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.

As Coronavirus Sweeps Europe Public Heeds Medical Experts

coronavirus outbreakIn Switzerland when we first heard reports of the coronavirus in China, we only half listened, but when our neighbor Italy announced outbreaks, we were all ears.

The close proximity and community spread of a life threatening virus has Europeans on edge. Most citizens held their fears in check until the Italian outbreak, then within hours illness knocked on our doorstep. Our anxiety stepped up a notch.

coronavirus outbreak

figures valid as March 6, 2020

Surrounded by Italy, Austria, Germany, and France, hundreds of thousands of people cross our borders daily to work in Switzerland. At my former work place, the International School of Geneva, 140 different nations are represented, many of whom live across the French border. Exposure is inevitable.

Suddenly news flashed across Europe in different languages as nations grappled with how to best handle the crisis and contain outbreaks. For the first time ever, Switzerland immediately cancelled its world famous Geneva International Motor Show and forbid public events of more than 1000 spectators including popular soccer and hockey games. France limited gatherings to less than 5000. Both countries immediately shut down schools and shops where clusters of coronavirus broke out. Leaders of European countries reacted quickly, calmly and sensibly.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, Trump’s initial reaction was to minimize its impact. At his campaign rally in South Carolina, he proclaimed that the coronavirus was the new “Democratic hoax”. By promoting “fake news,” he only added to public confusion and mistrust.

COVID 19 is so new, much remains unknown: incubation period is uncertain and asymptomatic patients become silent carriers. Countries close borders, quarantine citizens, and try to curb public panic.

Medical experts have trouble understanding and predicting outcomes. Even so, international researchers are moving forward so quickly that vaccine might be possible within 12 to 18 months instead of 10 to15 years.

With medical personnel overworked in every country and the public’s anxiety rising, we need to get the facts straight. Worldwide public health and safety should be paramount on any leader’s agenda especially a leader as powerful as the US President.

Fortunately the highly respected Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, is now serving as a member of the White House coronavirus task force to provide facts and clarify misconceptions.

Global health experts like our friend, Dr. Jonathan Quick, former chair of Global Health Council and long term collaborator of theWorld Health Organization (WHO) have been solicited by news agencies around the world such as ABC .

In The Guardian, he offers valuable insights, proposes feasible solutions and provides hope for the future.

The End of EpidemicsHis book, The End of Epidemics published in 2018, predicted the present day scenario.

“Jonathan Quick offers a compelling plan to prevent worldwide infectious outbreaks. The End of Epidemics and is essential reading for those who might be affected by a future pandemic―that is, just about everyone.”―Sandeep Jauhar, bestselling author of Heart: A History

As the WHO scrambles to predict outcomes, produce tests and develop vaccines, we need to listen to the voices of those who know best.

For a world leader to put a personal spin on such a deadly and disruptive global crisis for political leverage is dangerous. Political differences must be put aside, scientific knowledge must be shared and transparency between countries must prevail to contain a world epidemic with such dire consequences.

Regardless if we live in the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East or Australia it behooves us all to remember pandemics don’t discriminate.

It is in humanity’s best interest to adhere to the collective advice of the world’s best scientific minds.

no borders for coronavirus

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.