Shared Stories: A Glimmer of Hope

Mary Nieraeth recounts her worries, coping techniques, and the resumption of care for her family after a seizure caused her to lose consciousness while driving.  Fortunately, her children were not with her and no other cars or pedestrians were involved.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Mary Nieraeth
I am jolted to a half-awake state by the music playing on our alarm clock next to my husband’s side of our bed at the ungodly hour of 4:30 am. My husband almost instantly presses the off button and jumps out of bed.  It is cold, pitch dark and the only sound is the faint ticking of the clock. 

I am slower to respond to this optional invitation to arise as I often feel the urge to pull the covers up over my face. However, once I am awake, it is easier for me to get up rather than be annoyed by other distractions like the shower running, bathroom light on, etc. 

I’ve always been an early morning riser but the wakeup time has voluntarily gotten progressively earlier for my husband with increased morning freeway traffic to Pasadena where he works. There is something mysterious about early morning, a time of unusual quietness before my three children, ages 7, 9 and 11, wake up at 7:00 am to get ready for school. 

The main reason I choose to get up this early is to maintain a schedule of familiarity as when I was working before getting into a car accident while having a seizure. I slowly get out of bed, put on my workout clothes and head downstairs to the kitchen as my husband continues his morning routine before work. 

I briefly ponder, now why I am I getting up this early? A little late to think about this as I am dressed for my daily workout, already downstairs in the kitchen and just the aroma of fresh coffee brewing wakes me up further.

I hear a jingling sound coming from the living room. I glance over at the sofa where our dog Scruffy, starts to move his body which jiggles his collar tags. Then a thump, my clue that he will make his appearance into the kitchen and over to the sliding glass door leading to the backyard. 

When he gets to the door, he methodically does his version of yoga poses I know as puppy dog and upward dog. Then he gets up on all fours and just stares out the door window into pure darkness without a sound until I open the door. While he is outside, I quickly refill his water and dry food bowls, place a treat inside his special toy and a different treat in a bowl which I hide in the living room. He scurries back inside to find his treats, both of us enjoying the game playing. 

Next, I get my breakfast prepared, simple and healthy, with my seal of approval, as a registered dietitian. Before eating, I sit and play a guided meditation from a CD. I am feeling calm and grounded, connected to this moment, my body, my breath.  Then, seeming out of the blue, my mind wanders down a dark street. 

‘Who am I without a driver’s license, my job, and now with uncontrolled seizures? Will I ever be normal again? How will I navigate life on foot and by bus? In Lakewood, California? I am not in New York, Boston or places in Europe where public transportation is readily available, preferable, and acceptable!’ 

I see my thoughts spinning out of control. Again, I close my eyes and take some slow deep breaths. I remember my favorite part of the morning is working out on my elliptical machine. Really? Maybe I am crazy!  My daily routine gives my life structure and a feeling of being in control of something, refreshed, energized and less depressed.

After my workout, I have a short time to shower and then wake up my children for school. We are fortunate to live a few blocks from the K-8 grade school where they all attend together. I walk with them part of the way out of our gated community to the main street. I watch the crossing guard guide them across the busy street and then wave goodbye. Some of their friends join them and they continue to walk together to school.

I walk back to our house, now completely silent. I decided to make some herbal tea and do a few house chores. I begin to feel sleepy and unmotivated so go upstairs to try to take a nap. As I lie in bed, I hear a tap, tap, tap. Pause. Another tap, tap, tap.  

At first, I think the sound is coming from the front door but then realize it is coming from our bedroom window. I get out of bed, walk to the window which is partially covered by the shutter. Before opening the shutter, I notice a reflection of a bird flying away from the window. I don’t think much about this and continue with my nap. 

Two days later, about the same time, while taking a nap, another tap, tap, tap. I immediately spring out of my bed and rush over to the window. The shutter is partially open today. I stand there frozen in utter amazement, seeing this little blue bird tapping on the window, literally of my heart, like a good friend reaching out to bring me well wishes.

I remain perfectly still since I don’t want to scare the bird away. I am thinking, ‘My little one, thanks for your visit today.’ Then, the bird flies away. A glimmer of hope and aliveness runs through my body.  I grab my journal, go back downstairs to refresh my herbal tea and write about this beautiful encounter, truly a pivotal moment in my medical journey!