Strokes Suck

Pops George with a turkey last year...gobble gobble

My grandpa, Pops George, and I have never had a phone conversation longer than a minute or two.  But, about once a month or so, he’d answer one of my at least bi-weekly phone calls to my grandma. He’d tell me that she’d run to town or was at Wendy and Paul’s (aunt and uncle who have three fun-loving youngsters).  He’d then say I should call her cell, and that would be that. Occasionally, he would ask when I was going to come visit.  Then, beginning a couple of years ago, he would surprise me by responding to my “I love you” with “I love you, too”, and guaranteeing I hung up the phone with a warm heart.

Pops George is 73 (give or take a year or three) and has worked hard each day of his adult life.  His dedication to his farm and his family stood out more and more to me as something to emulate as I’ve grown older.  Until my half-sister, Marissa, was born I thought he was all work and no play.  Marissa, the 5th grandchild, seemed to finally  soften him up a bit.  Now, with three more grandchildren who live just a quarter of a mile down the road, he is quite the grandpa!

Memory:  When my brother and I were young, probably under 10, we stayed our customary week or two of the summer with Memaw and Pops.  Ben riding fourwheelers and fishing, me going on adventures by the train tracks and going to thrift stores.  I loved those times with my grandparents.  At night, we would eat together and my grandpa, would without fail shake his plastic tumbler  (he doesn’t like glasses) of sweet tea, the ice swishing and clanking in the cup.  Over the years, I think this sound may have started to drive my grandma a little crazy.  Seeing her irritated for that second made me giggle.  My brothers response was to do shake the ice in his plastic tumbler just like Pops.

I haven’t seen my grandpa since his stroke over 5 weeks ago.  I have spoken with grandmother on the phone nearly everyday.  The pain in her voice is apparent.  In the past, I think she has hidden pain from me as to keep conversation upbeat – especially after my mom’s death.  I don’t think she has strength to hide the pain now.  Often though, she fights back tears saying that she needs to be strong for him. Other times, the battle against the tears is lost.  I can’t imagine the pain she is going through paired with all of the responsibilities that she normally carried out, plus my grandpa’s share.

I mentioned before that the stroke left him with global aphasia.  For those of you who don’t know what this is (I didn’t), the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine defines “global aphasia” as a condition characterized by either partial or total loss of the ability to communicate verbally or using written words as a result of widespread injury to the language areas of the brain. This condition may be caused by a stroke, head injury, brain tumor, or infection. The exact language abilities affected vary depending on the location and extent of injury.

My grandma says that he has shown some improvement in his cognitive skills and a little with his speech.  Fortunately, his motor skills were not effected by the stroke.  He was released from inpatient rehab on Monday and is now at home, participating in rehab twice a week.   The family is helping in transporting him and cooking dinner and coming to visit so my grandmother can go to the grocery store or get a haircut – things that we take for granted.
I hope I am able to see my grandpa soon and that one day in the not so distant future I will hear him shaking the ice in his plastic tumbler and maybe, just maybe hear him say, “I love you, too.”
For more information on strokes you may want to read “My Stroke of Insight” by Dr. Jill Taylor.  If you don’t feel like reading a riveting autobiography by a neuroanatomist who had a stroke, then maybe you will watch the movie based on the book that Ron Howard is said to be directing, with Jodie Foster as lead. Could be a few years.

Memaw and Pops at my brother's wedding in May 2007