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.

Happy 60th Birthday Baby Sis Little Miss Me Too

Happy 60th Birthday to my almost-born-on-leap-year baby sister Little Miss Me Too. The last in line in a family of 4 siblings born 5 years apart, Mom always said, “Karen raised herself.”
“She tagged along with the big kids and figured things out on her own.”
Born 3 years apart almost to the day, we celebrated birthdays together growing up. In our younger years, I made sure she never fell off the dock or crossed the street without looking both ways. In later years, she looked out for me by driving me to doctor appointments and hanging out with me in a dark room on bad days.
Karen was born cute from the tip of her perfect toes to her gorgeous toothpaste commercial smile.
Athletic, energetic, outgoing, to an outsider she made life look easy. She starred on her state championship basketball team, made friends with everybody she met and always saw the bright side of things.
But she worked hard.

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She reinvented herself midlife, returning to college to earn a master’s degree in education while working as a recreational therapist and raising family.
She’s never shied away from a challenge. Even today she courageously continues teaching kindergartners — pulling off 23 little pairs of boots 4 months of the year — in the snow belt of Minnesota.
An adored aunt, treasured wife, loving daughter, revered mother, cherished sister, she collects people as easily as others collect stamps. Church friends, high school friends, work friends, neighbor friends, family friends. Everybody loves Karen and her jovial partner in life Dick. She’s energetic, upbeat, easy-going and down right fun to be with on any occasion.
She raised 2 beautiful daughters, but also became a Mamá Dos to her niece and nephew who moved 4000 miles away from home in Switzerland to attend university in the Twin Cities.
My little sis and I shared a love of sports. She passed me the ball on the basketball court and long after my playing days were over, she took me to my first WNBA game. When I could no longer run, she ran for me completing her first half triathlon at 50something.
She works hard, but plays harder and never passes up an opportunity to celebrate life.
Her friends call her Care Bear, but to me she will always be The Babe, my beloved little sister, blessing my life the past 60 years.

Fighting Back After Chronic Illness Knock Out

chronic illness = shadows of dark cloudsApologies to my loyal readers, friends and family for being out of touch, off line, disconnected. Estranged from everyone, I shut down, closed off my heart and buried hope.

When you suffer from chronic illness, you exist in a parallel universe of pain. A pain that is magnified when so misunderstood by the medical community like in chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, environmental illness, Lyme disease and other conditions that are hard to diagnose and even harder to treat.

Awaiting answers we muddle along until flare ups knock us out again and again.

The earth tilts under my feet. My eyes roll back in my head. Shooting pains fire off like missiles in my muscles. Ants crawl under my skin. My stomach cramps. My joints throb. My throat aches. My lungs burn. My vision blurs. My head pounds.

My brain, an overinflated balloon, presses against my skull, like it will burst.

An old athlete, I can cope with physical pain, but enduring the tricks of my mind becomes unbearable. I forget what I just said. Phone numbers, street addresses, friends’ names elude me.

As bad bugs hijack my brain, I stare ahead like a deer in headlights unable to process thoughts. My tongue twists on the phrases that spew out sometimes in French, sometimes English. I repeat myself like a silly parrot, jumbling sentences, confusing words.

Trapped in bed, the walls close in. I reach for my survival kit — a Kindle, laptop, notebook, cell phone, water bottle. I calm my racing heart by counting blessings — family to cherish, food on the table, roof overhead.

Like a human guinea pig, I sign on for another drug trial, relying on an equally desperate Facebook group of strangers, who battle the same misunderstood multi-system inflammatory disease.

chronic illness = snowy lane When I can muster enough energy to go out, friends will say, « You don’t look sick, » and assume I am cured. All the while the invisible body snatchers eat away at my cells turning my brain to spaghetti, my muscles to mush.

On my worst days I enter the twilight zone of semi-consciousness suspended between life and death.

Don’t let me give up.

Hang on. Another second. Another minute. Another hour. A day. A week. A month. A year. A decade. A lifetime.

Trapped in a body that doesn’t work right, I know I am not alone. Millions suffer from invisible diseases. Do not forsake us. We are doing the best we can. When we say we are too tired/sick/weak to go out, prepare dinner, entertain guests, we are not making up excuses. We aren’t malingers; we are champions battling invisible enemies.

  • Commiserate with us.
  • Listen.
  • Let us repeat the same broken record of despair. Then repeat the same pep talk you gave last time.
  • During flare ups, we lose perspective. Remind us of happier times when we were able to participate.
  • Make dinner. We won’t be hungry, but coax us to the table.
  • Send emails, text messages or make calls. Voices uplift.
  • Hold us while we cry.

Click here, listen and be inspired

We are a society of doers until we are sidelined by injury or illness. Then we feel worthless, like dead weight, like burdens.chronic illness: Rainbow of hope

Remind us always of how much we are loved. And how maybe, just maybe, we inspire you to endure tough times because you look at us and know how hard we are trying.

Real warriors keep fighting.

Day by day.

Minute by minute.

Word by word.

I am back writing and I missed you.

Good Neighbors Add Allure to Summit Lake Wisconsin

Summit LakeWe used to be the only cabin on our side of the lake and I liked it that way, but when people built cottages next door, I discovered Summit Lake’s beauty magnifies when shared.

In 1952 my grandparents bought the log lodge peeking out from behind the pines on the point across from the island. They turned it into Camp Ney-A-Ti Boys’ Camp. The camp used to be the only sign of civilization on the western side of the lake.

In 1964, when my grandparents sold the camp and 40 acres, they had the foresight to save a 125 feet of lake front property on the far edge of their land. Then they built our little red cabin. On some else’s land. They were shocked to find out someone else owned that lot, so they lifted the wooden cottage and moved it over 50 feet.Summit Lake cabin

That landowner build a cottage on his land and generations later, we became friends with his grandchildren’s children. Then our children grew up together over lazy, fun-filled summers. The path through the woods between our cabins remains well worn. Instead of playing hide and seek of childhood, the “kids” sit on the screened in porch debating solutions to problems of the adult world.

We are the only flatlanders (Illinoisans) amongst the Wisconsinites; they accept us as long as we wear our Greenbay Packer caps.

A deputy sheriff lives on one side of us and a lawyer on the other. If we get in trouble with the lawman on our left, we could seek counsel with our neighbor on the right side to bail us out. But as grandchildren of Coach Mac, we would never consider breaking the rules.

Surprisingly, as much as I liked the idea of being alone in the woods, I discovered it is nice to have neighbors.

We hail from different cities and walks of life, but Up North no one cares where you come from or how much money you make, as long as you share the same values – respect for nature and community spirit.

kids of the lakeThe lake ‘hood children have grown up becoming doctors, nurses, plumbers, firemen and teachers. If the “kids” were ever Up North at that same time, we would have a “cabin” town of skilled professionals to cope with any illness, injury, wildfire, flooded basement, or backed up toilet.

With trees and foliage growing so thick, you don’t have to see your neighbors, who are never nosey, but if you do need anything they will be there.

At one time or other everyone has rescued my Frenchman when his catamaran capsized. All the neighbors have a story to tell about how they towed the yellow sailboat safely to shore behind their pontoon sailing Summit Lakeboat.sailing Summit Lake

Another time a neighbor helped jump-start my sister’s car at dawn in the dead of winter. And if you need to borrow a chainsaw, a shovel or a cup of sugar, just ask. Neighbors willingly share, sometimes even offering beds in their cabin when your own overflows with friends and relatives.

“You know the rule,” the guy next door says, “if my boat is out, and you want to ride or ski c’mon on over.”touring Summit Lake

Summer folks. Summer friends. Good neighbors. Good people.

Along with the wilderness and wildlife, human beings are part of the Northwood’s blessings too.Grandparents & kids