The Best Laid Plans

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.

7 Responses to “The Best Laid Plans”

  1. Barbara says:

    Beautiful, Josh, as always.

  2. Jon says:

    We are a family of, for the most part, very liberal Democrats – among the group the Republican right often excoriates. Yet if there is any real meaning left to the term “family values” it is demonstrated by my family’s response to my sister’s stroke. Within hours of the stroke, more than a dozen of us headed to Boston from around the country – to provide support for her and ourselves and to be there if needed. Upon her transfer to Kessler Rehabilitation Institute, my sister Toby coordinated a schedule so that at least one family member would be with her 24/7/7; I don’t think she’s been alone since her arrival. I can’t help but think that her rapid and continuing improvement is in part due to the interactions she’s had with family members that have helped her cope with the very difficult situation she has been facing. The folks at Kessler have been great, at accommodating us yes, but more importantly at working with Marg – showing great patience while pushing her along. My sister is strong and getting stronger. The family will be there every step of the way.

  3. Neurotic Dem says:

    Thanks for the comments, Barb and Jon. And a wonderful political tie-in. I hadn’t really thought about it in that context.

  4. Gert says:

    Grandpa and my oft stated goal was to create a family; a family of friends. So thank you all who eschewed their professional and personal lives to help Margaret first to survive and then to thrive. Thank you for saving her from darkness and despair.


  5. Marsha says:

    As always ND – you write beautifully – the detailed memories of parts of your childhood; the poetry and prose shine a light on your love of your mother and your passion for her recovery. And she will recover.

    I so resonate with Jon’s comment. As a part of the family, another sibling, I was in awe that all of us sibs spent at least a week in Boston – some up to two weeks leaving their professional positions, taking children out of school, in order to form a circle of love around your mother and each other. But I think that Jon said it best – the sibs and our mother, 91 years amazing, has been there every minute.

    I agree Toby has been amazing – and yesterday when I visited with your mother , she was crying, awed by her niece Rebecca who had spent 17 hours with her the day before and had another 26 hour shift ahead of her. Your mother, always kind and caring for others, was feeling badly that Rebecca had to be away from her young son for so much time to help her. Marg is worried that she is a burden.

    Thank you ND for sharing these beautiful memories and your love and commitment to your mother.

    If there are silver linings to these difficult times, it is the strength of this family; the commitment to each other; and to character of our family.


  6. JR-
    I held not a single doubt that your Mom would recover, and quickly at that. I can not imagine her having patience for any of this. Needless to say, surrounded by such a wonderful and amazing family – so filled with love and kindness – she had nothing to worry about.

    My love is with her, your super awesome father, and of course with you and your entire family. I look forward to seeing Margaret soon… I have missed her and the Doc. You guys always make me wait forever for a visit!

    All my love,

  7. Neurotic Dem says:

    Thanks for reading, and posting. It’s been crazy while home. Mom has not yet actually been home — she stayed for awhile at her sisters’, and then checked back in to the hospital, first in New Brunswick, and now in NY City. We hope this is a blip, and she will be able to go home soon. She has shown amazing courage and strength.

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