Archive for the ‘Brainy Ideas’ Category

Bone Throne

This article has nothing to do with a video you might find on YouTube or a fan-fiction variation of the epic books penned by George R.R. Martin. Nor is our Game of Bones about throwing dice or stacking dominos. We’re talking about putting kitchen scraps to good use.

Sometimes lovingly referred to as “Jewish Penicillin,” chicken soup has earned a generations-old reputation for being good medicine to cure just about anything that ails you. It turns out that our grannies and their grannies knew their stuff. While hot chicken broth won’t end the common cold it is quite effective at alleviating some of the symptoms, even though it’s not entirely clear how it works its magic.

Researchers who published their study The Journal of the American College of Chest Physicians reported back in 2000 that chicken soup can actually help reduce upper respiratory inflammation. Since fluids in general help loosen congestion and keep you hydrated, the hot broth also helps in that regard.

More recently there have been claims that “bone broth” has other amazing benefits, but little reliable scientific research is available to back them up. In the absence of such evidence, who knows if it really promotes gut and joint health?

We can be certain of one thing: broth and stock are staple items for serious home chefs. And, yes, there is a difference between the two.

Broth is made by simmering protein (meat, poultry, or fish) for a relatively short time in water that’s usually seasoned with herbs and vegetables. Stock, on the other hand, is concocted from bones and cartilage slowly cooked in water for six to eight hours…and sometimes even longer… to release the bone marrow and collagen, which results in a slightly thicker, richer product. In most recipes the two can be used interchangeably, but unless you make an effort to remove it, the fat content of broth will be higher than that of stock.

Just to confuse matters further, that trendy bone broth (which may or may not help your gut and joints) technically isn’t a “broth” at all because it’s made from bones and cartilage, not meat. And even though they sell vegetable broth in your local grocery store, it’s not really broth or stock; it’s concentrated vegetable juice!

There are plenty of stock and broth recipes available on the web and in cookbooks, so I won’t post one here. Instead, I want to emphasize that most kitchen scraps have more to offer than taking up space in a landfill somewhere.

When you’ve had all the meals you can make from a roasted chicken – whether you cooked it yourself or purchased one of those handy rotisserie hens – don’t pitch the carcass. Even in our busy lives it only takes a few minutes to throw that in a slow cooker, cover it with water, and season it with salt, pepper and maybe a few herbs and let it cook on low while you go about your business. Pour it through a strainer and freeze in quart containers and you’ve got some homemade chicken stock to use as a base for soups. Frozen in ice cube trays, the smaller quantities can be used to season rice or make gravy.

The same goes for the scrappy bits that are left over when you trim a beef roast of visible fat. There’s always some nice meat clinging to it. If it doesn’t seem to be enough to make broth, put the raw scraps in a quart freezer bag, label it with the type of meat and the date. Every time you have beef, throw the scraps in the freezer bag and hold it until you have enough to produce a batch of beef broth. After 6 to 8 hours in the slow cooker on low, you’ve got a nice supply of beef broth to freeze for future use. You can do the same thing with pork.

If you’re a gardener, you can save and dry vegetable and fruit seeds to plant in the spring. Even the skins, peels, cores, and other junk left from cleaning fruits and vegetables can be put to further use by composting them. But that’s a topic for another day.

Today we’re just playing A Game of Bones.


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In the world of microeconomics, there’s a theory put forth that manufacturing in large quantities decreases the cost of production per unit, thus providing large corporations a pricing advantage over smaller concerns. Mass production also allows the big guy to by raw materials in bulk, making vendors willing to offer discounts, further reducing the manufacturer’s cost of goods sold. Economists call this phenomenon the economy of scale.

So, you might wonder, what does this have to do with a kitchen scale? Well, those inexpensive kitchen gadgets come in handy for more than helping you manage your calorie count.

Big batch cooking can save a home cook time and money, but today let’s focus on the purchasing side. Stocking up on non-perishable goods when they’re on sale is sort of no-brainer. If you have sufficient and appropriate storage space, go for it. Just make sure that the sale price is actually a bargain…but more on that another day.

For now, let’s just talk about buying meats.

Around Christmas a local grocer offered whole, untrimmed beef tenderloins (also called PSMO, which stands for Peeled, Silver-Skin, Side-Meat-On) at $9.99 a pound. They also had fresh, Frenched racks of lamb for $7.99 a pound.

Our family gathering was scheduled for Christmas Eve to accommodate kids, grandkids, and their significant others who needed to be elsewhere the following day. For the first time in decades, dear hubby and I would be on our own for Christmas dinner. A duck, or maybe a couple of Cornish hens, would make us happy.

It’s been a long-standing tradition for Mom (a.k.a. me) to make lasagna, Caesar salad, and garlic bread on Christmas Eve. My entire family threatened mutiny if I didn’t deliver. So I had no need for a $70 or $80 beef tenderloin or an equally expensive crown roast of lamb…or did I?

Filet mignon runs around $25 a pound at the grocery store and our local meat market, so I can’t bring myself to buy it. Can you guess where that delicious cut comes from? The beef tenderloin.

Hubby and I love herb-crusted lamb chops, but we don’t have them very often because even at the big discount stores like Sam’s Club and COSTCO, they cost between $13 and $15 a pound. Yikes! That $7.99 lamb rack sounded better by the instant.

So I splurged. I picked out one of the smaller tenderloins that weighed just a tad over 7 pounds and a 6-rib, 3 pound lamb rack. Yes, I blew the grocery budget that week by buying about $100 worth of meat for two people. But I felt confident that the economy of scale would justify my extravagance. And it did.

I spent about half an hour cleaning and butchering the tenderloin. It isn’t that hard to do. I won’t go into the process in detail because there are plenty of places online that do so. (Google “trim and butcher PSMO” and you’ll find a lot of sites with excellent step-by-step instructions and/or videos.)

My roughly 7 pound hunk of beef yielded a nice 2-pound beef tenderloin roast (the perfect size for hubby and me to enjoy for some Sunday dinner with leftovers for sandwiches), 10 thick filet mignon ranging in size from 6 to 8 ounces, and about a pound of “scraps” from which I concocted a most amazing Beef Stroganoff for that night’s dinner. Bottom line, we’ll enjoy eight very nice meals (16 servings!) from that $70 expenditure…roughly what it would cost for one outing to our local steakhouse if we both ordered the filet mignon.

Bonus: I threw all the fat and sinew I trimmed away, along with scrappy bits of meat that were too riddled with “junk” to be worth saving. I covered them with water, added a generous splash of red wine, a teaspoon of sea salt, and some coarsely-ground black pepper and let the whole thing simmer for about an hour. Then I poured it through a strainer into a 1-quart freezer container, labeled it, and threw it in the freezer…saving myself about two bucks the next time I prepare a recipe that calls for beef stock.

While that stock was simmering, I removed the lamb from its packaging, rinsed it with cold water, patted it dry, and tied it into a tiny just-for two crown roast of lamb, packaged it and froze it. In a couple of weeks, that would become the star of our 46th wedding anniversary dinner. That lovely tenderloin roast and five storage bags containing 2-per package filet mignon joined it in the freezer.

One of my husband’s favorite entrées ham loaf like his grandma used to make. Her recipe calls for (a direct quote): Have the butcher grind a pound of ham, then a pound of lean pork, then have him grind the two together. That might have been possible in her day, but now not so much. I haven’t found a meat man willing to do that…and believe me, I’ve tried. It seems they’re required by law to clean the grinder every time they change cuts of meat, so they don’t want to grind small batches and they absolutely refuse to do something that would cause them to clean the grinder three times to sell two pounds of meat. Luckily, one year for Christmas, my hubby gifted me with a fancy stand mixer with all the bells and whistles, including grinding and sausage-stuffing accessories. He may have had an ulterior motive.

Every now and then I humor him with Grandmother May’s Ham Loaf. With my super-mixer, I can DIY all the grinding. I just have to buy the meat, which can be challenging in and of itself when your family consists of only two people.

So, the last time hubby got vocal about his ham loaf craving, I did another “buy big and cut it down to size” operation. Bone-in half hams were on sale at 99 cents a pound. I dug around until I found a small one – about 7 pounds. Way more than I needed for a ham loaf, but there was method to my madness.

Boneless pork required a little more thought. I only needed a pound, but the bargain price on pork that day was $1.99 a pound for a half loin. That was cheaper by $2 a pound than boneless chops. Where do boneless chops come from? Yup, you guessed it…from the pork loin. I found a nice, relatively lean 4-pounder and tossed it in my cart.

By now you’re probably thinking that I spent $15 on ingredients to make nothing fancier than a ham loaf. Well, you’re right…and wrong.

Here’s the evolution of the ham: First, I baked it for Sunday dinner, accompanied by mashed sweet potatoes and green beans (both of which came from our little veggie gardens). After dinner, I used an electric knife to slice a pound of the ham deli-thin for sandwiches and popped it in the fridge. Then I cut eight slices about 1/2 inch thick for ham steaks, bagged and labeled them for the freezer. After that, I carved out a chunk that I eyeballed to be about a pound and a half which, when trimmed of visible fat would become my pound of ground ham for grandma’s ham loaf. I put the bone and all the lovely ham still attached to it in a gallon storage bag and threw it in the freezer. I won’t have to search for a ham hock the next time I get the urge to cook up some dried beans or greens.

Voila! That half ham yielded approximately 10 meals for two (20 servings total) for right around $7. Do the math. That comes out to 35 cents per serving. You can’t even get a deal like that on the fast food $1 menu.

The half loin of pork was what they call “butcher trimmed,” which means that most of the sinew and other yucky stuff that usually comes with bulk meat purchases had already been removed. Being picky, I had taken time to find a loin with a relatively small fat cover, so after about ten minutes with a sharp filleting knife, i had a roughly 99% lean 4-pound chunk of loin. I cut 1/4 of it off and packaged it for the freezer, writing on the storage bag that it was designated for hubby’s ham loaf. The rest I cut into thick boneless chops – great for stuffing, baking, grilling, or pan-searing.

So, yeah, at least 14 servings (counting ham loaf and leftover ham loaf) for $8. That’s less than 60 cents per serving.

In case you were wondering, I don’t own a stand-alone freezer. But when large cuts of meat are broken down into meal-sized portions, you would be amazed at how tightly you can pack them in the freezer compartment of your fridge.

And, of course, I rely on my handy-dandy kitchen scale to weigh the portions before storing. I use a lot of quart-sized freezer bags and keep a permanent marker close at hand so I can label each portion with the weight, quantity, and type of meat along with the day it goes into the freezer.

The moral of this story is simple. Sometimes a seemingly expensive meat purchase yields relatively inexpensive entrées, allowing you and your significant other to dine like royalty for weeks.

Thanks, of course, to The Economy of the Kitchen Scale.

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It may not be true for millennials, but we Senior Citizens recall our parents admonishing us to get our elbows off the dinner table. As children, we never questioned that rule. Back then, failing to blindly obey might result in being sent to bed without supper.

But now that we’re grown, it’s a valid question, isn’t it? Why can’t we put our elbows on the table? Who made up that stupid rule, anyway?

Well, there are a few theories, one being that it originated with sailors who wrapped their arms around their plates to keep them from sliding off the table when they were riding out rough seas. That was fine and dandy when they were aboard ship, but landlubbers didn’t look favorably on seamen, who were considered rude, rowdy, and more than a little dangerous. So when sailors, out of habit, put their elbows on the table to guard their food it tipped off the locals to their occupation. Not wishing to associate with such rabble, the good folks either left the premises or challenged the seafarers to do so. Naturally, brawls often ensued, which made the innkeepers and pub owners unhappy. They, in turn, would then ban sailors from their establishments. Seamen soon learned they had to change their habits if they wanted a meal and a place to sleep while they were in port. Hence, they reminded each other, “Keep your elbows off the table.” That sounds to me like a plausible explanation, but other versions better account for the longevity of this rule of etiquette.

In medieval times, kings hosted feasts to honor visiting nobles. Everybody in the kingdom received invitations to attend. Royalty and honored guests were seated in comfortable chairs at what we now refer to as “the head table,” while folks of lower stature took their places on benches that flanked long tables. Packed in like sardines in a tin, they didn’t have room to rest their elbows while they ate without invading the space and disrupting the meals of the people on either side of them. Jostling a neighbor could result in violence and nobody wants to eat their dinner with swords and daggers flying around. Besides, guarding one’s food left the impression that one was starving and His Majesty did not look fondly on those who gave his honored guests the impression that his subjects were not well fed.

All these centuries later, it remains rude to interfere with one’s tablemates’ enjoyment of a meal. That means keeping those elbows off the table so you don’t crowd other diners. It also means you should obey other rules of mealtime propriety. In case you have forgotten, (or, sadly, were never taught), let’s review a couple of the big ones.

Your napkin should be placed in your lap as soon as you are seated and remain there when it isn’t in use until everyone at the table has finished eating and the entire party is ready to disband. If you must leave the table for any reason, the napkin should be placed in your chair after you excuse yourself.

And should the reason for interrupting your meal be a need to use the restroom, please refrain from announcing your destination.  Simply say, “Excuse me, I’ll be back in a few minutes. Please, continue eating while I’m away.” Seriously, the others probably don’t want to know where you’re going or think about what you’ll be doing.

This brings us to another point. Everything that detracts others’ comfort and enjoyment is a no-no. Don’t play with your utensils, tap your fingers, or touch your hair. And for heaven’s sake, don’t mess around with your cell phone.

Despite many restaurants’ practice of wrapping a fork and knife in a paper napkin secured by a self-adhesive paper band, that is not the proper placement of utensils. Long-standing tradition dictates that forks are situated to the left of the plate; knives and spoons to the right. They are arranged in order of usage from the outside in toward the plate. For example, the fork farthest to your left is typically the salad fork. When salad plates are cleared, salad forks should accompany them. The next in line is for eating your following course. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?

By the way, proper placement of your cell phone is out of view…with the ringer silenced.

This last rule of etiquette is likely the most difficult to follow in our technology-mad times. And it shows.

A few weeks ago, dear hubby and I stopped at a popular restaurant for lunch. The place was busy, so we put our name on the list and retired to an alcove to wait. During those fifteen or so minutes, we began to observe not only the other customers waiting for tables, but also those already seated and within sight. Approximately 75% of our companions spent the entire time gazing at screens, making calls, checking emails, and God only knows what else. Sort of rude to the others who were chatting with each other to pass the time, don’t you think?

As if that weren’t bad enough, scanning the booths in view of the waiting area revealed at least one person at every table also staring blankly and thumbing at a smart phone – or worse yet, talking on their cells. Some were evidently having difficulty hearing the person on the other side of the call because they spoke loudly and often uttered phrases like, “Say that again. I have a lot of background noise here.”

Heaven forbid that people having pleasant mealtime conversations should interfere with their enjoyment of their mobile devices!

Wait. Isn’t that backwards?

I feel certain Emily Post is rolling over in her grave. I think Miss Manners would insist that way of thinking is quite the opposite of polite social conduct. If these refined ladies had been present in that restaurant, I suspect they would have been appalled.

I was.

I wanted to shout, “Hey, you! And I mean all of you. Put your phones away.”

“And get your elbows off the table!”

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Surely I’m not the only person on the face of this earth who is plagued by tasks, chores, and projects they never seem to have time to accomplish. As a writer, I work from home…which means that little chores like planning meals, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and others too numerous to mention get woven into my work day. Sometimes it’s difficult to partition the time I need to spend on literary works-in-progress from homemaker responsibilities. This creates a problem I think all full-time employed people must face from time to time.

One day, after digging one too many times in my Lazy Susan cabinet looking for a can of diced tomatoes that I knew was hiding in there someplace, my frustration reached an all-time high. No, not just frustration…anger. Self-anger. And self-shaming. I launched into a veritable flood of negative self-talk, knowing full well that cussing my own hide wouldn’t do a blessed thing to solve the problem. Tomorrow, I told myself. Tomorrow I’m going to clean out that cabinet and reorganize it so I can find things for a change.

You guessed it! By the next day other, more pressing issues arose. If I didn’t do laundry and get some shirts ironed, dear hubby would have to go to work naked. Yes, I let it get that bad. So, off to the laundry room I scurried without a thought about the condition of my food storage cabinets. As I pulled towels from the dryer, a black bath sheet fell to the floor. When I picked it up, the thing had so much white lint attached that it looked like a polar bear. Glancing down, I realized that sweeping and mopping the laundry room seemed to be another “never have time for it” task. Tomorrow, I told myself, tomorrow I’ll take time to scrub this entire area until it shines.

Funny how tomorrow never comes, isn’t it?

A few days later, I sat down to update my calendar for important appointments I knew my feeble mind wouldn’t recall unless I wrote them down that instant. As I gazed at the blank squares, it occurred to me that there were lots of “tomorrows.” I just wasn’t making good use of them.

That’s when the idea struck me. I needed a prompt. Something to remind me to do all those things I never seemed to get around to. A list, perhaps?

I fired up my laptop, set up some columns in a document and started cataloging all the things that drove me crazy…but always when I didn’t have time right then to address them. Two pages later, the solution came to me.

I cut the list into small slips of paper…about the size of the fortunes that come in Chinese cookies…folded them, and put them in a jar. I vowed that at least once a week I would grab a random slip from the jar, stop what I was doing, and tackle whatever was written on it.

Since some of the projects would involve acquiring supplies, I figured Friday would be a good “Pick One Jar” day. That way, if gathering the materials I needed ate up all my available time, I would feel like I’d at least made a start. Then I could work on finishing them up over the weekend. If scheduling conflicts arose, I would pick first thing Saturday morning.

I was serious about this approach! In red ink, I wrote “Pick One” on every Friday square on my calendar. All set.

Some of the tasks, naturally, require fair weather. One simply cannot till the garden plots when temperatures are below zero and snow is falling. Those, I allow myself to stuff back into the jar. But that doesn’t give me a pass. I keep drawing until I come up with a chore that is do-able without Mother Nature’s cooperation.

As other “must-dos” occur to me, I’ll add them to the jar. That way I’m not actually procrastinating. I’m scheduling a task for a day when I have time to devote to it.

Wow! This system has already done wonders for my self-worth. I feel like the heaviness of the world has lifted from my shoulders.

I just wish the bathroom scale would reflect that as physical weight loss.

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Chapter 3 – Ghost in the Mirror
“We are not human beings on a spiritual journey.  We are spiritual beings on a human journey.” – Stephen R. Covey

Days and nights transposed themselves and faded one into the other. There was no distinction between dream and reality and only a thin curtain separated unconsciousness from awareness. A figure in a long, blue robe drifted across my field of vision. Were my eyes open? Was I seeing this phantasm or experiencing a fragment of some reverie?

As the fog of sleep lifted, I became acutely aware of the stranger walking silently through the room, seemingly unaware of my presence. Who are you? I arose and followed the figure down the hall and into the bathroom, but as soon as I stepped inside she vanished. Confused and frightened, I pushed aside the shower curtain. I was half expecting to hear the eerie, slashing violin notes from the Psycho shower scene and genuinely fearful of finding a maniac lurking there with a butcher knife.

The tub and shower were vacant. I was alone in the small room. Where did she go? Previously skeptical about all things paranormal, I didn’t relish the possibility that I had seen a ghost; yet there seemed no other logical explanation.

While washing my hands I glanced up and caught my reflection in the mirror. I examined the cold and seemingly lifeless entity whose dull gray-green eyes stared back at me without a hint of recognition. Who are you?

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After my encounter with Death, there was a ghost in my house. I knew she was there because her reflection in my mirror terrified me. Pale and lifeless with dark rings encircling her eyes like the black sky surrounds a full moon this specter was as ghastly as any horror movie leviathan.  The phantom resembled Frankenstein’s monster with staples in her half-bald head and angry black sutures closing a blood-red slash across her throat. Although I didn’t recognize her at first, I eventually came to understand that she was the new me. This fiendish atrocity was the person who had survived a ruptured cerebral aneurysm and was now embarking on a quest to return to the mythical land of Normal.

That ghoul no longer haunts me.  From outward appearances, most people would not take me for a brain-damaged aneurysm survivor. The dent in my forehead and the C-shaped scar just above my hairline are disguised by a stylish twist on the old comb-over camouflage. My thoughtful neurosurgeon strategically placed the incision giving him access to my jugular in a pre-existing wrinkle in my neck, so it really isn’t all that noticeable.

Certainly I am one of the most fortunate patients. I am still able to speak and did not suffer any paralysis resulting from the blood that rushed like a raging river into the space between my skull and my brain.  Functioning at a relatively high level, I continue to work as an author, freelance writer and editor.

My right hand has been known to spontaneously throw a cocktail on the nearest unsuspecting victim without seeking my brain’s prior approval. While that tremor still bothers me sometimes when I am tired or feeling stressed, I have learned not to trust my shaky right. Since my left hand rarely spills a drink, this deficit usually goes unnoticed by others. I have come to accept the fact that no matter how hard I focus and regardless how many exercises I do to improve it, my balance is always going to be a bubble off of level. My occasional inability to speak the correct word in the appropriate context is usually overlooked by everyone but me, although it still serves as a source of amusement to certain family members. I have almost mastered the normalcy game. People who did not know me when the bleed occurred have no idea I nearly died from one of the most devastating and unpredictable of health events: a ruptured cerebral aneurysm.

Somewhere in the world an aneurysm ruptures in somebody’s brain every 18 minutes. Neuroscientists believe that approximately 6% of the U.S. population has undetected cerebral aneurysms. That’s about 18 million people! Every year roughly 30,000 Americans experience subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) due to brain aneurysms. Between 10% and 15% of these patients die before reaching a hospital and over 50% will pass away within the first thirty days after the rupture. Of those who survive the first month, about half suffer some form of permanent neurological disability.  One can only imagine how much wore the statistics must be in third world countries where access to modern health care is severely limited.

Women are statistically more prone to having cerebral aneurysms than men. Depending on the source, the estimated ratio varies between 2 and 3.2 to 1. Aneurysms can be present and rupture at any age, but most are detected between the ages of 35 and 60 when they either become symptomatic or burst. Sometimes developing as the result of a blow to the head, aneurysms are frequently congenital, as was my case. These circulatory time bombs tick away, waiting to explode.

Early in my recovery, I was urged by fellow survivors to write and publish my story on an Internet website, but I did not do so. I was tired of telling and retelling the story and hearing how lucky I was to be alive. Aside from that, the act of putting it all into words on even virtual paper seemed far too painful. Staring into the hollow face of Death was not something I was eager to relive.

More than a decade later, I realize that relating my experience might offer hope to others. My book, Normal, might help recovering brain aneurysm survivors to better understand what is happening to them – and that they are not alone in their struggle. Hopefully my story will provide caregivers insight into the experience and help them understand why we survivors behave as we sometimes do.  Perhaps some of the coping mechanisms I have discovered will provide some slight advantage to in individual searching for ways to manage life in the aftermath of brain trauma. Maybe medical professionals reading my book, Normal, will derive a deeper appreciation of the emotional, psychological, and spiritual impact strokes have on their victims. Regardless how astute they may be on the physiology of this condition, even the best doctors cannot fully comprehend what it is like to be the patient unless they have experienced it for themselves. By setting aside my embarrassment, my fears, and my long-standing belief that if I can just act normal I will be normal, I aspire to offer hope and support to people who are facing new obstacles and trying to get their lives back in order.

Embarking on this endeavor was every bit as painful as I anticipated it would be. There is much to be said for leaving difficult times behind and focusing on the future. I’ve become adept at faking normalcy, wearing the illusion like armor that shields me from the insecurities that continue to haunt me. Even so, ignoring the scars does not negate the reality of the wounds.

If Normal brings hope and encouragement to even one person who is fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds, I will have accomplished my mission. If my words increase cerebral aneurysm awareness, encourage research, and promote patient support, I will have met my goal. If this account provides one miniscule step in the direction of early detection and treatment to save even one life, I will be elated.

My message is simple: Never give up the fight.

NORMAL is currently available as an eBook on Amazon (U.S. and U.K.), Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, eBookPie, Kobo, and Copia.


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Chapter 1 – Brain Attack

No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow. ~Euripides

A  flaming sword slashed into my left temple. I thought, Wow! Where did that come from? If this pain doesn’t stop, I don’t know if I’ll be able to serve on a jury.  As soon as I had completed the thought there was only blackness – no more thoughts, no feelings, just nothingness. My body jerked and writhed in grand mal seizures caused by blood flowing into the space between my skull and my brain as the result of a ruptured cerebral aneurysm.

Serendipity and synchronicity were at work that morning. The lady sitting next to me was a nurse. She immediately started caring for me and yelled, “Somebody call 9-1-1!”

It wasn’t the first miracle in my life. My congenital aneurysm could have ruptured on any given day. I had twice given birth, but the strain of labor and delivery hadn’t caused it to pop. The jolting car wreck I was in years before left my neck stiff and sore, but didn’t cause my brain to bleed. It was a miracle that I was summoned for jury duty that day because it meant I had to be in downtown St. Charles early in the morning.  Afraid of being late for the court appearance I arrived quite early, so I was sitting on a bench instead of driving my car when the rupture occurred. If I’d been following my usual Monday routine, I would have been driving in traffic on Interstate 70. I might have caused a huge wreck, taking innocent lives in the process. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was sitting at the courthouse just a few blocks away from St. Joseph’s Hospital when the rupture occurred. An invisible protector was watching over me. If I had to have a brain attack, I was certainly in a fortuitous place to have it.

There is no memory of the ambulance ride. Was it there or in the ER where I was assaulted by bright lights while medical professionals shared information about my condition in staccato bursts of medical-speak?  Most of what I heard I could not grasp. The words “…get her stabilized,” invaded my awareness, prompting me to fight harder, trying to wake up. Then it was back to the blackness. For how long, I don’t know.

Somewhere in that void my brain managed another thought. It may have been a prayer or a bargain with God; I know you did not bless me with a grandbaby just to take my life. I know you want me to stay around to help raise her. My first grandchild had been born mid-June and I wasn’t ready to leave her behind just yet. As soon as the thought processed through my brain, I experienced ultimate bliss. All was right in the world. In that nanosecond of enlightenment I knew that the human spirit survives the death of the physical body and I understood that my wandering soul needed to get back into its earthly habitat. With the force of a downed fighter plane barreling into the earth, my mind, body and spirit reconnected with a startling and violent crash and I returned to the serene void that had become my safe haven.

My next encounter with lucidity was when I awoke and found myself looking up at the drained, terrified face of my husband, Mike. “Jan,” he ventured, his brow wrinkled in worry and his face pale with poorly-masked fear, “this is Dr. Martin. He’s been taking care of you.”

Dr. Martin’s face displayed a mixture of concern, confidence and compassion. It was the demeanor of a man bearing bad news that he was reluctant to deliver. I knew immediately that the situation was dire. He cleared his throat. “We need to talk about what happened to you and where we go from here,” he said. “You’ve had an aneurysm burst in your brain, causing you to have a stroke. We have you stabilized for now, but without further treatment you will die.” His voice cracked as he delivered the last three words.

“What kind of treatment?” I mumbled.

“What I propose is a surgical procedure to clip the aneurysm,” Dr. Martin continued, his professional demeanor softening the harshly clinical nature of his words. “We will remove a small section of your skull and set it aside. Then we will isolate the aneurysm and place a clip at its base to stop the bleeding and seal off the aneurysm from the artery. Over time, the aneurysm will wither. Once the clip is in place, we will replace the skull section and close the incision.”

I recall asking, “How do you put my skull back together?” Although I remember him answering, my brain must have stored that bit of information in a bad sector. I can’t retrieve it.

“I must warn you there is no guarantee that the surgery will be successful.” He paused a moment before adding the grim conclusion. “In fact, there is a possibility you could die during the procedure or that the operation could cause additional damage and result in severe disability.”

“What kind of odds do I have?”

“With the surgery, you have about a 20% chance of making a full recovery.” His calm voice made the number sound quite optimistic.

“And without the surgery?”

“Your condition is very serious,” he began. He paused to clear his throat, and then continued, “There is a very high risk for additional bleeding. Unless we clip the aneurysm you will die. The only question is how soon.”  He lowered his glance making it clear how much he disliked delivering the prognosis.

I searched my husband’s eyes and said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, “I like 20% a lot better than 0%. I think we have to go for the surgery.” Mike nodded his concurrence, his eyes begging me to fight for my life.

Dr. Martin proved to be another of my miracles. On that particular day, he arrived early at his office in the medical building adjacent to the hospital. That was definitely my good fortune because the man is nothing less than a genius. Serendipity and synchronicity placed him exactly where I needed him to be when I needed him to be there to save my life.

Once I managed to sign the surgical consent forms, Dr. Martin explained to us that the first step would be to take me in for a four-quadrant angiogram.  This procedure involved shooting dye into one section of my brain at a time and doing a CAT scan of each area to get a better look at the bleeding aneurysm and to find out if others like it lay in wait to launch subsequent attacks.

“I can’t have an MRI,” I insisted. “There are titanium plates and screws in my left leg from a double spiral fracture.” Ever the good patient, I regurgitated the instructions my orthopedic surgeon had given nine months prior.

“That won’t be a problem.”  I heard kindness in Dr. Martin’s voice…kindness and calm reassurance. I knew I was in good hands. That dark serenity enveloped me again.

This is as good a place as any to note there is a lot I don’t remember at all. I don’t know with any certainty whether I returned to my haven of bliss because I lost consciousness, because I was receiving medications, or because I was a hairbreadth away from permanently vacating my body. It’s likely I am simply incapable of remembering. Blood in the brain will do that to a person.


NORMAL is currently available in eBook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, eBookPie, Kobo, and Copia. A paperback edition is in the works. A portion of the proceeds from sale of this book are donated to The Brain Aneurysm Foundation to help fund patient support and research focused on early detection of aneurysms and prevention of ruptures. Every 18 minutes an aneurysm ruptures in somebody’s brain. Each year approximately 30,000 people in the U.S. alone fall victim.

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