Therapists in Rehab Hospital Inspire Hope

Unfortunately at different times in my life, I have been hospitalized in 4 different countries, but none of them could compare to my six week stay in Lavigny, Switzerland.

After nearly 2 months in the hospital, I am still trying to piece together what happened to me. I don’t remember any details about my fall, about the harrowing helicopter transport and emergency brain surgery or the first 2 hospitals where I laid in a bed too weak to stand, too confused to carry on a conversation to process everything I was facing.

Fortunately over time, I began to heal. But I am the first to admit I did not do it alone. I was transferred to the 3rd hospital, Lavigny, a neurological rehabilitation center specializing in treatment for epilepsy, stroke victims and brain injury. Set in the rolling hills between the Jura Mountains and Lake Geneva, the bucolic countryside with majestic views filled me with peace, but my therapists stoked the inner fire to thrive.

At Lavigny, I relearned self care, how to use muscles properly and how to regain my voice after intubation during surgery. Everyone was so encouraging and kind and young.

When I arrived at Lavigny, I felt as old as the mountains surrounding me. Tasks that I once completed effortlessly, seemed insurmountable. Maneuvering down the hall 30 feet to the dining rooms without toppling over felt as exhausting as completing a marathon.

The first thing the nurses and therapists did was get me out of bed. With words of support, they refused to let me mope around and feel sorry for myself. We became a team with a common goal— make me strong enough to function independently so I could go home.

Therapist in Rehab Hospital Inspire Hope

The village of Lavigny, with the hospital in foreground

At times I felt like giving up, but my team of therapists wouldn’t let me. With their never ending encouragement, I took one step forward and then another. Nadine taught me how take a shower safely, how to tie my shoes and how use eating utensils again.

Carla and Benoit helped me regain balance and walk without staggering side to side like a drunk. They trained me to lift my left arm again and to make a fist with my left hand. Manon helped me recover my voice, which squeaked as if I had just coached a European championship.
No one knew for sure how much of my abilities I could recover or how quickly, but no one ever let on they had any doubt that I would return to normal, so I never doubted either. That combined with the positive verbal encouragement from loved ones’ nightly phone calls surrounded me with positivity.

Lisa, my neuropsychologist, explained what trauma does to the brain and helped me regain its function even before I realized it wasn’t working. At first I wanted to lash out at all my therapists in frustration over my loss of abilities, ashamed of my dependency, my physical weakness, my mental handicaps. I complained to Gerald over the phone, “They treat me like a baby. They will keep me here forever.” It was as though I couldn’t admit my loss of skills, losses I was reminded of when I saw other patients slumped over in wheel chairs, hobbling behind walkers, unable to walk, to talk, to swallow. Contrary to my misperception, each action was a challenge to become more self-reliant, so I could live independently again.

Each day was the same rigorous routine, 5 intense 45 minutes of therapy — PT, OT, neuropsych, speech therapy —that left me feeling so exhausted between sessions that I fell asleep between each one.

When I was finally released from the hospital, I was convinced that my therapies and my team’s commitment and care, literally saved my life. I was filled with gratitude to Lavigny and its staff.

When I met with the psychiatrist in charge of my case after another month of therapy as an outpatient, he reminded me,”The therapists certainly helped you reach your goals, but what they all told me was that it was your will power and drive that made the biggest difference to come back from such a devastating accident.”

In retrospect I am not sure how I overcame such great odds alone in a hospital in Switzerland during a global pandemic. I wish I could impart that combined force – family, therapists and iron will to readers who may be facing insurmountable odds in their battles against cancer, illness, life altering accidents. The human spirit is so fragile, life challenges so insurmountable, our mortality so fleeting, but don’t give up. Never underestimate the power of love and the role you play in your recovery, in your capacity to heal .

I will always credit the therapists at Lavigny with giving me back my dignity. They celebrated every success – the day I could raise a glass to my lips, butter my own bread and walk to the dining hall without assistance- was worthy of a standing ovation. They acknowledged the courage it took each day to get out of bed and confront the shadow of my past and I will be forever grateful.

Pat leaving the hospital

4th of July 2020 – A Time of Reflection

4th of July 2020 - A Time of ReflectionOn our nation’s birthday I want to wish everyone a Happy 4th of July, but I don’t feel happy. I am deeply troubled about our future.

This is the first 4th of July since I moved to Europe 4 decades ago that I am not in my homeland celebrating the American holiday with family. Due to the present situation, I am not welcome there nor is my French husband or anyone else from Europe. No planes from abroad are allowed to land on American soil due to the Covid epidemic, but the great irony is that European leaders have done a much better job of handling the crisis than. Trump. The pandemic is under control here especially where we live in Switzerland.

The US has the most coronavirus cases and deaths in the world.

Americans are not allowed in Europe either, which is sad for European business.

“In 2019 around 18 billion Americans came to Europe spending 70 billion Euros (about 78 $billion dollars), “says Tom Jenkins CEO of the European Tourism Association.““

Europe’s borders have reopened to Europeans and 14 other countries – no one knows for how long— but they won’t be open to Americans anytime soon. Long haul flights and exchanges between Europeans and Americans look even more doubtful.

The financial fall out from lack of international trade between Europe and the US is massive; the emotional toll on families even greater.

I don’t know when I will see my children in the States again. My British daughter- in- law does not know when her family will be allowed to visit. My niece’s Chinese boyfriend has no idea when he will see his parents. And my eldest niece, who will be a new mother in two months, wonders what kind of a world awaits her baby.

Like most Americans living abroad, I am ashamed of our country’s leadership. I am alarmed by our President’s incompetence, his total lack of diplomacy, compassion and integrity.

I am worried for my daughter and niece who work in the medical health field in the States at a time when people show lack of respect for human life, refusing to do something as simple and innocuous as wearing a mask.

I am troubled by social unrest created from years of blatant inequality and lack of tolerance

I am horrified by the anti woman, anti gay, anti black, anti European rhetoric that fuels hatred and gives free license to bigotry.

Families may not be as international as mine, but so many of us can trace our ancestry to other parts of the world and so much of our nation was built on the backs of immigrants and slaves. To ignore the role of the African Americans, Asians and Europeans in the making of our country is a travesty, to sever the ties to our motherlands is a crime.

But I hope there are still pockets of America where the old values I grew up with still remain. Places like Summit Lake where time stands still, where hope runs eternal ,where nature heals our broken hearts. A place where the 4th of July is a celebration of a forgotten way of life of what is good about Americans, their childlike optimism and joie de vivre.

4th of July 2020 - A Time of Reflection

 

A place remarkable in its simplicity. Every 4th of July people dressed in costumes ride in decorated pontoon boats that circle the lake waving flags and throwing out candy and icees to people sitting on their docks. Later in the evening fire works explode from the public beach across the lake rivals any big city display. On the dock, wrapped in blankets, we swat mosquitoes while admiring the burst of sparkly colors illuminating the black waters and believe in childhood dreams again.
4th of July 2020 - A Time of Reflection

This year though I am sad for my country, I am thinking of happier 4th of July memories. Still my heart aches for family, for the lake and for a simpler time when we weren’t isolated and separated by a pandemic.

Happy Father’s Day June 21, 2020

Father’s DaySo many of our fathers have passed on, but the lessons they taught remain ingrained. I have been blessed to be surrounded by good men from my husband who has been a wonderful father to our 2 children, to Father’s Daymy big brother, Doug, to my brothers- in- law, Cliff and Dick, to the first man I ever loved, my dad. Papa Mac was a father figure to so many students and athletes who traversed the halls of Sterling high School.He was hard working, loyal, a strong leader and a role model in his community.

My dad taught me to drive a car, shoot hoops, catch frogs, paddle a canoe, and swim laps. When I was just a hyperactive little kid, he tired of shooing me off the “dangerous” dock. Finally, he reasoned it would safer to teach me to swim than to keep track of my free spirited meanderings near the lake and in the woods.

He held my hand as I stepped off the sandy beach into the icy lake. Together we walked out over my head. While my dad’s strong arms held me afloat, I put my face in the water and blew bubbles. He taught me the crawl stroke, flutter kick and to cup my hands. “Reach forward, pull back.” He helped me master the trickiest part – how to breathe without swallowing half the lake.

Though I never had a near drowning experience, after a bad bike crash and later a debilitating car accident, I became trapped in a body that no longer worked quite right. My hoop dreams disintegrated. My aspirations of skiing down mountainsides and running marathons dissolved. I hung up my high tops, tennis racket, baseball glove; I set aside my football, basketball, volleyball.swimming saved my life

I was condemned to the pool where the buoyancy of the water kept me from further injuring my spine and joints. Early on, I became a has-been athlete plagued with bad feet, bad knees and a broken back. The scars of my past calamities never really left me; the sharp twinges and shooting, throbbing, stabbing aches remained.

But weightless in water, I became pain free.

To an athlete being confined to a pool seemed like a death sentence. Yet, after every misfortune, I retreated to the healing waters. Swimming became my solace, my meditation, my prayer.

As a child I learned to swim at my grandparents Camp Ney-A-Ti on Summit Lake. In my teens, I swam through summers at the old Emerald Hill pool. In adulthood, when pregnant – and ordered to bed rest for 3 months to prevent premature births – I begged the doctor to let me swim. In a Parisian pool, I bonded with my unborn child, gliding in sync alongside the baby kicking inside me.

Over the years, I even saved a few lives as a lifeguard. And I once dragged the semi conscious high school quarterback from the pump room when he became asphyxiated from the chlorine. But the real hero of my swimming story was my dad. He taught me to believe that no matter how rough the seas or how high the waters, I would never sink.

With each stroke of my arm and kick of my leg,Dad thought he was showing me the frog kick, freestyle, and breaststroke, but really he was teaching me how to survive.

As a child, my dad let go, so I could take my first strokes solo. As an adult I swam from one side of the lake to the other.
But after my serious accident this past April I am not sure when I will able to swim again. And I won’t be swimming in my beloved Summit Lake this summer because of the coronavirus Europeans are not allowed to fly to the USA.

Everyday as I struggle in physical therapy to squeeze my hand, raise my left arm over my head and regain the use of the left side of my body, I think of my dad and repeat the mantra he ingrained through hours spent correcting my jump shot, tweaking my swim stroke “Never give up.”

Though separated by the pandemic and my health issues, I can’t visit my dad in person right now, I look forward to seeing him every night when I call on face time and he says.“I sure am proud of you sweetie.You are a real warrior.”

With a twinkle in his blue eyes, he ends every conversation by saying, “I think of you everyday and love you more each minute.”

Father’s Day

Though many women will miss being with their daddies on this special day, may we all find comfort knowing a father’s love for a daughter lasts for eternity.

I almost lost my life. Again.

I almost lost my lifeI almost lost my life. Again.
“This is first day of my 2nd life!” I announced to Gerald triumphantly.
“No, this is like your 7th life,” he said recounting my previous life altering accidents a rabid skunk bite in the U.S., bike accident Germany, rolling a car off the autoroute in France…
I didn’t realize how miraculous my survival was until he brought me home after nearly 2 months in the hospital. Finally he explained the harrowing fall. “You came downstairs and walked over to where I was sitting in recliner. You turned, your body went rigid and you crashed onto the right side of your head on the tile floor. Doctors still aren’t certain what precipitated the fall.
“Timber,” I thought as he recounted the gruesome details and I pictured myself as an inanimate object, a tree falling in a forest.
“I called an ambulance,” Gerald remarked “Then I turned your body on your side, so you wouldn’t choke on the blood gushing from your mouth”.

ambulance helicopter

ambulance helicopter courtesy of Rega

In a series of time precision miracles, my husband’s quick actions and doctors’ skills saved my life. An ambulance from Nyon Hospital 15 minutes away arrived in 10 minutes, a doctor aboard called ahead to secure a helicopter to meet us at Nyon Hospital and fly us to the CHUV Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (one of the top 10 hospitals in the world). Meanwhile a team of doctors began preparing for surgery.
Within ninety minutes of my accident, when time is so crucial, some of the world’s finest neurosurgeons carved open my skull and drained the blood. I broke my jaw, my right cheek bone, my right eye socket, and cracked open my head, but the imminent concern was alleviating pressure building in my skull. The doctors surmised that the 5 hour surgery went as well as possible, although at the time, no one knew when I would wake up again or what shape I would be in.
My body was badly damaged. Messages from the right side of my brain weren’t getting to my left side. I could squeeze my left hand, but had no strength, between my shoulder and wrist. Without realizing it, I was tucking my left arm into my body like a bird with a broken wing. I could not stand up without support – I had no balance on my left side and my left eye would not focus. I had difficulty walking without staggering, or lurching sideway.
For 2 I almost lost my lifeweeks I could not move from my bed. Then I was transferred to a rehab center and started round the clock therapy. My days were filled PT, OT, neuropsych, speech therapy. I met with physical therapists, neuropsychotherapists, a psychiatrist, and neurologists to piece together my psyche and help regain my physical and cognitive skills.
After my brain surgery I could not talk,I could not walk, I could not use my left arm, I could not open the right side of my mouth. The expertise of neurosurgeons, the kindness of nurses and the passion of therapists saved my brain and helped it heal, but it was the voices of my loved ones that coaxed my soul back to life.
My baby sister and my son, both still in school, called every weekend. Friends sent text messages. Sue video called every night “to tuck me in.” Gerald listened to my rants that made no sense. While my brain was healing and I was medicated, I had irrational thoughts and hallucinations. I slept with a cell phone under my pillow convinced the nurses were stealing my possessions, that the doctors were keeping me prisoner.
My sisters, daughter and husband rotated calls making sure the last sounds I heard before drifting into a delirious, restless sleep was the soothing voice of loved one.
I am convinced it is their voices that gave me the courage to face another day of pain and provided the serenity I needed as I struggled alone during a pandemic where my husband wasn’t allowed to visit and the rest of my family was 4,000 miles away.
“Do you remember when you asked me to sing to you?” Nathalie inquired when she called after I finally was able to come home.
“I would leave my office at the clinic and go into an empty room. It was so sweet you tried to sing along with me in your croaky, raspy voice.”
I don’t consciously remember her singing but I know it was that song, that voice, that love between a mother and daughter that carried me through the darkness of another night, and lifted me into the light of day.
I almost lost my life

Europe Under Siege Our New Normal?

After enduring winter’s fog obscuring our mountains, I rejoiced to see the sun rise over the Alps and Lake Geneva. Though daffodils dance with the promise of spring, people remain oppressed.

Our resplendent view clashes with the darkness in our hearts, as we face a relentless enemy. As if it blew in overnight, coronavirus swept across the land leaving silence in its wake. No birds chirp in the gardens, no planes fly overhead, no cars rumble in the distance.

We live in a bucolic village outside Geneva Switzerland at the crossroads of the globe only 2 minutes from France, an hours drive from Germany, 3 to Italy. But right now no one travels beyond the block.

How could we not see what was happening?

When the coronavirus invaded our neighbor Italy, we continued daily routines. We didn’t know anyone who was sick. Weren’t symptoms mild? Weren’t only the elderly and infirm at risk? We lied to ourselves “I am healthy, I am robust, I am not that old.”

Meanwhile coronavirus crept into our communities.

Ten days ago, President Macron rang alarm bells urging French people to stay home to protect our most vulnerable.

Champs-Elysées, Paris, March 20th 2020

The following day, Swiss authorities enforced the same protocol. One by one European countries followed suite closing borders, shutting schools, and urging employees to work from home.

Like vultures swooping down on prey, people ravaged grocery shelves stocking up for the siege and stormed pharmacy stock for hand sanitizers, gloves, masks, pain killers. Worse yet, medical staff faced shortages.

Even so, many others still ignored warnings and continued to party in crowds at parks, cafes, night clubs spreading disease with every encounter.

So governments mandated more restrictions. Overnight, France turned into police state. Officers fined citizens 135 euros ($150) for leaving their homes without a warrant.

For first time since WWII, Switzerland deployed troops to help transport supplies and patients from overflowing hospitals. In Ticino, the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, no beds remained. ICU patients in Alsace region had to be airlifted to other parts of France.

Europe Under Siege Our New Normal

Warning signs in Swiss train station

Infections doubled daily, death rates climbed.

Did we do too little too late?

Citizens learned a new vocabulary – Covid-19, containment, mitigation, social distancing, flatten the curve.

And changed cultural customs. No hand shaking, cheek kissing, bear hugging. No funerals, no weddings, no family gatherings. Grandparents can no longer babysit children. Family members not living in the same house can’t meet up. With no entertainment, no social gatherings, no sporting events, we grumbled about the very restrictions that may safe keep our lives.

As free floating anxiety reigned across the land, our lives are stripped to bare necessities — food, water, air.

Tick tock. Tick tock. Italians cried, “Heed our warnings!”

Are we listening?

Who will be next?

Is this the new normal?

Instead of turning inward in self-pity, we need to look outward.

How can we support the overworked medical personnel?

What can we do to help the poor and homeless survive?

How can we reach out to struggling neighbors?

Who can we do to lift someone up today?

Show Solidarity Fighting Coronavirus

As if sucking air through a straw, I gasp, my trachea burns, my lungs compress and I can’t breathe.

But don’t worry about me, focus on your fellow man.

I am not sick now, but the way coronavirus reacts in the body seems eerily similar to the way my body reacts when exposed to environmental toxins.

If you have never suffered from a severe asthma attack or respiratory illness, it’s hard to understand what it feels like to struggle to breathe. I do!

Don’t underestimate COVID-19. Show solidarity even if you are not infected other people will be.

flatten the curve

The Conversation – Social distancing March 13, 2020

With its easy transmission, lack of a treatment and invisible asymptomatic carriers living among us, this disease becomes a formidable foe.

We are past containment. Our best hope: “flatten the curve” which means slowing the acceleration enough that national health care systems can cope without collapsing.

Most cold viruses, infect the nose and throat. COVID-19 spreads directly to the airways and lungs without warning setting off a war between the virus and immune system

“The virus hijacks the cell and reprograms it genetically to make more copies of virus,” said Dr. Otto Yang, a UCLA expert on infectious disease.

First it strikes the lungs and impairs breathing.

The body fights back causing more inflammation. This damages blood vessels, which can leak fluid into lung tissues, clogging the tiny air sacs. Pneumonia results limiting one’s ability to deliver oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide.

Next it attacks the kidneys, which can no longer remove waste from the body fast enough.
If the disease progresses, cell damage occurs throughout the body. Organs fail from the virus’ attack or because of septic shock.

No country has enough resources (intensive care units, isolation rooms, ventilators) and medical staff to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people getting sick at the same time.

That’s the crisis happening in Italy right now in a wealthy region with one of the best health systems in the world.

“In Milan, in Bergamo, in Padua they are having to choose between intubating a 40-year-old with two kids, a 40-year old who is fit and healthy with no co-morbidities, and a 60-year-old with high blood pressure, because they don’t have enough beds. In the hallway, there are another 15 people waiting who are hardly breathing and need oxygen.”

Our too little testing, too late policy failed. Misinformation and lack of testing accelerated the spread of the illness by delaying our reaction. We are ground zero. In France, in Switzerland, in the USA.

Social restrictions are enforced. Countries shut down. Everyone must comply in a united effort to slow the progression.

Stop pointing fingers and blaming others — the Chinese, the Italians, the French, the Democrats, the EU.
Don’t think that this doesn’t concern you.

You may not fall into the vulnerable elderly age bracket or high risk category, but someone you know does. Dialysis machines, insulin pumps, pace makers, and other medical equipment and modern drugs keep many of us ticking. If infected with COVID-19, thousands more will need access to artificial ventilation and the best medical technology available to beat this disease.

Heed the medical advice. Wash hands. Stay home. Stop complaining.

Overreacting? Don’t think so.

With every breath you take

Remember this caveat.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Human beings everywhere

Share the same air.

Without breath

There is no life.