Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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April 7, 2014

Journey of mother’s recovery brings a new blessing each day

— — Events of the past week have stirred up some memories in my mind that I thought were in my past. Apparently a quarter of a century is no more than the blink of an eye in the mind of someone who is dealing with a family tragedy. Back in 1991, within a few minutes of learning that my mother had a paralyzing stroke, I was in my Ford Ranger pickup truck driving north.

Mom’s friend, Mary Reed, had called to tell me the medics who came to her assistance were taking her to a Uniontown hospital. By the time I got to the rest area on I-79 north of Flatwoods, Evonda told me she had heard from Mom’s friends that the medics had transported Mom to the Washington Hospital. As a result, I quit mentally charting my course to Uniontown, Pa., and started figuring my arrival time at Washington, Pa.

The scene I walked into at the Washington Hospital emergency room was chaotic. Four of Mom’s friends had gathered around her bed, and were all talking to me as fast as they could. A nurse was standing beside Mom’s bed shouting at her, and the look on Mom’s face was nothing short of panic stricken. Although Mom couldn’t move anything but her eyes, she looked at me, and rolled her eyes in the direction of the nurse.

Being her son, I knew exactly what she meant and I quickly told the nurse, “She can hear you. Just speak in conversational tones and she will do her best to respond.” When I looked back at Mom’s face, I could see the relief in her eyes. I think the nurse was a little upset with me. I had walked into her turf out of nowhere and told her what to do. But she spoke to Mom, and they communicated.

Mom’s friends went outside in the hallway. Mary Reed handed me the keys to Mom’s car and told me where she had parked it. The other ladies had already loaded their suitcases into another car, and were headed back to Uniontown. I started thinking about driving my pickup truck a half-mile, walking back to mom’s Sunbird, driving it one-half mile further than my pickup, walking back and walking back to continue the leapfrogging action until I got both vehicles back home. When I re-entered the ER cubicle, tears were pouring down Mom’s face.

It took a while to wrap my brain around what was happening, but I started to figure it out — one step at a time. The magnitude of the situation didn’t sink in until the next day when my nephew, Brett Archer, drove in from Ohio to visit Mom. We were talking about what had happened to Mom, and the television was on in the room — playing the West Virginia University versus Boston College football game.

Although Brett and I were busy talking, apparently Mom was still watching the game with no sound. A Mountaineer defensive back intercepted a BC pass near the goal line, preserving a WVU 31-24 victory. Mom yelled, “Oh my!” Brett and I both looked at her, saw that she was looking at the television set, slowly turned our heads in unison in the direction of the TV set and caught the replay of the interception.

“Oh my!” That was the last thing I heard my mother say in her own voice. It was Saturday, Oct. 19, 1991. During the next few months, Mom had aggressive speech, physical and occupational therapy that taught her how to talk differently, use utensils to eat food and take care of basic personal hygiene needs. On the other hand, I had to overcome my fear of entering the women’s bathrooms at fast food restaurants from Bluefield to Washington, Pa. I found other ladies to be helpful in clearing the way so I could get Mom to the bathroom.

My first job was teaching Mom how to swallow again. During the next few months, I made notes on Mom’s daily planner pocket calendar and followed the notes religiously. I was still working a job down here, but my main job was to drive from Bluefield to Washington two or three times a week and arrive at the time I indicated on Mom’s day planner.

About a week ago as Evonda and I were clearing out some boxes in the basement, I came across Mom’s 1991 and ’92 day planners with all of the “Bill Here” and “Bill Gone,” Bill Back” and doctor appointment notes on them. I mentioned something about the day planners before tossing them in the trash bag, but I didn’t make that much of a fuss about it.

Each day I had Mom between that first day when I saw her panicked look in the Washington Hospital ER was a new blessing. There was a lot of snow in the winter of 1991-’92, a lot like this year, and I traveled on some roads that I probably shouldn’t have, but I always made it back to Pennsylvania on time. I shook my head as I looked at the old day planners, wondering how I did all of that driving, but then I just smiled.

There’s really nothing remarkable about it. A lot of people do that kind of stuff for their family. Some tasks seem overwhelming when they are happening, but there’s always time to worry about that later. I learned how to be a better person when I was helping my mom, and that lesson has stayed with me. I didn’t need the day planners to keep me on time.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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