Tag Archives: book

Let Me Tell You About My Book

25 Oct

Stroke Happens: A Caretaker’s Memoir tells the story of my husband’s stroke and my role as his caretaker after he suffered a massive stroke in 2007, at the age of 56. I decided to self-publish through Amazon because, after submitting the manuscript to more than 30 publishing companies, I couldn’t get anyone to read it. (I still wonder, “Why do publishers have submission guidelines on their websites if they weren’t even going to look at submissions?” I still don’t have an answer.)

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Finally, I overcame my reservations about self-publishing, realizing I have nothing to prove since I published The Chattooga River: A Natural and Cultural History (2013) through The History Press.

If you follow my blog and find it helpful, please read my book for more a detailed account of my journey through the tumultuous emotional landscape of stroke recovery. I hope my experience can help others find answers, feel validated and reach acceptance in their role as a caretaker; or simply be informed by my description of one aspect of the human condition

Thank you for reading. Best, Laura Ann Garren

 

Resources for the Stroke Survivor/Caretaker

3 Dec

Many stroke survivors do get full function back. I decided to assume that Chuck would, and I became prolifically proactive, spending hours surfing the Net looking for alternative or supplemental treatments and assistive devices. I am sharing my findings in case they might help someone else.

Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are free but experimental, designed to test new therapies or medical treatments. We ended up not pursuing this route, but here are some sources, typically sponsored by the federal government and private hospitals, universities, and research centers.

http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=clinicaltrials
http://www.strokecenter.org/trials/
http://www.centerwatch.com/clinical-trials/listings/condition/142/stroke

Constraint Induced Therapy (CIT)
I read about CIT in The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Diodge. CIT involves restricting the use of the functional hand and thereby forcing the affected arm to work. The action of movement, even if a therapist manually produces it, causes neurons to fire. The arm communicates to the brain, “Hey, I’m still here! I need neurons.” Treatment takes place daily and lasts several hours. This kind of intensive therapy has been shown to be more effective than conventional therapy, which usually takes place three times a week. In order to qualify for this program, potential participants must have the ability to make a fist, which Chuck never was able to do.

The Mirror Box
The brain is the most complex organ of all the organs, containing the universe and the sum of all we know, as well as managing all our involuntary bodily functions and reflexes; which is why we don’t have to think about breathing. When brain cells are killed, as in a stroke, they don’t grow back. Luckily, the brain has plasticity; it can compensate for such loss with the help of neurons, which can grow new pathways around the damaged area. However, when a limb, especially an arm, is paralyzed as a result of a stroke, it suffers “learned disuse,” and the brain has to be coaxed into giving back function to the arm. Sometimes, it has to be tricked. This is how the mirror box works.

The mirror box is constructed of slick fabric stretched around wires. On one side on the outside of the box is a mirror. The affected arm is placed inside the box, where it cannot be seen; the functional hand rests outside the box, facing the mirror. The patient moves the functional arm while looking at its reflection in the mirror, imagining he is moving the affected arm. The brain is thereby tricked into communicating with the arm, which is what has to happen in order for the arm to move. Best of all, they only cost $40.

The Biffy
In some cases, the caretaker of  the stroke survivor has to assist in cleaning after a bowel movement. In order to avoid this task and to spare Chuck’s dignity, I turned to the Internet, where I discovered a gadget that improved our quality of life to a great degree: the Biffy. It fits onto the toilet bowl and diverts water, by way of the intake valve, through a spout that sends a jet of water into the nether regions when the user pulls a lever. The cost was $100, much less expensive than a real bidet.

Rest   With Chuck After Stroke
A person who has suffered a stroke needs lots of rest. Chuck slept 12 hours a night and took naps during the day for the first year post-stroke. The brain needs that time to heal, so let a stroke survivor sleep as much as possible.

Knowledge is Power
I also found other sources of information on the Internet, such as free magazines Stroke Smart and The Stroke Connection and books like My Stroke of Insight; Head Cases: Brain Injury and Its Aftermath; and The Brain That Changes Itself. I read as much as I could, on line and off, about stroke. As I could find very few books from the point of view of the caretaker, I wrote one myself: Stroke Happens, available on Amazon.

Educating myself was one of the best ways I was able to help Chuck. I gathered a mass of information—some helpful, some not—much of which no doctor or therapist ever told me about. In addition, doing the work helped me feel empowered in a virtually uncontrollable situation. Fact-finding became a form of free therapy, which kept me from feeling helpless and filled many hours that otherwise might have been spent despairing.

Best, Laura Ann Garren

 

Moving On

24 Nov

The other day I announced to my email list that I had started a blog. I received a message from a friend congratulating me on my “blob.” I laughed, but when I sat down to write my first entry, I froze. I couldn’t decide what to write about. I felt like a blob. I found it difficult to channel the experience, perhaps because it was difficult to relive.

I finally decided to make this entry about moving on, because at one time the thought was unimaginable. The stroke happened to me as well as to Chuck, and I thought I would never be happy again. However, I have managed to find a level of contentment and peace I never thought possible.

The first step, obviously, was to get through the crisis itself. Next was to get Chuck what he needed in terms of continued therapy, which absorbed most of my energy for the first year and was driven in part by my desire for his complete recovery. When I realized that goal was not reachable, I then had to accept it, which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I had to let go of the idea of Chuck as he was before the stroke. DSCN1338_1_2.jpgThe process was very painful because that was the prize I had been reaching toward, the finish line that had kept me in the race.

I spent the next couple of years avoiding reality. We left our small town to move the city, and then back again. I missed having access the unfettered outdoors: hiking in the woods, swimming in the lake, walking in the country. However, during our “exile,” I received some gifts I would not have otherwise. The first was yoga. The second was being able to be present for a dying friend. I have I learned to find silver linings in the stormiest of clouds.

I also rediscovered my love of writing, which has helped me recover my identity. Garren Biz Card copyI began contributing to an award-winning wildlife magazine, and five years later, I wrote a book (The Chattooga River: A Natural and Cultural History) and published a manuscript, Stroke Happens.

51ZBPymvoMLMy point is that I had to actively seek contentment and fulfillment, not wait for them to find me. For a time, I lost myself in the role of caretaker and victim. I had to redefine myself, or more specifically inhabit the self I had become. The act of writing, or finding my voice, enabled me to move on while remaining in place. May everyone else in a caretaking role be able to do so, as well.

Best, Laura Ann Garren

Stroke Happens: A Resource for Survivors, Caretakers and Loved Ones

13 Jun

Welcome to my blog, Stroke Happens, a resource for anyone who has been affected by stroke. It’s also the title of my book about stroke, recovery and caretaking. If you are a stroke survivor or a caretaker, like I am, or if you are a loved one of someone who has suffered a stroke, I hope this blog will provide you with information and inspiration.

Stroke happened to us August 31, 2007, when I woke up to find my husband, Chuck, mute and paralyzed. He went to bed himself and woke up a different person, in effect. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, we had started out on a journey that would test the limits of love and endurance.

Chuck Self Portrait

Along the way, I learned many things only after I really needed the information. One of my goals in my Stroke Happens blog is to provide answers to questions that the reader hasn’t asked yet. I want to help other stroke survivors and their caretakers to avoid some of the obstacles I faced. I want to offer support to those who are dealing with stroke and its aftermath, to show that happiness is possible even after the most dramatic losses imaginable.

I hope you will find this website informative, entertaining and helpful. I also have a Facebook page by the same name (Stroke Happens); please check it out and click, “like.” Thanks for reading.

Best, Laura Ann Garren

 

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