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April 24, 2014  
HEART NEWS: Feature Story

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  • The Night the Music Stopped – A Stroke Story

    The Night the Music Stopped – A Stroke Story - Part Four


    September 09, 2005

    Part One|Part Two| Part Three| Part Four

    By: Jean Johnson for Heart1

    Part Four

    “Not in the mood for music.” Mack Lowell’s pronouncement more than anything the physicians had said seemed to cast the grimmest pall over his situation. And it’s true, with your entire left side paralyzed, life does become difficult. But, Lowell’s buddies didn’t desert him.

    First they started checking him out for day trips home on the weekends. Seeing how he’d do in his own digs – or his hootch, as he calls his trailer. There were the expected bumps and grinds, but largely he managed – with help. In the bathroom where carpenter and plumber friends had widened the doorway and installed grab bars, he could almost manage himself. Heave himself out of his wheelchair with his right arm, get balanced on his right leg, and even hop around on his right foot so he was in line with the toilet. All that, though, left him with no means with which to get his britches down. So, with a little help from his friends…

    Take Action
    Successful stroke rehabilitation depends on:

    Amount of damage to the brain

    Skills of the rehab team

    Cooperation from family and friends

    Timing of rehabilitation – the sooner the better

    Despite being more or less trapped in a wheelchair, Lowell still experienced relief getting out of the institution, a place he detests with all his heart and describes in words that aren’t printable. So his friends continued to tote him home, take him on drives through the world class Ponderosa pine forests surrounding Flagstaff and up winding mountain roads so he could get vistas of his beloved Colorado Plateau.

    All the while, Lowell and company were trying to figure out a permanent escape plan for him. “I need to get cut loose from this place,” Lowell would say whenever anyone was around to listen. “I’ll never get well in here.”

    His friends were with him. All staunch iconoclasts of the sixties mold. Still, they realized they were up against something seriously big-time and were reluctant to challenge the medical profession. “Don’t turn down the therapy, Mack,” they’d said. “Get as much as you can so that when we do bring you home you can pull it off.”

    So the hours and days and weeks turned a wet stormy spring into a summer in full Northern Arizona glory with a vast expanse of blue overhead and redtail hawks riding the thermal currents. All the while Lowell’s crumpled body was source of deep distress. “I saw myself naked in the mirror after a shower,” he said. “It was pitiful, my left arm just hanging there so thin. It looked like Auschwitz.”

    Finally as June gave way to July, the therapists said they’d done about all they could for him. Helped him learn better foot placement, put some weight on his left leg, and most importantly worked on the stroke-caused disinhibition problems that caused Lowell to do things like spring up out of his chair without giving advanced warning or asking for help.

    He found a couple exceedingly stalwart friends that agreed to camp out with him and share the 24-7 care that would be needed. “Mack cannot be left alone at all,” the therapists said for the umpteenth time. “He must have someone with him so that he does not injure himself unintentionally.”

    Learn More
    Stroke recovery statistics from the National Stroke Association:

    10 percent of stroke survivors recover almost completely.

    25 percent recover with minor impairments.

    40 percent experience moderate to severe impairments and require special care.

    10 percent require care in a nursing home or long-term facility.

    15 percent die shortly after their stroke.

    Approximately 14 percent of stroke survivors have a second stroke within the year following their first stroke.

    The big day crept closer, his one friend who would be there nights, pulled his camper onto Lowell’s property next to his trailer. And the woman, wife of Lowell’s longtime friend from college, got her work organized so she could bring it over to the trailer during the days. Her plan is to set up shop on some card tables in Lowell’s living room and carry on with her business even as she helps Mack out. How that will work out with Lowell’s new game – watching CNN on television and listening to NPR news almost nonstop, is anyone’s guess. But with both personalities tending toward the strong side, folks are worried.

    Worried and grieved. Their friend of 30 years has taken a dreaded dive into a realm all humans fear. A stroke. A thief that comes in the night and makes a mockery of your independence. So what are Lowell’s buddies to do?

    They want to spare their friend from a life in an institution. Keep Lowell insulated from the hard reality of his situation as much as they can. There’s even one of his high school friends retired in Phoenix who says he will come up on weekends when he can and relieve the weekend crew. And Lowell’s nearby neighbors who both work full time have said they will do what they can as well.

    But experiences taking him home for the day have been sobering for all. Everyone – except, perhaps Lowell himself – is realizing more and more what it means to have responsibility for another human’s care. The dressing, bathing, bathrooming, grooming, feeding, socializing, you name it. To use the cliché, it’s enough to make a grown man cry,’ and Lowell’s done plenty of that too.

    Yes, tears. There have been plenty of them. And most likely there will be plenty more. The damage is done and no amount of wishing can turn it back. Lowell knows that. He knows it’s the legacy he created that has now come back hard on him to collect. Still, if he could just be home, it wouldn’t be so bad, he says. “I know it will be better once I get back to my hootch,” he says in the breathy monotone that’s marked his voice since the stroke. “They don’t tell me anything around here, but I think it will be next week some time.”

    With any luck then, when the sunflowers start blooming in Northern Arizona, Mack Lowell will be back home – and he’ll manage to stay there. Territory in the living room will get staked out. All concerned will negotiate work time and quiet time and news time.

    Whether there will be any music time, though, remains to be seen. Lowell’s still not his old self. As the physician explained, the stroke damaged some parts of his brain as well. That said, surely at some point he’ll want to hear the old bard himself, Dylan. Or some lovely Clapton licks. Surely he will.

    Concluded in Part Five

    Last updated: 09-Sep-05

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