Tag Archives: bob dole

my life was saved by patrick swayze

some lives are saved by rock & roll. mine was saved by patrick swayze.

i remember being in pre-op with my cousin mark and my mom, before what would become the first of four brain surgeries.

this is me about a month before i went to phoenix for surgery.

it gets foggy after that. i have flashes of memories – moments (my mom reading me a letter) to longer stretches of time (teaching bob dole to flip the bird). i remember being transported to a nursing home – my first time in an ambulance. i remember talking with the EMT about different ways to take a pulse – i’d experienced quite a few methods during the 5 weeks i spent in the hospital.

i was also doing some major hallucinating – the combination of a brain injury and some powerful drugs. i was seeing things lurking in the corners of my hospital room. i worried about a plot my mom and dr. spetzler had to cut my head off in an MRI machine. and perhaps the strangest was that i was being told that i’d been in the hospital for over a month, i could barely sit up without help, and my left arm seemed to have a mind of its own. so at the end of the day i didn’t know what was really happening and what was an hallucination.

when i arrived at the nursing home, i was moved into an empty room. in the middle of the night, there was a lot of noise and activity in the room. they were moving someone else in. i heard someone say, “dorkus? that’s a lovely name.” now with york for a last name, the word “dork” has played a pretty prominent role in my life. so hearing the word “dorkus” over and over wasn’t helping me to convince myself that i was living in reality. i remember hearing someone else say, “dorkus is an interesting name. where did you get it?” a gravelly voice befitting an elderly woman named dorkus replied, “it’s from the bible. my father gave me that name.” i managed to stop myself from saying, “was he illiterate?”

my friend emily has a much better knowledge of the bible than i do. she told me later that dorcas is indeed a name from the bible, and a quick look at wikipedia tells me that she’s mentioned in the book of acts, in the new testament. i also just this moment learned how to spell it correctly.

ok, ok. enough biblical trivia. bring on patrick swayze.

keanu and patrick - dream team?

the next morning, dorcas had the tv on at full blast. she was watching the local news. as i tried to get back to sleep, i couldn’t help but listen. they announced that patrick swayze had died. i remember thinking, “oh i am good, but i’m not that good.” but if patrick swayze really had died, then i was really living in a nursing home because of complications from my surgeries, and that wheelchair next to the bed was really for me. that morning i stopped hallucinating and started to wrap my mind around the new realities of my life. i also made myself a promise that 10 years later i would think back on everything  that had happen and be grateful that it did, that i’d managed to use those experiences to make my life better. and i can even put a date on that decision. patrick swayze died on september 14, 2009, so that must have been september 15th.

now maybe some of that was because i was being weaned off of the powerful drugs i was taking in the hospital. but some of it was also patrick swayze. probably 60/40.

bob dole

ok. so much for my attempts to stay politically correct.

this was me in pre-op, just after they put in my IV. i thought that i was going to have brain surgery (singular) and that the incision was going to be my biggest problem. i packed many wide-necked shirts for my post-op time before i would head back home to oregon.

here i am about a month later. i’ve had 4 brain surgeries. a stroke. i rip-van-winkled most of that time – i only know what happened from stories. in the first picture i’m not using my left arm because it has an IV in it. in this one i’m not using it because IT DOESN’T WORK. i had a major brain injury in there at some point too, and was on some pretty serious meds. on this particular day i’d just gotten the feeding tube removed from my nose and i was just about to eat my first meal – food that had been blended up like baby food (“mechanical soft”) because i had trouble swallowing.

meanwhile i was trying to figure some stuff out. a lot had changed. i couldn’t sit up on my own (balance issues). i had crazy double-vision. sometimes i would hallucinate and see things that weren’t there. and that arm! the docs would come in and neurocheck me. they’d ask me to hold my hands out in front of me and pretend like i was holding a tray. the right hand was fine, but that left hand. sometimes it would hit me in the face. what was going on?

ok, now to senator dole. in my defense, the first presidential election i ever voted in was 1992. i paid a lot of attention to the campaign in 1996.

as i started becoming more alert there in my hospital bed in st. joseph’s hospital, i named that arm. named it bob dole. and bob dole “getting with the program” became a theme of my recovery.

here’s a little history lesson for you. bob dole represented the great state of kansas in the US senate for almost 3 decades. he’s a veteran – was in world war II. he was hit by german machine gun fire and his right arm was paralyzed. being a friendly midwesterner, he usually carries a pen in that hand as a signal that he can’t shake hands with it. now see, bob dole knows that he can’t use his right hand – he’s holding a pen in his official portrait. any politics aside, he’s my kind of guy.

but enough about bob. it’s a strange feeling when your brain knows just what to do but it seems like your hand speaks a different language. it’s hard to describe. if you don’t understand, i hope that you never do.

so i set about getting bob dole with the program.

i don’t remember exactly how it started, but my nurse brian and i were talking about flipping the bird. i ended up showing him possibly my favorite clip from flight of the conchords. WARNING: adult language. and hand gestures.

at the time i wasn’t allowed to drink anything. i just chewed ice chips all day. and i had a love/hate relationship with those ice chips. and therefore with the people who brought them to me. i started flipping off brian when he would bring them. why? maybe they weren’t icy enough. i don’t know.  i had like a billion things wrong with me.

please don't direct any offensive hand gestures at my buddy brian.

so i woke up one morning and decided to put bob dole to work. i spent every spare moment teaching bob to flip the bird. it was hard work! the way i could do it was to do something with my right hand then try to get bob to do it. again, it’s hard to explain, but it felt a little like sending a message through jello. my brain says, “fold your thumb. bam. it’s a piece of cake.” but somehow it’s not. i had to actively think about how to fold my thumb, and then concentrate fully on making it happen. like i said, doing it with my other hand helped. so at the end of the day i pushed my call button and asked for ice chips. brian arrived, styrofoam cup in hand. i flipped him off with both hands. brian gave bob dole a well-deserved round of applause.

the next day, i decided to teach bob dole something a little more productive, and a little more in keeping with my schoolmarmness. so i taught him the sign language alphabet. i just tried it right now, more than 2 years later. it’s still pretty hard to do if i’m not doing it at the same time with my right hand.

sometimes bob dole likes to pick up pieces of sponge and put them into an old prescription bottle. what else would he do for fun?

so bob dole, hardworking midwesterner that he is, keeps on truckin’. he’s relearned how to crochet, and he helps out when i try to do embroidery. he’s still not much help when it comes to things like buttoning shirts. and he pretty regularly throws toast on the ground right after i’ve spread on my favorite jam. and driving’s been hard for him. when i go to make a turn i naturally flip my fingers down to move the turn signal. not so fast, though. my brain sends that message, but it doesn’t quite work that way. i have to concentrate on exactly what bob dole needs to do. my muscle memory for that part of driving is still there, but my body doesn’t work the same way as it did a few years ago. but bob dole can learn new tricks. now, after a lot of practice, the turn signal is more of an effortless thing. i’m not afraid of hard work, and neither is bob dole.

and he keeps on accomplishing new things. just this week i put on a pair of stud earrings for the first time. that meant that bob had the tough job of holding things steady. he only threw one earring on the floor (it still hasn’t turned up), but he did it! and now i get to wear the earrings i want to wear without having to go upstairs and ask my neighbor to help me.

bob dole likes photo ops with babies.

it’s turned out to be a perfect name for my left arm. bob dole is hardworking. modest. willing to try new things (whoops – i wasn’t going to mention viagra).

so come sit down next to bob dole. he won't bite. but he might throw you on the floor like a piece of toast.