Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Love, Luck and Language

In my last blog post I told you about my husband, John, having open-heart surgery, but that wasn’t the whole story. 

On Monday, September 8th, we left the farm in Wisconsin, where John had been helping his brother Walt reroof the garage. We drove through miles of cornfields and the dead zone—no Internet, heading to Chicago where we’d spend the night with John’s mom. The next day we planned take his great aunt to lunch before heading back to Detroit.

Since John’s mom has Sanka and no internet, we decided Starbucks was our last stop before her place. We’d get ourselves fueled up, and check our email.

The first email message I saw was from Jake. Jake lives in Pennsylvania. I’ve never met him or spoken to him, but I know who he is—my friend Ann’s son. As soon as I saw his name I was overwhelmed with emotion, and tears blurred my vision, Jake sending me an email couldn’t be good news. And it wasn’t.

On Sunday, Ann had been visiting her family in Birmingham, Michigan for her other son Jesse’s birthday. After dinner, she was feeling tired, and said she was ready to drive home. Her granddaughter Alyssa begged her to stay longer, so she did—she’s a very good grandma.

She was in the kitchen talking to Jesse. They hadn’t sung happy “buttday” (as she likes to say, instead of birthday) or had his vegan cake yet, when suddenly he took her by the hand and quickly lead her out to the car. She had been speaking garble, making no sense, and Jesse realized that she was having a stroke. He drove her to Beaumont Hospital. He drove Fast. He knew the FAST signs of a stroke.

            F...Face drooping
            A...Arm weakness
            S...Speech difficulty
            T...Time to call 911

Lucky. Lucky Jesse knew the signs. And lucky too, that Alyssa asked her to stay longer. She could have been driving home alone when the stroke hit.

Jake had flown in from Pennsylvania. He was in her hospital room with her when he emailed me on Monday. The only thing that was affected by the stroke was language. Lucky. She had no paralysis, and her motor function was fine. Lucky. He emailed his cellphone number and said that she wanted to talk to me.

I didn’t understand most of what she said on the phone, but she sounded chipper.
We left Chicago early on Tuesday, skipped visiting John’s great aunt, and by 2:00 that afternoon, I was in Ann’s hospital room. She was as beautiful as always, smiling, gracious and talking. The words she said weren’t always the right words—usually not, but she was alive.

Ann’s beautiful, oh yeah...I know, you think I mean pretty, and that’s very true, but she’s a beautiful person inside. She gives homeless people money, when others won’t even give eye contact. She’s loyal to a difficult friend (not me, I’m easy—relatively). She has a very generous heart.

Ann was an opera singer, and a few years ago she lost the quality of voice that she had cherished. Sometimes she dreams that she’s singing, but as she says, “My voice is only a shadow of what it once was, even in dreams.” It makes her sad.

Ann paints lovely abstracts with colors that make you want to travel to New Mexico.

When I think about her, I always try to sit up straight, because she has wonderful posture. She can get up out of a chair without the help of her hands. I can’t. She does a little ankle crossover thing and rises gracefully into the air like a ballerina.

She’s ten years older than me and sometimes (irrelevant of age) she reminds me of my mother—when she’s being cynical, bossy and opinionated. Don’t tell her, but I actually like that about her.

When John went into the hospital a few days after she did, I went back and forth between their rooms. She got out of the hospital several days before him.

Ann Amenta
Last week she was able to start driving again. Yay!

She’s getting speech therapy three days a week, and her speech is improving every day. But it’s hard. In the hospital she was very jolly, laughing at her own wrong words, but now the happy drugs have worn off, and learning to read and speak and write again are hard work and stressful. But she’s brave and determined.

John was lucky. If he hadn’t gone to the doctor when he did, he could have died. Ann’s lucky. If Jesse hadn’t recognized that she was having a stroke she could have died.

And I’m the luckiest, because I still have these two special people in my life. I love them both.


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