My Mother's Stroke

My mother, Inga Tuvesson, had never been a big believer in doctors and medicine, a belief I inherited from her.



The Tuvessons

Growing up, my parents instilled in us the belief we could do anything we put our minds to – the power of the mind was limitless. My mother dabbled in the new age arts. She attended “heal your life” workshops and read books about improving your life through positive thinking.

My mother, Inga Tuvesson, had never been a big believer in doctors and medicine, a belief I inherited from her. Apparently, she developed high blood pressure at some stage in her life. She would self-medicate, or should I say self-regulate the medication given to her by doctors. My mother felt she didn’t need to take the medicine at the prescribed times. She would only take it when she felt bad. Unbeknownst to me, my father, Tuve, had fought a losing battle with her over this medication for many years.

 

 

In the fall of 2007, my mother had a stroke, at age 73. It started out as three TIAs. She ignored the first, saying it was a bad headache. During the second one, she claimed she was too tired to drive and had to pull over for a couple of minutes to rest. The third happened at night, when she was home with my father. I remember feeling a little concerned, when I got a call from him saying that my mother’s vision went unexpectedly blurry. I suggested they go to the emergency room. But what did I know? Instead, they were going to “sleep on it.” If the problem were still there in the morning, they would call the eye doctor. That doctor took one look at her eyes and sent them to the emergency room. She was admitted to the hospital. The doctors there felt the minimal damage to her vision and balance that the TIAs had caused could be managed through therapy in an inpatient rehab. While there, my mother had a massive stroke. How could this happen? So much for the power of positive thinking!

It was very humbling to see her lying in a hospital bed, unable to walk, talk or even swallow whole food. Here was my mother, the one who took care of us or would go and nurse our friends when needed, now needing the care, on a much bigger scale.

I think my father was in shock. He is a proud, resilient, logical man and accustomed to being able to fix most anything. Here was the woman he had known most of his life, needing to be fixed, and there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. He had to rely on the doctors, machines and therapists, rather than throw her over his shoulder and take her for a dip in the ocean. In our family, the ocean was always a cure all for everything from poison ivy to bad moods. How much better you felt when just looking at the ocean, much less being able to dip your feet in it. I was thinking my father would have to carry Mother into the ocean from the beach at Assateague Island where the family had a house. In fact, I was staying there when the call came early in the morning about my mother’s stroke.

I was able to take six months off from work to be with her each day while she was in a more intensive rehab. The brain is an amazing organ. My mother relearned how to eat, walk and talk. I would eat hospital food with her as she was fed pureed foods, like a baby. When the nurses were convinced she wouldn’t choke when swallowing, we ate the same hospital food.

I watched her struggle to get out of a wheelchair, relying on her left arm and leg because her right side was weakened by the stroke. She progressed from walking a couple of steps in a straight line, to walking up one step, then a set of three steps, while holding onto railings. It was a happy day when she went down the hall using a walker.

I sat with her in speech therapy, listening as she tried to enunciate a word, describing a picture shown to her by the therapist. Seeing the picture was almost as hard as translating it into a word, because the stroke had caused permanent damage to her eyes: Form circles with your fingers. Hold them in front of your eyes like goggles. Then take the left goggle and turn it towards your left ear so your eye looks to the left, with tunnel vision, while your other eye looks forward through a separate tunnel. Imagine seeing the world this way, like a frog, one eye looking here, the other eye looking there. The eye doctor said putting a patch on her left eye would help her to focus better. Mother didn’t like the patch, so my sister and I got creative. We took a piece of paper thin foam and cut it to fit behind her glasses lens. We made a small hole in this foam and progressively enlarged it, hoping to train her left eye to look forward. The eye doctor was impressed, and it must have helped, because today my mother, while having limited vision, does not use a patch.

 

Tia & her father

After watching my parents struggle and overcome obstacles, I have found a new belief in the power of the mind.My father made the hour drive every day to join us at the rehab, after dinner, for a visit. His days were spent putting an elevator in the house. Everybody thought this would be easier for my mother to use, rather than the circular stairway which went from the first floor, where their bedroom was, to the second floor where the kitchen and living room were. We did not realize these circular stairs would become one of her best therapy tools, improving my mother’s mobility once she went home. However, building the elevator was therapeutic for my father. It made him feel useful; he was doing something to help my mother.

It was a day with mixed emotions when she left the rehab to come home. We were happy she was leaving the rehab, but unsure of how things at home were going to be. How would my father deal with being the main caregiver and how would my mother deal with his caregiving?

I think my father was given the chance to appreciate all my mother did pre-stroke. He learned to do things like banking, washing clothes and cooking. For an 81-year-old guy, who could barely cook a three-minute egg eight years ago, he now makes a very tasty apple cake.

My mother is pretty much totally reliant on Tuve these days. In addition to the disabling physical damage, she also has aphasia. It’s difficult for my mother to put her thoughts into understandable words. I find myself using “20 Questions” often. The time she used to spend reading or drawing is now spent putting puzzles together.

Somehow my father still finds time to be outside in his garage. This is his distraction … or therapy. There he makes metal sculptures, something my mother and father used to do together. She would create the idea and he would make it come to life through welding. My mother was a very good artist before the stroke. Pen and ink were her preferred medium.

I have gone from disbelief to anger and then acceptance through these last eight years. After watching my parents struggle and overcome obstacles, while learning and creating a new life for themselves, I have found a new belief in the power of the mind. This has given me the courage to step outside of my comfort zone and try some new things, like going to school, where most of my fellow students and teachers are less than half my age. I like to think that I have gotten the message that my mother’s stroke has sent. Yes, our mind’s power is limitless. But there is a balance needed, between thinking and doing.

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