Monday, February 2nd, 2015
Day 206 of *Another* 100 Days of Good Karma.
Editor’s note: This guest post by Tammy Strobel of RowdyKittens.
“If you have time and your dad is awake, doing categorization exercises with him will help train his brain,” said the speech therapist.
I nodded to signal that I was listening. It was February 2012, and my step-dad, Mahlon, sat in his wheelchair with his eyes closed while I fidgeted in a stiff, brown, hospital chair. The speech therapist talked to me about what to expect as Mahlon recovered from his stroke.
The therapist told me that stroke patients experience a lot of confusion and don’t have the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. She explained how categorization activities help people regain that focus. She also explained that Enloe’s Rehabilitation Program would help Mahlon regain his independence; they had a team of physical and cognitive therapists, nurses, dietitians, case managers, and physicians who would be working with Mahlon.
While the therapist talked, my mind drifted back to the day our new normal began. It was Saturday, January 14, 2012 and I was asleep in my tiny house. My phone rang, and I reached for it while trying to extract my cat, Elaina, from my chest. She meowed loudly in protest as I picked up my iPhone. My mom was on the other end and immediately said, “Tam, Mahlon had a stroke.”
My voice quivered as I said, “No, no, no,” over and over again.
Mom explained that Mahlon had already been airlifted to Enloe Medical Center, a hospital in Chico, California, and he was in the intensive care unit. In the early morning hours, my mom found Mahlon lying on the floor beside their bed. She knew Mahlon had a stroke because his speech was mumbled, and he couldn’t move the left side of his body.
While my mom and Mahlon were waiting for the ambulance to arrive, Henry, my mom’s rambunctious Australian Shepard, was on the bed looking down at them. He was unusually quiet as he intently gazed at my parents on the floor.
As my mom talked to me on the phone, I looked at Logan and felt my heart race and my hands started to shake. Light rain drops pelted our skylight and the Portland sky looked dreary. I felt terrified because my gut instinct told me that we were going to lose Mahlon. He already had compounding health problems—including Parkinson’s disease and the beginning stages of dementia—and I had a feeling a stroke would only complicate his fragile state.
I wanted to rush to Chico to be with my mom and Mahlon. But my mom encouraged me to wait for a few days. I spent a day in Portland, feeling anxious, and talking and texting with my mom every few hours. Later that day, I decided to book a train ticket home. I couldn’t wait any longer.
I turned from my memories when Mahlon’s speech therapist handed me a sheet of paper with a long list of categorization exercises. I couldn’t change the reality of Mahlon’s stroke, so I followed the speech therapist’s advice, and I began doing categorization exercises with Mahlon. I asked him questions like, “What are your three favorite movies? What are three bills you pay each month? What are your three favorite cars?” and so on. And then I asked him, “What are your three favorite sweets?”
Mahlon considered the question for a moment and with a straight face he said, “Scotch.”
I started laughing, and so did his nurse.
The nurse said, “Now that’s a creative response.”
Mahlon chuckled and I prodded him further by asking, “What about two other sweets? What sweet treats do you like to eat?”
“Chocolate.” Then he closed his eyes and with a big smile he said, “I like scotch and chocolate.”
I was drinking a cup of coffee and almost snorted it out my nose. Mahlon’s comment was hilarious, and he started laughing and smiling, which made me laugh even harder.
Unfortunately, Mahlon’s health continued to deteriorate, and he passed away in June of 2012. The last five months of Mahlon’s life were difficult for him and for our family. However, the experience taught me so much about how to provide support and comfort when a loved one is ill.
Some of those lessons include:
Mahlon’s no longer in this world, but I’ll never forget his comment about scotch and chocolate or his bright smile, laughter, and big heart. As Patricia Hampl said, “People come and go in your life, but they never leave your dreams. Once they are in your subconscious, they are immortal.”