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Brain, Heal Thyself: A Caregiver's New Approach to Recovery from Stroke, Aneurysm, And Traumatic Brain Injuries

Brain, Heal Thyself: A Caregiver's New Approach to Recovery from Stroke, Aneurysm, And Traumatic Brain Injuries

by Madonna Siles, Lawrence J. Beuret

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A Caregiver's Tale

When Eve suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm, Madonna Siles, her housemate and friend, too quickly found herself making critical short- and long-term medical care decisions without any help. When the insurance and financial resources ran out and the conventional therapy providers discharged zombie-like Eve to the homecare of a solitary


A Caregiver's Tale

When Eve suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm, Madonna Siles, her housemate and friend, too quickly found herself making critical short- and long-term medical care decisions without any help. When the insurance and financial resources ran out and the conventional therapy providers discharged zombie-like Eve to the homecare of a solitary caregiver, both their futures seemed hopeless.

Instead of giving up, Madonna Siles drew on life experience and her marketing career to develop a rehabilitation program that harnessed the power of the subconscious mind. Using motivational techniques borrowed from the advertising world, she appealed to Eve's subconscious to bypass the brain damage and restore normal functioning. In three short years, even the doctors were amazed at Eve's recovery and return to a near-normal life.

Part memoir, part recovery manual, Brain, Heal Thyself is a guidebook for thousands of shell-shocked individuals who suddenly find themselves having to make life and death decisions for those they love. With humor, warmth, and arresting honesty, Madonna Siles's lively narrative closely examines not only the patient's recovery, but also the crucial role of caregivers--and the emotional, financial, and practical pressures they face.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
The roommate of the author typed and proofread every word of this book. That might not sound particularly amazing, but just two years earlier that individual, Eve, suffered a near-fatal brain aneurysm that destroyed certain parts of her brain. Her condition also propelled the author of this anecdotal book into the challenging and perhaps unwelcome role of caregiver. Siles used her knowledge of AA's 12-step program and of subconscious communication and visualization techniques to design a program to aid in her friend's recovery. That Eve made such a remarkable recovery regaining 90 percent of her original capacity in two years makes these techniques all the more interesting. That said, the advice Siles quotes from a trusted relative to refrain from seeking information on brain aneurysms for at least a week after the initial event in order to avoid "information overload" caused this librarian pain. A few other passages that did not seem fact-based necessitated a reminder that this book is a subjective remembering of the journey. Recommended for consumer health and public libraries. Beth Hill, Univ. of Idaho Lib., Moscow Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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A Caregiver's New Approach to Recovery from Stroke, Aneurysm, and Traumatic Brain Injuries

By Madonna Siles

Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Madonna Siles
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61283-004-9


The Brain Bomb Explodes

It is another astounding Indian summer afternoon in Door County, the northeast Wisconsin peninsula that juts into the sky-blue waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan. The misty atmosphere virtually vibrates with the jewel tones of nature—garnet, sapphire, topaz, and ruby—all set in shimmering gold. No wonder Door County is the Midwest's artists' Mecca. The patio door of my harbor-side home is wide open to an unusually balmy breeze off Lake Michigan. I've been lured to my easel by the siren call of seagulls, lapping waves, and chirping backyard birds. Puffs of clouds are racing seagulls across the cobalt sky. Truly, this is paradise. Nothing can ruin my ecstatic mood as I paint the spectacular landscape I can see from my studio.

Earlier in the partly cloudy day, I had been moping around, still trying to recover from a weeklong bout with bronchitis. My housemate and best friend, Eve, had not too subtly suggested I get some fresh air by mowing the lawn before she gave the yard a final trim for the season.

Despite my initial reluctance, mowing turned out to be no chore at all. It was invigorating. As the sun claimed more and more of the sky, the temperature responded accordingly, eventually creating a perfect fall day. I even thanked Eve for getting me moving again.

Now I feel good enough to return to my painting, while Eve zips around the yard with her weed whip. As the birch shadows lengthen in the late afternoon sun, I am totally lost in the mesmerizing process of creativity. Certainly, it takes me several minutes before I realize that the weed whip is silent, replaced by anguished cries of distress mixed with the background noise of nature.

"Help me! Help me!" The words finally register in my mind.

Oh, Lord, I wonder if Eve has chopped off a hand or foot. Dropping the paintbrush, I race out of my art studio into the dining room.

I hear the cry again, but I don't know where it's coming from. Sound plays tricks in a lakefront house. I run out on the deck. She's not in the yard. Back inside, I fly through the kitchen to the front door. Nope, not there. Maybe the laundry room? Bathroom? Where is she? I hurry into the living room and peer down the dark hallway to our side door. There she is! Eve crawls out of the hallway shadows and collapses at my feet, moaning, "Help me."

At first, I'm frozen, then panicked. "What happened?" I shriek. "Did you cut off a foot?" Quickly checking, I'm relieved. No blood. Her legs and hands are intact. Thank God, I don't have to retrieve a body part from a bush.

Eve is crawling again to the middle of the living room. Now she's rolling around on the rug, legs thrashing, clutching her head in her hands. She's berserk with pain.

"What's the matter? Please tell me." I'm begging for an answer.

"Don't know. Felt like I was shot between my eyes. Fell to my knees ... passing out ... crawled in ... God, the pain!" The words come tumbling out in one breathless rush.

I lean over and check her head. Maybe a stone hit her? Maybe a wayward bullet? It's deer hunting season, isn't it? Nope, no holes. Suddenly, she's quiet. I'm grateful for the silence. Then I notice that her eyes are rolling back. It appears she's losing consciousness.

"Eve, are you fainting?"

"Going to be sick."

"No, wait," I squeak, "not on the living room rug." Like a raving lunatic, I run into the kitchen and fling open the cabinets, looking for a plastic bowl. An old one. What's the matter with me? Just go help her, stupid. Then a thought occurs. Hey, wait a second. This is probably just a migraine. Eve gets one every other month. Sometimes she vomits. Yep, that's what it is, a dumb headache.

I hurry to the living room and thrust the old bowl at her face in the nick of time. I close my eyes until she's finished gagging. Nervously, I check in the bowl. Uh-oh. It doesn't look like lunch, nor does it look normal. "Please," I beseech her, "tell me, do you think this is a migraine?"

No answer. She's losing consciousness again. She's never done that before.

I jump up and run to the phone. "Eve, is this migraine or should I call 9-1-1?" I wave the receiver in the air threateningly. Precious moments pass.

"Call," she says weakly.

As Eve passes out, I punch the buttons.

"Emergency operator."

"I'm not sure. I think we need help. An ambulance. My roommate hurt her head somehow. She's losing consciousness. I don't know if it's a migraine." I vaguely hope the operator will shed some light on my dilemma. "I think she's unconscious now."

"Where are you?" the calming voice asks.

"In Baileys Harbor." I recite the street directions. It feels like I'm talking in slow motion. "Yes, the driveway is on the right coming from Sturgeon Bay."

This is going to take forever, I think. Sturgeon Bay is 40 minutes away. But no sooner do I hang up than there is a pounding at the backdoor. Who needs visitors now?

I run to see who's there. It's the owner of a restaurant down the street. She's holding a duffel bag. Really, I don't have time to chat now.

"I just got the emergency call," she says breathlessly. "I'm a medical first responder. I know CPR. What's wrong? Is it your roommate?"

"Oh, yes, she's in the living room. Thank you. Please hurry." As I open the door, I see two more first responders running up the driveway. I wave them inside and direct them to the living room. Amazing. Where are these people coming from?

"Does Eve have a heart attack history?" a responder asks. "How about stroke?"

"No," I answer. "No!"

Now the three first responders are kneeling next to Eve. "Well, it might be a migraine," one says. "We need some ice."

I run to the refrigerator. Another knock at the door. Another first responder.

"Get some blankets," someone shouts. "She might be in shock."

I know I am in shock. I'm racing around like the proverbial headless chicken. I retrieve the ice from the refrigerator and run to the linen closet to find a blanket. Where are the damn blankets? Oh yeah, way up on the top shelf. I pull one and they all come tumbling down.

I hear the distant wail of a siren. Wow, that ambulance got here fast. Soon there's another knock at the door. "Paramedics," they shout in unison.

Armed with oxygen and a stretcher, they quickly take over. I'm crowded out of the living room trauma scene. Standing in the doorway, I feel so helpless as they call out more of the same questions. They're all shouting at Eve to stay awake. I overhear one of them talking to the hospital on his cell phone. "Might be a migraine," one paramedic says. "I don't think so," counters the other.

In the blink of an eye, they've strapped petite Eve onto the stretcher. The first responders rise in unison as they watch the medics cart Eve down the hallway and out the door. The first responders parade out behind them. As if it's an afterthought, one paramedic runs back into the house to talk to me.

"We're transporting Eve to the Door County hospital in Sturgeon Bay. You'll have to drive yourself." She turns and heads back to the ambulance.

As quickly as they came, they're gone. Standing alone in the kitchen, I'm not sure what to do next. First, I better change from my grubby painting attire. My hands are filthy. What a sight. The spooked cats, Ozzie and Lola, are meowing loudly for their dinner. My head's throbbing; I'm not over the bronchitis yet. Wish I had taken a nap earlier. I feel intensely sleepy; it's my own peculiar reaction to panic. Not a very helpful defense mechanism at the moment.

Robotically, I proceed through the tasks at hand. I'm unsuccessful at calming the cats, but I manage to divert their attention by throwing food in their bowls. Next, I ransack Eve's desk drawers, searching for the medical power of attorney documents. I haven't a clue where they are. Eve is keeper of the business papers. Eventually, I find the old Illinois power of attorney (POA), a relic of our Chicago past. It'll have to do. Finally I lock up the house and head to the hospital.

All the way to Sturgeon Bay, I browbeat myself. Why, oh why, did I call an expensive ambulance instead of putting Eve to bed? This will probably cost us $500 that we can't afford. Of course, it must be a migraine headache. She has a history of them. Eve was obviously overacting and, as usual, I am overreacting.

I hate to admit I'm so squeamish. My nursing skills are limited to fixing a cup of tea or dispensing an aspirin. If the situation gets any messier than that, I recommend calling a doctor. This time, however, my immaturity is going to cost us big bucks. I'll bet the ambulance crew was snickering all the way to Sturgeon Bay, making fun of the ditzy lady who cried "wolf" when it was only a lamb.

I arrive at the hospital and haul my bruised ego into the emergency center. A receptionist directs me to Eve's room. She is sitting up in bed, looking a little dazed. No one else is in the room. I fear that Eve's going to reprimand me for sending her off in an ambulance.

"How's your head?" I ask.

"It really hurts."

"Do they think it's a migraine?"

"Not sure."

Just then, a doctor bursts through the door, followed by a nurse. Two unfamiliar paramedics are trailing behind.

"Who are you?" he asks me bluntly. I explain that I am Eve's roommate.

He frowns. "So you're not a blood relative?"

"No, but I have this power of attorney paper." He smiles. Obviously, I said the magic words. He grabs the paper, and nods as he peruses the document.

"Okay, here's the situation. We've performed a CT scan and detected blood on her brain. Our diagnosis is a subarachnoid hemorrhage. We don't have the facilities to treat a cerebral hemorrhage here, so we're transferring her to Green Bay. First, we need you to sign these papers." He nods to the nurse, as he exits to answer a ringing phone.

"I'll sign," Eve pipes up in a meek little voice.

The nurse bypasses me and hands Eve the clipboard. Looking over her shoulder, I see Eve scrawl something. It sure doesn't look like her signature. I feel sick now.

The nurse looks at the signature doubtfully. "Here, you better countersign," she says to me. "And you look a little green. Why don't you sit down for a minute?"

The doctor reappears. "We've just received confirmation that a neurosurgeon is standing by waiting for Eve's arrival at the hospital in Green Bay. We've already called a long-distance ambulance company to take her."

At this, the two paramedics step forward to shake my hand. "I'm Rose. I'll be driving the ambulance. We want you to leave right now for the hospital. We'll pass you on the highway with lights flashing and sirens going. Don't be alarmed, that's just the way we drive. You stick to the speed limit, understand? Stay calm."

"Can't I go with you? I don't know where the hospital is," I whine.

"No, you can't. Joe, here, is writing out directions for you. Now get going." She touches my cheek sympathetically.

"Here, honey. Don't worry. I'll be riding in back with your friend. I'll take good care of her, I promise," Joe says, as he gives my shoulder a reassuring pat.

I believe him.


No Extraordinary Measures

As I drive down State Highway 57, the setting sun's last rays are lighting up the clouds gathering over Green Bay. It looks a little ominous out there. Amazingly, I'm not at all tempted to speed. In fact, I'm driving about five miles under the limit. Truth is: I don't want to go to Green Bay. I'm playing with the idea that if I run away, the problem will go away. That's what I want to do. Just keep driving past Green Bay, through the cornfields of Iowa, across the plains of Nebraska, all the way to the Colorado Rockies. Perhaps the Pacific Ocean. Anywhere but here. Actually, I have no idea what a cerebral hemorrhage is. Is it life threatening? Is this trip a precautionary measure? Heck, what's a little blood on the brain, anyway? Can't the doctor just go in there and sop it up with a sponge? My mind hops from one solution to another, searching for a comforting thought.

Green Bay, next exit. Despite my desire to run, I dutifully turn off the highway and continue down side streets to northeast Wisconsin's regional brain trauma center.

Turning into the hospital driveway, I notice a sign for valet parking. How about that? Don't know why I'm so surprised. Green Bay isn't exactly a small rural town. I drive up and lower the window to ask for directions to the emergency entrance.

The friendly faced valet says, "Evening, ma'am. I'll park your car. Walk through those double doors, go down the hall, and turn right."

Inside, the lobby is deserted. It's a sight I've never seen at 8 P.M. in a Chicagoland hospital. It looks like everyone, including the staff, has gone home for the night. My footsteps echo down the empty corridor. Rounding the corner, I run smack into Joe, the ambulance paramedic.

He grabs my shoulders. "I'm sorry, honey. But we had a serious problem on the way here. Eve suffered a grand mal seizure in the ambulance. She's in critical condition. Run, don't walk, to the fifth floor neuro-ICU."

My body freezes in place. I'm stupefied. What happened? I thought he said he would take care of her. My mind is totally blank. All I can do is stand there and stare at Joe in stunned disbelief.

"Come with me," he says kindly. "I'll take you upstairs." Then he turns me around and pushes me toward a bank of elevators.

The elevator ascends in slow motion. Finally, the doors open on the fifth floor. The scene before me is utter pandemonium. Four nurses are gathered around a crash cart, clapping their hands and shouting, "Wake up!" I cautiously approach. One nurse sees me and calls out, "Are you her friend?"

I look and nod dumbly.

"Here, see if you can wake her." There's urgency in her voice. She pushes me to the front, as the nurses part.

"Eve," I whisper hoarsely. "It's me. Wake up." Eve's eyes are tightly closed; her skin is sickly pale. No response.

Okay, I'll try again a little louder. "Please, wake up." No response. Time to get tough. In a voice that would wake the dead, I bellow, "Eve, wake up now!"

Eve's eyes fly open. "Huh, what?" she asks, then shuts her eyes again.

"Great! Okay. Let's go!" the nurse commands, as she grabs my sleeve. "You come, too."

The nurses move so quickly down the hall with the cart that I have to run to keep up with them. We all crowd into another elevator. Eve looks dead to me. A nurse informs me that we're on our way to radiology for pictures of Eve's brain. The elevator opens on a darkened reception area; a desk lamp is the only source of illumination.

"Where's the radiologist?" the panicked ICU nurse asks a girl sitting behind a desk.

"We've paged him. He's on the way." The girl rises from the desk and steps out of the shadows. She must be the radiology technician, but she looks so young.

The ICU nurse is impatient. "We've got to get this patient hooked up. Now! She's hanging on by a thread."

"We're setting up the equipment," the tech replies. She's backing up to the door, away from the threatening ICU nurse. "Go ahead. Take her in."

If I had any cookies to toss, I would've done so at that moment. Sheer panic pervades the atmosphere. The nurses bulldoze their way through a door with the cart and disappear into a harshly lit room. The door closes on them, but I can still feel the panic.

At that moment, an outside door opens and a handsome young guy in a jogging outfit runs in, waves hi to me, and continues on into the room. His Nikes look brand-new. In a flash, he's back.

"Hi, I'm Dr. Jenkins, the radiologist," he says with a movie-star smile. "I came as quickly as I could. While they're setting up, let's look at the scans from Sturgeon Bay and I'll explain what's happening to your friend."

He spreads pictures of Eve's skull on a light box. "Hmmm," he says. "It appears she's had a brain aneurysm. See? This area here is the blood on her brain." He makes a sweeping hand circle.

I have no idea what I'm looking at. Which area? Is it black or white or gray? Who cares? Whatever, it seems to me to be everywhere.

"Well, they should be ready for me now. The neurosurgeon upstairs needs our scans to decide whether to operate. He'll talk to you then. But, for now, why don't you sit in that waiting room down there?" He points down a dimly lit hallway. "We're hurrying, but it's still going to take some time. We'll come for you when we're done."

In the darkened waiting room, I manage to discern a lamp in the shadows and switch it on. I scan the room for a pay phone and then realize there's a phone right next to me on a magazine-covered table. Hope I have my calling card. I check my wallet. Here it is! But whom should I call? All of our close friends are five hours away in Chicago.

Since Eve and I devoted our first year in Baileys Harbor to rehabbing our 50-year-old house, we barely know our next-door neighbors, let alone anyone else in town or Door County.

But it's getting late; nearly 10 P.M. Must have lost some time in the black hole of panic. I'd better call somebody to calm me down. Maybe Cass.

Digging in my purse, I find Cass's crumpled business card. She's Eve's closest friend down in Naperville, Illinois, our old stomping grounds.


Excerpted from BRAIN, HEAL THYSELF by Madonna Siles. Copyright © 2006 Madonna Siles. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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