Thursday, April 23, 2020

Haircuts and Dental Cleanings: Now and Then

After a more than a month of lock-down, my hair is a mess, and also I'm worried about how I'll get my regular dental cleaning. About a decade ago, I had the same concerns, albeit for different reasons.

Back then, half of my head had been shaved for emergency brain surgery. After several weeks at the rehab hospital, a few people gently teased me about my punk hairdo: bristly crew-cut on the left, and straggly and overgrown on the right. So my sister Cindy arranged for her sweet and talented hairdresser, Brian, to come to Spaulding to neaten up the outside of my head.

I was pleased by the result. Since Cindy was obviously capable of making amazing things happen, I wondered out loud--probably in one or two short and broken sentences--if she could also maybe arrange for my dentist, Dr. Torelli, to come and clean my teeth. In my hospital bed.

Cindy looked at me with a slightly sad smile, and said something like: no, Sweetie, that’s not going to happen.

The stroke had robbed me of many things--such as movement and fluent language--but my ability to reason, in general, seemed to be intact. But I saw by Cindy’s reaction that I asked for something inappropriate, or at least, unrealistic. I was mortified. But why wouldn’t the wonderful Dr. Torelli make a house-call, so to speak, for a dental cleaning at Spaulding, I wondered?

That evening, after Cindy left, I sat in my hospital bed and pondered the situation. I had been a loyal and grateful patient of Dr. Torelli for decades; I was pretty sure that he would care about the state of my teeth.

Suddenly, an image appeared in my mind. I saw an image of Dr. Torelli’s office, with all of the specialized dental equipment: a chair with adjustable height, angle, and light; the electrical cords connecting the sprayer and drill; the small sink with a push-button tap. Then I saw a laughable image of movers installing a dental chair in my room at Spaulding.

Aha, I thought: it must be the special chair! I have to be in a special dental chair to have my teeth cleaned.

A healthy human brain is amazing, but a damaged brain can be capable of surprising things. The fact that I had been hoping to have a dental cleaning in my hospital bed tells me that my logic must have been impaired. But in the end, some of my brain connections were working just well enough to take me to the right conclusion: haircuts and dental cleanings are very different. A dental cleaning out of a normal setting is a lot harder to arrange than a haircut.

After I had returned home from Spaulding and I was more mobile, I had a cleaning and check-up with Dr. Torelli--at his office, in the usual chair. No cavities.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Ten Years Later: I'm OK. I Hope You Are, Too.

Note: I wrote most of this update a few weeks ago, before the Coronavirus had reached most of the US.

Last month was the tenth anniversary of my stroke. Many people have asked me two questions, either in person or online: Are you OK? Why aren’t you writing these days?

The answer to the first question is: yes, I’m generally OK. I’m still fairly disabled in many (and sometimes weird) ways. But I’ve had great improvements in two areas: my language, and my stamina.

For instance, I rarely need help with telephone conversations or emails now. I admit there was one time recently when I had an issue with my prescription coverage, and after several fruitless conversations and emails with my insurance and doctors, my husband stepped in. He has a Ph.D., and a lot of patience. But I usually manage my own communications, as long as I have enough time and I'm not too sleep-deprived.

And although my stamina varies greatly from day to day, here are some of the things I did on a regular basis this fall: driving into (and parking in) Boston to attend a three-hour class; riding on my recumbent trike for more than 30 minutes on the bike path; and shopping at Wegman’s after a harrowing drive through rush-hour to drop off my daughter at her climbing gym.

As to why I haven't been writing much: I could tell you that I'm too busy with the house, or the kids, or volunteering, or therapies--which is all true. But the main reason is that I think my story is less compelling at this point, both for readers and for me. This is a good thing. My story at first--mother of two young children who suddenly loses the ability to read to her children, to hug them, or generally interact with people normally--was terrible, weird, and poignant. It was great material for writing. And I was desperate to convey my altered reality.

My current story is less dramatic these days: I'm a somewhat disabled mother of two healthy teens, who (with her husband) tries to keep the household from descending into work-a-day chaos. But now that I'm well into middle age, more and more of my friends and connections are dealing with their own physical limitations and deep challenges.

Closing Note: I was pondering the conclusion of this post, and what to write about next, when the pandemic starting taking off. Like most Americans--and most of the world--I'm having a hard time focusing on anything other than the current crisis. My family is healthy, so far. I'm wishing health and safety to all my readers. Wash your hands.