Two weeks ago, Alice and I visited the Longview YMCA to tour its facilities. I have put on 20 pounds since my bladder operation, and we both could use some shaping up. Our guide turned out to be the Y’s executive director who took a keen interest in Alice’s renewed ambition to care for infants and toddlers.
The director handed Alice an application, and the two of us put together a multi-page submission, hand-delivering it on May 2. Two days later, as we prepared for a weekend with our extended family at the Aphasia Network’s Couples Retreat on the Oregon Coast, Alice received a call back from the Y.
Alice was offered a job!
We shared the good news with over 60 student counselors and staff, as well as other aphasia-recovering couples that night, and the people went wild. After three years of wondering whether she could adequately function as the professional she expects from herself (Alice’s stroke was March 12, 2015), here was the promise of a new beginning.
Back from the Coast
After our return last Sunday, Alice returned to the Y for a late-afternoon confirming interview. Two days later, Alice underwent training, and guess what?
Her first day at work is Tuesday morning.
The initial assignment calls for Alice to work one day a week. If Alice is able to progress at the Y, will I finally feel confident to take a break from driving for Uber and lately Lyft? Will I finally knuckle down and begin to write the book I’ve been bragging about?
At this point, it’s one step at a time. Four years ago, we moved to the Northwest to fulfill our manifest destiny. Now Alice is 74, I’m 75, and we’re settled in a beautiful condo apartment where we can jump-start our talents.
All photographs on this post, except for ones in which Alice appears, were taken by Alice McCormick. She’s a real talent, if I say so myself.
I once experienced serendipity in 2000 while driving from San Francisco to Ashland, Oregon. What a treat! Every town where I stopped was hosting its own music festival. That’s serendipitous.
My second encounter? Alice and I were chosen to participate in The Aphasia Network’s Couples Retreat weekend with 11 other couples on the Oregon Coast from March 4th through the 6th. But wait, when did I realize Alice’s 72nd birthday would coincide with the glorious finish of this pilot program?
In a bona-fide camp environment, the roaring ocean only a few hundred yards away provided a healing sound experience.
What a concept.
On Sunday morning, Alice received a slice of birthday cake – only one candle atop representing a life brightly burning – and over 50 staff members and students, plus survivors of aphasia and their respective caregivers, sang out Alice’s praises in the time-honored “Happy Birthday to You” refrain.
The meaning of that emotion-packed morning brought tears to many students’ eyes, and I vowed then to salute The Aphasia Network with this website post for giving my dear one the greatest birthday gift of all: unqualified love.
A little history should add perspective to Alice’s birthday weekend. Immediately after Alice McCormick endured her stroke a year ago (March 11, 2015), one of her children wanted to fly out here and size up the situation. Alice feared such a visit could threaten her independence. And as Alice’s caregiver, I am duty-bound to defend her. She manages me very well, so her wishes become my commands.
Many people consider the loss of instant coherent speech to be a sign of incompetency. That’s not true. Yes, aphasia affects the brain, but only the interior pathways. Mature, informed thoughts must blaze new trails to communicate themselves in speech or writing. That’s why Alice’s nonverbal command structure today uses gesture more than ever. Survivors of brain injury must skirt ill-informed behaviors of well-intentioned family members who can turn an agile mind into a vegetable garden.
It’s up to me to keep a protective shield around her. That’s my role as caregiver. (And if there should be any doubt as to how together Alice is, take a careful look at the photos gracing these words of mine. Her talent as a photographer is well on display, with the caveat that students at the Retreat took photos of the two of us together.)
Off to the Coast
After a frenzied bit of packing Friday afternoon, March 4th, I drove the Ford Escape affectionately known as Betsy toward Tillamuck and the rugged Coast beyond. After we turned onto the main Coast throughway, the pavement swept us through an Oregon fishing town perched next to a placid bay. Looking beyond the bay, we could make out ever-building waves of the ocean beyond.
We drove past an inviting lake and my GPS turned us onto an inlet-hugging quiet road toward Edwards Lodge, the assigned gateway where a team of dedicated Aphasia Network professionals welcomed us into a slice of heaven that I now call the Haven.
As soon as we walked inside, two charming students – Tiffany Tu (occupational) and Rachael Furtney (speech) – enthusiastically introduced themselves. These two bright motivated souls were to be our constant companions and seemingly cater to our every whim. Alice may have required a full-blown stroke to have such dedicated overseers, but never mind. These two women were shining beacons reigning over our newly opened lighthouse of life.
Our first evening was filled with introductions, and we oriented ourselves to the lay of the land. Tiffany and Rachael easily located our assigned sleeping bunks in the Herron House; then we gathered back into a nearby dining hall and met key staff officials.
An entertainment program was led off by Savel Sobol, a student who doubles as a nightclub comedian, whose humor captured the audience’s breathless attention. We caroused some with Professor John White, Ph.D., who led the entire group into a rousing sing-along. As the evening wore on, we acknowledged our gratitude to Aphasia Network team leaders Suzanne Gardner and Lisa Bodry who share camp administrative responsibilities, while continuing to be feted by a potpourri of support personnel who kept the good vibes flowing. We were treated like VIPs.
Our trip to the Coast was accompanied by mostly cloudy skies, and an onimous weather forecast called for stormy conditions. To Alice and me, though, the sound of a confused sea with breakers rolling across the adjacent beach was a seething, soothing series of rolling sound. On my side of the bunk beds, I dropped off quickly.
A New Day Breaks
However, Alice did not fall asleep until late into the night, due to a barely-there mattress, and as daybreak unveiled itself, she was unable to rouse herself into consciousness. I meandered off to the Carrier Dining Hall for a sausage-and-pancake breakfast, confided in Tiffany and Rachael, who instantly, merrily concocted a wake-up invitation of steel-cut oatmeal and black coffee to gently prod Alice back to the land of the living.
To keep at ease, other staff members reassured me that Alice was happily regaining her steadfast form, and soon Tiffany and Rachael escorted a beamingly happy McCormick partner into my Saturday morning. Lo and behold, the sun was shining, and we sneaked off to the beach to view the glorious Coast in its active ebb and flow. We were elated to discover partly sunny skies. Could it be possible a beach bonfire was still on the afternoon menu?
Back at Edwards, Professor White led a frank, no-holds-barred discussion unveiling a myriad of tools and toys to reinvigorate sexual communion between couples. Hoo boy, the couple across from us appeared shocked, and subconsciously the power of erotica was building in my libido. I looked at Alice lasciviously.
After a back-to-the-basics macaroni-and-cheese lunch, guitars, percussive instruments and voices gave the beach a hootenanny effect, romantically accompanied by a modest bonfire on the beach with only a few nuisance sprinkles of rain to ignore. Yes, it’s true, more than a few random urges of forbidden pleasure were awakened by the female in my life.
Everything that passed from then on seemed like a blur. I joined other caregivers in the Smith House to compare lifestyles while Alice was spirited off to join other aphasia sufferers whose task was to prepare appetizers for all to share. Wary of any needless weight gain, I sampled a few, but didn’t fill up.
That was wise, because we savored a sumptuous teriyaki chicken dinner at the Sherlock Lodge, while our companion music-makers kept the entire company enthralled.
As I said earlier, romance was already in the air, and when we reached our bunk beds, it overflowed. Some mischievous, but sentimental, elves had strewn rose petals (a la the movie “American Beauty”) in and around our sleeping quarters along with a small bottle of champagne. Oh man, was love in the air.
But a practical look around the confined spaces of our bunk beds sobered up this surfeit of romanticism. If we could twist ourselves around in one particular position, I reasoned, we might be able to enjoy naked pleasures. But at what cost? How would we drive back home if my ardor put us in traction?
Cooler heads prevailed, thank goodness. But on Sunday morning, before we left this Haven, I confessed to all within earshot how susceptible I was to “elves” who inflicted the inspiration of unpracticed acrobatic moves in a noisy enough closed space that certainly would have disturbed other couples in Herron House.
Sunday morning breakfast did not disappoint. A full serving of bacon, scrambled eggs, hash browns preceded Alice’s birthday cake celebration with enough get-well wishes to fill the entire Pacific Ocean. Tears seemed to be participants’ only defense against their earnest hearts.
We walked to the beach once again, and admired driftwood brought onshore during high tide. We took one good look before turning our backs on Oregon’s greatest charm to revel more on Alice’s big day.
Alice’s 72nd birthday proved to be something special we never could have created by ourselves. Our hearts were lifted – and so were our spirits – by a glorious weekend on the Coast, all made possible by the guiding geniuses at The Aphasia Network.
We love what they do, and how they support us. Our weekend was serendipity personified.
Alice has finished 50 per cent of intensive speech counseling. My partner in life began speech therapy on Jan. 4 at Portland State University (PSU), and my hard-headed woman has less than four weeks left.
We were anticipating professional guidance once we learned Alice qualified for the highly regarded research program, and, like a prized racehorse, she was chomping at the bit to get started. Communication has become Alice’s nemesis, especially when a critical word gets lost in the translation from thought to speech. Consequently, her frustration shows and builds.
Communicating is vital to intelligent beings, so Alice’s word-block syndrome takes a toll on both of us. While waiting for her two hours of therapy downtown to end, I sat on a wooden bench waiting for Alice to appear. Three weeks ago, though, a kindly professor took pity on my aching posterior and showed the way where a nearby cozy waiting area with cushioned chairs invited this weary interloper to ease those sore buttocks. Ah, relief!
The wait affords me this opportunity to chronicle her progress, because whenever we’re at PSU, I cannot Uber. However, on alternate days, Alice’s speech therapy is handled at our apartment. Wesley Allen, therapist extraordinaire (shown above), gives intense one-on-one sessions at aphasia sufferers’ homes and at PSU. The home sessions are extremely helpful to Alice and free me to drive for Uber and keep the financial ogres away, although writing takes a back seat to chauffeuring skills.
Researchers at Portland State University’s Aging and Adult Language Disorders Laboratory joined forces with the University of Washington’s Aphasia Lab to offer hope to sufferers of speech aphasia. Researchers want to understand more about aphasia and its related communication disorders. Alice’s participation not only helps her own recovery; it provides signposts for speech therapists who treat subsequent stroke victims.
Reflections of Christmas 2015
Because I haven’t written in two months, it’s important to report that Alice, Millie and I spent a pleasant holiday season. Close friends and family received our traditional annual photo with Millie around our grown-in-Oregon Christmas tree.
On Christmas Day, we once again celebrated as if we were Jews. We went to a movie and intended to eat at a Chinese restaurant. However, the Living Room Theaters in downtown Portland served so much fine cuisine and wine at plush seats where we watched “The Big Short” (which we wholeheartedly recommend) that our appetites were summarily squelched. Therefore, Chinese food was postponed until a week later.
I worked almost all day/night New Year’s Eve, prior to an unexpected invitation from friends to party hearty at their house less than a mile away from our apartment. We arrived half an hour before the clock struck midnight, and were treated like guests of honor. After some moderate drinking and smoking, kisses of congratulations were shared all around after the TV channel of our hosts’ choice showed the Times Square ball drop (on a three-hour tape delay).
Alice and I stuck around until 2 am. By the time we made it home, we didn’t fall into bed until 3:15. That equates to 6:15 am on the East Coast, so Alice and I became born-again party animals. What’s more, my cousin Margaret invited us to partake of a New Year’s Day sumptuous ham dinner joined by her offspring Brantley, Rori and Lauren.
Snow in Portland
It’s a good thing I worked New Year’s Eve, because the night of Jan. 2nd and the next morning this part of the Great Northwest was hit by 1-3 inches of snow and ice. Portland doesn’t salt its roads, claiming the product — used liberally in the rest of the country — is bad for the environment. Consequently, an outbreak of wintry precipitation shuts down sensible highway travel.
East Coast transportation is similarly affected, but only after the two-feet-plus snow event that buried the Northeast, including our friends in Doylestown, Pa. And oh, does Alice gloat! I suppose enduring a $400-plus monthly electric/gas bill for numerous years can do that.
Yes, Alice and I have reasons to embrace our newfound Portland life, but we are extremely wary of the explosive rental market and what a new lease on our modest apartment might entail. Nevertheless, we are optimistic about our prospects (at least most of the time), and Alice might surprise us all by going back to work. More to come!
Alice McCormick has been chosen to participate in a joint research project with the Aphasia Laboratory at the University of Washington and Portland State University.
Once her selection was announced, Alice consented enthusiastically. Participation begins Jan. 5, 2016 with a week of comprehensive testing.
Aphasia followed Alice’s stroke
The Aphasia Laboratory at the University of Washington conducts research to better understand the complex processing of language and how it affects individuals with aphasia. The project studies the theoretical nature of word-retrieval deficits in aphasia-stricken individuals with emphasis upon rehabilitation.
Word retrieval is related to one’s attention and cognitive processing, and the disorder known as aphasia is a common aftereffect of a stroke. Except for the speech aphasia and an inability to put words to paper and/or keyboard, Alice appears to have fully recovered from her mishap.
Difficulty finding words is a core feature of aphasia, which affects approximately 80,000 people each year in the U.S. Director of the University of Washington’s Aphasia Laboratory is Diane Kendall, whose focus is on rehabilitation and understanding the theoretical relationship between phonology (sounds) and aphasia. Her overall career objectives are to conduct systematic treatment research that creates better patient outcomes.
Through various awards and grants, Dr. Kendall continues to systematically test and refine protocols in phonomotor treatment for word-retrieval impairments in aphasia. In 2013, the quality of her Standardized Assessment of Phonology in Aphasia won Dr. Kendall a Fulbright Scholar Award to teach and conduct research at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
Treatment at Home and at Portland State U
The Aphasia Research Laboratory is affiliated with the University of Washington Integrated Brain Imaging Center. After Alice’s pre-testing week, she will receive six full weeks of treatment on a one-on-one basis with Wesley Allen, research speech-language pathologist, who works directly with Dr. Kendall. For Alice, this is big time.
Once the six weeks of hands-on treatment is finished, four more days of testing will follow, culminating three months later with a final round of testing.
I hope to report in depth on Alice’s progress and the rigorous treatment road ahead. We are both enthusiastic about this turn of events and hope this development signifies giant opportunities for the two of us.
Alice has been supportive of my partnering with Uber as a driver, but deep down inside, she prefers that I be at home writing my memoirs while she is working. Driving in Portland has turned out to be a dependable source of revenue for us, but it distracts from the goal we set back in September 2014 for our trek West to the Beaver State.
My life story hangs in the balance, and so does our survival. Onward and upward!
Read more about Alice’s stroke and recovery in the archives of this blog beginning with March 2015.
Alice and I received some disconcerting news two weeks ago. KinderCare is cutting back on her work hours even more.
Alice already was down to two hours a day, although she made herself available to work extra hours when asked to do so. Alice’s new schedule, according to the Hillsboro office manager, shows Alice “on call.” The only good part of this: Alice’s commuting expense is reduced.
To see how “on call” was going to work, I waited to report this development until two weeks had gone by. Now I can relate the result: No work at all.
This unofficial layoff is exacting a toll on my writing work. Whenever I have free time, I drive for Uber. That’s because the peak season for tourists has ended, and Uber’s continuing recruitment of drivers has saturated the market.
Some Good News for a Change
Alice appears to be chosen as a participant for a joint research aphasia project created by the University of Washington and Portland State University. We are awaiting an evaluation of Alice’s brain scans following her stroke, before the good news becomes official.
If she participates, Alice will undergo intensive therapy for six weeks that will target her speech aphasia five days a week. We are both excited and on edge about her prospects, but I am nervous about mounting financial obligations. I have become fearful, and it plays havoc on our relationship.
We will see what the future brings, and are grateful for the support by friends and family reflected on this website. We especially acknowledge the private contributions that lift our spirits beyond measure.
Portland’s rainy season erupted in October. This is a normal occurrence, so six weeks ago Alice and I ventured to the Coast for a day trip. We filled our senses with cool salt air, traipsing across the sand of Pacific City, Oregon, west of Tillamook, where fishermen launch their dories. While soaking in the scenery, we renewed our zest for living.
As you can see, the weather was glorious with temperatures in the mid-70s. That’s because Alice insisted we take the self-guided tour before meteorological fall in the Pacific Northwest took effect.
I have no complaints. Here are some pictures to document why.