Sunday, May 29, 2016

Redefining Success

It's been a pretty  incredible week. Long story short, I was kindly asked to give the closing talk at Maine Medical Center’s Neuroscience Institute & New England Rehabilitation Hospital of Portland's Ninth Annual Stroke Conference on Wednesday, May 25th.

Long story long, I've figured out how to deliver the presentation here in some kind of meaningful format. This link is a placeholder for video to follow in a few weeks (now ready here). Sorry to those of you who prefer a self-contained, emailed version of the blog. That simply wasn't possible this time.

Some instructions:

  • Go to the Presentation Page
  • Click here to download the attachment (this will most likely only work on a computer, not a phone or tablet).
  • Click the NOTES tab at the right side to see my script (I've made the text  as large as I can).
  • Try to read along with the images and/or videos (using the Next arrow at the bottom right)and imagine that I'm delivering those words to you with great aplomb, comfort, and humor.
  • If a video doesn't play automatically, try clicking on the still (though there actually aren't that many videos; most are still images, and I've labeled the videos as such).
  • You can expand the presentation to full screen with the double arrow button to the right of the progress bar, below the slide)
  • There's also an "embedded" version of the presentation below, which should be just as navigable.
While I was nervous to undertake this challenge, I'm proud to say that I think I pulled it off quite well. For one thing, it's mostly just my story and a retread of my "Greatest Hits". And the response was fantastic. Despite being the end of a long day, the turn-out was good, and I got great feedback from friends, strangers, and family alike. Mind you, this was about as welcoming an audience as you could ask for: stroke and other brain injury survivors, medical professionals (many of whom cared for me at the rehab), and Jamie and the boys (you'll see some slides that are pretty specifically for their amusement.

No, I'm not a showman, but I managed to achieve my goal of balancing memorized portions with talking off the top of my head (often while wandering the stage with my wireless lapel mic), and reading verbatim when I had the words written just right but didn't quite trust myself to recall them. Technical glitches were kept to a minimum, except when I accidentally closed my PowerPoint presentation and had to find it again, and when I tried talking over videos that were much louder than I'd anticipated. 

The center portion of my audience ( should've taken a panorama and focused)

Sunday, May 01, 2016

You CAN Get There From Here

A few weeks ago -- to "celebrate" Brain Injury Awareness Month (March), Brain Injury Voices (the BI advocacy group of which I'm a member) held a resource fair of sorts at the rehab, including a panel discussion and tables displaying tools of the trade (I showed off some Assistive Technology like my one-handed nail clipper and Dragon Naturally Speaking) and spoils of war (some members have published books or created impressive works of art).

I also participated in the panel, entitled You Can Get There from Here (a twist on the common Maine expression, "Oh, you can't get they-ah from he-yah". The idea was to demonstrate different approaches to navigating brain injury recovery. My focus was on regaining independence, especially through use of Assistive Technology.

It was a structured conversation, and I followed a pretty firm outline; so I thought it would be enlightening to publish those notes here. After all, this blog has been a key Assistive tool in my recovery. I've pasted my talking points below, sub-headed with the questions our moderator asked and elaborated on [in brackets]. The experience was a nice reminder of how far I've come and hopefully gave other survivors hope for their futures.

1. Brief Introductions

·   In the fall of 2010, I was a 40-year-old father of two young boys, husband, and computer nerd when I learned…[aneurysm, stroke, yada, yada, yada].
·   My focus is on how Assistive Technology has helped me compensate for my deficits and regain a sense of independence for myself as an individual and as a caregiver to my family.

2. Moderator asks each panelist, “How did you start?”

·     One always starts with a choice of whether to accept or resist a challenge. Initially, I did choose to accept but have admittedly struggled with what’s often felt like a shove to reclaim my old life: getting back home, not being a burden to my family, and returning to work (since I’d been the sole bread winner) – meaning it sometimes felt like I had to abide by choices being made for me by family, doctors, and my old self.

    The beginning – acute rehab – was easiest, because it had those explicit goals in mind – but in retrospect it was also hardest, because it lacked the insight of perspective on my predicament, perspective that's only come with time.

    Over time, I've focused on my strengths to ease back into my 2.4 kids/white picket fence life:

  •     Problem solving
  •     Troubleshooting
  •     Using Technology to help me adapt
  • Writing to give myself a voice and keep people informed of acute medical news and progress

3. Moderator asks each panelist, “What were the challenges/distractions?"

Getting back to and staying at work in order to support my family has been my biggest challenge.

·         Because my job is primarily computer based and my employer was flexible (gave me time to complete in- and out-patient therapy), working from home was a good way to transition back to work, but I couldn’t fully return to work in the office without being driven or regaining my license:

  •     I relied on co-workers to carpool.
  •     I had my car modified for one-handed driving and took my test after a year and a half.
  • [showed  spinner knob and reminded audience I'd have more Assistive Technology that's helped me compensate on display after the panel discussion].
    My physical deficits have generally been easier for co-workers to understand and accept, while over time I’ve struggled to educate them about my less visible challenges surrounding focus, fatigue, motivation, and filtering (in and out) – which means I may say inappropriate things at appropriate times and appropriate things at inappropriate times [and, I assume, sometimes, appropriate things at appropriate times and inappropriate things at inappropriate times].

4. Moderator asks panel “How did you get ‘here’ from ‘there’?”

    First, I had to realize that “there” as a destination is a moving target and that being comfortable with “here” as a destination is most important. As Buckaroo Banzai said, “No matter where you go, there you are.”

Lack of Independence for me has often been tied to limitations of my left arm and hand and balance, so assistive technology has helped me compensate [I’ll have many items on display after the panel discussion], but Goal setting, practice, trial & error, adaptation, acceptance, and persistence have also been key.

For example:


  • I decided that carrying something from the kitchen to the family room -- without my cane -- was an important goal and worked toward that and achieved it with relatively few spills.
  • In order to get myself dressed and ready for work on time each day, I had to teach myself to take the time and push through the frustration of doing it all one handed.
  • I also had to adjust my expectations and be willing to accept mis-buttoned shirts and backwards underwear sometimes.
  • Giving myself extra time to complete tasks and/or get where I'm going makes my life easier and safer:
  •  In 2014 I finished the mile-and-a-half Maine Aneurysm Walk about an hour after all other participants had gone home. In 2015 I asked the organizers if I could start an hour and a half early. And that’s how -- in one year, with little training but lots of humility and adjusted expectations -- I went from last place to first.

5. End with a wisdom statement by each participant

Hope for the best; find a way to make the worst work best for you.