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Jane Austen

By nature, writers are a curious sort. By that I mean we are easily led down The Rabbit Hole by the plot bunnies we insist on chasing. Research being an important activity for any serious writer, the lure of interesting information is a siren’s song that sometimes delays our current works-in-progress. Occasionally when we are sidetracked, however, The Muses favor us with an idea worth pursuing.

Recently, while researching dinner party fare that might be served by characters in the novels of Jane Austen, I stumbled across references to Martha Lloyd’s Housekeeping Book. I’ve read Austen’s works, but I’m no “Janeite.” Several of my closest friends are so devoted to that author that anything Jane-Austen-related is certain to please. I understand the attraction; I just don’t share their enthusiasm to the same level.

Until I tumbled down this particular bunny burrow, I was unaware that Martha Lloyd and Jane Austen enjoyed such a close friendship that Miss Lloyd lived in the Austen household for a number of years, eventually marrying one of Jane’s brothers. After the death of his first wife, Mary, Francis Austen married Martha Lloyd – his dead wife’s sister. (But that’s a story for another day. Here I go chasing plot bunnies again!)

Martha Lloyd kept a “household book,” in which she recorded favorite recipes, homemaking hints, medicinal remedies, household occurrences, and so forth. The original Martha Lloyd’s Household Book has been preserved and is safeguarded by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust at Chawton House Museum, in the home where Jane Austen lived the last years of her life.

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Sliding further down The Rabbit Hole, I became curious whether it was a common thing for women to maintain such household books. I learned that many homemakers of the time did as Martha did, but in researching how far back the practice originated, I came up empty handed…well, sort of. That research led me to a later book, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861 by Samuel Beeton, the husband of Isabella Beeton, the book’s author.

Then I found reference to Miss Beecher’s Housekeeper and Healthkeeper, the work of Catherine Beecher. In an era where the cult of domesticity doctrine ruled the lives of women, Catherine became a dedicated proponent for the education of women. She founded The Hartford Female Seminary in 1824 to offer ladies access to higher education. Teacher, lecturer, and author, Miss Beecher’s contributions no doubt had a tremendous impact.

Now that I’ve led you through the labyrinth of my thought process, I’ll advance to the point of this blog : The legacy people can leave to their families – as well as the future – by creating their own household books.

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How to accomplish this is up to the individual. In this age of technology there’s literally nothing that can’t be recorded electronically or converted to electronic storage…locally or somewhere on that mystical Cloud. This is likely the best route for computer-savvy, tech-minded individuals. I haven’t checked, but I would be surprised if there aren’t at least half a dozen apps for that. Some bloggers have found fame and fortune producing their online versions of household books.

 

For more old-school folks, nothing beats a beautiful leather journal and an ink pen that fits well in your hand. A benefit of this method, especially if your intended audience consists of family, is that future generations will be able to read your words, written in your own hand. Pretty nostalgic, don’t you think?

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That brings me to the “Me” in the title. As you may be aware, I am a ruptured cerebral aneurysm survivor. Having avoided the very real specter of death, I recognize the importance of leaving behind something of yourself for your children, grandchildren, and all the generations to follow. I can’t think of any more personal legacy than passing down favorite family recipes, a family tree, photos, and stories of ancestors long passed.

Hindsight being, as they say, 20/20, I wish I’d had the presence of mind to start a household book when I was still a newlywed bride…or in any of the subsequent years, preferably before that nasty brain bleed robbed me of some of my memories. But it’s never too late, is it?

Young or old, female or male…if you haven’t already done so, start your own household book today. Someday one of your descendants may want their high-tech replicator to exactly reproduce your signature dish. What a shame it would be if that information had been lost to the universe because you never passed it down.

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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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