The Little Things
Amy D. Montague, Ph.D.
The inspiration for this memoir came following a massive stroke to my right brain on 3/19/17.
I was born on 3/8/50 in Newark, New Jersey to Leon and Pearl Rosenfeld. My vascular surgeon told me I had a birth defect that blocked 90% of my right carotid artery and was a ticking time boob. I never had any symptoms that would have caused me to check for blockage.
Some of my writing unfolds from long-term memories in the deepest caverns of my mind and some derive from recall and other memories that are clarified by old photographs. Memory can often be so unreliable and here are a couple that came to me shortly after the stroke.
One of my earliest vivid memories is awakening outside in the cold dark of night. I am being cradled in the warmth of my father’s strong and secure arms as he is walking with me from the car to the house. My mind then flashes to my being held by my mom in a fragile, insecure hold and I can feel her insides trembling. I remember not feeling safe at all.
There was my first love, Ethan Feinsod. He attended the other high school in West Orange; there were two back then, West Orange High and Mountain High. I met him one Friday night at the South Mountain Ice Skating rink. I went skating there every Friday night with my crowd of friends. Some of these friends went to Mountain while some were my classmates at West Orange High School.
Once a week, on Friday night there was a couples’ session for which colored spotlights illuminated the freshly cleaned ice, and Ethan and I would skate, holding hands. It was romantic. We were both pretty good skaters. His were black speed skates, while mine were white figure skates. Ethan and I would make out in the bleachers. My mom went with me to buy my skates there at the South Mountain rink where I took figure skating lessons at the age of nine with Jeannie Fallon. They were the best figure skates I could buy, very good quality with strong support. She also paid for my skating lessons without my dad knowing.
I considered Jeannie my best friend at the time. When I was in elementary school, Judy Waldman was also my best friend. She lived in the gated community of expensive homes for the elite. Her father owned a watch factory. They occasionally took me along on their family vacations, places like Philadelphia, Williamsburg, and Washington, D.C. We traveled by Cadillac, and they paid for my motel room and meals. This was my first introduction to an upper-middle-class American family. She had all the things I didn’t have and wanted.
Jeannie wasn’t Jewish and lived right across the street from me. She was what I thought was very pretty with perfect features while I had my father’s Jewish nose, and I was overweight. My father once remarked how pretty Jeannie was, while he never commented about my attractiveness. Jeannie had better grades than I did, and I held her in high esteem until our moms enrolled us in figure skating lessons where it turned out I took more naturally to the sport than she did. Ironically at first when I turned on the ice, I had trouble turning with my left leg, possibly due to the lack of blood going to my left brain from a birth defect. But with practice, I quickly overcame this one weakness. Jeannie liked Francine better than me. Francine was Italian and lived at the bottom of the hill. She was in our same class.
I think that I really did love Ethan and I think that he loved me and that’s why I loved him. We were thirteen, and we shared the beginning of sex together. It was pretty innocent and sweet. My very first group of friends lived in West Orange and that is where I met Allen Epstein. Allen also knew Ethan and Ethan’s brother, Ronnie. Allen impressed me as the most stable in our group of friends. He was like the sturdy foundation of all our friendships like the foundation of a house. We all liked each other without ever discussing it. It was something we took for granted. The friendship of the young. I have not experienced anything like it since, except in play therapy with very young patients.
Allen was the most permanently planted in West Orange. His father and grandfather owned a hardware store in the center of downtown. The hardware store had been in their family for several generations. My sense of Allen was that he was and always would be a loyal friend.
Years later when my mom finally divorced my dad, mom and I moved to California and once Allen came out to visit. As the three of us were admiring a view somewhere in California, he related the beautiful scenery to a view in West Orange, a view that did not include palm trees or the ocean. My mother criticized his lack of a world view. But I still see him as a contented bird, who is able to see beauty everywhere and be satisfied with where he is. While my mother called me many times, a malcontent, and maybe I am, but it’s lead me around the world. I have traveled to thirty-eight countries and while New Jersey has its beauty, there are many places it can’t measure up to. I would not be surprised if Allen and his family are still there, living in West Orange. I hope so. I envy people who are content. I don’t remember Allen Epstein ever getting angry at any of us.
Vicki Lavigne lived about a block or two from me. She was histrionic, meaning that she was constantly complaining and worrying about her body, and it was attention-seeking. Today she and her husband both have cancer. My dissertation, based on the research I read, described a cancer personality as such: Usually, women who attempt to be perfect, perfect daughters, perfect students, perfect wives, and perfect everything.
People pleasers is the word used in the research. The emotion of anger is a powerful feeling that is better off released out of the body so that its power doesn’t weaken major organs and weaken the immune system. But the problem was and might still be that it is not as acceptable for women as it is for men to express and show anger. It is not lady-like.
Not that Vicki necessarily fits this cancer personality because she let her emotions out in the form of bodily complaints. This is how I think, I am a psychologist in the heart, in the world every other way as well. Luckily for me, I have never had any problem letting out my anger and I have felt so imperfect that I didn’t mind being imperfect. So I don’t think that I will ever have to worry about cancer probably wishful thinking. And since the birth defect in my carotid artery has been removed, hopefully, I will not be having any more strokes.
And while I found Vicki’s personality to be extremely annoying as a teenager, I still loved her and wish her the best today. While Allen Epstein was the anchor of my group of friends, Wendy Kaplan was the heart. Wendy was Vicki’s cousin and became my good friend. She lived up in Mountain High School territory, so I never went to school with her. Her parents both worked and sometimes during the school recess, Vicki, her boyfriend, Teddy and Ethan, and I would each take a bedroom and do our early sexual exploration.
Wendy shared her house as well as everything with her friends. She was a giver. I have since met few if any true givers in my life. She pulled off a surprise party just before I moved to California. It was a complete surprise, all my friends were there and there was even a sheet cake topped with a toy airplane in flight from New Jersey to California. The flight was lined in colored buttercream.
Wendy was very loving and forgiving. I love her to this day! Ethan and his brother, Ronnie got along very well, which was unusual in those days as it is now. I think that it had something to do with the fact that their mom and dad were so much in love and were very open in showing their affection for each other. They got along brilliantly. Ethan was well-adjusted; perhaps this was part of the attraction for the young me. I wonder if he ever went to art school. Ronnie became mayor of some town in New Jersey.
This was the bulk of my friends. We spent our free time at each other’s houses, especially in Summers. It was so humid in the Summer, and we never had air conditioning in my house. On hot Summer nights, except for Friday nights, I would swat my arms, not knowing if I was being bothered by mosquitoes, or the sweat running down my arms.
Back then, I loved fireflies. I could easily remove the light from them, attach it to my fingers, and make swirling light designs with my fingers. No thought for the poor insects. But I was too young to know better. Or at least that’s what I like to think now.
My father worked for the New York Telephone Company. He called himself and thought of himself as an engineer. The problem was that he never finished college. This fact bothered him ‘always’. He blamed it on his in-laws who, after I was born, discouraged him from continuing and completing his degree when he had a newborn to help care for.
He blamed them and he never forgave them. But in modern thinking (2021) why didn’t he tell them to “f**k off” and whatever do what he wanted to do, what he thought was the right thing, do whatever. My dad was actually quite smart and creative and handy. Warren (my second husband) never completed his engineering degree, although he was a Senior Systems Engineer by title. He never got his bachelor’s degree in part because he is dyslexic, had difficulty reading and with memory. But he is actually quite smart, creative, and handy.
They differ in that my dad back in those days did not keep up with repairs around the house and our front yard looked like a frozen wasteland. Lazy, lack of pride in himself and his home. Our neighbors complained about it. We were the only Jews in the neighborhood, although I have been proven wrong about that. But, I was called a ‘dirty kike’ before I even knew what it meant! In contrast, Warren is very good at fixing and keeping up a house. Warren also joined the Coast Guard. My dad fought in World War II in India.
I still played with the neighborhood kids a lot. This was before computers. We played Hit the Bat, in the street and Hide n ‘seek all over the neighborhood. A few of the boys developed crushes on me as we grew up. One such boy was Artie Bonzelli. In my mind, he was known for sucking his thumb and then rubbing it onto the middle of his t-shirts. He walked around with this black stain on his shirt all the time.
Elementary school ended with my feeling insecure about my self-worth, feeling dumb, dumber than my father and my brother, and worried about whether I had any abilities at all. As a small child, I wrote stories as an escape from my depression. I would write a fantasy about being what I wasn’t. In my stories, I was a beautiful, rich princess who was admired and envied by everyone.
When I was in the first grade, for some reason I wrote pornography. A fellow classmate, Ricky Staenberg, liked to read my writing. He told me that he would know my work by my adjectives. I had a way with words, but I was not a creative right-brain function. I could not come up with a storyline. Not until I had my stroke did I feel like I finally had a story to tell!
I had a very difficult transition to middle school or junior high school as we called it. Changing classes, classrooms and teachers was challenging. I was now treated more like I was supposed to be this more mature adult person which I wasn’t. There was one shining light to my junior high experience, my mother’s best friend, Doris Ullmann, taught at the school, and it was here that I was reunited with my longest friend on earth, Elaine Ullmann.
When I was born, my parents were best friends with Doris and Bob Ullmann. Bob was an engineer and also a fireman. So the engineering at least they had in common. Doris was my mother’s best friend. We all lived on Mountain View Avenue in Orange, New Jersey in an old apartment building. The Ullmanns’ lived in the apartment directly below ours.
When Elaine and I were playing together in my apartment, and it was time for her to go home, her father would bang their ceiling, our floor, with a broom handle as notification that it was time for Elaine to return home. We were both born in the same hospital in Newark, two years apart. Bob was extremely proud of his two daughters to the point, according to my mother, that it was obnoxious. My mother never liked Bob. I remember her telling me as much although many years later after Doris and my father both died my mom and Bob married in California. My mother had a fuller face than my aunt, Anita, and was actually prettier.
Elaine’s sister, Shelly, was five years younger, the same age as my brother. Elaine and I played together when we were very young, playing in the snow and eating ice pops in the Summer. My brother maintained a crush on Shelly for years. Bob was more ambitious with his life, frugal with his finances, good with investing and their family always did better than mine and was more esteemed in the community since Bob would often donate money and was a volunteer fireman.
Doris Ullmann taught science in junior high school and I felt comfortable in the class. When she asked questions I answered confidently and correctly. She treated me like I was smart, and so I felt smart, and so I behaved like a smart student. It’s just too bad that the rest of my teachers weren’t as accommodating. I cried a lot in math class because it did not come easily to me and the instructor covered a lot of material quickly, I was lost, and I felt like I would most likely never catch up and fail the test, however, I never failed any classes, not even math. I got some Ds. But a D was still passing.
My home life was still not good. Both my parents were depressed. I later learned that they were not happy together. My mother was a cold fish sexually. She was very uncomfortable with sex. I’m guessing that my father took it all too personally.
My mother grew up in the shadow of her older sister, Anita. Anita was built tall and thin like a model, while my mom was short and squat. My mom would often have tamper tantrums and run to her room and slam the door when she was young and upset. She never really learned to grow up. And these were the days before psychology and insurance where we learned to verbally express feelings. Perhaps this is why she never sought help for me when my teacher said there was something wrong with me.
The Suicide Attempt
I remain unsure as to when my dad attempted suicide, but it might have been about the time I was just becoming too old for a babysitter. It makes more sense, however, that it was shortly after I was born. My father wanted a son. He didn’t want a girl. The only other thing that may have caused him such depression was when my mom miscarried, my would-be sister before George was born.
My brother never knew about the suicide attempt. I was never told anything other than that my dad was sick and had to go to the hospital.
I must have sensed the enormity of the situation at the time, because it was about this time I became extremely insecure and panicked whenever my parents would leave. I was sure that they were not going to return.
One evening mom and dad were going a few blocks away to my school for Open House. Jeannie’s sister, Virginia, was coming over to babysit. I could see directly into their house from our upstairs window. I was alone for a few minutes while I could see Virginia getting ready, rushing around and her mother was yelling at her to hurry up. Despite the fact that I could see the babysitter on her way right across the street. I was shaking and panicked to be alone for even a minute. I had never acted or felt like this before. Many years later when I was much older my mom told me it was a suicide attempt that sent him to the hospital, but no other details like when or why.
I was allowed to date at twelve. I was basically on my own most of the time left to my own resourcefulness to figure life out for myself. The rest of the family was too consumed with their own problems to help me with mine. My first date was when Robert Buildner asked me to go out with him after the glee club presentation. We went to an ice cream parlor.
Robert’s father was either a doctor or an attorney. They lived in a beautiful large house at the top of the hill where the other well-off Jews lived. He was friends with Andy Stern who later became head of one of the most powerful unions and met with President Obama weekly. He was instrumental in getting President Obama elected. Andy was probably the most popular boy in school and his picture was plastered all over the yearbook. West Orange was about 20 minutes from New York City and a few hour’s drive to Washington D.C.
Robert went to Yale and became a lawyer. The female offspring of the upper mountain elite wore expensive fancy clothes and accessories, and I was so envious. They were also the popular crowd. Elaine became friends with them but I never did. At our 40th high-school reunion I confessed to Andy that he was my first crush and he, in turn, shared with me the fact that he’d had a crush on Francine from the bottom of the hill.
The question in school was never “Are you going to college?” The question was “Where are you going to college?” Perhaps out of hundreds in my graduating class, three or four did not attend college. The school district was modern and innovative.
In my Junior year, the school implemented an experimental program called Humanities. It replaced all classes, including math. That was the best part of it for me, that and the no-grades thing. Certain teachers chose the students to be in the program; those students they felt would benefit. There were no grades. We graded ourselves. My sophomore history teacher selected me, he said because I had an active mind. I gave myself a B in the class.
This was where I first learned about Sigmund Freud. I believe in the unconscious, and subconscious which like its name sub or submarine, is just below the surface while the unconscious is embedded deeper down. Dreams are the window to the unconscious and Freudian slips often occur with all of us. To this day I am a Freudian in my approach to psychology.
The problem with having an active mind for me is that I am a very light sleeper. The other night, after I awoke in the night for the third time and couldn’t fall back to sleep, due to my racing thoughts, one of them triggered a sudden memory of when first I woke up in my stroke. I felt like I had been in a very deep sleep and couldn’t move because I had been sleeping so soundly, which was something I rarely did! So the feeling of deep sleep awakened in me a knowing that something majorly serious had happened to me. By the way, I believe that we all know ourselves better than any doctor does.
It is ironic how early traits and behaviors remain throughout life. I am 70 now and Elaine and I are still friends, probably better friends now. All our parents are dead.
In high school, I had no clue where to apply to college. My mom cared about my going to college, but never having gone herself, she couldn’t help me much. My father could see no reason why a woman would go to college. Is this a Jewish thing? I would really like to know.
I applied to several colleges, mostly in California because that’s where I wanted to live. I got rejected from every school. Based on my counselor’s advisement, I applied to both Connecticut’s Quinnipiac two-year program as well as their four-year program. I was rejected from both until my counselor spoke to admitting and explained that I was a good candidate for the four-year program, and they accepted me into the four-year program. I finished my first year there with a C average. Quinnipiac is located in Hamden Connecticut.
I moved to California with my mother. Where she rented an apartment in North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley. My mom had a job with the Psychology Library at UCLA. I enrolled in Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys for $12 a semester. It was a two year or junior college. I still had difficulty with tests. I never learned how to study. I took a lot of classes that sounded interesting and turned out too hard, like Astronomy.
I started out thinking I would minor in art but gave up when it turned out to be too much work. Later my son, Chris, took on two majors, and it took him eight years to graduate. I got some Ds, but passed and when I transferred, after two years to what was called Valley State at the time, I got credit for all I had taken in junior college. Valley State also accepted all my first-year credits from Quinnipiac College. Valley state became the University of California at Northridge or CSUN which it is now. Valley State is the cutest name.
I majored in Psychology and perhaps because of the hard drive toward college in high school or, maybe because money-wise one better get a BA. (To be competitive). I was determined to obtain a BA above all else. This had to happen. I worked three part-time jobs all through college. I went on to graduate from CSUN in 1973 with a BA in psychology.
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. My practice was all in three offices located in an office building landscaped with waterfalls, all types of trees, and flower gardens. Then on one night, it was all taken from me. This is my story of loss and recovery.
A psychologist, Dr. Tibor, rented out offices in an upstairs suite of eight offices with a waiting room. It was here I first met Heidi. Dr. Tibor was Heidi’s supervisor. I rented an office from him one day a week until I had accumulated eight patients and wanted my own office full time. I found this small office downstairs in the executive suites.
When I started my practice, Warren helped me, firstly by retiring which enabled the financing of the start-up money I needed. It was a very small space, my first real office. I had in the past had a cubbie kind of office when I worked for insurance, but I still made it really nice. Worker’s compensation report work involved traveling to different offices in various cities and using other people’s offices. As an intern, I shared an office. As a post-doctoral intern, I had an old decrepit hole I called an office. I couldn’t decorate it or do anything to the walls.
But this office, my first real office, was mine, of course, I was paying for it to the tune of $600 a month. The thin, worn old carpet was a dark blue. The walls were light blue, so I rented a kind of floppy wheat-white couch and matching chair and had a lot of fun finding pillows for color needed in my second office which was in the same building
My first office had blue in the carpet and the walls, so when I spied two tables at the Hermosa Beach yearly crafts fair I was relieved to have found such a good fit. The foundation of the matching two tables were both light wrought iron with blown-glass tabletops. One was a coffee table longer, rectangular, and larger while the other was a side table with graceful wrought-iron styling as was the coffee table. The tabletops were a kind of bubbled glass look with a rough surface that appeared like water; which was the look I was going for.
I then purchased a large pillow which was wheat white with bright-orange crisscrossing, purchased from what looked like a high-end boutique in classy Riviera Village in Redondo Beach. Initially, I did not need as much color added. Other pillows that I bought later were the beach with seashells, coral, and palm trees in pinks and green. One had blue accents. I picked out; a beautiful oil painting of a mother carrying a small daughter in diapers, looking out at the ocean from a yellow field.
I placed some framed photos of my travels around in the perfect spots. I also originally rented a light maple desk with a matching large file cabinet which looked just right across from the couch on the opposite wall. There was a matching maple bookcase, small enough to fit nicely.
I bought a corner maple table, really nicely made from a fine mid-century modern furniture store. It is now in storage. One of my patients gave me a clock that matched the furniture exactly and went great with my framed degrees and psychology license plaque.
It was classy and attractive. I boosted the practice by signing up with every insurance company I could think of, including Medicare which approved me in three days. The others took weeks.
There were a few longer-established psychologists who had been there many years. I was the newcomer and no one knew if I was going to be able to make it. But each year my practice grew larger, and eventually, I gained the respect of the other psychologists.
I worked down downstairs for about thirteen years. I was happy there and doing well on my own. Heidi asked me to go in with her to rent a suite of three offices with a waiting room. I was afraid and reluctant at first. After further consideration I agreed, feeling isolated and lonely, in my small office.
The work I did with one of my very first patients in my first office stands out because I really didn’t know what I was doing back then at the beginning. He was an insurance referral, as they all were at first. His mother had a serious mental disorder and his father was a workaholic at his law practice. I sensed that this very bright, talented man needed undivided attention more than anything else. He didn’t necessarily have a diagnosis, other than his extreme need. So for sixty minutes straight my eyes never left his, my attention never left his speaking. I was genuinely impressed by his incredible abilities and I let him know how special a human being I felt him to be.
His young son suffered a brutal and devastating injury when a heavy gate fell on him, maiming him for life. My notes were subpoenaed in the legal case. I worked for hours on blacking out all the names in my notes and walked them over to the attorney’s office. He won the case against the city, and I noticed his change of address on a piece of attorney’s mail. It was a big settlement. He never thanked me, but he did become a therapist years later after he lost his corporate-style job. He had spoken about always being interested in psychology. He knew his job was threatened and might be ending, and we discussed this change of career. I never forgot him.
Heidi agreed to my taking the corner office in the new suite, which was the nicest of the three. Corner windows are great in their extra scope and view. The carpet in my second office in the suite with Heidi was dark brown, and so I needed the pillows I described. The filing cabinet no longer fit, so I found a black Chinese cabinet which was perfect.
I bought two more oil paintings from an artist in Huntington Beach. I discovered her work in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Huntington Beach in a gallery there. She painted children at the beach. I selected two, they were brother and sister, in separate portraits, and they were talented works of art, framed in elegant woods, the paintings added a touch of professionalism.
It is hard to say which was the better office. I enjoyed them both. I felt sad when a young patient from the first office missed the first office, which I realized had been a haven for her to come to and play in a safe space where she’d felt comfortable and understood. She had needed this space and me and my first office had been this for her. Nevertheless, I saw other children in the new office, and they came to feel that same way in the new space.
I felt like I was successful with many patients praising me for the help I had provided for them. I cured one woman’s claustrophobia, which I was proud of due to the fact that I, myself, am very claustrophobic. She later sent a thank-you card for helping her which enabled her to enjoy her vacation in Europe which included rides on crowded trains and buses and elevators. I had finally perfected the art of systematic desensitization. It took me years of practice. I also saved another patient’s marriage by pointing out that it was her mother he disliked not his wife. This was days before my stroke.
One aspect of the office building in Torrance that I never liked, was the fact it was not a friendly place. People didn’t talk to each other much. One day I caught a glimpse of Cheryl. She had an office outside the executive suite. I thought she was Mexican at first because she was dark-skinned. I worked with a lot of Mexicans.
Cheryl was beautiful. She seemed shy like me so this one day I approached her. Turns out she is a psychologist and Indian from Goa. I had been to Goa. It has to be one of the most beautiful spots on earth on the west coast of southern India. We went to lunch, became friends, and even shared treating a family.
She had been seeing one of two young daughters. The mom and dad were not getting along, with divorce looming in the not-too-distant future. The daughter she was treating clearly was unhappy and not knowing how to verbally articulate her feelings and thoughts, from what I can remember was behaving badly. Mom brought her to Cheryl for help. Cheryl asked me if I would have a session with the whole family.
As I have done many times, I agreed to do something I was uncomfortable with because it needed to be done, and it was an opportunity and I am an opportunist. The good that came out of the family session was that the other daughter, the youngest, who was kind of losing out and getting the least attention, felt comfortable with me and liked me and came right out and complained,“ Why can’t we all be a happy, loving family?” In my mind, it was reminiscent of what Rodney King said. The mother said to Cheryl a few days later “Well at least that much was accomplished!” I feel that the youngest daughter who broke down emotionally during the family session was the most like the mom. Although she appeared to be capable of getting out her feeling. Seeing her reaction was a metaphor for understanding the mother and how she was feeling. The mother did not know how to express her feelings and therefore could not teach her daughters. The oldest daughter didn’t know how to articulate her feelings nor what she was going through in this unhappy family and so mom brought her to Cheryl, but mom is also needing help herself. Treatment needs to come from the heart. I believe that Cheryl was working with the mother and father in couples’ therapy. It was a difficult situation for all of them. And quite sad.
A therapeutic concept I find interesting is that of the identified patient or the IP. In this family, the IP was the older daughter. Perhaps the true IP is the mother. Perhaps we should use the term unidentified patient. I don’t know.
I worked with another family some years back in which the mother was an alcoholic. The family stated that the IP was the young son who was a teenager struggling in a very tough high school with gangs and many problems. So I started working with this guy who they hospitalized. But I am sorry I can not remember much about why he was hospitalized. The Crux of this story is that the true IP was the mother. She was the one who needed help. I saw this kid weekly at a late time of day which was hard on me, but I liked him so much. He was so sweet. We worked on puzzles which psychoanalytically is believed to help get oneself together. We developed a close relationship of mutual respect and love. Each week his dad thanked me, telling me that his son was better. He got himself together, talked to me about girlfriends and friends as we worked on this puzzle. He would not talk about his mother, but I talked to him about how I thought that his mom needed to be in therapy. I told him that he was handsome and smart and that I didn’t think there was anything wrong with him at all. So the one family member who the family recognizes as the patient, or the problem, is not necessarily correct.
My practice was full, Warren was getting ready to purchase another cabin up in Idyllwild, his investments were blossoming and life was good!
Our home was a sanctuary located on the beachside of a large condo complex where I lived with Warren for thirty-one years in a small one-bedroom remodeled condo. We still were very much in love. The first thing you would see when you walked into the living room was the 180-degree view of the expansive ocean. We both enjoyed sunsets and watching surfers and ocean breezes from our large balcony overlooking the ocean.
I had gorgeous heels to match my designer suits, pants, and dresses. Dressing up to go to work was one of the joys of my life. In my spare time, I shopped at Nordstrom, Newman Marcus, or Bloomingdale’s and was told by a saleswoman at Nordstrom that (at age sixty-seven) I had the body of a twenty-year-old.
Working out for forty years, six days a week, three hours a day finally paid off. I was burning six hundred calories a day. I even exercised my face and neck which were now showing the effects of years of dieting in the form of wrinkling skin, especially on my neck. Half of my sixty-seven years were spent overweight. I had finally achieved the small body I’d always wanted. Any clothing I tried on looked good on me. Right or wrong, I lived for compliments. Another bonus was the attainment of strength and good health.
One year earlier we had purchased a large fully-equipped cabin in the mountains, but it was more like a house with two levels, and 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 and there was the smell of pine. Driving up a one-lane road with views around many twists in the road of more mountain-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, as well as Big Bear Mountain, from our 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 kitchenette, 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 or the studio.
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 whom 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 and 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. The nurse, Warren and I had a great night ordering room service and watching LaLaLand. The 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 rock hard gurney that I was lying on. Consciousness was returning.
Etched in my memory are the bright red stripes painted on the side of all the surrounding gurneys 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 and loss of the use of my left arm and leg I could only lie there in pain.
I remember becoming 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 in her right carotid artery, a piece of which broke off and blocked blood to the right brain. That artery remains 90 percent occluded and will require 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. Warren told me that they left me on this gurney in the emergency room for three hours before I received any attention. I have a lot of anger issues.
Months later I would learn that my cholesterol level was not the problem but a genetic defect which was probably a birth defect that had blocked my left carotid artery by as much as 90% my entire life. It only became a problem when they thickened my blood for the facelift surgery which caused a build up of cholesterol on the defect to break loose.
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. Jaimie 29 and Christopher 27. 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 closest friends Heidi and Donna were also staring down at me in bed. The three of us shared a three-office suite. Heidi was licensed as was I. We were enjoying our individual psychology practices. Heidi was Donna’s friend and Donna became my friend as well. Both Heidi and I were supervising Donna 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 with wires and tubes hooked everywhere, 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 seemingly unaffected. 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. Every night I dreamt the same dream. I had to get to the gym, to my beloved elliptical machine. If I could just get on that machine I would be ok again. But I faced obstacle after obstacle and when I finally reached the gym, there were no ellipticals.
Losing the left side of my body was a hard blow to accept, the most bitter of all pills that would shape my new life. Growing up with low self-esteem. The only thing I thought I had going for me was my athleticism. I always excelled in sports even as a third-grader because I could jump higher and farther than most of the other kids my age, and I was able to refine my movements delicately and as purposefully as needed. When it came time to pick teams either baseball, volleyball, or football; just about all of my classmates on both teams would scream out my name “Amy, Amy, Amy we want Amy!”
There was no controlling my thoughts and emotions. Memories flashed and kept popping up in my mind from 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.
Another memory; I am crawling carefully through a hole in a chain-link fence delivering me into the playground of my elementary school in West Orange, New Jersey. I am in the first grade. I do not know why I’m entering the playground in this way. What I do know is that this large mass of black asphalt, painted in places with white hopscotch boards, a few swings but basically devoid of color and warmth was to become for me a kind of safe place, holding me in the empty hours before and during school recesses.
But I felt paralyzed socially. I stayed to myself most of the time and did not seek out other children to play with, feeling more comfortable by myself only. Although I was instilled with a good amount of athleticism, I felt alone and somehow not the same as the other kids my age, like I didn’t know as much as they did and that I wasn’t a part of the school like they were. It was a bad feeling, and it held me back from playing carefreelessly and joyfully. A feeling of not belonging as if there was some inner club that I was not a member of.
I do remember overhearing a teacher on the playground one day talking to my mother and telling my mother that there was something wrong with me and that I needed help. I also know that I was always very shy. I read an article a few years ago about the fact that a gene for shyness was identified. I know that I never got this kind of help. I brought it up to my mother some years before she died. My mother said that she didn’t remember any teacher saying something was wrong with me.
One of the most interesting facets of the stroke to me is the way that my mind keeps choking up these old memories. It corresponds in a very meaningful way to something I learned in an undergraduate psychology class. We were learning about famous people and their contributions to the field. One was a world-renowned psychologist by the name of Erick Erickson. He invented the phenomenon of eight stages of psychosocial development that we all pass through as we grow up through life. He maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order through these eight stages from infancy to death. Each stage wrestles with two conflicting issues.
The final stage, the eighth stage begins at approximately 65 and ends at death. Since I am going to be 71 in a few months this stage is particularly relevant to me now. It is during this time of life when one contemplates one’s life accomplishments. It is called ego integrity vs. despair. Ego integrity would be one’s ability to exit life feeling that one has led a successful life. Individuals who reflect on their life with regret at not achieving their goals will, according to Erickson, experience feelings of bitterness and despair. Erickson described ego integrity as “the acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle as something that had to be” (1950, p. 268) and later as “a sense of coherence and wholeness” (1982, p.65).
As we grow older and become senior citizens, we tend to slow down our productivity and explore life as a retired person. Erick Erickson believed that if we see our lives as unproductive, feel guilt about our past, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, that we could become dissatisfied with our lives and could develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness.
Success in this final stage of life will lead to the virtue of wisdom and wisdom enables a person to look back on their life with a sense of closure and completeness and an acceptance of death without fear.
Wise people are not characterized by a continuous state of ego integrity, but they experience both ego integrity and despair. Thus, late-life is characterized by both integrity and despair as alternating states that need balance.
Another memory flash. I am walking down that same street from my house to the elementary school. The fact that I walked this street so often establishes a memory picture that is permanently fastened in place, if somewhat blurry. I can still smell the smells of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Fall is particularly warm and comforting for me with the smell of burning leaves, leaves in colors of amber, orange, browns, reds, yellows, displaced from their homes in oaks and pine trees that lined the streets and were interspersed between the houses. We didn’t even lock our homes back in the days of the 50s and the 60s. I was disinterested in noting the age or very much about the houses as I would not be now. In time’s repetitive patterns, much gets forgotten or blurs with age.
The old school playground with chain-link fence so forcefully set completely around it was like a fortress, except for the one hole in the most northern end, quietly hidden by an overgrowth of leaves unknown to most of the by-passers. It was one of the secrets of my childhood. Some days I would avoid using the hole and would choose to walk all the way around the playground to the official entrance. It depended on my mood or perhaps on what I was wearing. I was always a moody child, it was part of my depression.
Twenty or thirty years later when I went back to visit the old neighborhood I could no longer find the hole nor could I recognize a lot of the streets. I remembered some street names but was unable to get myself to my house.
Behind the school stood a hill I used to sled down. As much as I loved sledding the picture of the school and the hill in the back is extremely blurred. All I know is that I can’t sled now with only one hand and one arm, as the stroke, even after almost four years now has left me still without the use of my left hand and arm, despite months and months of physical and occupational therapy.
When I returned to the old elementary school many years later, looking at the sled run produced butterflies in my stomach from the good memories. When I looked at the playground, now so void of all the colorful, fancy jungle gyms of our modern age, I felt a flood of sadness for the young me, who not only lost out on the nicer modern elements of play, but I more importantly lost out on a happy childhood, feeling so inadequate, inferior and like an outcast and how retarding this has been to my development as an adult.
A constant reality in my home life, as permanent and grounded as the floors and the walls of our house, was my father’s depression and his feeling sorry for himself. He was bipolar. This heaviness still weighs me down. As I grew up I often felt a profound sadness for my mom. My mother would wake up in the morning and be happy. She enjoyed her coffee and toast and the world was good. But most of the time, she was dysphoric which is a low-grade depression. Both my parents, despite their problems shared a love of life. She woke up happy. I also share this vigor for life.
Another Memory. A Room Of My Own. — When I was about twelve, my mom took me shopping for bedroom furniture. My dad wanted nothing to do with it which left me feeling guilty, perhaps I wasn’t good enough and didn’t deserve it. But my mom enjoyed shopping with me. The furniture I picked out was pink. I wanted everything in my room to be pink, my bedspread, curtains, and walls. I even had a pink princess telephone. This was the first place in my life that was truly mine. My brother couldn’t care less about what his room looked like. That was just one of the many differences between us.
The most vivid memory of my room was the view from my window. I could view the New York skyline. There was a bright beam of light at the top of the Empire State Building that came around every so many minutes. During the day I looked down on the school playground. When I contacted Impetigo, a highly contagious skin infection, and had to stay home from school for a few weeks, I would watch the kids play on the playground from my bedroom. This didn’t help much for my feeling of being an outcast. But I applied Phisohex religiously and it eventually healed.
I have always been troubled by what happened to me in my sixth-grade class with Mr. Collinson. I loved Mr. Collinson so much. I must have had a crush on him. This day I was trying to play around with him in a very immature way, or the only way I knew. I am still embarrassed to admit that I asked; “Mr. Collinson. Can I call you Mr. round potato head?”
He suddenly became so angry at me much to my astonishment. It was just recess for lunch. He dismissed the rest of the class for lunch and asked me to remain behind in the classroom. I can’t remember what he said to me then. I just remember my total humiliation. The embarrassment was intolerable. I have never forgotten the feeling. My classmates all knew I had said or done something very bad to incur the wrath of the teacher. That was the only instance he ever got mad at me. I must have really hurt his feelings. He was a nice man. That was why I liked him so much.
Another memory that represents many others just like it at the time. I am sitting on a stool in Salerno’s Italian Corner Luncheonette and Italian Deli. It was physically warm and emotionally comfortable and home-like. Another home-away-from-home. The eatery was located at the bottom of the hill. I was eating a pizza burger and French fries. Food was my biggest comfort. I was always a bit overweight, 20 to 30 pounds to be exact. When I was in India, many people; local Indians as well as tourists told me they thought I was Italian or Indian. In Egypt, Egyptian.
My dad liked to take road trips with the family. He liked to drive across the country from one coast to the other and up and down the East Coast. His sister, my aunt Sophie, lived in North Carolina. Most of these thoughts of travel with my bipolar dad are not pleasant. We were having breakfast in some small Southern town. It was a typical local joint. My dad went to sip his coffee, expecting it to be cooled down, and it scalded his face and he ran, screaming like a madman to the restroom. He was a madman or appeared so the way he overreacted often. As I write about these incidents now, it sounds so petty, but to a young girl, it left a lasting impression.
My next thoughts skip ahead to adolescence. My saving grace as a teenager was the fact that I had big brown eyes and big boobs for my age, although they were never large enough to satisfy my first husband. I was the first girl in third grade to need a bra. I was pudgy and my face was full, for which I felt ashamed. However, boys found me to be cute which helped my low self-esteem, but this may have resulted in the beginnings of poor priorities in life and poor choices. If they liked me, I liked them no matter who they were.
Another painful memory that’s remained with me all these years later. I liked to go bowling and I met a boy once at the bowling alley. He called me and my dad listened in to the conversation without my knowledge. The conversation consisted of this boy, asking me personal and inappropriately intimate questions such as how many pads I used when I menstruated. I still cringe when I think about my father hearing this. Even though my father is now long dead. I have so many feelings of profound shame in my life.
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 the 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 me 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 which had to be taken every eight hours. 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.
Every day I awoke with back pain, either from the emergency room gurney or from the stroke, and my neck was 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 a 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 like the Jews 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 a 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.
That afternoon I again needed a bedpan and pressed the nurse button. An hour later she finally shows up to help me with the bedpan and cleans up the soiled bed which by now was the norm. Then without warning, she stabbed a rectal tub up my rectum and inflated a bulb that kept it from coming out. This was an excruciatingly painful process that aggravated my hemorrhoids and was akin to the pains of childbirth where one had to push the baby out through an already painful birth canal.
According to Warren, it was not without warning but in response to Amy contracting C. diff. This condition caused severe diarrhea and the bowel catheter was necessary. I was probably not even aware that this was the reason I needed the tube up my but.
10 days later, in the ICU I was suffering with extreme pain caused by the rectal tube which I had lived with far too long. I was in so much pain; I cried out for help. One nurse finally took pity on me and came over and removed the tube. I still had 4 days of antibiotics to take, but she broke the rules because of my suffering.
One night a nurse filled my 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.
Perhaps the most embarrassing incident occurred when I soiled my sheets at 2 am. The nurse took about 30 minutes to respond to my room and after sitting me up to remove my hospital robe, she left to get a fresh robe and sheets. Somehow she was distracted, and I was sitting naked on top of the bed with my room door wide open until I began to cry and awoke Warren. He was asleep in a chair at the foot of my bed.
He asked me how long I had been sitting there, and I told him about an hour. Warren immediately shouted down the hospital hallway that we needed help immediately, using a lot of profanity. The nurse came running and was already apologizing for forgetting to return with the fresh sheets and robe. Later, we learned that while the ICU was severely understaffed, this nurse was still written up for leaving me exposed as the door was wide open and anyone could have seen me naked.
The next time I had to go; the bedpan beside my bed slipped out of my reach. I was desperately reaching for it and I slid out of bed. Nurses, technicians, and orderlies all suddenly appeared. They came running from all directions shouting that I fell. They placed pillows under my head and were concerned that I may have hit my head on the floor.
There must have been a doctor present, and he ordered a 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 placed 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 for the first time in weeks.
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 up to the internet. I listened to internet music which Chris said was good for my recovery. We also watched a lot of comedy. Fun in life was gone.
Doctors came at night if at all to check with me about how my body was recovering or not. I got the impression that my recovery could take a long time. I didn’t allow myself to think about this, it was too painful.
Once a neurologist came and explained that the occlusion in my right artery was not 90 percent blocked but 98 percent. He assured me that my brain was still getting blood from the left side. He said not to worry unless it 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 another 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 surgery. I was terrified.
In my mind, I heard that I could die. Turned out that this hospital would not do this kind of surgery anyway. 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 deep depression.
I lost track of the days, and I was bedridden and hooked to many wires that were monitoring all my vitals. Because my left leg was totally unable to support any weight. I learned that a physical therapist was the only person that could allow me to get out of bed or go anyplace.
No one else could help me, not a nurse, not Warren, or an orderly. It was my 5th week in bed before a physical therapist finally came to see me and helped me to stand up beside the bed. A couple of days later she actually helped me go to the bathroom, so I did not have to use a bedpan. It was so much trouble that she never offered to come again and told me I would be getting therapy at the next hospital where I would soon be transferred.
I was prescribed Prozac which helped my mood a lot. Another doctor informed me that this was the only antidepressant that helped a stroke patient’s brain recovery in addition to helping with depression.
The last blow to my being OK 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. This went on for ten days. It felt to me like I was never getting out of there. Thankfully my cousin and my brother stayed at the hospital with me and Warren. I also received visits from Heidi and Donna. This cheered me up but waiting to get out of the ICU was intolerable.
My brother helped me locate the next hospital which importantly had to be appropriate for patients with massive strokes. The current hospital talked about placing me 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 my brother, like my narcissistic father, 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, so I may have been lucky to have survived.
I overheard a nurse complaining about how this hospital only cared about making a profit. I decided then and there to write about my misery in this hospital to let others know. It turned out to be the inspiration to write this book,
I was so happy to be leaving when the day finally arrived. 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 Lexus 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 in Long Beach.
The Rehabilitation Hospital
When the ambulance delivered me to this new hospital everything felt lighter. I was in a private room and not hooked up to a monitor to check my vitals. We arrived on a Friday and the rehab would not start until Monday. There was a wheelchair that allowed me to leave the room as long as I informed my nurse where I was going and when I would return.
Here was my opportunity to get my body back. When I first arrived, I was told that the surgery to clean out my artery would be done on the last day before I left the hospital. It was never done.
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. There was a piano in the lobby 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 striper 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 me 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 the only windows in my room. I thought of my view at home overlooking the ocean. I am now remembering the last day before leaving for this 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 reminder that this was in fact a hospital. 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 very hot and stuffy.
Sometimes Warren and I would escape and go outside. We always told the nurse when we were leaving but were not honest about where. We arrived on a Friday too late for therapy 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 bath.
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 unpacked 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” as Warren lifted me from the wheelchair and onto the toilet. The biggest concern of any hospital staff member seemed to be zero tolerance for falls as a head injury could leave the hospital liable.
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. The first-weekend dinner included a whip-cream cake for dessert.
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 and also because of my infection, 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. I guess I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to working.
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. I sat up in bed with my diaper beneath my workout clothes at the breakfast tray. My neurotic ways of emotionally overreacting, all my life, were worse after the stroke.
The doctors had told Warren and our two sons to expect me to experience extreme emotional swings similar to borderline patients. This due to the fact that the stroke damaged the part of my brain that controlled large emotional reactions. This condition should improve with sufficient time for brain placidity.
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 to 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 an 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.
My physical therapists, Lisa and Brenda helped my walking and thinking improve. 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 to re-hook 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 10 seconds surprised me because 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 to do.
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. The reason Warren needed to get breakfast was because it turned out that patients were not allowed in the cafeteria, although we went there occasionally anyway and were never told by them not to come only our nurse.
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 was closed one day, we began our travels outside the hospital grounds. These were my 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. Mostly it was uplifting to leave the campus and my emotional state improved. 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. My cousin, Glenn, loved the food and maintained our Sunday tradition of going out for dinner even though I was in the hospital. There was 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 Cafe 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 in 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 was just the beginning.
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 on the beach.
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 instantly smothered in the clammy suffocating humidity. We were bombarded with cab drivers all grabbing at us to follow them. 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 into the most aggressive. He 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. 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 a mass of stopped cars stuck in a chaotic mess of other 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.
Alan 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 until 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 with no air conditioning was sparsely furnished with two single beds. We soon discovered the sheets and blankets were covered with mildew. I was already discovering that every Asian room we stayed in featured old armories. Ours was the basic one built with cheap, thin plywood with a mirror pasted to the front. The more expensive hotels showcased finely polished mahogany ones 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 broke up into short sections of sidewalk and no sidewalk at all, 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 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. Once again I was amazed by my vivid memories since having the stroke.
Warren pushed me back into the room and there sat Jaimie’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 CK’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 was terrified due to my claustrophobia.
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. They said you’ll be alright – how did they know, after all 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 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.
Shortly later Lisa knocked gently on my door and walked to my bedside, she informed me that 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 when I got back in my room. With my right arm still lined up with needles, Lisa returned me to my physical therapy session. I performed well and Donna was there waiting for me in the gym with news from work. She described how she and Heidi 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. It made me feel trapped in the hospital with no control over anything in my life; it was like 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 after therapy, 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 while I told him about the MRI and the CAT scan and how disappointed I had been in Heidi 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 and that my speech was good. I rejoiced in the small amount of health and functioning I still had.
Then unannounced a very beautiful nurse whom I hadn’t seen before arrived at my bedside to finally remove the green stitches which she said was very easy and safe to do. I had been promised in the first hospital that they would remove them when I checked out and that did not happen. Also, this hospital said they were going to check with my doctor and see if he would come to the hospital and remove them but that never happened either.
So this nurse just decided that since the stitches were supposed to be removed weeks ago that it was time. 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 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 as I was talking with Heidi. Heidi 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 Heidi’s boyfriend showed up to visit with me that Easter Sunday. It was fun for him to admire my new face. 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 when 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 in the conference room with the doctors, trainers, and nurses reviewing my progress and deciding when I would be discharged. I was there for six weeks and passed all my goals by my sixth week. After the meeting, the social worker would come to my room and tell me how I 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.
Donna 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 because I could. 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 got very angry while Warren figured out the real reason for the delay. It had something to do with Medicare. 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 very familiar yet different for a moment.
Home at Last
It felt like an eternity that I spent in those two hospitals. It was three months of confinement and uncertainty. Going home to my enclave in the sky and 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 in my wheelchair to my beloved 2012 black Lexus, that I had worked so hard for and loved so much. I could barely believe I was finally free and could go and do whatever I wanted.
I always wanted a luxury car of my own and my practice had made that dream come true. 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 near the hospital 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. It had been about three months. 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.
And then into my wheelchair and into the elevator, I was very afraid of and then still three stairs steps to go up before Warren got to our floor.
We had a lot of practice doing this with the wheelchair on our prison- breaks. The condo 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 its remodeled granite countertops, light maple cabinets, and beautiful tiling and recessed ceiling in the kitchen.
The living room color was contrasted by the front yard of beautiful blue ocean as far as the eye could see. It had a gas fireplace surrounded by Italian tiles. The fireplace had glass doors for protection from sparks, so you could see the flames clearly. Our condo was furnished with a lot of very attractive Stickley oak pieces, including a large beautiful Stickley entertainment center.
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 condo now seemed tiny. The bathroom was not much larger than the size of a mobile home. The condo 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.
One by one I ran into the neighbors. Jack and Caren 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.
Another neighbor, an attorney, who worked out with me, from time to time at 24-Hour Fitness, remarked at his astonishment that this could happen to me! He often ran into me walking down the stairs at 4 AM on my way to the gym most mornings.
Interestingly this was not the condo we lived in when we first moved to this complex. The first unit we were fortunate to find was unit #14, which rented for $1800 a month. The owner had Alzheimer’s and had burned the wood paneling by the stove because he forgot he was cooking. Everything was original construction and had never been remodeled. The wood matched our oak furniture nicely, but it looked old. After two years they decided to sell, despite their assuring us they wouldn’t.
We lucked out, as #23 came available at the same time we got our notice to move out. The owners of #23, also owned an estate on Palos Verdes Peninsula as well as a number of other properties. The woman was a mortgage attorney. A Japanese woman who lived there was moving out because her job in the US had completed, and she was returning to Japan. She’d paid $2500, but they dropped the rent to $2250 for us.
The condo had been remodeled in high-end style, beautifully with granite countertops. The wall by the gas fireplace was painted a deep shade of warm orange. All fixtures were modern anveryd 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 a small place to live in but beautiful.
The neighbor to our right enjoyed the corner of the building, which had two bedrooms, of which there were only three similar units in the complex. Kris, lived there with her daughter who suffered from bipolar disorder. Her daughter 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 looking 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 used Lifeline in the past. He said that it was a second-rate operation, not good quality, and he didn’t trust them. He tended to mistrust churches and religious organizations in general. But I saw it as an opportunity to do something finally about this worrisome blockage that I walked around with. So we argued, and I won, and he agreed to drive me.
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 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 very 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 sob; “The doctor has to help me, or I am going to die.” So they still made me wait for my turn of course.
Turned out the doctor, after I told him my story and looking at the ultrasound image, apparently thought to himself, this young sixty-seven-year-old athletic beautiful woman needs immediate help. He took pity on me and got me into surgery the next day!
That night 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 might very well owe my life to that vascular surgeon!
He also was the one that told me that the blockage that he repaired and even enlarged was a genetic defect, probably a birth defect that had limited the blood to my right brain since a very young age. Warren and I had always wondered how it could have such a blockage and I would not know about it.
The doctors in the emergency room said that even with the right artery nearly completely blocked that the right brain was still getting sufficient blood flow. The stroke was not caused by the genetic defect but by a build-up of plaque on the genetic bump which broke off and up into little pieces and literally blocked thousands of small capillary blood vessels in my right brain.
So the only reasonable explanation seems to be that my brain developed a way to deliver all the blood my right brain needed. My entire life there was an obviously low oxygen content that was delivered to the right side. How had that affected my development and contributed to my personality?
But finally, how promising that since the doctor opened this vessel up, that the right side would now get an abundance of oxygen and nourishment which may improve my cognitive, emotional, and motor functions for the rest of my life.
Life Goes On
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 at first when neither service answered 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 because I could not stand having to be pushed everywhere and with only one arm I could not do it myself.
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 ten years, I lost my cool! 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 between us, is that I tend to take out my frustrations and unhappiness on him. I screamed and carried on which frightened Heidi’s patient who could hear me through the closed door of Heidi’s office.
I can’t really blame her for being displeased with me for this unprofessional 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 anymore. 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 because Heidi was now the only name on the lease, and she changed the locks. 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 felt grateful to my neighbor for telling me about Lifeline.
At some point, it became clear that the condo wasn’t working out. We couldn’t keep paying $2250 a month without the income from my practice. My practice plus Warren’s social security was paying the rent of the condominium on Esplanade (so prestigious and fancy) right on the beachside.
Despite the exclusiveness of the condo I had called home for seven years! 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 that 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 with a cane 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 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. There was little fun. My days consisted of physical or occupational therapy sessions or doctor appointments.
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’s drive. I didn’t feel like I deserved them. 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.
The Huntington Beach house
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. Jaimie and Chris were renting a house in Long Beach at the time, 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. 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.
We also decided to move all the furniture from my office in Torrance to the Huntington Beach house as it was a large house and needed furniture to fill it up. The day I moved everything out of my office, an office I loved, it was a sad day. Good things happened in my office. A place where I helped people.
Being still handicapped, I stayed in the car while the three boys, including Warren, disassembled my beloved office. It was very hot in the Lexus, a car that eventually would be repossessed.
So many heartbreaks. I would have loved to have been able to supervise the taking apart of my office. There were notes from graduate school, that I still can’t find. It was sad to be leaving without any goodbyes. I remembered when the oldest therapist retired after forty or more years of service. There had been no party or goodbyes for her that day. I felt so sorry for her.
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 half 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 the size of two rooms. Again I felt awfully guilty that Jaimie paid half 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 an outside door so that he could come and go without anyone knowing.
The Broken Bone
It was during the third night, we were still moving into the Huntington Beach house when I broke my arm. Jaimie had found a good buy on a refrigerator, and we had spent the night driving all over towns and neighborhoods. It was very tiring. We finally reached the house with the refrigerator. I wasn’t feeling well and could barely wait to get out of the car. I was also feeling a bit cocky about how well I had been able to navigate getting into the house from the garage.
So rather than wait for help, I decided to go into the house by myself. I was wearing sandals with Velcro straps. One of the straps had opened, unknown to me, and as I stepped up onto the step from the garage to the laundry room I tripped and was propelled with my left side hitting the dryer first, and since my left arm was deadened like a raggedy Andy doll’s arm it swung forcefully and uncontrollably into the dryer. I knew instantly as I lay on the floor observing my damaged arm that was throbbing in pain, very red and swollen, disfigured and twisted, that it was bad.
I tried to deny it even though the pain was severe. “No, Warren. I won’t go to the emergency room!” “Amy, trust me the pain’s going to get worse.” But Warren yelled at me in these desperate moments. So there I was back in an emergency room reciting my address, age and giving her my Medicare card and my passport which was my only source of identification since my driver’s license had expired. They required me to take the written test. The guy at the DMV in Santa Ana passed my eye exam out of the goodness of his heart. I passed the written exam, but failed the driving test. The truth is that I did not feel safe driving with only one arm. Not too not long after this, my cherished Lexus was repossessed for nonpayment. I am now resigned to not driving. Warren drives me where ever I need to be which is not a lot of places. I guess it doesn’t really matter, except that sometimes I feel like a caged bird.
I didn’t have to wait very long to be attended to by a doctor and nurse, I think. All I remember now is they’re twisting my arm without warning, to set it, and the pain was excruciating. It took six weeks in a sling to heal which it did.
This was my very first broken bone ever! Despite all the sports, sledding down icy slopes in the dark of night between trees, and numerous other risky behaviors in my life. In addition to my lack of broken bones in my life, I had also not had any major illness, nor had ever lost a loved one or an acquaintance.
I had led a charmed life my entire life some people might say. I had been in the hospital previously once at four years old to have my tonsils out which took one day and the second and third hospital visits in which I delivered two healthy normal vaginal child-deliveries at ages 38 and 40. I was so unprepared for a major medical event and that’s why this has been so difficult for me to get through, and it is also the reason I am now writing this book and trying to make sense of my life and the stroke.
At first, it felt a bit awkward being back in the same house. 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 and got along, unlike Warren’s and my experience with our parents. But that’s another story.
Between the boy’s furniture and Warren’s 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 was 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 and a couple from our gym who were 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 very 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 there. 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, although I still saw two patients from Torrance in our home.
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 and still a good psychologist.
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. Before I started working again, 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 psychotherapist. Before I got to the next appointment, she canceled it and never got back to me after I left a message with her. The psychotherapist 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 full time. I realized I wasn’t quite ready when a child patient in Newport Beach needed me to get down on the floor to play with her and I couldn’t. It startled me and the young child saw the look on my face and worried about me, the last thing I would ever want. So much for the neurologist’s advice.
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 lucked into meeting Alan. I was attending Los Angeles Valley Junior College and became friends with Marsha who had grown up back east, and she was feeling nostalgic about the way I dressed, which was fashionably East Coast style.
Marsha and I quickly became close friends. She was overweight. I often gravitated to women who weren’t as good-looking as I was because of my inadequacies. Ruthann, Alan’s sister, was friends with Marsha who also lived in Brentwood. Ruthann invited me over to her house to play tennis and Alan admired my legs in my short, short, shorts with a slit up the side. Our dating rituals usually involved hanging out at his friend’s houses and getting stoned. I enjoyed these times and all the attention and being around guys.
Alan was slightly more sexually active than I was. He asked me to go on the pill which I did, but I remember feeling put off by this. I was living in a garden-style older two-bedroom apartment in North Hollywood with my mom. Alan lived at home with his parents and sisters in a sprawling home up in the hills of Brentwood. His father, a dentist, gardened, raising roses and all kinds of other flowers in beautiful gardens around the backyard.
There was a large pool in the backyard and Alan lived in a guest house very privately situated in the back of the house. It looked to me like a resort. Alan and I hung out here a lot. He introduced me to his many bottles of different types of marijuana. I enjoyed smoking with him. He had just returned from a vacation in Hawaii, and he was tanned and very handsome.
We shared similar interests. I was wooed by his home and the social network his parents maintained with doctors, architects and various other friends who worked in the entertainment business, and they knew movie stars and TV stars.
I had only lived in California for a year or two out of New Jersey, and I was still star-struck. His mom and dad hosted elegant dinner parties with beautiful China and sterling silver and crystal and silver centerpieces filled with his dad’s colorful flowers. His mom could set one helluva a table, a talent I have adopted over the years.
I always felt uncomfortable seated at these tables. I was a poor conversationalist, self-conscious, and squirming in my seat. I am sure that no one else present at the dinner felt similarly. I believe we were expected to be able to answer the questions and carry on an interesting conversation. It was not an unconditional situation as Alan’s father’s love and attention were not unconditional; a raw breeding ground for narcissism.
I had transferred after 2/1/2 years at junior college to Valley state or California State College at Northridge. I got full credit for all my units from my first year of college at Quinnipiac College in Connecticut and got full credit for all my units at junior college in California, even though I barely had a “C” average, but I had passed everything. In high school, I applied to a number of schools around the country with the help of a guidance counselor.
I really didn’t know much of anything about college or these schools. I just went through the motions. My parents took little interest, especially my father who didn’t understand why a woman would go to college. I was rejected from every, single school, even Quinnipiac. My counselor had insisted that I apply to both the four-year program at Quinnipiac and the two-year program. I got rejected from both. My counselor fought for me to be accepted into the four-year college, stating that she knew I had what it takes.
Years later my son, Christopher, applied to seven or eight good California schools, mostly universities. He was accepted into every single school, including the West coast equivalent to Julliard, or California Pacific University. Few accomplishments in life have meant more to me than this feat of Chris’. In the car on the ride up to this very prestigious and esteemed school, his teacher from Fullerton Music Conservatory, the talented Dr. Lee who ran the two-year program called him and coached him for the interview.
Christopher was born with a language disorder, both Receptive and Expressive which broke my heart. My mother-in-law recognized his speech problems early on. She was a great nurse which prompted early intervention, or speech therapy at the age of three. It’s here where he was diagnosed.
He was always a very sweet child as Special Needs children often are, having suffered a little more than the rest of us, they understand hardship early on and have more empathy. One of his favorite activities was pretending to make music on anything he could find to pound on. Eventually, we bought him an electronic keyboard. And piano lessons as soon as it was recommended when he was old enough at seven years old.
Rick was well-matched as a piano teacher for Chris, he was kind and patient. Chris thrived under Rick’s tutelage for several years. Once as Chris played Christmas songs at school, his teacher cried, as she described the beautiful way he played.
He was a protégé for his young age. Neither Warren nor myself ever missed a lesson. He went on to excel in school and at the piano. He graduated from college with two BAs, one in math and music, achieved at Fullerton’s two-year college. Fullerton’s music conservatory ranked number one in California the year he was admitted.
I married Alan 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 degree. I graduated from California State College which is now a State University. 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 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, designated so 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 not a businessman. His mother called him a bad provider, but I resented her so much for 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 didn’t take very good care of me. I always felt like my dad cared more about his son and that 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 or statistically speaking the newsletter did not increase sales nor provide anything worthwhile for the insurance companies or the agencies), 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 to bars and often leave with some other guy she met there.
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 knew 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 all 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.
On the day I was scheduled for my interview, I was so nervous that I could not think straight. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, feeling that this was my only chance at getting into graduate school. There was a lot of traffic that I hadn’t accounted for and the school was located in a part of Los Angeles I was completely unfamiliar with. I arrived late and lacked confidence as well as composure and failed the first interview. I got the results a few weeks later. I attempted to learn the reason for my poor result but was told they would not provide this information. A colleague of mine who was familiar with the school suggested that their minority-acceptance quota was probably unmet.
At work, I was depressed and felt devastated. A department head from another branch of the hospital seemed to like me. When I explained my failure to get into graduate school and how disappointed I was, he said that he knew of a better school that he was pretty sure I could get into based on the fact that I held a BA in psychology. The school was California Graduate School, or otherwise known as CGI in Westwood. To his credit, I got in based solely on an interview with a member of the admitting team.
I defended my dissertation successfully on 2/14/1998 and earned my Ph.D. It took me another four years to pass the state licensing exams, both the written and the oral. The written I passed on my second attempt, failing the first time by one point. I failed the oral exam six times, passed it on my seventh attempt, just before its use was eliminated for being invalid.
It took me seven tests and three years before I finally passed it. It was offered twice a year, and it ruined every Summer and Christmas for those three years, only to be deemed invalid. Warren joined in the picket line one year. I understand there were various lawsuits filed against the exam. I am very glad that I passed on the very last opportunity.
Warren and I and the boys were all still living together at this time. We were renting houses in nice areas, places we couldn’t afford to live in other than to rent. The problem with this lifestyle was that we lost sight of this fact and felt so at home in each place. Each house was nicer than the last one. We rented a large house in Torrance when the boys were still attending high school in nearby Redondo Beach. But we felt richer than we were.
Warren and I lived in my one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica for about a year until we both wanted to buy a home, and we definitely couldn’t afford to buy in Santa Monica. I even enrolled in a real estate course at Santa Monica College to learn as much as I could. I would have become a realtor had I been able to pass the real estate exam. All I learned was that we couldn’t afford to buy in Santa Monica
So we set our sights on Lawndale in the South Bay. We purchased a house for $145,000 with a large yard and a back deck. It was here where Jaimie was born. I was thrilled to own a house. I was very happy. We had some great parties. The market was booming at the time. We sold the house eight months later for $225,000.
The problem was that the area was not completely safe and the schools were not the best. In eight months we made $80,000. Little did we know that this could not last. But we intended to build on this momentum and move on up to something even better. In our case, this was Redondo Beach.
At the time the cheapest home in Redondo Beach was $300,000 on a busy street. We bought it for $254,000, and we couldn’t really afford the monthly payments. Warren’s salary wasn’t quite enough, and I wasn’t earning very much. But we purchased it anyway hoping to fix it up and sell it for a profit.
We slowly started to get in trouble financially. So we took a five-week vacation to Tahiti; feeling richer now that we owned a home in Redondo Beach. We also bought new luggage and a top-of-the-line refrigerator. We also added a sunroom in the back with a balcony in our bedroom.
We returned from our trip to a problematic situation. The government had cut back on defense and Aerospace and this caused a huge recession in the Southbay. Housing prices fell, and it was called a Bare market. We weren’t able to sell the house the way we had planned. We went into debt, and I was harassed by creditors when I was pregnant with Christopher.
This was the first time we faced bankruptcy. It turned out that we were able to purchase the same home a couple of years later, as we had been renting it and the owner could not get his money back, unless we purchased it for the now 310000 he had invested into it. Warren built a back deck and a rock wall, adding bamboo and palms transforming the yard into a Hawaiian-like escape. It was lovely. This was the best part of the house. And was what eventually sold it to a man who had lived in Hawaii.
Currently, we have credit issues again, but this time it’s due to my attempting to start a practice in Newport Beach. When I first started my psychology practice in Torrance I did everything correctly. I applied to just about every insurance company. I was accepted by all except Blue Cross who told me the area I worked in was flooded with therapists.
I rented an office, starting at one day a week until I had enough patients to afford my own office. I rented one office from a psychologist who rented out a suite of eight offices upstairs in the building until I had enough patients so that I needed an office full time. It was working upstairs in this suite where I first met Heidi. Heidi had the idea of renting a suite of offices ever since. The psychologist who rented me this initial spot was Heidi’s supervisor.
I was accepted by Medicare in three days. I received referrals from all the insurance companies, and I was able to maintain the patients for years. It took about six years or so to build the practice to where I was earning about $130,000 a year at the time of my stroke. Warren was considering buying another home in the mountains. We were doing well at this time.
My initial thinking in Newport Beach was coping with the loss of my practice in Torrance and my life. I had never been happy taking insurance because the insurance companies paid mostly $70 per hour while the hourly rate should have been about $150. Nevertheless, building a practice without getting referrals from insurance companies was not easy. They all took advantage.
So since I had to start all over again anyway, I thought that I would try to make a go of it without becoming contracted with any insurance other than Medicare. I also had a dream of starting a suite of offices with a psychiatrist, a family therapist, a child therapist, a neuropsychologist, and a psychologist that did testing. It would be the very best service and work I would ever do.
Twenty years earlier when I started in Torrance I had been an accepted Medicare provider in three days. I had no idea it would take a year. So I started working with a few patients who used Medicare. I hired a biller, which was also a new practice for me. I didn’t get paid for over a year for the Medicare patients and I had a difficult time getting new patients.
There was a psychologist doing this, and she told me that I would have had to have grown up in Newport Beach or at least known more people than I did. So after months of not being able to move forward with the suite, I became so depressed from the inaction that I found a single office on the fifth floor with an ocean view with a tremendous window for $1500. A month. At least I had this dream office for a year before I lost the office and went into debt again. We all bailed out of the house about a week before Christmas, 2019.
Chris found a room for rent in a house in Huntington Beach, near the insurance company where he worked. Jaimie moved in with his girlfriend in Costa Mesa, while Warren and I unhappily moved into our cabin up in Idyllwild, California. This home had never been intentioned for any purpose other than a vacation home. But after we moved all our belongings into the cabin, it at least felt more like our home.
We bought the cabin three years earlier and had been renting it out when we didn’t venture up there for a weekend or for a few days vacation. Now, like it or not, it was home. It was the only thing we owned, and we were finally living within our means.
We were both collecting Social Security, and I still talked to a few patients from Torrance and a few I was referred from the little networking I had done in Newport Beach. I was doing phone sessions. I couldn’t ever find enough interest in getting the suite started.
And then the Covid-19 Virus hit!
Warren and I have been living up here in Idyllwild for a year now. I know very few people due to the virus. I have no friends and no work, mostly because of the pandemic. My life is at a standstill.
I live to attend Jaimie’s wedding which is a year off. My hopes for Christopher to find a girlfriend. These are the things that keep me going. I tried physical therapy while living in Huntington Beach, also occupational therapy, but it was unhelpful for the most part.
I tried physical therapy here in the mountains which have also proven to be useless. The progress that I have made has been mostly on my own doing what the therapists told me to do such as stretching out my left arm and shoulder I made the most progress at the gym, and they are all closed now due to Covid-19.
So I walk now without a cane and even hike easy trails often. So while the world is experiencing its first pandemic, I am on my second. I don’t know how it will all end. But I plan on doing my best and I will be here for my boys as they are the most important accomplishment of my life!
Life’s ironies never end, as long as life goes on so will life’s ironies. I sit here now almost four years post-stroke, looking at the remnants of the Torrance office. The pillows are all still decorating the couch and chair. The paintings dress up the walls of the old, dark cabin, although they appear a bit out of place, which I guess they are. There is even the ocean painting which had been placed over a dark-blue couch which looked out at the ocean in Newport Beach from a floor-to-ceiling length window. It was a beautiful office in which I wanted so much to have a practice back that I went about it, desperately denying that it took a lot of time and that I needed to build up enough patients to the point where I could afford my own office. This would have required renting an office one day a week until I worked up to it. This was how I’d done it in Torrance. I ended up working in this office for about a year in which time I saw nine patients, two of which traveled down from Torrance. I had worked with them at the Huntington Beach house for about two years.
So all the furniture, wall coverings, pillows, and even the clock that my Torrance patient had given me are all here. My framed degrees are hidden away in a closet, but they are here, and I plan on renewing my psychology license before the end of next month. Warren and I are collecting social security and renting out the bottom house.
The stroke affected me emotionally most of all, beyond the new physical challenges. Before the stroke things, that never bothered me, now bother me dramatically often dramatically. My feelings are real. One can not always control one’s thoughts and feelings. And they are valid. There is no white and black only. Life is full of gray. As a borderline, which I probably am, I had to learn this.
As I am re-evaluating my life now after all that’s happened in the last four years. I know that Warren and I must repair the damage, the hardship has claimed on our relationship. We are in that process. I think that the pandemic has caused a lot of us to re-prioritize our lives. I am not alone. But as I look back on the whole of my life I feel good about it all. I lifted myself up to a better life with very little help from anyone. Now I have recovered well from the stroke. I even believe I will make a full recovery. I have plenty of life left, and I intend to make this my best stage.