Monday, December 14, 2009

When Life Throws You a Curve

I last posted to this blog on Thanksgiving when I listed everything I was thankful for. Included on that list were my children and grandchildren, most of whom celebrated the holiday with my husband and I at our house.

Missing that day were daughter Jennifer, son-in-law Jay, and grandsons Dan and Zach. They had driven to Florida to celebrate the holiday with Jay's parents and weren't expected back in town until late Saturday evening. Nevertheless, Jen called on Thanksgiving, and since her birthday was the following day, Fred and I and the rest of the family sang a merry "Happy Birthday" to her over the phone. Hearing that all was well with them, I didn't expect to talk with Jen again until the following week when life for her family had returned to normal.

But the phone rang very early Sunday morning, and that was the end of normal for all of us.

It was Jenni on the line asking us to come as quickly as possible. Jay, a long-time Type 1 diabetic, was experiencing numbness on his left side. She was taking him to the hospital and needed us to stay at the house with the boys.

Having been a nurse for a long, long time, I knew in my heart as I drove the thirty miles to their home that my 43-year-old son-in-law had suffered a stroke. Waiting and praying for the best, while hiding my fears from 6-year-old Zack and 7-year-old Dan, was one of those awful things no mother wants to do. While waiting for a phone call from Jen at the hospital, I kept hoping my gut diagnosis would be proved wrong.

Unfortunately, I wasn't wrong. Jay's MRI showed he'd suffered two strokes, one sometime in the recent past and one overnight on Saturday. Known as lacunar strokes, they occured deep in the brain and were most likely the result of complications caused by his diabetes.

The good news is, Jay's strokes were sensory in nature. He is home now and has full use of his limbs. His speech was unaffected, and his mind is as clear as ever (which means his jokes are as corny as ever!). What he's experiencing now is a lack of normal sensation on the left side of his entire body. Instead, he has painful burning sensations in his arm and leg, and he cannot actually feel anything he touches with his hand or foot. His walking is improving with the use of a cane and daily physical therapy; he's getting accustomed to not feeling the floor under his foot as he walks.

It will be a long time before life seems "normal" again for Jenni and Jay. But faith and the support of family and friends is easing the way for them. The entire family will be celebrating Christmas at their house this year with Jen preparing the turkey and the rest of us bringing all the side dishes. It will be a happy Christmas this year because Jay is with us and the family is still intact. His strokes could have been much worse, and we're tremendously thankful they weren't.

We're also thankful because Jay's sense of humor is one thing he didn't lose. He may not like having to walk with a cane, but he enjoys swatting Jen with it whenever she walks by. (His latest prank -- removing all the towels from the bathroom while she was taking a shower -- earned him a swat from her in return!)

Jay's upbeat attitude combined with Jenni's courage has inspired all of us in the family. Life threw them -- and us -- a curve. We're not sure where that curve is leading us, but we're making the journey together. The way I see it, that's what family is all about.

I hope all of you reading this post will be as thankful for life as we are this year, regardless of the curves thrown at you by fate. May your Christmas be Christ-filled and merry, and may the Source of all life give you hope and peace.



  1. Mary,

    Is this anything like transient ischemia? Jen and Jay are lucky to have such a supportive family. Keeping you in my thoughts through these holidays, and hoping 2010 will be brighter for all of us.

    Stay warm and well!

    Pat Browning

  2. Goodness, this brought tears to my eyes. Always tough when it's family. I'll be praying too.


  3. Hooray for Jen and Jay for not letting this bump in the road get them down. And, I agree with Pat. They're fortunate to have such a loving, supportive family, including you, Mary. Have a wonderful holiday!


  4. I'm sorry to hear this. Your daughter was fortunate to have someone like you there to help with the children and provide support.

  5. Pretty scary, but thankfully, he's pulled through and you can still celebrate Christmas with him.

    Reminds us not to take people for granted.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. May God Bless you and your family, Mary. The burning sensations are typically caused by abnormal signals being passed between the brain and spinal cord. A spinal stroke is most often the cause for the burning sensation. A good neurologist can help Jay minimize the discomfort. Make Christmas the most joyous of holiday celebrations.

    Warm Regards,
    Wendy DarJean

  7. Thanks to all of you for your kind words of support. I appreciate it, and I know Jay and Jenni will appreciate your good thoughts and prayers on Jay's behalf.

    Pat, this wasn't a TIA, a transient ischemic accident. Nor was it a spinal stroke, Wendy. It was, in fact, a full-blown lacunar stroke, called "lacunar" due to being caused by occulsion of an artery that provides blood and oxygen to structures deep in the brain. There are five types of lacunar strokes, Jay's being called a "purely sensory lacunar stroke" in which the blocked artery led to the thalamus, the function of which is to relay sensation to the body. Numbness, pain, and burning felt on one side of the body are typical signs that occur after a purely sensory lacunar stroke.

    We saw Jay tonight, and while he still has no normal sensation on his left side, his walking has improved. It'll be a long time before he runs again, but he was steadier on his feet than last week and his mood was very upbeat. We truly have a lot to be thankful for.

  8. Oh Mary, it's so good that Jay and Jen have you there. And especially that the boys have such a strong grandma to take care of them. They're learning about how families pull together through all this... and how to be thankful for the good.
    I'll be keeping all of you in my thoughts. Be well.

  9. Mary, I second what Julie said--your kids are so lucky to have you around! Best wishes to all of you.

    As my husband said after our terrible accident in Africa years ago (when he missed being killed by a whisker), "walking around and breathing in and out are underrated."


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