Thursday, November 3, 2011

One Year Older

Just over a year ago, I pecked out my first post on this little blog. It took me days before I could hit the "publish post" button.  I hadn't been able to use computer for a very long time, and my eyes and hands had to relearn an old skill.

As a veteran journalist, I could crank out stories on a tight deadline, my brain firing on all cylinders. I was in constant motion, always planning the next project or adventure. No longer. Even slow, simple movements were challenging.

My closest confidants knew that I was struggling with health issues and rehabilitation. They saw that cooking and baking were two things I could still do. My kitchen was becoming my refuge. My cousin, Mel, encouraged me to chronicle my journey. My friend, Anna, got me set up on Blogger.

That's how AK's Kitchen was born.

Rewind to the spring of 2009. I woke up one morning with a massive headache, tingling and swelling in my extremities. My eyes couldn't focus. I chalked it up to stress. I had a lot on the go, with the sale and purchase of a home, a trip abroad, three kids, work. On top of all that, I was recovering from a nasty stomach bug from a foul clam at a sushi buffet. ( The Centre for Disease Control lists some of the illnesses caused by foodborne microbes.)

I was on my way to work, still symptomatic for the third consecutive day. I nearly fell flat on my face because I couldn't see the ground below. I went to my doctor and she immediately ordered a battery of tests, saying "this is a serious neurological issue."

I was stunned. The notion that there could be something wrong with my brain slammed the brakes on everything. As far as the kids were concerned, mama had a big headache, and she needed to sleep A LOT.

Meantime, my head buzzed with questions. "If I need a wheelchair, we'll need to remodel our home. How will we afford it?" "What if I can't ever bike with the kids." "Who will help them with their French homework?" "What is wrong with me?"

After my doctors ruled out stroke, brain tumour, multiple sclerosis and lyme disease, I received a  diagnosis of a rare neurological illness. I was told that, in most cases, the prognosis is good. Recovery would take time and perseverance. I'd likely have residual effects and a new normal.

The new normal was a hard adjustment. Shuffling around the house, I'd often fall or bump into corners and doors. Watching part of my son's soccer game or reading a page in a newspaper left me bagged for days. When Sydney Crosby said that after his hockey concussions, simple activities like watching TV were too much for his swollen brain, I could relate.

Still, I was extremely grateful. This was my do-over. A chance to be more present for my family and conserve my energy for the people and activities that mattered most.

My occupational therapist gave me a series of exercises to build up my strength and coordination. Eventually, I was able to type again. Using a computer was a tough slog. My eyes had difficulty making sense of the screen and the keyboard. At times, my fingers wouldn't cooperate.

My initial blog posts were an extension of my therapy. I would test myself to see how accurately and for how long I could type, or how long I could view the screen without feeling woozy. Every time I completed a post and was able to hit the "publish post" key, I marked another step in my recovery.

Today, I am not yet able to ride a bike. But I can watch my children laugh and play. I am still adjusting to my new normal. I do things differently now, more slowly, more deliberately, more thoughtfully.

This is a significant anniversary for AK's Kitchen and for me. Thanks for being part of my journey.

This is how I plan to celebrate:

with a chocolate bacon bar from my friend Aviva and baby Ben.

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