Elinore Mazza

One December

Time to decide to write.
Everything went so fast that morning and was wheeled into surgery room. Four hours later I woke up with an IV on my arm and oxygen on my nose and was told to stay flat on my back. Ralph was with me but I was very groggy so I couldn't talk. Sleep was what I wanted so I sleep until the next day. That day the nurse had put me into the shower and that's what I saw -- my right leg had a long cut with stitches from my ankle up to my inside thigh. What happened? I thought I was getting my heart fixed. So, look again! There it was! In the middle of my chest had a dark cut with stitches from my neck to my stomach! I didn't know much about the rest of that day. I slept and dreamed. Ralph was with me but I didn't know that. Finally I woke up. Where was I? Who are the people there? I wanted to go away but a lady made me stay there. Someone brought food. Why? I didn't want to eat. I stayed in the bed and they put wooded boards by my sides. I slept lots and was cold. The lady brought me hot blankets. That was wonderful. Again they brought me food but I wasn't hungry. The tubes from my wrists hurt me. I liked the little plastic thing in my nose. It made me feel clear from my head. I looked around my room and saw many instruments like clocks. The ladies always looked at them. There was a band around my left arm and once in a while it would get tight and then go loose. This did it all the time even when I slept and that would wake me up.
           Ralph would be with me, but I didn't recognize him. Some people came and tried to talk with me but I could not do that now. One doctor came and showed me many things such as a comb, watch, and pen. I know what they were but he wanted me say the words aloud. I couldn't do it. he waved his hand and went away. I never saw him again. Later that day I drew pictures of a comb, watch and pen. My son came here. He printed words with my pictures and told me what they said.
           Was it another day? Someone brought food again. I didn't want to eat. Two nurses came and tried to push a tube down my throat. I fought against them. I cried out loud. The nurses told me I better do as they say. And they tried again so I tried to be good and they were successful. So I was gagged and felt terrible with the tube in my throat. There was no use to try to talk then. I guess I hadn't talked before anyway.
           Soon people wheeled my bed and put me into another room. That night I tried to sleep. A young girl with jeans and a school bag on her back came and sat in the chair by me. She didn't talk to me but went to sleep there. Her breath was strong with garlic. Why was she there? I slept and early in the morning the girl gathered up her books and left.
           Ralph finally came. he told me we are driving to another hospital closer to home. We came with a driver in a big van. I was in the back and Ralph in the front seat. I wished I was going to our home but Ralph told me we were going to REHAB. I wondered why I needed a wheelchair. I knew I could walk myself. Then I knew I was in a place like a convalescents home with old people. There was another old lady in the bed beside me. She tried to talk all the time, but I couldn't. There were beautiful decorations for Christmas so I figured it was getting close to Dec. 25th. I saw a calendar and also a clock in my room. I tried to figure out how long I had been here. I also saw a clock but couldn't remember to say the time. Since I had been a school teacher I knew I could remember how to do these things so I started learning these things myself.
           The next day my daughter Lee came. She told me they will come again and it would be close to Christmas. I use to look at my calendar every day to find the time she will come. Lee also brought some crayons and coloring book and some playing cards. Then I had something to do! I started playing solitaire and coloring the books.
           One day a nice young lady came and tried to play a game with me. her cards had pictures of people and things on them. One by one she wanted to tell me these names. I knew what they were but I could not say out loud. One of her cards had a red heart on it and I told the name out loud. I showed my playing cards and I could tell her every card by name.
           Each day there was time for me to go into the gym. The lady told me it was not a nurse but a physical therapist. She would throw a ball to me. This was silly. I could throw and kick and bounce myself. I needed someone to learn to talk. Ralph came here for lunch each day and we would play Gin Rummy with my playing cards as I could say all the names in the suits.
           One day near to Christmas my daughters came here. they told me I will be going home the next day. I was very excited. We went with their van and I told them how to go -- right and left -- as they didn't know the directions. They laughed because I could tell me where to go.
           I was HOME finally! Ralph and I were alone. The next day was Christmas 1999. I was so grateful that four of my children and grandchildren came. Now they were here and I didn't have to use my photos to see them. That was good too because I knew their names and could say them.
           Kaiser have arranged for me to have a speech therapist. January 2000 was scheduled for every Tuesday and Thursday. The first time I saw her I said "Hello Doctor." She laughed and told me to call her Sharon. Sharon was kind and pretty. Right away I knew she would help me. She would ask me places I know and things about my family. This is the first time I knew I have had a STROKE. She told me my brain would never be the same, but I can learn to talk and read by going around a different way. Sharon started out with those little cards with printed people and things. I knew those from before at the REHAB so I could say many answers. But then she wanted me to say a story about these things. At first she would help me think a story. I caught on pretty soon and could finish the story myself. I was learning to talk about everything! In February she started to have homework for me. There were three word sentences scrambled and I had to arrange the words correctly and then read them out loud. I thought this was funny as I use to do these for my fourth grade students! Each week Sharon would add another word to the sentence. Finally I was able to write and read 10 word sentences. I know I use to work on my homework very hard at home. Then when I came to class I would say them to Sharon. She would put a star on my paper when I did them correctly. In my head I thought this was funny because I had done this so many times for my students! Sharon wanted me to read a book. I started with an ABC book called MY FIRST WORD BOOK. by Angela Wilkes. (I will always keep this book).
           Sharon stayed with my class through June 2000. I was sad when I graduated from speech class, but I started to write e-mail to Sharon. It was wonderful for her to write back. My last e-mail is dated July 2002. It is time to say good-bye to my friend.
           I have admired Sharon. I have not known her very long and I don't get to see her any more, but she helped me to unravel my brain so I could be a whole person again. From the minute she came into my office I knew I was in good hands. I was confused and mute but had many ideas in my head. Sharon talked to me asking questions about my life, my husband, my children, and my grandchildren. She asked about my home and garden and places I have been. At first I could not answer these questions, but she kept talking about ME. Most people do not talk about ME -- such as private things about my self. She knew I wanted to learn -- to talk, to read, to write, to understand people again. I still think about Sharon. Sometimes I wish I could send an e-mail to her, but those days are past.
           One December still haunts me. My speech is almost perfect but I will get stuck on a word and will have to think about how the word spells. I try to ask Ralph and usually he can figure out what I am saying, but he gets stuck saying words too. We laugh and say "old people do this all the time!"
           Comprehending conversations are very hard for me, especially understanding the telephone. This is why it is hard for watching the TV. Thank goodness I can do many things correctly. I can read and write and I enjoy my friends. I can cook and make a nice party. Ralph and I go many places together and we love each other. Each day is wonderful. So we look forward to many more Decembers.