Monday, June 20, 2011
Aloha to our Ohana,
A swarm of dark eagles was swooping down as I futilely looked around for any kind of shelter. Just as they flew close enough to reveal their menacing faces clearly, my early morning wake-up call arrived 15 minutes sooner than anticipated. As I awoke from the slumber and forced myself to focus on the alarm clock, it gradually became evident to my sleep-shrouded mind that 0445h is way too early to get up, especially following a late evening meal that ended not seven hours before. It was our last night together on this visit and although the clock had struck 1900h, Theresa did not want the evening to end -- and certainly not with a slice of Costco pizza. Since we had such a good time at our first Basque dining experience a few weeks ago, that was her intention for tonight. Theresa pulled from her planner a handwritten list of Basque restaurant names with stars beside those that she heard were good (this should no longer amaze me given her improving memory and cognition but it still does and I am ever so thankful to our Lord for these not-so-small signs of healing.)
After driving crosstown to reach Old Town Kern, created in 1874 when the Southern Pacific railway bypassed Bakersfield due to a dispute over how much right-of-way to cede, it's where two of the more famous Basque restaurants are located. Although we didn't have reservations, that shouldn't have been a problem given the half-empty parking lot that greeted us. Theresa was so looking forward to dinner that upon exiting the car, she told me not to bother with setting up the wheelchair and just hand over her cane. But upon entering the James Beard award winning Noriega Hotel & Restaurant, the nice hostess told us that dinner had started at 1900h and they were already serving the third course. With only one seating per evening, you have to be there on time; we didn't know this but will for our next visit. At Wool Growers Restaurant, the other Basque establishment a couple of blocks away, the story was different but the end result was the same -- they're closed on Sunday.
Rather than be upset, all of this driving and walking was building up an appetite so I suggested to Theresa as we headed back towards her residence that she should keep an eye out for any eatery that appeals to her as long as it isn't Mexican food. I don't have anything against the people but having sampled their style of cooking in Texas, California, New Mexico and even Tijuana, Cancun and Tulum, I must conclude that Mexican cuisine just won't make it onto my list of "last five meals to enjoy before departing this world." Besides, it's kind of an unwritten rule that when we do have Mexican food, it must be early enough to allow for a few hours to digest before bedtime. With 2000h fast approaching and our dining options acting like it was triple witching hour, Theresa scanned the restaurant district and dismissed Red Lobster, Marie Callender, In 'N' Out, El Pollo Loco and a few others. Finally on California Ave., her eyes lit up when we passed a place called Pho Hut. Now normally, any restaurant that takes the Pizza Hut logo and Photoshops in its own name would be questionable but we were getting desperate. By now, Theresa was too tired to walk so we reverted to the wheelchair, which always draws stares of sympathy wherever she enters. Not that we take advantage of the situation (except for the handicap parking pass) but probably in a month or so, I expect the wheelchair will be a remnant of our past and for that we continue to offer praise to God. Theresa's instincts were right as usual and the food & service were wonderful at Pho Hut, a great first addition to our Bakersfield late night eateries.
The return flight to Kona was uneventful although it involved another mad dash between gates, except this time I made it, but just barely. The reward was that as the last one to board, there was no room for my carry-on so it was gate checked at no additional cost. The pleasantries continued as my row of three was open, allowing me to stretch out for the six hour flight to follow. Upon landing and catching the Air Taxi straight to the hotel, I picked up a text from Theresa thanking me for the visit, grateful to our Lord for choosing me as her husband, and wishing that she could have come home with me. I know in my heart that Theresa will be returning to Hawai'i and with God's Grace, it will be sooner than anyone expects.
For the next couple of weeks, Theresa kept in touch with me by phone, voicemail and text. The good news is that the intensive rehab therapy schedule continues to produce marked improvements both physically and cognitively. The day after I left, the PT put Theresa on the treadmill but she could not keep up at even the slowest speed of 0.8mph. By the second week, Theresa reports that she is able to walk on the treadmill for 2 x 10 minute sessions and the next goal is to slowly increase the speed up to 2.5mph which is considered normal walking pace when outside. OT is working with Theresa to improve her arm reach, strength and dexterity, and the cognitive and educational therapists are challenging her with ever more difficult and distracting puzzles, math and reading assignments. Theresa said one assignment involves balancing a mock checking account and it took a few tries but she got it right. Pretty impressive considering she hasn't had to balance a checkbook in real life since about 1999 when I joined her in Wisconsin. In some ways, this new improved version of Theresa reminds me of the Bionic Woman -- better, stronger, faster.
On the residential front, Unit #412, a 1-bedroom apartment became available recently and Theresa gladly participated in the move, personally ensuring her orchids were successfully transplanted and decorating the empty living room wall with the Get Well Aunty Theresa poster made by our church's keiki (children). Although the relocation was exhausting, the new unit allows more privacy and better rest at night as Theresa is no longer awakened every few hours by a roommate heading outside to smoke. With the quieter surroundings, Theresa is reading books, magazines and even some medical journals I brought last time. She's also writing thank-you cards to those that sent greetings so don't be surprised if you receive one soon. The other week, Theresa told me of a new patient who only speaks Mandarin Chinese. During clinic hours, there is a translator to assist with the communication but back at the residence, the rehab aides are pretty much left to figure out how to talk to the new patient, or as a last resort to use the telephone translation service. One of the aides noticed Theresa speaking to the new arrival so now they ask Theresa to translate when they can't get through. Theresa's comment to me was that she'd be happy to translate and would only charge half of what the AT&T operator does. I don't know if she's kidding or it's a sign that Theresa's entrepreneurial spirit has returned but I'll praise our Lord either way.
At CNS, the daily living therapy includes managing the weekly grocery budget plus a separate fund for outings like movies, salons, restaurants, take-out, etc. But once that outing budget is spent, the patient has to wait until the next week to receive additional funds. Theresa's first attempt at increasing her outing budget was to buy a box of cheap pens and sell them at a small profit to the rehab aides, who are always looking for a pen to document the patient activities. At $0.17 profit per pen, it was taking a long time to save up even the $6 for a movie so Theresa has taken on a new tack. There are nicer pens equipped with cushion grips at the clinic so when she sees one, she compliments the staff member and asks if it's okay to keep it. They invariably say yes and by the end of the day, Theresa has accumulated a few of these nicer pens. She then takes them back to the residence and sells them for up to $1 each. When I mentioned that this wasn't entirely ethical, her reply was that she does give the occasional pen away for free, probably to increase her sales with more exposure. Perhaps I just need to remind Theresa about her experience with the Valentine's Day chocolate giveaway since that took place during her post traumatic amnesia phase. The Lord always provides so whatever you give away, you will be blessed to receive many times over.
In early June, I found it necessary to return to Bakersfield as the health insurer was once again balking at extending coverage for Theresa's ongoing rehab at CNS. This time, their tactic was to imply that she could receive comparable treatment in Honolulu or even on an out-patient basis in Kona. Having experienced both in & out-patient rehab therapy during Theresa's prior recovery in 2009, we have intimate knowledge of the difference between CNS and what's available in Hawai'i, and both have their purposes. For now, Theresa can still benefit from CNS (& Craig Hospital's) intensive rehab therapy which is so important in the first few months post-traumatic brain injury and when that phase of healing is completed, she can continue with out-patient rehab back home. This is not a difficult concept to grasp but it seems to elude the health insurer. If Theresa were not making the progress that she has, I could understand not wasting valuable resources and just sending her to a nursing home to live out her days, but she is improving steadily day by day and cutting us off at this critical time of healing clearly sends a message of valuing finances over proper healthcare. Again, it is out of our hands however the health insurer decides but it does not weaken our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
On a more positive note, this unexpected visit allowed Theresa and me to see each other sooner than planned and we spent another wonderful long weekend together. This time we did get to dine at Noriega's and the wait was well worth the lifetime experience of sharing a 50' long table with 100 other patrons. Not only was the endless food and wine beyond our expectations, but we learned a lot from the couple sitting across who've been coming for dinner regularly for the past 20 years. Other Basque restaurants may have more exposure or better PR but their verdict is that Noriega's has the best food and true family service. We are in complete agreement and will definitely return as each day of the week has different food & wine pairings.
Last Sunday, we took advantage of the first clear day that week and headed out to nearby Lake Isabella. It was a beautiful drive along the curving canyon road and the raging river with the late spring runoff was a site to behold. Upon arriving at the town near the lake, we took a wrong turn and ended up climbing a mountain pass rather than going to the lakeside. So instead of getting a photo by the lake, the view we had was from a narrow winding road atop the nearby mountain. Beautiful in its own right and another sign that God is indeed Great!
Monday, June 6, 2011
Aloha to our Ohana,
It's been a couple of weeks since the last update and I appreciate your patience and dedication in following our healing journey of grace. There's much to share so it's best to continue from where we left off at the afternoon of Lu'au fun. Following the round of golf where Theresa amazed us by walking and playing three holes, the next activity was cognitive therapy disguised as a game of memory. For the eight patients playing, the first would name an item they would bring to a lu'au starting with the letter 'A.' The next one would repeat the first item, then add their own starting with the next letter in the alphabet. This would go on until all 26 letters and their corresponding items were used. By the letter 'N' everyone had made at least one mistake except for Theresa. In fact, the therapist had to remind her numerous times not to give hints to the others as everyone was being graded on their working memory abilities. In the end, Theresa won the game by recalling all 26 of the items correctly. That this part of her cognition is coming back is a wonderful blessing and another sign of our Lord's incredible healing powers.
With all of the exertion and activities that afternoon, I expected that Theresa would want to return to the CNS residential facility to rest and relax before calling it a night. That was not the case as the last thing Theresa wanted to do was spend an evening sitting alongside her roommates or the rehab aide while being tortured by yet another disease of the week movie on the LMN channel. As an aside, we rarely watch TV at home, having cut the cable TV line over two years ago and replaced it with a $50 Radio Shack antenna. The loss of 80+ channels wasn't missed and it allowed us more time to talk, take evening walks, and fully enjoy more of each other's company; another of God's little pleasures that I look forward to soon. And with savings of $1000/yr on the cable bill, if former HGTV junkies like us could do it, so could many of our Ohana!
When I arrived at Theresa's apartment, she was just finishing her shower and getting dressed, not for bed but to go out again. Joining her in the bathroom, I continued to marvel at her progress as she prepared two towels for drying: one draped over the wheelchair and the other on her head and upper body. Once her hair was wrapped, just using the grab bar on the wall, Theresa stood up from the shower chair and carefully pivoted until she sat down in the wheelchair. She then proceeded to dry herself and headed over to the vanity to brush her hair. Watching her do this with both her arms overhead brought joy to my heart as it was not so long ago that she had that frozen shoulder syndrome. After dressing almost completely by herself (I helped with the socks as her sock-aide was in the wash) Theresa saw the look of puzzlement in my eyes and then stated rather plainly, "Oh, we're going out tonight so choose a movie." Somewhat stunned into compliance, I wheeled her out the door bidding farewell to the roommates and aide, and off we went to the local megaplex cinema.
Bakersfield is so spread out that even the local cinema isn't so close. Just driving from the airport to the clinic to the residence and then returning to the hotel easily puts 60 miles (100km) on the car. The Maya Cineplex was a good 15-20 minutes away however traffic was decidedly light for a Friday evening and we arrived in time to choose from the 1900h selections. Since Theresa has already seen many of the recent releases including Soul Surfer, Thor, Bridesmaids and a few others, I chose "Water for Elephants" not knowing much about it. The film's story is along the lines of The Notebook or Titanic in that the elderly narrator is describing life changing events from their past. Other than taking a bathroom break about halfway through (where Theresa showed off her improved standing and walking ability) we became engrossed in the simple yet sweet love story. What really surprised me was that Theresa stayed alert and engaged and even asked some pertinent questions throughout. She did mention that the circus ringmaster gave her the creeps but that just means he played his part well. About the only glitch in that long day and night was when Theresa tried to get out of the theater chair after the show. It's the type that's low to the ground and the seat bottom slides forward as it reclines. Despite her efforts, the seat would slide as soon as she tried to get up causing her to fall back into it. After a couple more attempts that ended in laughter (she started and then I joined in) I stood in front and just told her to lean forward into me rather than try to stand. Once she did so and was free of the carnival chair, all I had to do was hold her hips while she stood herself up. I am so grateful to our Lord for the time spent with Theresa, to be able to witness her progress as His healing powers make her whole again.
The next morning was the weekly grocery outing so Theresa called to say she would be on the CNS shuttle and to meet her at Trader Joe's at 1100h. The hour came and went as I waited until finally Theresa phoned to say that with so many patients and their unique mobility challenges, some delay was inevitable; thus the caravan didn't arrive until after 1200h. We hurriedly made our purchases although Theresa took her time to leisurely sample some food and coffee and then went back for seconds. The reason for the rush was that I had received a call from my Aunts Helen & Margaret from San Diego and L.A. and they were already on their way to Bakersfield to meet us for a late lunch. Along was my mother, Shirley, who just happened to be visiting them that week from Edmonton, Alberta. After rushing back to Theresa's apartment to unload the groceries, we headed to the Grand View Chinese restaurant where sure enough, my Mom and her sisters were already waiting and had placed an order for various Dim Sum dishes. As we sat down and caught up, my Mom and her sisters were surprised at Theresa's improving condition and how she was so alert and engaging in conversation. The food then started to arrive and of all people, Theresa led us in an eloquent and heartfelt prayer of grace and thanksgiving. The highlight of the meal was when Theresa emptied the steamer basket of shrimp dumplings onto her plate. I was about to suggest we should share but thought better of it. Theresa later told me that after being subjected to microwaved Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choices lunches for the past two months, she deserved to enjoy one of her favorite dishes by herself.
Following lunch, we bid farewell to my relatives as they prepared for their 3-hr return drive to L.A. They'd also brought a gift of orchid flowers that Theresa just adored so rather than return to the residence right away, she wanted to shop for a watering pitcher and a pot. This entailed a multi-stop trip to Target, Home Depot, Albertsons and others to find just the right equipment. By late afternoon, we finally returned to the apartment where Theresa immediately found a sheltered spot to put the orchids. Even I was bushed and looking forward to a quiet evening but that was not in the cards. Not half an hour later, the fire alarm went off and everyone had to evacuate the complex. I still don't know if it was a false alarm or not but as we were waiting across the street at the designated gathering area, Theresa asked for the second time in two nights which movie I'd like to see -- so much for the relaxing evening together. This movie outing had been previously scheduled and Theresa had signed herself up, not knowing at the time that I would be there. In the end, it wasn't as tiring as I thought and we enjoyed each others company while laughing and cringing at the silly gal pal flick, Bridesmaids.
Sunday would be our final time together on this visit and the day was already looking to be packed. Following church tv, there was a planned outing to the Knotty Pine Cafe, located north of town near the airport. Known for its heaping plates of food (the chicken-fried steak is a two plate affair) the line-up outside the door promised good things to come. When our turn came, Theresa had the quesadilla omelet and I bravely ordered the CF steak, thinking it could be shared with others in our group. Her omelet seemed to be missing a key ingredient (tomatoes and/or salsa) and yes, the CF steak was as large as a plate but also about as tasty as one. This didn't even merit comparison to the famous CF steak at Hickory Hollow in Houston let alone that truck stop restaurant in Nagodoches Texas that served the best CF steak in our memories. Still, it was nice to sit with some of the other CNS patients and their families and share the sacrifices we have all made for our loved ones. One devoted daughter swapped her aspiring career in Boston for a Starbucks barista job here just so she could be near and support her brain-injured mother during this critical phase of healing. In times like these, we must do what we feel is right, and praying for guidance from God is an important step in that process.
The afternoon was spent back at the residence, assisting Theresa with her assigned chore of bathroom cleaning. She did a good job on the vanity, toilet, floors and shower compartment but even while standing, Theresa had trouble reaching high enough to wipe down the counter-to-ceiling mirror. Partly due to her height and partly because of the limited over the head reach in her arms, I cleaned and polished it but she still received the credit. Later on, we made a run to Costco for another box of Depends and a few other supplies. She doesn't even need it most nights but sometimes it's easier to have on just-in-case, or if the aide has moved her wheelchair out of reach. While leaving, Theresa had a craving for pizza so I was about to get her a slice when she asked if we could order a whole pie. Having visions of indigestion haunting us in the middle of the night, I asked if she needed that much food and the reply was it's not for us, it's for the rehab aides! This one is always thinking of others and her actions were certainly appreciated by the hungry staff that night. In the end, what started out as a trepiditious arrival due to the health insurer's questioning of the need for continuing care, turned out to be a very rewarding visit with my wife. While it is in the health insurer's nature to choose profit over the patient's needs, their decisions will not derail the faith we have in the healing powers of our Lord, Jesus Christ.