Saturday afternoon Mariah and I drove together from Richmond to Washington to see a performance of the Vienna-based legendary Lipizzaner Stallions.  At the Patriot Center we met friends and family to enjoy watching these magnificent creatures.  (Non-horsey readers: the Lipizzaners are the famous “dancing” white stallions who perform highly skilled and specialized dressage, in a tradition dating back 400 years.)

This was truly a magical performance by the white stallions, whose “dance moves” are almost entirely natural to them, but they are trained to refinement and to the cues of their riders to selections of Baroque-era classical music.  The term “dressage” refers to the harmony between the rider and horse, much like the ancient myth of the dragon and dragon-rider. I personally voted that we go to a dragon-show today, but unfortunately someone already purchased horse-tickets. 🙂

An entire week has passed that I have been with Mariah and selfishly kept her stories to myself.  Here is the synopsis:

After a rocky Monday morning (hey, who doesn’t have rocky Monday’s except for degenerate musicians like me who sleep through them), Mariah had a consistent and diligent work week.  Extremely successful.  At her last physical therapy she took two laps around the indoor block downstairs and on lap #2 she all but walked by herself.  She has a tendency to lean to the left due to weakness in her right leg and foot, but with encouragement from her beloved physical therapist, Alan, she trusted her leg and walked the whole second time with minimal balancing assistance.  Watching her walk from behind her gait looked so natural I was moved to tears.

Last night we stuffed ourselves silly at Carrabbas Italian restaurant and then cruised the mall to pick up a book at Barnes and Noble that had been recommended by a therapist earlier in the day. A story of inspiration and unconditional love between a damaged baby barn owl and a young woman, “Wesley the Barn Owl” describes a relationship that lasts two decades and spans heartfelt emotions of trust, loyalty, and love that are usually assumed only between humans.  Mariah really loves this stuff.  Oh yeah, apparently if a barn owl ever drops a mouse in your mouth it means he loves you.  Do not be offended.

Speaking of owls, Mariah presented her “Owl” PowerPoint report for a second time to several therapists and me.  Her presentation skills were outstanding, and we all learned more about owls in fifteen minutes than we ever had before.  I did not know, for instance, that the Great Horned Owl has been known to carry off small cats and dogs from residential backyards.

We have also had lots of laughs, as usual.  Mariah and I learned together in recreational therapy game playing that “peladophobia” is the fear of bald people.  We spent the rest of the day fearing the team leaders with hair-loss issues.  Haha!  We know how to goof off, if nothing else.

Mariah and I will spend Thanksgiving at the Fisher house where I stay on the hospital grounds with several patients, family members and guests, and of course great grub, courtesy of the amazing “blue-star” moms.

If you haven’t already, please leave Mariah a Thanksgiving message, either on the website here where I will check and relay to her, or via snail-mail, or especially in your prayers and in your hearts.  We love to know and feel that you are thinking of us, and we wish all our friends and family out there a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Love and Light,


New Post

November 17, 2008

Here are some highlights from Mariah’s week in Richmond.

Fuzzy Sox (McGuire VAMC, 11/10/08)

Fuzzy Sox (McGuire VAMC, 11/10/08)

Monday started with a gift of beautiful blue fuzzy sox from her step sister, Molly. As you can see, she was delighted with the sox which matched her Cherry Garcia t-shirt.

The results from her neuro-psych (memory and reasoning) tests came back. Her worst results were “high average”; the best were off the charts. In memory, she scored in the 98th percentile of people her age who have NOT had a brain injury. One example: the doctor told her a brief story. Twenty minutes later, he asked her to tell him about the story which she proceeded to recite word for word. The doctor laughed and said he’s never had that happen.

Later in the day she gave a talk about owls using a PowerPoint presentation she and her brother Clay prepared. Her rendition of owl hoots was … well, a hoot. She spoke with great authority and without notes, and she handled the Q&A like a pro.

Tuesday was Veterans Day and a holiday at the hospital, so we spent the morning at Brown’s Island park on the James River in Richmond, and the afternoon in the funky Carytown district. We ate great Thai food, and Mariah got ginger ice cream at Bev’s and a manicure and pedicure at Fusion. With fingers and toes sporting OPI Italian Love Affair, she’s been the envy of the ladies.

Thursday evening Colonel Atcheson took us to dinner at Buzz and Ned’s, a premier barbecue joint in Richmond, with perhaps the best pulled pork barbecue sandwich on the entire east coast. (That should start a lengthy debate.)

On Friday Mariah, Monique (speech), Irene (recreation) and I headed back into the city for sushi and more ice cream.

Late in the week the team decided to postpone Mariah’s discharge until December 10 to give her time to further develop some hygiene and mobility skills she’ll need to live outside the hospital.


November 7, 2008

“Mamma Mia!” was, in Mariah’s words, “A great movie.” See it on a large screen if you can. It’s set on a gorgeous island in Greece and is stunningly beautiful.

Here’s beauty of another kind.

Washing Up (McGuire VAMC, 11/5/08)

Stepping Up (McGuire VAMC, 11/5/08)

Beware the Med Robot (McGuire VAMC, 11/5/08)

– mark

Time For Change

November 6, 2008

As President-elect Obama says, “It’s time for change.” The team at McGuire has begun planning for Mariah’s discharge, perhaps as soon as early December. Nothing’s definite yet, but among the possibilities are a move back to the DC area, and maybe a switch from inpatient to outpatient rehab. We hope a step toward returning to work may be possible, too. But who knows?

Mariah is excited about the prospect of returning to her beloved Chai. She longs to see her friends, family, and colleagues again as a routine part of her day. And she’s understandably frightened about what life away from the McGuire cocoon may be like. She’s come so far, and her long-term prospects are very good, but the next steps are unclear, and she’s uncertain about her readiness to take them. Reemergence is extremely painful.

Nuking a Snack (McGuire VAMC, 11/5/08)

Nuking a Snack (McGuire VAMC, 11/5/08)

In the meantime, Mariah continues to improve on so many fronts. She’s able to hold a fork or spoon more or less correctly and get food from a plate to her mouth. She can open toothpaste, squeeze some onto a toothbrush, brush her teeth and rinse her mouth. She can dress and undress herself, except for shoes, socks, and clasps. She can walk on a treadmill for over two minutes, supporting her own weight. She can transfer herself between her wheelchair and the bed. She’s able to print letters on paper, and she can operate a computer keyboard with one finger. She propelled herself to the canteen downstairs, picked out a container of mac and cheese, and took it back upstairs to the kitchen where she microwaved it and stirred the “cheese” into the noodles. (She wouldn’t agree to eat it, however. Smart girl.)

She does all of this, and much more. But none of it consistently “well”, much less perfectly, which seems to still be her standard for acceptability. As a result, Mariah has to endure a lot of frustration and disappointment.

Since her return from Walter Reed several weeks ago, she’s been opening up a bit emotionally. She’s been able to talk about her situation, to express her feelings, and to cry more easily which I believe has contributed to a more positive outlook on her part. This week, however, as she girds herself for the impending transition she’s withdrawing into her stoic and somewhat stubborn persona. I pray this won’t send her back into the dark place from which she so recently emerged. Unfortunately, her psychologist is also being promoted out of the ward, so Mariah’s experiencing some pretty acute anxiety around all the flux. (This is NOT a complaint about the system; it’s as good here as it gets. It’s just unfortunate timing.)

Believing the best antidote for cares and worry is a good musical, we’re going to the historic Byrd Theater tonight to watch the film version of “Mama, Mia!” The cost? $1.99 each, plus popcorn. No wonder she doesn’t want to leave Richmond. 🙂

– Mark