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A Stroke of Insight

When I moved into my loft this past November I didn’t move any of my three televisions. I haven’t missed TV at all, I read far more now, I watch DVDs on my computer and we always have TED online. TED is an annual conference about ideas — in particular “ideas worth spreading.” I’ve watched many of the presentations. Last week I received an email with the TED top ten and there at #1 was one I had watched while in the hospital following my stroke:

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding — she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.


My stroke was different than hers in that mine was on the right side of my brain. Especially at the time my speech was slowed and slurred but it was never totally lost. My long term memory was fully intact. I recall in the hospital seeing other stroke patients able to walk and move their arms but struggling to speak. I don’t think I’d trade places with them if I could, even though reprogramming my brain to operate my left side and to give me sitting & standing balance as been a major challenge.

My short term memory is greatly improved although if you were to tell me your phone number I might struggle to remember it long enough to dial it. A note to people that use the phone — call people from the number you want them to call back on.

Dr. Taylor’s presentation is very moving, I can see why it is #1.  It has been more than a decade since her stroke.  I know that once my recovery time is measured in years, instead of months, I too will be fully recovered.  Now that will be “neat.”


I Drove My Car Today

For most people driving a car is no big deal, millions do it everyday. For me, five months to the day after being rushed to the hospital following my stroke, it was a very big deal.

A year ago I was so excited to not own a car, using my 49cc Honda Metropolitan scooter to get around town and to meet with clients. The stroke took out the use of my left limbs. I’ve got decent use of the left leg at this point, but my left arm/hand is still functionally limited. So a couple of weeks ago I sold the scooter (post) and last week bought a used car — a Toyota Corolla.

For obvious reasons I bought one with an automatic transmission — no extra hand to shift with (while keeping the other on the wheel) nor a reliable leg to activate a clutch. I also wanted a vehicle with power windows because trying to use my right hand to roll down the driver’s window would not be easy. The Corolla has an outstanding reliability record and excellent fuel economy. This Corolla, like most, was assembled in the joint venture Toyota/GM plant known as NUMMI in Fremont, CA, located not far from my brother’s office.

Don’t think that I’m just out on the road living it up without any equipment or training. I had a driving evaluator (a licensed occupational therapist) come and give me vision & cognitive testing as well as on on-road driving test. So last week, at age 41 and after driving for 25 years, I was back in driver’s ed.

We drove on the streets and the interstate. He recommended the two vehicle modifications which were the two I had already assumed:


The spinner knob on the steering wheel at 2 O’clock helps me safely turn the wheel with only one hand. The lever you see behind the wheel to the right is a turn signal crossover, helping me use turn signals with my right hand. The spinner knob is illegal for use on the road unless you’ve be determined to need it. Both devices work great.

So now my trick will be to see how seldom I can drive the car. I feel like a failed environmentalist selling the scooter and getting a car. As I start to buy gas I know I will quickly be reminded of just how efficient the scooter was. I’ll still use the wheelchair to get around downtown. I’ll also continue to work on my walking so that some day I’ll be able to stop using the wheelchair, the cane and leg brace.

In the meantime the car will allow me to get to my office on South Kingshighway without having to bum rides from others. This also permits me to once again have the ability to meet clients at properties that are for sale. A paycheck would be nice.

The car will permit me to stop by Local Harvest grocery and various farmers’ markets to get locally grown food. And finally it will allow me to get and and see projects as they are happening so that I can review them here.

To me the car is an important park of my mobility but I’m not going to let it rule my life.


So How You Doin’? Watch the Video & Tune Into KDHX!

It has now been nearly seven weeks since I’ve been home from the hospital following my stroke on Feb 1st. I’ve been busy complaining about the absence of, the condition of or cars blocking ADA curb ramps. I’ve also resumed working, with a new listing of a two-family at 3880 Juniata. That, doing laundry and cooking my own meals is a lot. In the meantime friends & family are asking how I’m progressing. So, I made a video to show you:

Twice during my three month hospitalization I was a phone-in guest on KDHX’s Collateral Damage program.  Tonight, Monday June 16th at 7pm, I will return to the studio — no more phoning it in.    I’ll give host DJ Wilson an update on my recovery and we’ll talk about local development issues, including next week’s Preservation Board meeting.


Help Welcome me back this Saturday from 5pm-7pm at The (smoke-free) Royale

As regular readers know, I was in three hospitals over the course of three months (February-April) following my stroke on February 1st. I received so many cards and emails of support it was wonderful. I know some of you came to see me while I was still in ICU at SLU and later while I was at St. Mary’s. Cards are great but nothing beats a face to face conversation. I think many others didn’t really know me other than as a reader and they didn’t feel comfortable showing up at the hospital.
When I knew when I’d be returning home some of my close friends wanted to throw a big party — at my place. I ruled that out quickly — I wanted something more casual and where everyone could just show up.

So this Saturday (5/17/08) I will be at The Royale at 3132 S. Kingshighway from 5pm-7pm. Weather permitting I will be on the back patio. Stop feel free to just stop by my table and say hello or even tell me how much you disagree with me. Get a drink at the bar and pull up a chair. I might even do special tricks like walking or moving my left arm!

The Gadfly is back!


Lead with your strong side

Today I did something stupid which can serve as a good analogy for cities.  For new readers I had a stroke on Feb 1st that took out my left side.  Through more than two months of rehab I can walk again with a cane.  So today I decide to pick something off the floor.  In rehab I had done squats to pick up stuff before.

Here is where the analogy and lesson part come in…

I was in a hurry and ignored all that I had learned up to this morning.  Rather than positioning my feet and body so that I was more relying on my strong (right) side I just squatted down as I would have prior to the stroke.  Conditions had changed but I tried the old way.  I ended up sitting on my butt on the floor.
Cities do the same thing— they don’t use their strong side to support then.  St Louis’ strong side is great urban architecture on a nicely scaled grid of walkable streets.  The suburbs don’t have those strong areas.  Yet here we tend to lead with our weak side — suburban anti-city stuff.  The more of this we have the less of the strong side we have.  Ok, so I was sitting on the floor now.

No harm done, people stumble just as cities stumble.  Unlike many cities I had a backup plan.  You see getting off the floor with only one good arm, one good leg and one weak leg is not just a pop back up sort of affair.  In therapy I practiced getting up off the floor — the assumption being that I’d end up there eventually.   Cities and their political leaders just don’t practice how to recover when they fall.  I knew to scoot across the floor and make it to the sofa.  From there I could leverage my strong side to get myself off the floor and seated again.  Cities don’t have such a backup.
St Louis has had a number of bad falls —such as the very expensive downtown indoor mall, St Louis Centre.  Had St Louis built up its strong side rather than coming from a weak position we would have focused on traditional storefront shops along streets.  Instead we went with the suburban mall model sans the acres of free parking and it flopped big time.   St Louis, like me this morning, was trying the quick route.  I recovered fairly quickly but a city’s mistakes are harder to recover from.

Remember that is is best to use your strong side for needed support.