Page 6 of 6

Heady stuff

StrokeTools

 

The response to Blog # 1 blew my mind.

I knew that there was loads of interest in all things brain. But I didn’t dream that my first effort would get to so many readers or that the feedback would be so heady.

And after connecting with many of you, I realize that I have to do a bit more stage setting before going any further.

In the first helping of Brain Food I gave a sample of what the stroke fried in my mind. I want to be certain that I didn’t gloss over this. When I wrote that I lost the ability to read and write, I meant that I really lost it. That bit of brain was dead to me. It wasn’t a matter of snapping out of it. It meant firing up new brain bits and starting from scratch. Like a kid. But like a kid with a fried melon that may not be up to the task.

I’m not saying this to make you feel sorry for me. I just want to be crystal clear how devastating, damaging and life changing this mind sizzle was.

In the hospital, when I finally accepted that I’d had a stroke – and that took a while — this is how a poster on the wall of my hospital room looked to me: Eslmlsfslsmflsflsflosf CCCDOJIFOSFSJ.

After weeks re-learning the ABCs, I moved on to getting my head around small words and connecting them to what they stood for. The pic above is a snapshot of some of the tools I used for this. B—o—o—k spells book, read one flash card designed for preschoolers and adapted for my use. Above the letters, a drawing of a book painted the picture for me. The rehab folks at the Grey Nuns Hospital worked through this with me twice a week. My wife, Patricia, coached me on this a few times every day along with flash cards she picked up at a dollar store.

When I was ready we found a reading device called a WordQ which we installed on my computer. It would read the words on my screen for me while I tried to follow along. I still use it because while I now can read and write, I read at about 51 words per minute. The average person reads at somewhere between 150 and 190 words per minute.

The recorder in the picture was with me whenever I went for a walk, which I did a couple of times every day. I was to use it to capture my thoughts and, later, to record attempts at summarizing short stories that I’d turtle read. Much of the time I would forget how to start the recorder. And when I did manage the ‘on’ setting, I’d often forget to turn it off.

That’s part of my story. I’ve met dozens and dozens of folks fighting battles with their brains with their own stories that have inspired, horrified and often helped shape the new me.

Like a kind, lovely lady who started swearing like a sailor after her stroke and never was able to work again due to the lasting damage it left her with. And there was a guy just a bit older than me who stroked out seven years prior to my brain buzz. I met him at a quirky book club for the brain injured and stroke survivors.  After all that time, he was still battling with his mind to hold thoughts together long enough to hold even a simple job.

I’ve met with and tried in vain to connect with stroke ‘survivors’ who were trapped inside themselves, unable to communicate with the outside world. I’ve spent time with people with perfect thoughts they could no longer easily communicate because their speech and mobility were stroke ravaged.

And yet there is hope. I’m proof of that as are loads of other folks who’ve been able to reboot and retrain their brains and once again start to live meaningful, productive lives.

That’s part of my passion for Brain Food. The other part is this. All of the knowledge that’s helping the brain injured and damaged is there for everyone. To help folks brush the dust off, to get more out of what they have for longer. This is very cool.

Oh by the way…that lady who had to give up her career? Her name is Wendy Pangrass and she’s now leading a group that’s doing amazing work with stroke victims, helping them deal with the emotional shock of what they’re going throw and support them in their long term recovery.

Below is along piece of the feature story I wrote for the Edmonton Journal last June. BTW, I’m still waiting to hear from agents or publishers about my book. Seriously, feel free to call 🙂
Part Two:
Former journalist Tim Seefeldt tells the story of his amazing journey to relearn the basics 3 Rs
By Tim Seefeldt, Edmonton Journal
June 13, 2014

The next day I was disconnected from the machines. Patricia was back and I was trying to get a grip on how to work my unco-operative limbs. There were more tests. People – I had no idea who they were – dropped by to talk to me, but whatever I was saying to them didn’t seem to make sense.

How could I have had a stroke? From what I could see, most of my ward mates needed walkers. This is what a stroke looked like, right? Many couldn’t talk or if they did it was with stilted speech. This is what a stroke sounded like, I was sure of that.

I was clearly confused and my memory was messed up, but I figured there could be lots of reasons for that. Near as I could remember, I was only 45.

When Patricia left that night, I decided to try to fix the things that had confused doctor What’s His Name into thinking that I’d stroked out. Then I figured he’d let me go home.

Memory first. I thought of the people I knew. Patricia, Kristina, Anna. Lee and Sue – my parents, deceased but still solidly in my mind. Rudy and Marlene – my inlaws. I eventually got my sister’s name – Shelly.

But I drew a blank from there.

I decided to look around my room for clues. There were a lot of posters on the walls. Maybe they’d stir some memories? The first one looked strange.

Something like: Eslmlsfslsmflsflsflosf CCCDOJIDFOSFSJ What language was that? I looked at another poster. Then another. They were all in this strange text.

There was nothing wrong with the posters. There was something wrong with me. I couldn’t read.

That doctor was right. I’d had a stroke.

OK, that will do for now. Until next week…

Brain Food’s first dish

I couldn’t have written this blog five years ago. That’s because a stroke sizzled the back left side of my brain erasing my ability to read and write.

It zapped lots of other important bits, too. I was only 45, married and the father of two teen-aged girls. There were no warning signs. I’d just had a physical and seemed the picture of health. But in the blink of an eye, it looked like I’d never be able to provide – emotionally of financially — for my family again.

And the salt in the wound was that I’d been a newspaper reporter with a dream to write books that I never got around to writing. Use it or lose it, it seemed.

But it turns out that you can put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Through a blend of science, art, faith and hope I literally relearn my ABCs, how to make change and loads of other simple stuff that I used to take for granted. Thanks to this and some technology, I’m tapping out stuff on the keyboard again.

Today – March 15 – is my five year strokeaversary. To mark it, I’m going to put my rekindled writing to work on regular posts on some of the Brain Food that helped me get my noggin firing again. I’ll also share stories of amazing brain feats and phenomenon and pass on loads of things everybody can do to keep firing on all cylinders. Or maybe even to crank up the engine to become a brain Ferrari.

One important thing became crystal clear to me during my time with a malfunctioning melon. Our brains, our soul, are who we are. The other stuff is important for keeping us alive and physically healthy. But brain and sole is “us.” The longer and most optimally we can keep them at their peak, the better, the happier we’ll be. There are lots of assaults on our noodles – strokes, Alzheimer’s, injury are just a few. But it’s also easy to let ‘em run down though lack of stimulation.

On my road back, I’ve met and connected with loads of scientists, therapists and every day people with phenomenal stories and advice to share that have helped me re-boot. I’ll serve this up to you with Brain Food.  And through this blog I hope to connect with many, many more people with brain wisdom and advice.  Brain Food will be the online cafe where we can all feed on this collective brain bounty.

One last thing, I wrote a feature story for the Edmonton Journal a few months back. I’m going to share some snippets of it over the next few blogs to give you all a sense of where I started back from. Oh, by the way, if any readers are publishers or literary agents, I’ve written a book, too…would love to talk 🙂

Former journalist Tim Seefeldt tells the story of his amazing journey to relearn the basics 3 Rs

By Tim Seefeldt, Edmonton Journal

June 13, 2014

I woke up to madness. I heard noises, but they didn’t make sense. Was I still travelling or was I at home? And where exactly was home?

I figured I better get up and shake the cobwebs out, but they wouldn’t shake.

For starters, I couldn’t see clearly out of my right eye. It was like somebody had smeared Vaseline over it and my left eye was weakened by the extra workload.

And it got worse. You know how your body effortlessly does the routine things you need it to do? Things like sitting up and taking steps?

That wasn’t happening for me.

 

The last minutes of my old life ticked away early Monday morning, March 15, 2010. It was that groggy first work day following the switch to daylight time, when we’re robbed of an hour’s sleep.

It’s a tough day to remember, but an impossible one for me to forget.

The week leading up to my mental meltdown had been a whirl of plane travel and highway driving. It was late Friday evening before I rolled my car into my driveway in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada.

I was still exhausted early Monday when my elder daughter, Kristina, 16 at the time, woke me up at about 6:30. Ignoring her, I put my head back down to catch some more Zs.

My head hitting the pillow was the last conscious moment of my old life.

I started consciously thinking about getting up. I fixed what vision I had on my right arm and tried to will it to lift me. I was rewarded with a slight twitch. It was like somebody else was in control, but they didn’t know what they were doing.

I kept staring and kept willing, harder and harder. Eventually I began to rise. There were two misfires halfway up that sent me crashing down. But finally I was sitting up on the bed.

Swinging my legs to the ground came with another surprise. My right side was numb from the tip of my toes to the top of my head. It was like that feeling you get when you sleep on something the wrong way, but without the tingly reawakening.

I used my left side to support and guide me and felt my way to the stairs dragging my unco-operative right side along. Two flights of stairs later, I felt my way to the shower, crashed in and tried to wash whatever this was away.

No dice. My wife Patricia was there when I stumbled out of the shower. I couldn’t see much, but the fear in her eyes was clear. The girls – Kristina and 13-year-old Anna – must have heard the crash and bang as I stumbled to the shower. I could sense they were scared and then I started to panic.

An ambulance was called.

I kept asking for my shoes even though they were already on my feet. I was soon at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, where the rest of the day was spent in what I guessed was the emergency ward and going back and forth between tests. It was a foggy haze that ended with a doctor whose name I couldn’t seem to remember delivering news that landed like a Mike Tyson shot to the stomach.

“Tim, you’ve had a stroke …” He said a lot more, but he lost me at stroke. I was rolled up to the fifth-floor stroke ward and hooked up to machines where I spent a horrible night worrying about what Patricia would say to the girls.

That’s it for now. I’ll share more in next week’s offering. Until then, keep feeding your brain great food.

Tim