Brush Up on the Basics During National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Every year over 30,000 US families lose someone from a ruptured brain aneurysm. About 40% of those experiencing a ruptured brain aneurysm will die. Those that survive often face significant challenges, greatly impacting their lives and the lives of their families. Today, at the beginning of National Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, I re-tell my story to raise awareness of brain aneurysms.

On the evening of March 18, I noshed on some dark chocolate covered espresso beans left over from a road trip to see Modest Mouse in Charleston. I ate a lot, at least ¼ of a pound. Then later that evening, I felt a sharp electrical-like impulse go down my part line, and then down my head. Then it felt like ice cold water running down the sides of my head. I felt really weird, like I was outside of my body; I even told my sister that I thought I was dying.

She said that I threw up and felt better; I don’t remember that, but I do remember refusing her suggestion that we call Mom or go to the ER; I said, “No, I just ate too many espresso beans,” and went to bed. She found me unconscious by my bed the next morning.

Aside from being a woman over the age of 40, I had few of the risk factors. I’d lost and maintained an 80 lb. weight loss. I had LOW blood pressure, so much so that I had taken meds to prevent me from having constant vertigo. I never smoked except for one or two cigarettes in college. So I had no idea I may be having an aneurysm. (Unaware to me until after the event, which could’ve been far too late, I did have a family history. My father’s sister, Rose, had one and survived, and they lost two cousins to aneurysms.)

The doctors say that my aneurysm was about as bad as they get, and my family didn’t know if I would survive for three long weeks. Even then, the doctors couldn’t predict a full recovery. I was fortunate to have wonderful care and to go to a rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta for follow-up care. My story ended well. I’m still alive, and while I do have some very mild deficits, I’m a living, breathing success story.

From someone who’s been there, I urge you to use this month to learn more about aneurysms, including the risk factors and symptoms. If you have a history of aneurysms in your family, make it a point to talk to your doctor this month.

There is plenty of information available about brain aneurysms. You can talk to your doctor or consult the internet; my favorite site is the Joe Niekro Foundation. I’m not a doctor, but I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have or speak with you or your small group about my experience.

Solmates: The Socks That Helped Save My Life

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

I was recently on a trip to Golden, Colorado and slipped away to see the charming downtown. After a day in renewable energy meetings, I needed a break and something different for dinner. I also wanted to get a surcie for my sister, who would face a crazy few days without me at the house to care for the menagerie and keep things in order.

As I walked into one store, I saw a rack of brightly colored mismatched socks and gasped in joy. The sales woman looked at me a little funny.

These are the fab socks I bought for myself in Golden.

“These socks helped save my life,” I said. “They’ll be the perfect gift for my sister, who is bravely caring for four crazy animals while I’m here in Golden.”

Flash back to a little over two years ago – March 18, 2015 – when I suffered my ruptured aneurysm. Sometime between midnight and 5 a.m., I either fell out of bed or tried to get up, but unbeknownst to me, passed out on the floor.

At 5 in the morning, my alarm went off. And off. And off. Sister eventually got up and came into my room, quite annoyed that I’d left for the gym without turning off my alarm clock. She huffed in, turned off the alarm and was probably cursing at me under her breath when an array of bright colors caught her eye. Because those colors were on my feet in the form of my crazy bright Solmate Socks, it called her attention to me, lying unconscious in the floor. Otherwise, Sister might’ve missed me and perhaps only found me when she went to work, which at that time was mid-afternoon. I may not have made it. (I tell you, those socks helped save my life!)

Coincidentally, it was Sister who started my affection for Solmate Socks. She put a pair in my stocking one Christmas, and I’ve been a fan ever since. Purposely mismatched Solmate Socks are whimsical, comfortable and downright cheerful. They’re so comfortable and great to sleep in, which is mostly when I wear mine.

Solmate Socks was started in the year 2000 by Marianne Wakerlin with the simple idea that “Life’s too short for matching socks.” As a lifelong textile artist with a wonderful eye for design and keen instinct for business, she knew there was a market for beautifully crafted, mismatched socks made right here in America.

The company quickly grew out of a small room in her house to three different offices in the US and the UK. Solmate Socks’ product line also expanded to include hats, gloves, and scarves in addition to mismatched, colorful socks.

After 15 years of hard work and success with the company, Marianne decided to put down the proverbial knitting needles and retire. But as it worked out, she kept the business in the family. As of January 2015, Marianne’s son, Randy, and her daughter-in-law, Lisa, are the new owners.

Continuously demonstrating a commitment to protecting the environment, protecting the health and safety of employees, and nurturing relationships with local businesses and communities, Randy and Lisa are firmly committed to keeping Solmate Socks an eco-friendly, American-made company with a focus on developing fresh designs and products and an emphasis on supporting local businesses.

Eco-friendly? Yep! All Solmate products are knit from the ingenious repurposing of recycled cotton yarn. (It was the recycled part that initially motivated Sister to buy my first pair for me.) Solmate collects remnants from t-shirt factories that would normally go into a landfill, grinds them down to basic material and re-spins that material into their own yarn. These recycled yarns are free from harmful substances, made with respect for the environment and respect for human rights. Using recycled yarns means that Solmate Socks decreases the amount of cotton waste sent to landfills. Their yarns also reduce the amount of water, land, pesticides and herbicides used to grow new cotton fibers as well as eliminates the need for harmful chemicals to dye virgin cotton yarn.

While I can’t guarantee that a pair of Solmate Socks will save your life, I can promise you that you’ll love these fun, funky socks. We’ve seen them in very few stores, but they are available online and on Amazon. Check them out today. They make great gifts, but you should also treat yourself to a pair.

Strengthening Saturday: A New Addition to My Toolbox

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

“It was great! No cleaning, no responsibilities and no guilt. Just rest and relaxation.” That’s how I described a recent overnight stay at a health facility following a vocal cord procedure to my friend/counselor/life coach, Nancy.

Recently, we talked about how I could replicate that without having to go to the hospital. Twenty minutes later, I’d devised “Strengthening Saturday,” one day each month dedicated to rest, renewal, rejuvenation and refreshment. (If only Saturday started with an R!)

Following are the terms of “Strengthening Saturday:”

  • Designate the fourth Saturday of each month as Strengthening Saturday. (That week is usually a busy one for me each month.)
  • Sleep until I wake up; maybe go back to sleep even then.
  • Have no “to do” list for that day; only do the things I want to do including, but not limited to, watching Netflix; creating something; reading; and/or catching up on my writing.  
  • Unless there is something I WANT to do outside of the house and need to be presentable, stay in my PJs or lounging clothes all day.
  • Eat foods that are low-prep and healthy. Unless I want something sinful, which I’ll totally allow during a Strengthening Saturday.
  • No social media allowed. (Lumosity and Words with Friends, yes; Facebook and Twitter, no.)
  • Tell Mom and Sister not to include me in any plans on a Strengthening Saturday.
  • Maximize my senses. Play music I love or listen to a podcast; have some flowers or other beautiful thing in my room; light a candle; take a long hot bubble bath or freshen my bed clothes; eat wonderful food; cuddle with the cats; etc.
  • Will put the guilt of not “being busy” aside, just for one day.

As I continue to grow, build and yes, even still heal a little, I think Strengthening Saturdays will be a game changer. I can’t wait for the first one!

5K With a Little Help From My Friends

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

In November of last year, I blogged about walking the Get to the Green 5k to celebrate the second anniversary of my survival from a near fatal brain aneurysm rupture. Today I’m proud to announce that I did it: I walked 3.1 miles. I didn’t run, as I’ve always hoped to do, but that doesn’t downplay my walking on the very day I had the rupture.

Those of you who are familiar with the story of my brain aneurysm rupture may remember that I had to “re-lean” how to walk during my rehabilitation. I wasn’t paralyzed, per se, but my muscles had atrophied after being in bed for a month. The whole time I thought it would be a cinch and would all come naturally. I even had thoughts of walking in downtown Atlanta while at Shepherd. But it wasn’t easy, and it took a lot of assistance and patience.

The process was complicated somewhat by a breathing impairment created during intubation. My vocal cords were damaged, and I had two surgeries and a trach tube while in rehab. The result is an impaired airway that impacts my voice and my breathing to this day.

One of the reasons I decided to do the 5k was 1) because I could; and 2) to keep me engaged in my strength training and balance work. Even up until the day before the walk, I was a little anxious, mostly about my breathing limitations. Any concerns I had were put to rest the day of the race, when my sweet friends and family gathered at Maxcy Gregg Park to walk with me.

I’ve been so fortunate to have such a great support system during my recovery, and they did not disappoint on the anniversary either. About 12 special friends joined me for the 5K, including one who is dealing with MS and another who walks with a cane due to issues from an AVM. One of my nurses showed up, who is recovering from back surgery. My cousin came from Charlotte with a sign of support that she carried throughout the race. And my sweet sister had created t-shirts for our team, so we looked the part. It truly was a team effort.

I know I walked the 3.1 miles – I had a sore hip and full Fitbit to show for it – but I almost felt carried by my loving friends. We laughed and talked and looked at houses along the way, and we were at the finish line before I knew it.

Next up, I want to add “hanging abs” back to my strength training program. I know you can’t rush these things, but it’s on my 50 in 50 list. So I’m hoping to be able to do one again by September 24.

Not Official Until There’s a Bracelet

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Recently, I wrote about my 2017 word of the year: Simplify. Am I complicating things by adding one more to the mix? Because while I am trying to keep my life simple, the thing I balance_every woman blogneed to work on even more is BALANCE.

As I approach the two year anniversary of my ruptured aneurysm – which I call the two year anniversary of my survival – my energy seems to be coming back in bounds. When I have a day with great energy, it’s hard not to take on too much. I can write a list of at least 50 things I need to do, but have to keep in mind that I can’t always accomplish it all in a day or a weekend. I have to prioritize with balance in mind.

Take, for instance, this coming weekend. I have supper club, a band party and church. But those are only scheduled events. I also want to cook for the week ahead, take a long walk, straighten the house (kitchen, bathroom and basement, in that order), work on my finances and get caught up on This Is Us. And, and I really need to wash clothes. What I’m learning is that I can’t do it all, even in a weekend. My energy is coming back, but I still need to rest and relax.

So I’m doing some refining of my list by way of this post:

  • Saturday evening Supper Club is a must. We’re going out, so I don’t have to clean or cook. And it’s much needed time with friends.
  • The band party is a wait-and-see. It’s an event for The Animal Mission, and a band featuring a couple of friends is playing. I don’t get to hear them play much anymore, and it’s a short set. Still, with my voice issues, clubs aren’t my best venue.
  • Church is a given. It inspires me for the week ahead, gives me a chance to see friends and gets me up and out. The service isn’t until 11:15 a.m., so I can still sleep in or get up early to get started on the cooking.
  • Cooking for the week ahead has been on my list for a few weeks now. I generally don’t do it on weeknights because I go to the gym after work, and time is already tight. For me to eat healthier, I seriously need to do this. Which means…
  • …Straightening the kitchen becomes a higher priority. There’s no way to accomplish this without at least clearing the counters, making some room in the ‘fridge and switching out the dishes. The bathroom and basement are medium priority, because I need to get a plumber out soon to work on a few projects.
  • The long walk is creating issues in my mind. I’d hoped to walk to the park and Trader Joe’s like I did before the rupture. But I don’t want to wear myself out and ruin my other plans. Maybe I can do it Sunday afternoon or evening, when it’s okay to be worn out. It might even help me sleep longer and a little better.
  • Working on my finances is easy. I can do that on my laptop in bed Saturday morning. Or even tonight.
  • This Is Us. It’s on Netflix now, and I’ve heard so many good things about it. I usually don’t turn on the TV on weeknights because it distracts me and prevents me from getting a full night of sleep. While I’m excited it’s on Netflix now, that doesn’t mean I have to watch it all on one day. This is definitely not a priority, and I may start watching (aka NOT binge watching) next week.
  • Washing clothes. A job that’s never done. I miss the days that I took everything to the dry cleaner, but my bank account doesn’t. Maybe instead of shooting for everything, I can do laundry based on priority, i.e. what I need for the week ahead.

Boom. I’ve created a simple solution for the weekend that includes plenty of balance of those things Maslow told us were important. I’ll let you know how it goes.

So what’s up with the bracelet headline? I’m a highly visual person; I like visual reminders close to keep me motivated. I have a SIMPLIFY bracelet, but need one for balance. Thus, the addition of a “new word” won’t be official until I get one. Perhaps I need to add THAT to the list.

Is your life “in balance?” What do you do to maintain a balance in your life? What do you need to work on?

The Season of Love

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Another great story about the kindness of others and how 20 months out from the aneurysm, it still flows freely. (I never get tired of these, and I hope you won’t either!)

prayer wallOver the weekend, I saw a friend and her family at the House of Pancakes in Forest Acres. She told me that she and a group of nine others were headed to Israel this week, and asked if I would like to give her a prayer for her to place in the Western Wall (also known as the Prayer Wall.) It nearly brought me to tears. We quickly grabbed a coloring sheet, and I tore off a small section on which I wrote a short prayer of thanks for my recovery, friends and wonderful support group. At 6:19 a.m. Israel time, she sent a picture and let me know it was there.

Over a million notes are placed each year in what has become a custom, not only for tourists, but also for high-profile dignitaries visiting Israel from abroad. The notes are collected twice a year and buried on the nearby Mount of Olives.

This reinforces my belief in the goodness of people, and every time something like this happens, my heart swells.

Happy Holidays to you and your family, and best wishes for a grand 2017!

It’s Never Too Early to Celebrate

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

lmc_race-medal

One thing I’ve learned over the past 19 months is that if you’re lucky enough to get a second chance, you shouldn’t waste it. In that spirit, I’m already thinking ahead to the two-year anniversary of my aneurysm rupture.

Y’all know that since I started working out about five years ago, I’ve been wanting to do a 5K. I was starting to train right before the rupture, then everything went south. During the first three weeks, my muscles atrophied, and I couldn’t stand up or walk. Even at Shepherd, the consensus was that I would probably end up having to use a cane. (As an aside, my doctors credited my health and fitness level as one of the reasons I survived!)

I learned how to walk again, and since I came back home in July, 2015, I’ve been working with a trainer to regain my balance and increase my strength. Sadly, due to the damage done to my vocal cords during the intubation, if I overdo it – in the gym or just walking down Main Street – I lose my breath. My voice specialist is working wonders, but for now, she says no to running and/or training to run.

Recently, I saw a blurb about the Five Points Get to the Green St. Patrick’s Day Race, on (get this) March 18, 2017. On the spot, I decided to walk it just because I can! I looked at GTTG2015_ShoeprintLogo_VectorBWthe race website, and saw that you can register a team. Since this recovery and rehab has been a team effort, I decided that a team would be quite apropos.

Fitness friends, please join me in celebrating on March 18. We can meet up before the race and perhaps toast ourselves with a beer afterwards. I’d love to have some company for the walk, but if you’re a runner, I don’t expect you to slow down for me. Registration for Get to the Green is only $30, and you save $5 if you register on a team. You’ll also get a t-shirt, medal/bottle opener and free admission into the festival. The team name is BAMFs for #MPBStrong.

I close this post with a word of thanks to my fitness friends, folks I worked out with back in the days of those 5 a.m. workouts. My gym friends have been so supportive; they visited, prayed, sent cards and lavished me with love. Even now, they continue to encourage and motivate me.

One friend, Jenny, ran the Palmetto Half in April 2015, and then came to the hospital to give me her medal. At that time, she challenged me to get better so I could do that run. I don’t know if she thought I’d ever be able to do it, but the encouragement and tangible symbol kept me going. (And that medal STILL hangs in my room.) And while I may not run, I am gonna do that 5K, two years to the day that aneurysm ruptured.

Is there something that has always been on your to-do list? What is it and what steps can you take today to move you closer to achieving it? It’s never too early to start planning!