Archive for December, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

For as long as I can remember, my Mom has always liked to say: “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.”

The line comes from the Robert Burns poem, written in 1785, “To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in her Nest With The Plow.” Legend has it that Burns wrote the poem after uncovering a mouse’s winter nest on his farm.

I did that, once. Not in winter, but in summer. And not with a plow, but with a weed wacker. My family had a “camp” on the Saranac River, near Bloomingdale, N.Y. There was a stretch of grassy land leading down from the house to the river, maybe twenty feet wide and sixty feet long, between thick brush. It was our only access to the river, and we had to keep it shorn, or else, the threat was, the state might one day declare it off-limits. So I was down there cutting the grass, dust and roots flying up in a haze, when I turned up the den. I can still see the mice, shocked still, exposed to the vast and threatening sunlight.

The line in Burns poem comes near the end. I found this explanation of it on Wikipedia:

The connotation is that in life, we plan and do everything to make the future sweet just like a mouse, yet luck can come and ruin it in one second. Life is unpredictable, and while preparing for the unpredictable future we aren’t enjoying the present moment – which the mouse seems to be able to do.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, on Nov. 11, my Mom went in for heart surgery to replace a mitral valve prolapse with a flail leaflet. She was virtually asymptomatic, but she had the surgery because, more than anything else in life, she wanted a sweet future for herself, free of illness — one in which she could enjoy her grandkids and her garden, and live to be 150, 30 years more than her Hebrew namesake, Moses.

The surgery at Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston was “successful.” And then, two days later, while still recovering in the hospital, a blood clot went to her brain. It lodged in the right middle cerebral artery — the distal M-1. Cat-Scans revealed a significant area of hypo-density, a moderate to large stroke.

In the beginning, Mom was hemiplegic — paralyzed on the left side — and could not swallow or open her eyes. She spent a week in neuro-intensive care, with a personal nurse monitoring her every vital sign. To keep her brain swelling down, she was administered manitol and hypertonic saline, but still, my dad signed a release in the event they needed to perform a hemicranectomy. That is: remove a portion of her skull so that her brain could swell out, and not compress the spinal column.

“She’s critically ill,” we were told. Doctors seemed reluctant to give a prognosis, other than to say that even if she did survive, “there will be impairment in terms of overall function.”

As it turns out, she never needed the skull surgery. Gradually, her swelling went down. I was was with her the morning she first opened her eyes, and could see right away that she recognized me — just by the eye contact. She reached out with her right hand, took my hand, and gave it a soft squeeze.

Over time, the critical threat of swelling, a secondary stroke, and infection diminished, and mom was transferred to a rehabilitation clinic in New Jersey, closer to home. That’s where she is today.

The incredible news is that she is barely recognizable from those early days after the stroke. She is capable of long, complicated conversations with us. After only a couple weeks of speech therapy, she is swallowing on her own. Drinking coffee and tomato soup. She stands for long periods of time, and has begun walking again, with the help of her therapists. A whole range of motion has returned on her left side. She remembers the Robert Louis Stevenson poems she used to tell me when I was a kid, and she remembers that her grandkids are coming in soon for a Hanukkah party. I get the sense that even her doctors are amazed by the speed and intensity of her recovery.

She still has a very long road to travel. But she’s well on her way, and I have not doubt she’ll be back in her garden, playing with her grandkids, one day soon.

May your strength give us strength. May your hope give us hope.

Meanwhile, my own plans of picking up this political blog after her surgery also fell by the wayside, as anyone who has checked in knows. I have spent much of my time, since Nov. 11, in Boston or New Jersey with my Mom and Dad, and I am returning again shortly.

You’d think the countless hours spent in hospital waiting rooms — with computers seemingly always nearby — would be highly conducive to blogging. It wasn’t like that for me, though. I was focused on other things.

Momentum is everything in blogs, and I’ve clearly lost mine. What does that mean for the Neurotic Democrat blog going forward?

There’s a lesser-known line from the Burns poem. It begins: And forward, though I cannot see …

Which is to say, we’ll see how it goes.