Just When I Think I Have A Handle On Things

So, my mom had a stroke on Saturday.

My plans for the weekend included doing nothing as I am smack dab in the middle of this huge 5 company upgrade that I’ve been terrified of for 5 years now.

It’s going well. I mean, not perfect, but the world has not stopped spinning, so…

The plans changed drastically on Saturday morning when I called my mother. Randy and I were driving back from the grocery. As soon as I heard her voice, I knew something was terribly wrong.

Me: What’s wrong?

Mom: Shell, I think I may have had a stroke.

This is something I cannot stop hearing. It just won’t stop. 

Me: Why are you not on the way to the hospital?

Mom: I need to call the Kroger pharmacy.

Okay, yeah, that’s completely okay. Who wouldn’t call the grocery when they’ve had a stroke?

Me: Yeah, I’m calling a life squad right now. I will call you back.

We turned around and I called 911.

After sending an ambulance her way, I called her back. She already sounded a little better.

Mom: What should I bring? Just my purse?

Me: Yeah, sure….but mom? Why on earth did you think the appropriate response for feeling like you had a stroke was to call the grocery store?

Mom: Well, I haven’t taken my blood thinners and thought I probably needed them.

Me: Have you heard the expression “shutting the barn door after the horse got out?”

The ambulance had picked her up by the time we got to her house. My dad was in the garage waiting. It’s been a while since I experienced a lot of rage toward my narcissistic father. I thought that the worst of the storms had passed, but apparently, when I’m terrified my mother is dying, I backslide a bit.

The drive to the hospital wasn’t comical, but bizarre. My dad has brain damage from a heart episode 25 years ago.

He’s already a narcissist, and isn’t chock full of empathy.

Plus, he has no mechanism to work out how dire some situations are, or he can, and just doesn’t care. No idea which.

I’m giving Randy directions, trying to reach my sisters and kids and my dad is in the back seat saying things like “Hey! What’s your favorite restaurant?” or “You know, I don’t think George Wallace was really that racist.”

What the actual fuck?  At least the scream in my head never escaped my lips.

Mom was getting CT scan by the time we reached the ER. When she came back, I knew immediately that she had a stroke. Her face was droopy on one side and her speech was slurred. But I didn’t react. I hugged her and told her it would be okay. I wanted to react, though. I wanted to so bad. Seeing her face like that felt like a punch to my stomach.

The doctor came in and explained that she might be a candidate for a medicine that breaks up blood clots, but that there were difficult side effects and it could be dangerous and they also needed to get her up for an MRI right away.

I saw something in that moment that I had never seen before.

My mom was scared. She looked to me with such fear.

I’ve seen my mother afraid before, but never ever ever for herself. Never for herself.

It took my breath away. I didn’t want her to be scared. And I wanted my mother. I wanted my mother so bad, but she needed me this time. That is hard to process and had to be processed in seconds. She needed me. After 57 years, I had to swap roles. On a dime.

I told her she would be fine and the droopiness already looked better. She could walk and talk and those were great signs. I promised her she would be okay. They wheeled her away and she wouldn’t let go of my hand until we were actually pulled apart.

I’m still processing that.

I can’t get the image of her looking so scared and vulnerable from my brain.

I can’t stop hearing her say in a whispery, slurred voice that she thought she had a stroke. I can’t stop seeing the terror on her face as they took her away. I had never seen the look before and then they took her away. I needed to hold my mom’s hand while I processed what happened, but all I had was the ghost of the pressure I felt after she was forced to let go of me.

Then, the waiting started.

We spent hours in the ER, waiting to hear what the doctors thought. Waiting for test results.

And I fought with my dad. It was bad you guys. I was so fucking furious with him. Mom had been back from her last test for well over an hour. We were bored and scared. Both at the same time.

My dad demanded I give him my mother’s purse. He wanted to get money out of it.

I looked at my mom and she shook her head no.

Me: We’re in the ER dad. There is nothing to buy

Dad: Give me her purse. I want money.

Me: What do you need money for?

Dad: I just need it. I don’t feel right without having money in my pocket.

Wait wait wait. He doesn’t feel right? He doesn’t feel right without some folding money in his stupid pocket when my mother just had a fucking stroke?

Me: Mom said she doesn’t have any money in her purse. She also just had a stroke. How about if we concern ourselves with that and not whether you have any money in your fucking pocket?

Then, he gave me that scowl.

The hateful, nasty scowl I remember so well from my childhood and I was left shaken with rage.

The bad thing about my dad, is his brain damage left him with limited short term memory. He gets hung up on an idea and can’t let it go, so this conversation repeated itself more times than I care to remember. I tried to be as quiet as possible speaking with him, because you know, my mom just had a fucking stroke and perhaps me fighting with her stupid husband would upset her.

Randy left to take our groceries home. Thankfully, yesterday was cold, so nothing went bad. I took my dad to the cafeteria to get something for him to eat, so that was fun. He talked about how we were usually at the hospital for him and then talked about all of his surgeries. Because if it’s not about him, then he doesn’t fucking care at all. Even about his wife of 59 years having a stroke less then 6 hours earlier.

It wasn’t all anger and frustration. My sisters and my nephew joined us in the ER. Between Randy and my sisters, my mom laughed a lot. My mom decided this development was amazing, because she hates saying no to anything, and now she had a good excuse. “Oh, I can’t. I had a stroke, so….”

Randy and I are going to have a shirt made for her that says “Can’t. Had a stroke.”

At one point, I went to find the ER doctor because my mom had been there for hours with nothing to eat or drink. My youngest sister is studying to be a nurse and works as a nurse’s assistant. She said that until the doctor gave the okay, that mom could have nothing. So, I tracked him down.

He said that she needed a swallow test, but then she should be fine with something to eat and drink.

It had been a long freaking day. I remembered the “it should be okay to eat and drink” but temporarily forgot the swallow test part.

My nephew had a bag of pretzels and I told him to give grandma one because the doctor said she could eat.

I was sitting at the foot of her bed and as she chewed I remembered the swallow test part.

Me: Oh, shit. You were supposed to pass a swallow test first.

Mom stopped chewing and looked at me.

Me: I mean, I guess this is the test.

Then my mom, with her lips pressed shut, started laughing so hard her shoulders were shaking. She pulled her knees up to her chest, put her head down and kept laughing.

Me: Mom, swallow that fucking pretzel before you choke. Holy shit.

Which made her laugh harder.

She did swallow the pretzel, which is good because I was a little afraid that while she survived the stroke, I may have killed her with a pretzel. I was also a little afraid that she was laughing a little too hard and she’d have another stroke, but honestly, pretty sure she needed the laughing as much as the rest of us did.

The good news outweighs the bad news here.

The bad news is, as much as I thought I was finished being mad at my father, it turns out I am not.

The good news is, my mother will be fine.

She’s already coming home. She definitely had a stroke, but the doctor is calling it a “non impressive” stroke. She said the damage in her brain was about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen.

I love getting older, but this part is bullshit.

I adore my mother. I am so grateful she is still here.

Now, wish me luck because I’m going to be traveling next week to continue implementing this stupid project.

And when everything is done? I’m going to need an entire weekend in bed.



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  • Michelle,

    This resonated so much with me. My father was the same way. (And is.) I lost my mother in 2018. You still have yours, and so good she laughed with you. Hold on to these precious moments.

    PS…Apparently sometimes we do need to follow the doctor/nurses orders. Pretzel? LOL…really? That made me laugh more than anything. Of all things to feed someone.

    I would give you a hug if I could. Consider this a virtual one. And speedy recovery for your mother.

  • The good news here is your mother is strong, smart, and funny, and she’s shared all those qualities with you. Well, that’s the overall good news. The really good, really specific good news is that your mother is okay. And normally doctors seem to come up with weird, vague size comparisons but “the tip of a ballpoint pen” is very specific and easy to understand, so that’s good too.
    Here’s hoping the week to come goes well–mainly your mother’s health, but also that big project. That sounds like fun.

    • Thank you! I just got off the phone with my mom and she sounds like her old self. Although she is resolving to stop worrying about little things and focusing on having fun. I’m on board with that.

  • Dear Michelle,
    Your being able to write about this is the key to
    your brilliance.
    Your mother’s ability to stay married to the man and laugh about her stroke while choking on a pretzel is her brilliance.
    Keep on being you, and I’m so happy that you can keep on keeping your mother.
    Good luck with the work sitch. Maybe your adrenaline rush on Saturday will last until the worst of that has passed.
    Life. Ha ha.

  • Oh. Honey. That was very brave and grown up of you. All of it. You HAVE faced the worst and your father survived and your Mom is gonna be OK and now (in my world) that work project seems pretty easy and far down the list of prioritized worry, so … helluva weekend.
    Thank you Randy, for your stoic and reliable support in every situation. The whole time I was reading this, I knew Randy was keeping you in his eyesight and making sure you were able to do what you needed to do, but ready to swoop in and save you, even if you didn’t need saving, you needed to know it was there.
    I was really scared to read this – what a lovely and good ending <3
    Good luck this week on that troubling work project! Darn it to heck… I mean, fuck that shit <3

  • Your ability to make me laugh while my hands were in white knuckled fists is a magnificent ability. I’m so pleased that your mom made it through such a scary scenario. My husband has done it 3 times – it never gets easier. Hope this is her one outstanding scare scene. As for your father – if he has short term memory then just tell him to fuck himself and 20 minutes later he won’t remember, but you’ll have had a tiny bit of anger vented. As for work – tell them about your weekend and hope that they show some compassion. Since it’s work, I don’t believe that any more than you do, but perhaps there’s someone there who has also gone through an experience like this and will cut you some slack.

  • Ah Michelle! I cried and yes, laughed, at this post. So glad she’s ok, and was able to find some humor in such an awful day. Your dad needs a kick in the nuts as usual.

    Much love to you and your mom and siblings!

  • I’ve been saying “Can’t, had a stroke.” since 2008, but I say it about fewer and fewer things as time goes on, so there’s that. I remember my swallow test; in the cafeteria of the rehab place 21 days after my stroke.
    That, however, is one of the only criticisms of the care I received you’ll ever hear out of me, and to their credit, I had just been transferred there so they sort of had to do it.
    I’m glad your mom is doing OK. It could, as they say, be worse, and I have seen it. In Fairmont Acute Rehab when I was there, I was one of about 50 patients, the great majority of whom were stroke sufferers.
    A few of them were there for the second time, two were there for the third, and one guy was there for the fourth time. He was a four stroke.
    They ran the spectrum from slight cognitive impairment to “confined to a wheelchair permanently” but that is not what I want to write about now.
    Nope, I want to write about Helen. Helen was there recovering from a stroke, like I was, but in the month and a half she was there, she didn’t have a single visitor. When they discharged her, she had nowhere to go, so they found a SNF that would take her, gave her a brand new walker, and shipped her out. I remember her smiling about the new walker as they loaded her on the Paratransit bus.
    Being there recovering from a stroke myself, I was sort of stunned that she just had nobody. To this day it gives me the shivers to think about it, and I remain hyperaware of those who lend assistance in that particular sort of personal crisis.
    I don’t know whether you remember or not, but the first long comment I wrote on your blog was to tell you how much I admired you for the support you gave your son when he needed it, and so here I am again saying the same thing about your mother.
    She’ll likely be fine.
    Because of you.
    I’m serious.
    My main doctor at Summit Hospital told me (and Briana, who still drives me around to my medical appointments after all of these years) that the #1 factor in stroke recovery is whether or not the patient had someone dedicated to their support and improvement.
    Sorry you had your dad to put up with while all that stressful shit was going down, but I’m glad you found things to laugh at.
    I predict you will prevail over the work project.
    You are fucking awesome.

    • I’ve been waiting for you. I knew you would have a great comment considering strokes are something you know way too much about. And you never disappoint. Thank you. Thank you so much. And poor Helen, that makes me so sad.

      I do remember the comment about my son. It meant a lot to me. It still does, as does this one. 🙂

  • I’m so grateful you have Randy for support when your Mama needs yours. My heart goes out to your Mom for being married to someone like your Dad. Thank goodness she has you, your family, and her humour. Lots of love. ❣️

  • The title of this piece is perfection–and also. our ongoing life lesson (that list bit is a freebie, LOL). So glad your mother is ok.

  • Taking care of our parents as they age is something I never realized would be a big part of my life until it happened. Now that my father and mother have passed it went by too fast.

  • I am finally catching up with you. So happy that you’re mom is doing ok!

    My mother passed away in January this year. (lower case n – narcissist) We didn’t realize how narcissistic she actually was until Mr Blowhard Control Freak Sadistic A$$hole father had passed a couple years earlier. So much to process…

    It sounds like you’re handling your father as well as one could considering. This reminded me of when my mother had her first stroke several years ago. We went to visit her in the hospital where our delightful father regaled us with stories of how proud he was over making her nurses cry! Because he, of course, was much smarter than all of them…

By Michelle


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