Tuesday, May 31, 2011


An old friend in a business suit appeared by my bedside in the stroke unit. "I built this hospital," he told me. We had lost touch. He is a VP in hospital administration now, but he started his medical career in physical therapy working with – get this – stroke patients. "Anything you need, honey, you just let me know. My office is right downstairs."

From that point forward it felt like doctors became more accessible and nurses became more attentive. Most importantly, here was someone who knew me and what I was made of.

He was my first crush in seventh grade. By high school we were acting together in plays. We took ballet classes and college-level French courses together. "You have a long, hard road ahead of you, Marcie. But if anyone can do it, you can."

His words became a beacon once I started to face the naysayers and statistics. As I reflected on how lucky I was to have such an advocate (and worried about the many who don't), a vision from long ago came to me: A scalpel piercing a sheep's eyeball – liquid squirting out, the rubbery, chicken-skin look of cartilage.

I phoned my friend. "Were you my lab partner in biology class? And did you agree to dissect the sheep's eyeball if I would write the report?"

"That was me, honey."

My hero.

Paul and I get into character for a one-act version of Sweeney Todd. (1982)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

That Is the Question

[Q]: How does a non-smoking, non-drinking, exercising, healthy-eating, low-stress mid-lifer have a stroke?

Doctors [A]: Dissection. The carotid artery that carries blood to my brain developed a split in its interior wall. A clot formed and a piece of that broke off and blocked a vessel in my motor strip.

Me [A]: In short, a corroded carotid.

[Q]: Why did I have a dissection?

Doctors [A]: Twisted arteries. Neck stress from yoga and chiropractic. Fluctuating blood pressure.

Friends and Strangers [A]: To learn a life lesson. To find my path.

Me [A]: I have gone over and over things I did that may have led to the stroke. In yoga class the night before, I turned my head while in shoulder stand. A few days before that, I self-administered a neck adjustment that emitted a loud crack. Just months before that I was showing off for my three-year-old nephew by doing a headstand, and he toppled me like a tower of blocks. I’ve also pondered what I needed to learn that took something this drastic to get my attention: Patience. Compassion. Balance.

No matter what I think, or what I'm told, I always come back to one truth: None of the answers can change what happened. And so there is only one question that really matters.

How do I go forward from here?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Powerful Words

Years ago, I memorized prayers to meditate on – Christian, Buddhist, Hindu. The benefit was to put words in my mind that wouldn't otherwise be there.

… make me an instrument of Thy peace –
that where there is hatred, I may sow love …

In the early hours of Easter Sunday, my condition worsened. We had spent Saturday believing I had a mini-stroke, but a bad turn after midnight prompted the duty doctor in Baldwin Park to order me to a specialty unit in Hollywood. I overheard his phone call to the paramedics:

"Get her there as soon as possible – sirens going the whole way."

… whatever you do, make it an offering to Me – the food you eat,the worship you perform, the help you give, even your suffering …

My husband arrived in time to ride shotgun. I lay in the back of the ambulance reciting as the driver blared the sirens and swore at cars to move out of our way.

… He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
He leadeth me beside the still waters …

In the ER, I overheard the neurosurgeon's conversation with my husband as they studied an image of the black spot that had emerged in my right hemisphere:

"… irreversible brain damage … "

… grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change …

"Will her language be affected?" my husband asked. "She's a writer."

Oh, Great Powers of the Universe, thank you for my thoughtful husband.

And thank you for sparing my words.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Call of the Sirens

For months afterward the cries of an ambulance pulled me back to that morning: Awakening to the discomfort of a strange arm beneath my head. Hurtling it out of the way, only to have it bounce back and disturb my sleep again. Opening my eyes and realizing the offending arm was my own. There were my wedding rings on the fourth finger of my left hand.

“Move your left arm,” I commanded myself. It did not move. Calling to my husband. Standing up and taking a few steps. Crumpling to the floor.

My husband arriving in the doorway. "What's wrong?!"

My irritation. Duh. Help me off the floor so I can tell you about my arm. His call to 911. "She's slurring her words."

Every time I heard the sirens, I replayed it, filled in the details, until I finally believed it. I had a stroke.

Now when I hear the sirens, which happens a lot in this city of mine, I think of "some poor bastard" whose life has changed. A man having a heart attack. A woman awakening beside the corpse of her husband. Compassion pours out of my heart and follows the sirens. I don't think they will ever be just background noise again.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I awoke in the middle of last night to utter blackness. No display from the digital clock, no nightlight from the bathroom. I blinked and blinked but could not clear the darkness.

I'm blind! My God, I've gone blind!

Heart racing, I woke my husband …who determined we were having a power outage.

An extreme reaction? Maybe. But, that's how it happened before. I went to sleep on Good Friday 2010 with the full physical and mental capabilities of a fit 45-year-old, and woke the next morning unable to move my left arm or stand on my left leg.

On that morning there was no panic – only confusion. It didn't occur to me that my life could change overnight. Stroke. When I returned home from the hospital a month later, I would look at the bed that had once been my haven, and I would think "the scene of the crime."

Perhaps the biggest change since that morning one year ago is the way I see things.