I made many plans and took many roads I thought would lead me to
my future, only to find that my plans had been changed and I was on
a new and unexpected path. This was never truer than on August 20,
2011. I was tired and had a headache, so I spent the next few days
in bed, watching a lot of television and thinking I was just
fighting a bad virus. I had had two previous bleeds in the pontine
part of my brain due to a malformation, but I had surgery in
Arizona and believed another bleed was not possible. As the days
went by, my wife noticed my speech was deteriorating, the weakness
on my right side was worsening, and my appetite was shrinking.
After the kids left for school that morning, we decided it was time
to call 911. At the time we were concerned, sure, but we never
thought we were going to hear what we were about to.
Once I arrived at the hospital, the doctors immediately ordered
a CT scan and MRI. After reviewing the results, the neurosurgeon
informed me another bleed had taken place. No way! I told him about
my surgery and the prior bleeds. By this time, the hospital staff
was concerned and the neurosurgeon was confident in his diagnosis.
He said this was a fresh bleed and, although I'd had surgery, it
didn't guarantee that another bleed would not occur. He told me
that the surgery only guaranteed that the malformation would not
bleed again because it was removed; the possibility of another
This bleed was in the same area and was smaller than the two
previous ones, so we thought I would have a quicker recovery.
However, even this caused a long hospital stay, rehabilitation and
long-term deficits. My disappointment and frustration were
apparent; everyone who saw me knew that I was knocked down, beat up
and back at square one. I felt and looked exhausted and
overwhelmed. I kept wondering why—why I'd been tasked with a long
recovery and uphill battle for a third time. But I'd been through
this before and I knew I could do it again.
Unlike the two previous two, this bleed affected my speech and
swallowing. It also limited my ability to open my mouth. Saliva and
secretions were constantly accumulating in my mouth, throat and
chest. I relied heavily on a Yankauer suction device
(something like the ones dentists use) to remove secretions
accumulating in my throat. As the days passed, I could not speak,
eat, open my mouth or swallow. Lack of nutrition became an issue
and they placed a feeding tube in me as a short-term solution.
I was transferred to Cornell Rehabilitation and assigned to
Sharon, a great speech-language pathologist who worked every day
with me for three weeks. We started using tongue depressors to
create an opening in my mouth. Each day or two days we would add
sticks to gradually create an opening. First it was two, then 10,
then 20. We also spent hours going over and repeating words,
phrases or even songs. Over time, these exercises helped with
pronunciation, syllables and communicating.
Then came our biggest challenge—swallowing. Sharon knew of a
treatment protocol and felt I would benefit from it. It was an
external electrical stimulation therapy that aids people who have
difficulty swallowing. I used it for an hour per day. I would try
to swallow flavor packets, water, juice or jello. In the beginning,
I would start to choke or cough, but we stayed the course and over
time it got better. Then after a few days, we tried pudding, soup
or ice cream. After a few weeks, we noticed considerable
improvement. I would wear this device as I did my therapy, and we
believe it sped up my recovery. Time and patience were important
attributes that helped us get through the monotony and
boring—but required—repetitions. We joked around and laughed when
we could, which, looking back, made our sessions more pleasurable.
I enjoyed our time together, and I think she understood how
frustrated I was. I also noticed she went out of her way to speak
with my wife, my mom, and even my children, often.
I strongly believe that my positive attitude and having an SLP
who is creative and wants her patients to make the best recovery
possible make all the difference. I still keep in touch with
Sharon, and always go out of my way to thank speech-language
pathologists, audiologists, nurses, and other health professionals.
The important rehabilitation they offer every day is