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!

Putting My Aneurysm Behind Me

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

Of all of the experiences, emotions and excitement I’ve had in the past 17 months, this past weekend was a personal milestone in my recovery from a ruptured brain aneurysm. What started out to be a simple “rehab reunion” in Atlanta turned into a turning point for me in so many ways.

Putting My Aneurysm Behind Me

Sense of Closure. When we got to Atlanta, especially Shepherd, I felt like I was home. For over two months, it was my “safe place.” You tend to get very attached to people who help you eat and shower and take your first steps after being in bed for six weeks. It was so wonderful to reconnect with the doctors, nurses and therapists who helped me regain normal. I was able to thank them, hug them and show them how far I’d come. Then, I was able to leave.

I also visited a lot of places that were significant during my rehab, including R. Thomas, home of my first non-hospital meal; Menchies, the frozen yogurt shop I visited with my rehab team; Shorty’s, the pizza place where I ate on “graduation day;” Shepherd Cafeteria, where when I wouldn’t eat anything else, I feasted on their tator tots; the Secret Garden, where I took my first steps outside, planted flowers as part of therapy and visited with friends from home; Sam Flax, my happy shopping place; and the Buckhead Publix, where I did my first “test drive.”

Shepherd, Pathways and Atlanta were shelters during the storm, but now that the sun is peeking out, it’s time for me to “go forth and set the world on fire.” The next time I go to The ATL, I want to visit the Botanical Gardens, see the Braves and enjoy all of the wonderful things there are to do there.

Perspective. When it comes to my recovery, I haven’t been able to see the forest for the trees. I’ve been lamenting my quiet voice, aerobic limitations and loss of muscle tone, all of which have taken a toll on my self-esteem. But just seventeen months ago, I was bedridden, unable to breathe without assistance and unable to walk. This past weekend I came to the conclusion that if given the option of not surviving or surviving as a quieter, less toned person, I would’ve taken alive any old way I could. The voice, the flab, the lesser workouts? Just challenges to keep me honest.

Timing. It’s only been a year since I left rehab, 17 months since the aneurysm rupture. Doctors say that rupture patients continue to heal and improve for up to five years. The most dramatic changes occur in the first six to 12 months, but I’ll be getting better for years to come. What I complain about today – the soft voice, the fatigue, the awkwardness – may not be here tomorrow. When I would complain to my wonderful neuropsychologist, Dr. Brown, he wrote the word TEMPORARY on my white board to remind me.

Self-confidence. With all I’ve been through, I’ve got to kick this self-doubt to the curb. If I survived the actual rupture and overcame the setbacks I encountered with MRSA, pneumonia and c Diff, I should feel unstoppable, not unsure of myself. A soft voice and a few extra pounds is child’s play compared to the past year. And to feel nervous about a date or lack thereof? Nahhhhhh. That’s just crazy!

Friendship. There was great comfort seeing those people who helped me on my journey. With friends. People who had seen you at your absolute worst, but still love you. We all looked a little different than we did in rehab. A little more polished, a lot more refined. We cleaned up well. We had some deficits, most of which weren’t apparent from the outside. We swapped stories, talked about the crazy things that happened in rehab and hugged. There were a lot of hugs.

Besides my rehab cohorts, I also saw a friend from high school who was very supportive during my stay in Atlanta. We grew up in the same church. Most of my memories of him are on a church bus. I hadn’t seen him in some 30 years, except on Facebook, but he visited, brought a plant, brought brownies, took Mom and I out to dinner and more. Although it took a ruptured aneurysm for us to reconnect, I realized at brunch that he (and his dashing partner) are now forever friends.

When I returned from Atlanta, I declared that I was ready to put my aneurysm behind me. My aneurysm rupture will always be a part of me, I suppose, and I can’t really change that. And I don’t want to totally forget it. It helped me become a better person – an MP 2.0, so to speak – and allows me to help others going through a similar situation. I’m thankful for the many blessings and great people that the aneurysm brought into my life, which I am now ready to live fully.

Three Ways to Relieve the Pressure When You’re Pushing Yourself Too Hard

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

under pressure

A year ago today, I was just waking up and coming back to consciousness from my ruptured aneurysm. It was around my sister’s birthday because I remember my boss offering to buy her a birthday gift from me. I was clueless. I couldn’t figure out where I was or what had happened, much less what to get Sister for her birthday.

A year later, I’m still trying to figure out what to get Sister for her birthday. But everything else is better. I’ve recovered well, with the exception of my immobile vocal cords and soft, raspy voice. I’m back at work full-time, have been since late September.

But there are still a few things I need to work on. First, I am quite unhappy with my fitness limitations. Before the aneurysm, I was doing an hour on the elliptical. I also feel like I’m living by the seat of my pants organizationally; I don’t feel like I’ve had it together since I came back to my house in August. I’ve strayed a bit from my “clean eating”, and I still need to get back in the kitchen on a regular basis.

I was sharing this with a friend today when she reminded me that it had only been a year, that I was being too tough on myself. Too tough on myself? Yes. I always have been. Almost on cue, I found a great article in my Positively Positive daily email about that very thing: Are You Pushing Yourself Too Hard?

You don’t have to be recovering from a ruptured aneurysm like me to push yourself too hard. As women, I think we all do it to some extent. That’s why I wanted to share Positively Positive’s three steps to release the pressure when you’re pushing yourself too hard.

  1. Admit you are pushing yourself too hard – Say it out loud (because you need to hear this from yourself): “I am pushing myself too hard to…”
  2. Re-set your expectations. Close your eyes and take a breath. Ask yourself, “What would ENOUGH look like?”
  3. Give yourself permission to just do enough. No more. No less. Just enough.

The article reminds us when pressure and overwhelm come knocking on your door, remember that you have the choice to let them in. Assess the situation, use the three step process above, and ask yourself what might need to change or adjust in order for you to feel less stress and more joy, rest and harmony through the process.

Fitness limitations? Yeah, I’ve got ‘em. A year ago, I wasn’t even walking. So for now, working out twice a week is enough to help me rebuild my strength. Living by the seat of my pants? Yes, I still have some unpacking and organizing to do. I was away from home for five months, and it’s taking me a while to settle back in. I’m getting it done a little at a time, and that’s okay. Not eating perfectly? I can make improvements in small steps, and it will be okay. As long as I have food to eat and don’t fall back into the fast food trap, I will survive fine.

What works for you when you start feeling pressure and overwhelm?

Getting My Second Chance Right

By: Mary Pat Baldauf

MaryPatI know I’ve mentioned how much I love Positively Positive, and an article in today’s morning email just reminded me why.

When I survived my ruptured brain aneurysm a year ago, I had so many people tell me that I must’ve lived for a reason. One person was even so assertive as to tell me that I needed to find my purpose and fulfill it. They told me that as I was struggling with post-aneurysm issues at Shepherd Center, and I replied, very sarcastically, “Let me learn how to walk again, and then I’ll get to that purpose.”

Today’s article in Positively Positive, Finding Your Life Purpose: It’s Closer Than You Think, asserts that while fixating on finding our purpose that we miss out on important stuff in the present. I love that concept, and it makes me feel better about not having “found my purpose.”

In my morning conversation with God, which usually occurs somewhat hastily on the way to work, I often ask for guidance in being the best version of me that I can be that day. Sometimes opportunities present themselves and we take action, other times we may provide just what someone needs without even knowing it.  Kismet, if you will.

I wish I had written the article in today’s Positively Positive, but I’m thankful that I saw it. It is proof positive that I’m getting this “second chance” thing right.