’t emotionally ready to return to work. So much for neurologists.
One of the biggest problems I faced was my relationship with my husband. The problem goes back to before the stroke. After so many years of marriage and raising two boys, there now existed a financial inequity that came about due to my going back to graduate school and successfully launching, growing, and maintaining my own business.
My first marriage to Alan was mostly about Alan, his career as a personal injury attorney, his family, and his friends. I still suffered from extremely low self-esteem, self-loathing, and depression. I married Alan almost immediately after I graduated from college with a BA in psychology. At this time, in 1973, Ronald Reagan was the governor of California. I know because his signature is on my diploma. I graduated from California State College which is now a State University, so I did not feel smart enough to go into the school’s graduate program or any graduate program. Also, this school’s graduate school in psychology was very research and experimental in nature, requiring a lot of science and math which was certainly not my strong suit nor claimed my interests which were clinical psychology. I passed all my classes and I always finished everything, but my grades were marginal at best, probably a “C” average if that. In 1973 there were few jobs at all in psychology without one holding at least an MA degree. At the time a BA in psychology was pretty useless. So I took the first job offered to me in insurance. This appealed to Alan working in personal injury law which dealt with insurance companies. The problem was that I didn’t belong working in insurance. These weren’t my kind of people. We were just different. I was a rater/coder, probably the equivalent of a clerical kind of position. I got good at it fast and my unit put me in charge of training new employees in rating and coding. There would be three new employees working at and around my desk at a time while I trained them all at the same time.
A short time after I got the job of rater/coder, an underwriting position opened up and I lost out to a newly graduated, male applicant who had the same BA I had. The salary of the underwriter was substantially more and I wasn’t even considered nor was I told about the position becoming available and I don’t think that I even applied.
Turns out years later, I was out of the country in Southeast Asia or East Africa. My mother-in-law knew of my job working for this insurance company, and she learned about the company involved in a class-action lawsuit, and she gave the source my name. When I returned home after being on the road traveling for fifteen months around the world, there was a check for $3500 waiting for me as a settlement from the lawsuit.
There was a huge inequity in my relationship with Alan because he was happy to have me working in insurance while I was extremely unhappy working in this environment, and he was completely unsympathetic to my job misery. Luckily for both our lives, it wasn’t too long before Alan met Larry at a part-time summer job as a security guard at LAX Airport. Larry had the heart and soul of a traveler! He had traveled the world for years at the age of thirty. He and Alan became best friends over the course of one Summer. And so inadvertently he became my friend which was usually ok except for the times when he was condescending to me or outright put me down while Alan did nothing to support me.
Larry was very smart and funny, from New York he was like Woody Allen. He looked a lot like Woody Allen, he was built like him, kind of small and cute. He turned out to be gay and I don’t really know what that says about Alan. Larry talked Alan into our taking a trip with him. At first, it was going to be to the South Pacific. Alan was overly committed and astute about preparing for this trip. He bought spears to catch fish with. We shopped at REI for the best quality backpacks, clothing, rafts, etc. I didn’t share the same enthusiasm, although I got excited when the trip grew close to happening. We were away for fifteen months and thirty-eight countries later.
It was the adventure of a lifetime! And it’s truly one of the highlights of my life. I would tend to imagine that Alan feels the same way.
Alan and I split up a few months after getting home. I dated for a few years until I met Warren. I tend to feel desperate about myself, and I am ready to settle for just about anyone who comes my way and is interested in me. This, I am afraid is what happened to me and Warren. He wasn’t my ideal, although he has always claimed that I am his. So right away there is another inequity.
He moved in within a few weeks of our dating. I had been so lonely living alone in what had been Alan and my one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica. I took in a roommate at one point, an English woman who drank too much that I met on the job I was working at, at the same time that I met Warren. She moved out shortly before he moved in. He was very nice and his holding me in high esteem was something that I’d needed all my life! And he was an engineer, at least designated by virtue of his job working as an engineer at Hughes Aircraft. He never completed his BA. He was very proud of the work he was doing on the job and his co-workers highly respected him. But he lacked an engaging personality and I’ve never been much interested in engineering. Similarly, my father worked as an engineer for the New York Telephone Company. My dad had never completed his degree, a misnomer he blamed on his in-laws for discouraging him in this endeavor when I was born.
Right before Thanksgiving the year he was living with me, I asked him to move out. I didn’t think that it was working out due to his lack of personality. I just didn’t feel sure about him. He was extremely hurt and I felt badly. I get very emotional and sentimental around Christmas and I started to feel like I loved him after he moved out. I missed him, and he was so nice and I asked him to move back in. We bought a beautiful Christmas tree together and shared a warm and loving holiday together.
I was in and out of love with him, sometimes I felt like I was in love and at these times I was happy. But at other times I felt like he was the wrong person and that I was making a mistake. I rationalized that I was happy and continued with the relationship.
I got a job at Daniel Freeman Marina del Rey Hospital as a secretary in the Human Resources Department which was a better fit for me than insurance had ever been!
The reason that I developed a lot of resentment toward Alan is the same reason I think anyone living with a narcissist does; they are incredibly selfish. Everything is about them. In this case, my entire life with Alan was his, his friends, his family, and we did the activities he chose, etc. I was merely a trophy wife. He called me wifey. So now that I was with Warren, at first anyway, it was refreshing not to be filled with resentment most of the time. The big problem with Warren as it turns out is that he is a lousy businessman. His mother called him a bad provider, but I resented her so much for her being a bad mother that I missed the warning in her words. Damn her, she was right. At this time, Hughes Aircraft was a nonprofit company contributing to cancer research. It was a generous company to work for back then. There were good benefits and I think the engineers were paid a competitive salary. However, Warren was hired initially as a technician. He worked his way up to engineer, but he had no degree. We never had enough money. This is at the heart of my resentment toward Warren. My father never made enough money to provide for the life I wanted and my dad didn’t take very good care of me. I always felt like my dad cared more about his son and I didn’t really matter.
But at the time when Warren was working as an engineer for Hughes Aircraft, I was close to being homeless. Alan left me with very little in the way of anything and I never even hired an attorney. He had very little to give me, and he took on all our debt. All I had was a BA in psychology. So I was accepting any job I got. I was working in property management which I didn’t like or even understand. So I met Warren just as I was fired from a property management job. They didn’t like me and I hadn’t liked the job. I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be doing and there had been no training. The employment agency that fed me to this job had told me that their last placement had loved it! So Warren rescued me. I had about $10 in the bank at the time and three bald tires on my old car. He fixed my tires and I felt grateful to him.
I got a job for a company that published and sold a newsletter for insurance companies. Previously, I had discovered while working part-time for a company that was selling land in Lancaster, California when I was in college, and I was a telephone solicitor. I did so well selling over the phone (the truth is I was merely giving away a free dinner, I wasn’t really selling in the true sense of the word) but the company installed contests every week for the employee who acquired the most dinner reservations and I won every week! So they promoted me to a management position that did not work well because I was not a good manager of people. I was too nice. If they were often absent and made up a good reason I believed them. Bottom line I had discovered that I was effective over the phone.
The problem with this newsletter job for me was the fact that it was truly a sales job! At first, I did well and was one of their top producers for which I was well rewarded and respected. During the time I worked here Warren and I were married by a fellow employee who was a member of the World Church. The wedding took place in my one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica on the Fourth of July weekend.
One of the guests was Warren’s son, Schon, from his first marriage. Schon is a very nice person. Unfortunately for Schon, his first marriage went the same way both Warren and mine went. We had both been married before for exactly ten years. Luckily Alan hadn’t wanted children and at the time (I was twenty-two when I married Alan) I hadn’t wanted children either).
Warren’s first marriage shared some common threads with mine, most importantly, both choices were chosen under desperate circumstances. He had been very unhappy in his marriage.
I was still without a job. Once I learned that the insurance newsletter wasn’t a good product (mathematically usage of the newsletter did not increase sales nor provide anything worthwhile for the insurance company or the agency), I could no longer sell it. I guess I have some ethics or I like to think so. Bottom line, when I stopped selling, being useless to the company, I was fired. I held close to sixty or more jobs, and I was fired at least ten times. Once as a morning manager of a Der Wiener Schnitzel for giving my brother a free hot dog. The girl, who told on me, was a little bitch!
Warren breached the subject of my going back to graduate school. Shortly before I met Warren, he was dating a family friend who turned out to be a psychological nightmare! She was a committed animal activist who liked dogs more than she liked people and would go out with Warren and leave with some other guy. She had been the girlfriend of his brother-in-law. After she got finished with him, Warren went into psychotherapy. He told me that he thought that I was at least as good a therapist, if not better than his and, that I should think about going to graduate school in Psychology. I told him about my problems of not doing well on tests and my thought that I wasn’t smart enough to go to graduate school. It was just a matter of finding the right program for me. I was working at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital in the Human Resources Department when this idea came up. A job at the hospital in the Focus Unit became available. This was the drug and alcohol rehabilitation program. The opening was for a secretary, which again was not my expertise but at least it was in the right area. I enjoyed working here, even though I was a secretary I found the compartments of the day fascinating; all kinds of groups, group therapy, group supervision where the therapists discussed patient progress, problems, and the various elements of recovery. I felt that I belonged here. And the patients liked me. I took them on their morning walk. It was on these walks where I learned a lot about addiction and addicts.
So I applied to the only graduate psychology program I know of which was CSPP or California School of Professional Psychology. It was an accredited school and graduates qualified to take the State licensing exams to become licensed therapists, either at the masters or Ph.D. level. Alan’s parents knew some graduates and thought well of the school. However, the application process included writing an autobiography.
I spent Summer writing this paper. Warren helped me. It turned out that we made a good team. He couldn’t write very well (he was dyslexic), but I could, and he had good ideas about what generally interested people.