By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
y friend, Ken Davidson, has a wealth of homespun sayings that he can draw upon at the drop of a hat. He sprung one on me last week, and it reminded me of my favorite drop-of-a-hat comment.
I got stupid crazy when my mother lost her speech when she had her stroke on Oct. 18, 1991. Since she couldn’t communicate at all, her physicians and some of her friends believed that she was a goner. It took me almost five hours to drive to the Washington Hospital in Washington, Pa., and when I entered her room in the intensive care unit, a nurse was shouting at her and scaring her.
All it took was one look from Mom for me to realize that she knew what the nurse wanted, but she just couldn’t talk and answer her. I realized that she was totally aware, but she was trapped in a body that she had absolutely no control over. “She’s not deaf,” I said to the nurse in the calmest voice I could manage. “She understands you. She just can’t respond right now.”
The look of relief on Mom’s face was palpable. Thinking back on that look now, it was as though she had been caught in a bizarre moment where everything she had experienced in 71 years of life had been taken from her. When she saw me and knew that I understood, she wasn’t scared anymore. Those five hours of uncertainty terrified her though, and I don’t think it ever left her mind.
When I wasn’t with her, helping to work through the challenges she encountered, I thought of what I could do to help her. The craziest it got was when I got a pack of alphabet flash cards so she could spell out what she needed to communicate with her caregivers.
At the time, I had no idea that there was a speech therapist at the Presbyterian Medical Center in Washington, Pa., that could help her learn a new way to talk. Because of the limitations in her hands, mom couldn’t flip enough cards to spell, “Hi.”
After a few weeks of speech therapy, she was able to carry on a conversation with anyone who was patient enough to listen. A lot of people aren’t, you know, patient. Many people are in just such a hurry that they just don’t listen. I’m a slow typist because I only use one finger to type with, but when it’s read, it sounds the same as someone who can type 125-130 words per minute. It probably took me seven or eight minutes just to type the last three sentences.
Mom’s work ethic impressed her speech therapist, physical therapist and occupational therapist so much that they worked hard to help her regain as much of her former dexterity as she could regain. Her therapists would see her for an hour or 90 minutes per day, but I watched my mom spend her spare time working to perfect each movement that brought her back to physical capabilities that were closer to skills she took for granted for 71 years, but lost at the drop of a hat.
The only other person I knew who worked that hard on one single thing was Mike Durrette. Mike was an offensive lineman on the 1980 and ’81 West Virginia University Mountaineer football team. He was from Charlottesville, Va., but he spent at least one summer in Morgantown when I was driving campus bus. After he was done working out in the weight room at Old Mountaineer Field, he would ride the bus back out to the Towers Dormitories where all of the athletes stayed.
When I was waiting for the time for me to make my campus run, Mike would talk to me about the specific muscle he was working on at any given time. He showed me the exercise he was doing at the time and took time to explain how the particular muscle he was working to blend with the muscles in a particular group to help him achieve the result he was trying to achieve.
A few months after Oliver Luck was appointed athletic director at WVU, he was in Bluefield at a Rotary meeting and we talked about the good old days. I was thinking about Mike, and asked if Oliver had seen him. He told me that he saw Mike a few years ago in Las Vegas. He had made it to the NFL with the 49ers, and was still into taking care of himself and physical conditioning.
The joke I intended to tell was about dropping my brother’s old red ESSO hat and making Mom laugh, but in truth, every day that I watched her work to gain a little better quality of life was an inspiration to me. I hadn’t thought about how similar Mike’s commitment was to my mom’s commitment until I was writing this column. Mike helped me understand that winning small victories made it possible for him to achieve great things. I saw my mother apply that same effort to her rehabilitation and it made me proud.
Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.