Tag Archives: therapy

Featured in Local Paper

2 Dec

I am excited to say Chuck and I were featured in our local paper! Article below by Jason Evans, who did an excellent job.

CLEMSON — Like most married couples, Laura Garren and Chuck Linnell like to rib each other and chuckle at the inside jokes that come with any long relationship.

Their relationship was radically redefined in a matter of seconds in 2008, when Linnell suffered a catastrophic stroke at the age of 56.

Garren recently self-published “Stroke Happens: A Caretaker’s Memoir,” a book chronicling just how their lives changed in the aftermath, as Linnell began the recovery process and Garren navigated their new reality.

Garren discussed the book during a signing the pair held at Nick’s Tavern last Saturday afternoon. An odd place for literature, the Clemson tavern is a special place for the couple — it’s where they first met.

Before his stroke, Linnell taught at Clemson University as an education professor. He was well thought of by his students, so much so that a piece of graffiti on campus once read, “Dr. Linnell rocks!”

“He used to be a great talker,” Garren said. “He could tell some great stories.”

The stroke robbed Linnell of his ability to speak.

“He knows what’s going on, he just can’t express with any language at all,” Garren said. “It’s hard not being able to have conversations. It could have been worse, though — he could have been too disabled to be able to come home.”

Garren wrote the book in the hopes that it would help others.

“(I hoped) it would help other people who were in my position because I had tried to find books written by stroke survivors or people taking care of stroke survivors and there wasn’t that much out there,” Garren said. “I wanted to get it out there because maybe it could help some people.”

Strokes can happen to anyone at any age, even to people like Linnell, a very fit, seemingly healthy man who had no risk factors, according to his doctors.

“He had no warning signs,” Garren said. “Warning signs, that’s what saves people. Anything happening just on one side of the body — droop, paralysis, weakness, a one-sided, really bad headache, if the person suddenly has trouble speaking or understanding speech.

“Anything that’s going on one side, don’t wait to call 911, because time is brain,” Garren continued, alluding to the damage that can rapidly occur during a stroke.

It wasn’t Linnell’s first brush with death. He was in a car accident decades earlier that left him in a coma for weeks.

But his survival at that time came with a cost later.

“It wiped out a lot of real estate,” Garren said. “He didn’t have as much to compensate with as he would have had he not had that first accident.”

A writer and teacher, Garren quit her job to take care of Linnell.

The book draws from emails Garren wrote to friends and family in the early days after Linnell’s stroke and beyond.

“I didn’t really remember a whole lot that had happened because of the trauma, medical post-traumatic stress,” Garren said.

“Those emails generated a lot of support and built community for us. So I referred back to the emails because then I could read them and chart the progress. That filled in some blanks for me,” she said.

The book details the therapy Linnell went through to get back on his feet. Garren had to navigate the confusing, often frightening medical bureaucracy on behalf of her husband.

One idea to get the book out into the community is to leave copies in therapy facilities, Garren said.

“Maybe somebody who needs to read it, and should read it, will read it,” she said. “They can connect and see, ‘Oh, somebody else has gone through this.”

Writing the book became a borderline obsession for Garren, she said. Though a few publishers turned her down, she pushed forward with the memoir.

“I would sit down and write three to five hours, five days a week,” Garren said.

The first draft was completed in about three months.

The book’s subtitle, “A Caretaker’s Memoir,” reflects on her feelings about the situation she was thrust into.

“Caregiver feels more voluntary to me,” she said. “I was forced into this position, and although it was a choice to stay with him and take care of him, it didn’t feel like a choice.

“So I decided I was going to continue to call myself a caretaker because something was taken — the marriage as it was,” Garren continued. “The life we had, the things we had planned — all of that changed.”

Her book describes her process of coming to terms with what happened, not only to her husband, but to herself.

“He probably handled it better than I did,” Garren said. “He’s a trooper. I’ve rarely seen him lose his temper or get upset.”

The book features drawings by Linnell throughout. He added drawings beneath Garren’s signature during the book signing.

“He was always a good sketch artist,” Garren said.

The book also serves as a way to thank all the people who have helped the couple during their transition. Garren writes movingly of the support that surrounded her and of the isolation she felt at times while caring for her husband 24/7. Friends raised more than $10,000 to allow them to travel to and stay in Michigan in order for Linnell to be enrolled in an intensive therapy program.

“I wanted to sort of acknowledge them and thank them,” Garren said.

The couple also drew support from their four-legged friends, many of which are described in the book. One dog even visited Linnell in the hospital soon after his stroke.

“Whoever I married was going to have to love dogs,” Garren said. “They’re real, real important in the narrative of our lives.”

At that, Linnell voices his agreement by imitating a dog’s howl.

Garren is now a dog trainer, becoming certified in 2012.

“I use my writing skills with that,” she said of the treatment plans she creates for her clients and their owners. She’s also teaching part-time at Clemson again.

“Stroke Happens” is available on Amazon, alongside her first book, “The Chattooga River: A Natural and Cultural History.”

For more information on the book, follow the “Stroke Happens” page on Facebook.

jevans@upstatetoday.com | (864) 973-6681

Follow on Twitter @citizenjason5

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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 today, I froze. I couldn’t decide what to write about. I felt like a blob, indeed, hands poised over the keyboard, waiting for the words to come. I felt I needed to write about Chuck’s stroke, therapy, recovery or how I coped with it. But I didn’t feel moved, so I pondered on it for a while. I think I understand, now.

     When Chuck had a stroke, it took over my life. However, six years have passed, and I have moved on. It’s now hard to recall much of the experience or my feelings during that time. The stress of that time blurred my memory of events. So how to proceed? Maybe this post should relate how I moved on, because I do remember a time when I thought I never would be able to. I was every bit a victim of stroke, albeit in a different way, as Chuck. While I would not describe myself as “happy,” exactly, I have found a level of contentment and fulfillment I never thought possible. Maybe I should describe how I got there.

     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 was not possible, 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, a very painful process 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 by moving, twice. We left our small town to move a small city, and then back again. I missed having access to my form of therapy: hiking in the woods, swimming in the lake, walking in the country. However, during our sojourn to the city 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. The last was rediscovering my love of writing, which has helped me redefine my identity. I started writing again, and five years later I wrote a book. I have a manuscript in progress and an idea for the next project simmering on the back burner.

     My 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 as a victim, ultimately not enough for me. I had to find myself, or more specifically the self I had become, and merge it with my new role as Chuck’s caretaker. The act of writing, or finding my voice, enabled me to move on while remaining in place.

    

Your Best Resource: Yourself

21 Nov

Your loved one has just suffered a stroke. What should you do? I’ve compiled a list of things I did after the initial crisis passed. I hope it will help anyone else who’s trying to cope with the stroke of a loved one. Keep in mind that this list constitutes my opinions based on my experience as a caretaker. These are things I did or wish I had done.

1. Get the best medical care available. Make sure a neurologist is on staff. Some hospitals don’t have one, believe it or not. If yours does not, transfer your loved one to a hospital that does.

2. Apply for Social Security Disability Income, even if you think your loved one won’t need it. Benefits don’t start until five months after APPLICATION, not the date of disability, with no retro activity.

3. Demand that therapy start as soon as possible. Anticipate therapy after hospitalization and start making calls now; every facility will have a waiting list, and you want to get your loved one on it as soon as possible. Also, do not be afraid to dismiss a therapist you or your loved one doesn’t like, for whatever reason.

4. Research treatment options; don’t depend on the experts to know everything. Find out if any clinical trials are running, or where the best therapy is for specific conditions, such as aphasia.

5. Create an email list of family, friends and colleagues so that you can communicate about your loved one’s condition and ask for help when you need it.

6. Ask for help! People want to help but often don’t know what you want. Tell them, whether it’s food, a ride to the hospital, someone else to visit your loved one so you can take a break, or just a kind word. Caretaking is a grind, and you may be doing it for a long time, so pace yourself.

7. Wallow in self-pity if you must (I did), but try to take care of yourself. Did I mention caretaking is a grind? All the more reason to take care of yourself. Exercise, eat well, don’t overdo alcohol. If you feel depressed, ask your family physician to prescribe meds.

8. Read everything you can get your hands on about stroke: books, magazines, articles, both in print and on line. Look for a future post with a list of books I found helpful.

9. Start a journal in which you can record events, as well as your feelings. In the chaotic aftermath of a stroke, you may forget things, so it helps to write them down. Also, sometimes you might not realize how you’re feeling until you write it down.

10. Anticipate what your loved one will need upon coming home. Ask the therapists what these might be: a handicap ramp; removal of rugs that might cause tripping; shower seat; etc.

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