Category Archives: Brain Injury

Where’s the fire?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a tale about my mother-in-law needing to move to assisted living because the fire department had been called one too many times when she left things on the stove.

I thought that was the end of my fireman stories. Until yesterday.

I went to visit my friend, Lisa, at her brand new Senior Living apartment. As hip young seniors we keep trying to turn this experience into a fun-loving event, rather than a crystal ball into our future as we look down the hallway at the walkers and scooters sitting outside apartment doors.

Every time I go there, Lisa has a new story that most assuredly will provide material for our sitcom about TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries) combined with Senior Housing. It’ll be a  hoot, based on our initial research!

She’s been in this newly built apartment building for about a month, as has everyone, so the glitches are still being worked out. The biggest challenge is cooking, not because these people don’t know how to cook, but as I suspect based on my mother-in-law’s experience, because the designers of senior housing were forewarned that seniors leave things on the stove.

In response to that, the smoke alarms have been set to super-very-sensitive. So that if your tea kettle steam starts to sing, off goes the smoke alarm for the entire building. If you’ve burnt your toast, because you LIKE burnt toast (yes, there are some of us out there), the smoke alarm goes off. If you have a few items on the top of the stove that are boiling, the smoke alarm will likely accompany your potatoes, carrots and green beans.

This alarm is not just in your apartment. The entire building goes off with blinking lights and shrill clanging that does not stop until the fire department arrives and shuts it off.

And remember, this is senior housing. These aren’t sprinters who live here. They have to find their keys, get their coats and purses. Don’t even think of telling them to go outside without their purse. Sometimes they are napping and are jolted out of their beds. This has danger, broken hips and fear-of-cooking written all over it.

Lisa told me this has happened at least a half a dozen times in just the first month. I, of course, think she is prone to exaggeration.

Until we come home from our shopping trip, and everyone is out in the parking lot, lights are blaring, we can hear the fire engine several blocks away, the clanging alarm is assaulting our conversation, and I notice that there are half-naked people standing in the parking lot.

aka "Silver Lining"
aka “Silver Lining”

No, they are not Seniors. Sorry, but nobody wants to see that. They are lifeguards from the YMCA, which is attached to the senior housing building. So every time the alarm goes off, they have to clear the YMCA, which includes the pool, in November, when it’s 40 degrees outside and raining. And yes, there is always a silver lining.

Lisa’s 85-year-old neighbor approaches us with:

“Why don’t they just take out all the stoves in our apartments?”

To which another replies:

“I made chili yesterday and didn’t move from the stove until it was completely done. I was afraid to even go to the bathroom, in case it set off the fire alarm. And it wasn’t even five-alarm chili.”

Yep, this sitcom is gonna’ be a hoot!

“You Just have to Laugh……”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

I see….no wait, I don’t see……

Last week I took my friend, Lisa, to the eye doctor. This is the Scheie Eye Institute, a very prestigious hospital dedicated to eye care.

We’ve been there many times over the last five years. Our last visit was six months ago and now we were back for a follow-up visit. But something was new.

When we arrived at the Institute, as usual, we went to the front desk.  In the past, the front desk checked you in and then you waited to go to an attendant at a numbered station to confirm your insurance, appointment time and any other preliminary questions.

As we approached the front desk on this day, we were told to immediately go over to the standing computer terminals and check ourselves in.

Now the average age of the patients in this rather expansive waiting room seemed to be about 79 years old. I have no doubt that the senior community has many computer savvy members, but not everyone can adjust to any computer that is thrown in front of them.  As one who continues to discover that ‘user friendly’ and ‘intuitive’ are really just adjectives for “get me a 12 year-old over here, stat!”, I was certain that many of these patients were struggling with this new set-up.

Add to that,these computers were at standing stations. I would say at least in an unscientific review of the crowd…. and by that I mean looking at them,  half of the patients were in wheelchairs or using canes or walkers. Standing at a computer terminal would be, at the very least, uncomfortable, at most, impossible.

One more thing.

You may recall this is the Scheie Eye Institute. So……this is a place where people go who are having trouble seeing.  You know, eye patches, eye surgery, eye pain, eye problems.

Based on my knowledge of the scientific method, which I learned from my kids when they had to study fourth grade science, this new system may experience a few glitches.

Hmm. Something's Fishy!
Hmm. Something’s Fishy!

I will say this, Lisa and I were laughing hysterically for hours, even on the way home when we just kept saying but it’s the Scheie Eye Institute!

That’s all it took to make us giggle, ’cause………….

“You Just Have to Laugh…….”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

Play Your Cards Right…….

Old people, sick people and those who take care of them are often faced with seemingly insurmountable tasks during the day. What may appear simple or an easy fix to others can be too overwhelming when dealing with chronic illness or infirmity.

My friend, Terri and I have been the go-to caregivers for our friend, Lisa for the past six years, since Lisa had a traumatic brain injury from a  fall down a flight of stairs. Lisa has had a miraculous recovery. But there will always be issues to handle to make her life easier. So Terri and I take care of her financial matters, and many of the medical paper work issues that haunt the chronically ill.

Very recently Terri was diagnosed with cancer. This woman is one of the bravest, most self-sacrificing people I know. And she is treating this journey like it’s just another dilemma to contend with on a day-to-day basis. There is no drama.

In addition to having her own bills, medical appointments and now the same run around and frustrations that invariably seem to accompany ‘getting healthy’, Terri has been responsible to write the checks for Lisa’s rent.

This is what happened:

Lisa: “Hey Terri, I just got a call from the landlord. They want the checks written out to a different party since they have new management.”

Terri: “Let me call them.”

Terri to Unsuspecting Rental Agent: ” Hello, this is Terri, I write the checks for Lisa’s rent.”

Unsuspecting Rental Agent: “Yes, hi Terri.  You need to write us a new check and bring it here today. Otherwise, you will be late with the rent and there is an exhorbitant and ridiculous  late fee that will seem worse punishment than the fires of hell.” (okay she just said “late fee” but we all know that she wanted to say the rest of that).

Terri: “You have my permission to change the name on the check. Just change it as you need it. ”

Unsuspecting Rental Agent: ” Oh, no we can’t do that. ”

Terri: “Yes you can and you will and I’m going to tell you why.  I have cancer. I am in the midst of chemotherapy and I cannot and will not drive to your offices to bring you another check. And there will be no late fee. That’s why you’re going to do this for me.”

Unsuspecting Rental Agent:  Long silent pause

Unsuspecting Rental Agent: “okay.”

Terri then called me laughing hysterically. Not because she didn’t believe what she said but because she was so proud of herself:

Terri: “I pulled the cancer card!!!”

Now that’s the way to deal with cancer….and unsuspecting rental assholes….agents, I mean agents.

“You Just have to Laugh…”

©2016 Cathy Sikorski

Stay tuned for an important message…..

My friend. Lisa sent me a Facebook message this morning before 8:00 A.M. I happened to be up and reading the newspaper (yes, I still have an actual newspaper delivered). It was a bit odd, both for the time and the message as it was one of those ridiculous cat videos. Neither Lisa nor I have a cat, nor do we share any cat videos, as a rule.

But okay.

I responded with something like: “Hahah. Oh that’s cute.”

To which she responded: “Fuck. that was a mistake and I sent it to someone so wrong. HELP!”

I said, helpfully: “Haha. You and technology. You do have a brain injury, you know.”

She messaged back: ” I meant to send something else, this video is STUPID. Help me delete it.”

I gave her instructions on Messenger how to delete the message that went like this:

“In the messenger box at the top is a circle that looks like a sunburst and it says “options”

and then if you click on it it says delete conversation.”


To which Lisa replied:

“What’s the Messenger Box?”


Now, I’m thinking: “Oh, boy, we are in trouble” Since we are typing in the Messenger Box.

So I reply:

“When your are on your iPad in Facebook and you send a message to someone it comes up in a box. The message box to send a message is next to the word HOME after the silhouettes of the people…its like a bubble of conversation.”

To which Lisa replies by calling me on my cell phone so we can have an actual conversation…much like an actual newspaper.

“Help me get rid of this stupid video!”

“Okay,” I say, “get off your android phone and go to your iPad, it will be easier there, because I have an iPhone and the screen isn’t the same.”

After a minute or two as two middle-aged incompetent Facebook users try to communicate about things that look like bubbles and sunbursts and silhouettes of people and gear-thingies and where to click on them and see what it says, I finally get off my computer and revert to my iPad so we can be looking at the same screen.

We somehow manage to both get into the Messenger app and find a screen that had options on my computer but doesn’t come up with options when you click it on the iPad. Ugh. How can this be? Why oh why do they keep changing the options?!?!  And then I see and owl icon and it says “help”. So I type in:

How do I delete a message?

Up comes an FAQ:

 How do I delete a message?

Put your cursor on the message and hold it down and the message will be deleted.

All of that took 45 minutes and a lot of swearing. I never did get to finish “Dear Abby” in my

actual newspaper.

“You Just Have to Laugh…..”

©Cathy Sikorski 2015

Here’s the “stupid” video for your viewing pleasure:

One is Silver and the Other’s Gold…….

Remember in high school this conversation, usually in the girls’ bathroom:

“Oh my God, he’s so cute. I hope he asks  me out!”

“Oh my god he IS SO CUTE!,” replied your girlfriend in the next stall.

Of course this was before you could text between stalls.

My friend Lisa, is going to her high school reunion for the first time. It’s her 45th reunion. Add 18 to that and you have deciphered the age of most of the participants with a certain very tiny margin of error of no more than a year, unless they had an unusually high percentage of child geniuses in her small upstate New York town. I feel quite certain this was one of their former conversations four decades ago.

Oddly, Lisa attended a singing event in that same small upstate New York town several months ago. She made a special effort to contact some old high school friends and voila! She was convinced by these dear, kind friends from the past to make a special effort to get to that reunion.

Since her traumatic brain injury, Lisa does not drive and no one from her high school lives anywhere near her. But these old pals from the past, whom she hasn’t seen in a very long time, have agreed to drive many hours to come pick her up and the same many hours to return her safe and sound to her home.

This has restored my faith in humanity.

Lisa hasn’t seen these people from high school in many years. She hasn’t spoken to several of them at all since high school ended. And yet, these girls (yes, I’m going to call them that) are willing to make big sacrifices to get her transported, housed and taken care of so that they can all reminisce about their teenage lives.

I have been know to comment that “high school never ends”, and not in a good way. I have seen cattiness, jealousy and spitefulness continue among high school compatriots all around me. And, of course, we see it as a staple in reality TV like “Real Housewives” of anywhere, “The Bachelor(ette)”and any “reality” show requiring contestants to compete for attention, living space, food, or screen time so they can be famous. This is high school behavior at its finest. Small-minded, petty, self-serving behavior. It might be fun to watch, but it’s really not fun to be in the midst of it.

Life has continued to become a popularity contest, and not in a good way. What else would you call a host of mudslinging, bully tactics designed to make your opponent look bad in the eyes of the student body…oh a political campaign, that’s right.

I am one of those few lucky girls who even after 40 years of  high school,  still regularly sees my high school girlfriends who are a rock solid foundation of support, fun, and constant joy in  my life.

That my friend, Lisa, has rediscovered the possibility that old friends could be ‘gold’ does my heart good.

This, of course, did not exempt any of these 60-something women from having a big internet powwow in the last few days about whose old boyfriend will be showing up and which of those might be single and a possible “love connection.”

I imagine those ladies in the girls’ bathroom this weekend when they see their former flames saying:

“Oh my God, he’s still so cute, I wonder if he’s single?”

“Oh my God, he is cute, and he has his own teeth AND HIS OWN HAIR?!?!?”

See, high school never ends…….no, really, it’s true. If only you knew that when you were in high school.

“You Just have to Laugh………..”

©2015 Cathy Sikorski

Another One Rides The Bus…..

For some reason, my friend, Lisa likes to be featured in this blog. So here we go.

For medical reasons, a traumatic brain injury, Lisa had  to give up her driver’s license several years ago. Eventually, she became quite savvy and capable of taking public transportation. In her small town, that means the bus. A perk, if you would like to call it that, of being on Medicare, is that you get to ride the bus for free. Otherwise it costs a dollar.

Lisa has been riding this bus for a few years now. Until recently, all she had to do was to show her Medicare card to the bus driver, and she was allowed to take a seat, gratis.

Apparently, there’s a new sheriff in town.

A few weeks ago she had this encounter with a female bus driver, whom she never saw before.

“Sorry, ma’am, but you need a special card to ride the bus as a Medicare rider.”

“No,” said Lisa, “I don’t. I have been just showing my Medicare card for years and that is sufficient.”

“No, you need the special card,” said the bus driver.

“Since when?”

“I don’t know. I just know  you need it.”

“I’ve never even seen ‘the special card’, “said Lisa.

“Well, I’ll let you go this time, but you need to get it.”

Lisa never saw that bus driver again. Since she didn’t know where to get the special card, she just let it pass.

The other day, as she was getting on the bus, there was a new young male bus driver, whom Lisa had never seen before. He’s holding a pamphlet in his hand as she ascends the stairs.

“How old are  you?”

Lisa, thinking he is complimenting her……as every middle-aged woman thinks when handing a Medicare card as ID, replies a bit quietly so as not to alarm fellow passengers who most likely think she is quite young:

“I’m 63.”

“Well, you’re barely that, I can see.”

Lisa is flattered,until he drops his bombshell.

“You can’t ride the bus for free. You have to be 65 years old.”

“I’m disabled and I’ve been doing it for years.”

dollar“Nope. Not allowed. Here’s the brochure. It’s a dollar.”

I’m happy to say here that my friend Lisa has come a long way since that TBI. Not only does she get around on her own. But after many years of trepidation just being out in the world, well, she doesn’t take crap anymore. Yay, Lisa!

“What’s  your name?”She demanded from this arrogant brute, who was so willingly ready to accost the disabled and the elderly.

“Well,ma’am,” he sheepishly replied, “if you don’t have the dollar today, you can pay next time.”

This bus driver was on a mission to save that bus company a dollar, or take a power trip every stop along the way, or who knows what, maybe her bus driver was Donald Trump in disguise and he was testing some of his new economic policies to see how to save government funds.

Never did give her his name…and…..weirdly, she hasn’t seen that bus driver again, either.

For a dollar…..did I say that already?…………..a dollar.

“You Just have to Laugh…..”

©2015 Cathy Sikorski


TBI or TMI…..Huh!

When my friend, Lisa fell down a flight of stairs and suffered a traumatic brain injury almost six years ago, those of us in her inner circle, including Lisa, were completely unfamiliar with the rabbit hole we were entering.

Eventually, as we learned to navigate the medical system, the caregiver system, and the devastating financial consequences of just such a trauma, many in the inner circle, including Lisa became less and less cognizant of the fact that she continued to suffer from a TBI and that the long term ramifications were unknown and ongoing.

Because Lisa is an extremely lucky gal and has brilliantly navigated these shark-infested waters of unknown medical complications, many people, even in the medical field, and including Lisa, would take for granted that months and years into this recovery she was just fine.

So we would go to her neurologist, or neurosurgeon and they would tell her that this recovery takes time. And she would say, “but i feel fine!” Then we would go to the grocery store and the price of oranges would be higher, or they would be out of her favorite toilet paper and she would tear up. And I would tell her, “it’s okay, it’s the brain injury.”

And so I told her, ” it’s okay to tell people you have a brain injury. In fact, when you are interviewed by Social Security, or your family doctor, you need to tell them that things like that just happened  in the grocery store, and it takes you unaware. That’s the brain injury.”

We would be out with our friends, and Lisa would either just stop engaging or step out of the restaurant. The over stimulation was too much for her. At first, we all thought she was being rude, only interested in conversations that were about her, (because she always jokes that oh, this isn’t about me?), but then we realized, then SHE realized that she just had to go rest, her day was overwhelming her quickly and dangerously. She has to continuously protect herself from possible seizures. So again, we told her…just say you have a brain injury and it makes you take some actions that seem weird to others.

“Huh,” she said.

So for some time, we would be at a medical appointment for say, her wrist, or her toes which would not seem to be the stuff of a TBI.  And Lisa would wax poetical with the nurse, who was just trying to get her vitals, about how she has a brain injury and this is how it happened and these symptoms she is here for may seem odd to you, but not to me, since I have a brain injury.

Or we would be in the drug store buying shampoo and vitamins and nothing of any medical significance and she would tell the clerk that it was so nice to be out on such a beautiful day, and you really appreciate those things once you’ve had a brain injury. To which the 16 year old clerk would respond with a look of panic.

Or in a coffee shop, she would tell the waitress that she probably should not have any more coffee, because she has a brain injury and she’s thinking that since certain things can cause seizures and over stimulation is one of them for her, that perhaps too much coffee isn’t a good thing. But it really hasn’t proven to be the case, so what the heck, fill up the cup. To which the waitress looks at me with the coffee pot poised in mid-air with a “what-the-hell-do-I-do-with-that-information?” kind of look. And I just shrug my shoulders.

Or at the hairdresser when she tells her about the 40 platinum coils in her brain that stopped the brain bleed after her TBI, not that it affects getting her haircut or anything. To which the hairdresser looks at me with scissors poised in mid-air and I just shrug my shoulders.

That day I realized perhaps my advice had been taken a bit too literally and said, “maybe you can STOP telling everyone you have a brain injury.”

To which Lisa replied, “huh.”

“You Just have to Laugh…………”

©2015 Cathy Sikorski

Ugh….Comcast….or common sense?

“I’m pretty sure I have a brain injury.”

You wouldn’t think this would send me and my friend into gales of laughter because she does have a brain injury. And she is a walking miracle. So whenever anything goes awry, this is her go-to phrase. Five years ago, she fell down a flight of stairs to a concrete floor and her injuries were life-threatening. After the initial trauma with extensive treatment and still later, after she was further misdiagnosed and needed emergency brain surgery to place 40 platinum coils in her brain to stop bleeding, she recovered.

Although disabled, and under constant threat of possible seizure, she lives on her own. She has successfully navigated these treacherous waters and her band of supporters are actually the beneficiaries of her hard work, as she has reclaimed her independence as much as possible.

But every once in a while………..

Her cable and internet died for no discernible reason. She called Comcast, put up with their shenanigans for hours on the phone, and then emailed me the written confirmation of their repair plan. Not only were they going to charge her $50 to come out, but they were not going to come out for a week.

I told her this was unacceptable (okay I said bullshit). She called Comcast again the next day, wasted a few more hours of her precious time and was assured that someone would be at her apartment at no charge the next day.

“You’re not going to believe what I did,” she said to me.

“Oh, you didn’t forget Comcast was coming, or miss them or fall asleep, did you?” I asked.

“Nope, you’re just not gonna’ believe it…….”

This really nice repair guy shows up. He’s young and handsome and very charming.

“Uh ma’am,” Mr. Handsome Repair says, “you’re green light isn’t on. The TV is not on.”

“I noticed that when they were trying to send the signal to repair it from afar, but it didn’t respond to the signal, so I didn’t know what to do,” my friend said in a bit of confusion.

“Okay, no worries, let me see what I can do.”

He goes around the back of the 50 inch TV, he shuffles among the wires and all the components, and he too appears flummoxed. She knows this because he just keeps muttering, “hm…………………………………hm.”

He stands up and looks around her teeny, tiny apartment. His eyes light up. He looks at my dear friend, with a bit of pity, no doubt, walks over to the door, as if to leave and reaches up to the door jamb.

“Are you going to get something out of your truck?” She was afraid he was just going to go without explanation.

“No, ma’am.” And with that, he flips the light switch next to her front door and everything churns and sputters to life.

“All your components are plugged into the plug that is operated by this switch. So you might never use it, but someone flipped the switch on you and cut off the power to everything. That was your problem.”

She likes to sheepishly say in these kinds of cases……”Sooowwweeee.”

I assured her, this is not a brain injury this is an old lady affliction.  Our ego, our common sense, our thinking outside the box appears to degrade with our eyesight, gravity ridden faces, and loss of car keys. Not only did she navigate Comcast twice without losing her mind, but she got a chance to spend time with Mr. Handsome Repair Guy.

After a certain age that’s a win-win.

“You just have to Laugh…..”

Driving….your friends crazy

You know how you always think you’re smarter than every one else? Especially if you’re a caregiver. Mostly because you are reminded on a daily basis that you are at least thinking harder than most everyone you come in contact with.

A smart person with a person who thinks she's smart
A smart person with a person who thinks she’s smart

And yet, there are those days, where  you are reminded that even you, Superhuman Caregiver can be the dope.

When my friend was felled with a traumatic brain injury, her friends rallied around to make sure she went to all necessary doctor appointments. One does not traumatize the brain without adding things like, broken bones, sprains, strains, cuts, bruises and vision problems in with the mix. Driving yourself is out.

I really hate driving in the city. It used to scare me.  Admittedly, once you’ve driven into and out of the big city a million times, you hate it for different reasons. But a traumatic brain injury and it’s accompaniments require big city, good hospitals.

I volunteered to be the driver, so long as another friend would go along for navigation, walking to the door, or whatever else would be required.

The first time we went, the directions led us to a parking lot a thousand miles away from the building we needed. The second time we went, we found the super secret parking lot right at the back door. The third time we went we couldn’t remember how to get to the super secret parking lot. The fourth time, well this is what happened.

We pre-planned so that we could once again find the super secret parking lot. When we got to the highway exit for the hospital, it was closed. We took the next exit and ended up about 52 blocks away from our destination. Undaunted, I drove down those numbered streets until we reached the magic number….34th Street. Whereupon we came upon a busted water main break flooding the entire block north, south, east and west.

Appointment time was getting ever closer, as we sat in snarled traffic wondering what to do, I concocted a brilliant idea.

“Get out!” I said to my injured friend and my trusty sidekick helper.

They just looked at me, like I was Noah kicking them out of the boat.

“No, seriously, get out and start walking. It’s only four blocks. I’ll park anywhere I can and find you, and then I’ll go get the car when we are done at the doctor.”

They hop out into six inches of fast flowing water and jump over as much of it as they can. Tonto, the sidekick holding on to the patient hoping against hope that she doesn’t fall over and drown both of them.

I sat there for another five minutes, traffic finally starts to break and I drive around in circles. Miraculously and quite by accident I ended up at the super secret parking lot.

When Tonto and the patient enter the lobby, drenched from the knees down, there I was comfortably and dryly, waiting for them.

Hard to believe they asked me to drive again.

“You just have to Laugh……”

Cathy Sikorski

Walgreens on Main Street…..

This is a continuation of  When UTI does not mean Understanding the Infirm only in the sense that that is why we are now at Walgreens on Main Street.

My dear disabled friend, who braves her brain injury with the utmost courage, must now go to Walgreens on Main Street to acquire her prescriptions. The PA  (Physician’s Assistant) has given her TWO prescriptions to relieve her infection and her discomfort from the UTI (urinary tract infection).

These adventures in medical care are half-day or whole day journeys for her because she must navigate her town by city bus or by walking. And although walking is a very healthy alternative that she often uses, sometimes it is too much for her and she must be at the will of the bus schedule(which for some odd reason changes constantly, because as we all know, people who NEED to use the bus have no problem not knowing when it will come and go, since they can just get on it, like the rest of us get in our cars)

Trekking from the doctor’s office on one side of town to the other, she gets to Walgreens on Main Street and unimaginably, her prescriptions are ready. And I might add here, that the pharmacists at this Walgreens are wonderful. I have been there with her many times and they are accommodating, understanding and extremely willing to help. But sometimes…….

The pharmacist tells my friend that the antibiotic is ready but that the other prescription needs more information from her doctor.

“You need to go back to the doctor’s office and take this form and have them fill it out, because Medicare won’t cover this drug without further explanation from your doctor.”

“But, I just came from there…it will take forever…..”

“Well, the only other thing I can do is send it to your doctor and then send it to Medicare, but then you may have to wait up to a week to get your medicine.”

“But, I don’t drive, and I just can’t get back there today,” says my friend, “it’s just too much, I can’t do it.”

The two of them stare at each other for awhile. Both of them locked in thought, and maybe even trying a “Sheldon’s mind meld” from the Big Bang Theory, to see who will crack first and make this better.

“Isn’t there ANYTHING else we could do?” says my friend, who is rightfully STILL worried about her brain.

“Well,” says the pharmacist, “you could just pay for it.”

So now my friend is thinking: “Okay, I’m on a very fixed income. I have to watch every incidental I pay for because I just don’t have enough money for everything. But I will bite the bullet this month and deprive myself of whatever is necessary to pay this exorbitant drug cost to protect my fragile brain. I know drugs are hundreds of dollars, but I just can not go through this one more day, or wait a week……”

“Okay,” she says with great trepidation,” how much is it?”

“Twenty-three dollars.”

You just have to laugh…….

Cathy Sikorski