Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

On Call for Three Weeks

Things weren’t looking great for my mother-in-law by the time I arrived in Boston, the first week of the year. My husband Mark jumped on a plane a few days earlier, because listening to her ordeal from afar without being able to help was frustrating. When it comes to health care (and many other things), one needs to stay on top of everything, following up on procedures, discussions, plans, and promises. When the person who usually is in charge of that ends up hospitalized, someone else has to step in and be present to advocate. Full-time. We already lost a precious week over the Christmas period, because of misconceptions, wrong actions and holiday (non-)schedules. All out of the family’s control.

After being bed-ridden and connected to a plethora of machines for a month, screens being monitored and tubes being adjusted every 20 minutes, the good news arrived. My mother-in-law (who had been unable to move even her head during that time) was to be released from the intensive care unit of the hospital in Boston and moved to an urgent care rehabilitation center in the same vicinity. She still could not swallow or eat and was very weak from being in the horizontal position for this long, but at least she was on the road to recovery now, in a state-of-the-art facility, with a busy activity schedule and a professional, friendly and helpful team of therapists. The goal is to have her back home on February 5th. She will have to live and sleep on the first floor to start, and therapy will continue in-home.

For people who know my mother-in-law, the fact that she had to be ambulanced off to the ER came as a shock and a surprise. At 82, she is a very healthy, smart, strong (and strong-willed 😊), and independent woman; the care-giver in her marriage. Her condition was diagnosed as a burst brain AVM (arteriovenous malformation), which is a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain. She was most likely born with it and only a brain scan would have revealed the anomaly. The rupture of the blood vessels caused bleeding in her brain, leading to a stroke. Brain AVMs are rare and affect less than 1 percent of the population. They are in fact so rare, that a local TV station is filming her today to feature in a documentary for the TV series Chronicle, to create awareness for AVMs.

“You are an 82-year-old with the body and health of a 62-year-old,” the surgeon stated, before recommending surgery to remove the AVM and avoid a future rapture. Recovery time would be swift. Mark and I planned a two-week stay in Newburyport to help his mom get orientated back home, once released from the hospital. Well… things didn’t quite work out that way. Complications led to another surgery, worries and side-effects severely reducing her quality of life for over a month.

During our scheduled two weeks, Mark and I (and her husband) visited every day, the drive taking anywhere from 2-3 hours, depending on traffic. At home, we took care of meals, dishes, laundry, finances, shopping, plants, phone calls, follow-ups, communications with friends and family, ice removal (it was extremely cold and snowy), unexpected issues… It kept us incredibly busy, especially since we have a business (and our own lives) to run as well. But, we are very happy to help and are glad to have this flexibility. This last week, we continue the household duties and visits, and move furniture to establish a downstairs bedroom.

As new information in regards to our patient’s condition was revealed, we realized two weeks back east would not be enough. We decided Mark should extend his stay with one more week, and I would return to San Diego as planned, to finish our house sit. The day before I was to depart, serendipity arrived. The man who took over our house and pet sitting duties requested to stay a week longer. I asked him whether he would be OK taking care of the dogs during that time, so I could return with Mark. Within an hour, we had both moved our plane tickets a week out. Everybody was happy! When we learned the owner of the house would return to San Diego ten days later than anticipated, we jumped on the occasion to take care of Elvis and Friday until February 11th. 😊


  1. Wow, it sounds as if the Universe is doing everything it can to help!👼 We wish you all well and send lots of love your way ☺💓 xxx

    • It does, Xenia, and that is such a nice thing to realize. We could use a little bit of help in these trying times. 🙂 Thanks again for the well-wishes. By the time we come back in the summer, all might be back to normal…

  2. Isn’t it wonderful how things work out sometimes. I’m glad your mother-in-law is on the road to recovery and that the two of you were able to give her – and the family – the care and attention needed. That being said, I look forward to your return to sunny (yes!) San Diego 😎.

  3. Hi Liesbet! So glad to hear things are working out for you 🙂 And it certainly helps to go with the flow and do our best as circumstances unfold. I’m glad things are working unfolding for a new workable plan. Are you going to be going by here when you leave your sit in February? Would love to see you and Mark again if that works in “the plan.” Meanwhile, stay warm!!! ~Kathy

    • Hi Kathy! I’m succumbing to the flu right now – it was inevitable here, back in winter. Our bodies are not used to it anymore, if they ever were… We are still hoping to dip into Baja for a couple of weeks after the San Diego sit. No plans after that yet, until the end of March. Other than wanting to be somewhere warm. 🙂

  4. Stephanie Gardiner

    January 24, 2018 at 13:24

    I haven’t had much of an online presence lately (but am trying to get back in the swing of things), so I was surprised to read about Mark’s mom and your return to Massachusetts. I hope everything continues to improve and swing your way and wish you all the best!

    • Hi Stephanie! Long time to no see. I hope things are going according to plan, up there, with Cambria and such… Thanks for the well wishes. We hope to be back on track with our own lives next weekend. Missing the warmth and the dogs! 🙂

  5. I love a happy ending, Liesbet! “You are an 82-year-old with the body and health of a 62-year-old.” Something we all would like to be fortunate enough to hear from our doctor. I hated to hear you MIL required a second surgery, but I’m relieved to know she’s on the road to recovery. That’s pretty cool about the documentary!

    • Happy endings are good, Jill, especially when you don’t write and create them yourself. 🙂 I’ve often mentioned to my MIL that I’d love to age as well as she is. Her dad lived to be 99 years old! Good genes – that side of Mark’s family anyway…

  6. So glad to hear everything turned out for the best and everyone stayed positive and hopeful. My former sister-in-law had this same stroke in 2010, at the age of 54, leaving her unable to talk or communicate in any way. She could not use her arms/hands to write, nor could she really understand TV. She was locked in her own body. She was forced to retire early from the State of California, her new husband suddenly had to care for her and her parents looked after her for months. Believe it or not, she is completely recovered! It was a long road, but shows the resilience of the human body and what love and patience can do. Your MIL sounds like she is quickly recovering and in a year, you will all look back and be thankful you were there to help her and the family. Enjoy sunny SD when you get back, and take care of yourself and Mark as well!

    • That is an incredible story about your former sister-in-law, Terri. Thanks for sharing! I agree that resilience, love and patience go a very long way. And, positivism. I’m in awe at how people in certain situations can remain so hopeful and positive. I always think I’d have a harder time if it were me. Let’s hope I don’t have to find out… Yes to enjoying sunny San Diego when we get back. And, to feeling better myself (sick at the moment), and having time for each other again as well.

  7. Glad to hear things are working out for you and your family, Liesbet. Take care of yourself so you can help others.

    • Good point, Natalie! Unfortunately, I’m out of commission right now, so Mark has to take care of everything himself. I hate winters. And, getting sick! 🙁

  8. What a whirlwind of worry and displacement – but also a great bonus visit with family. Being in Boston during that crazy snowstorm will certainly make you appreciate San Diego even more when you get back! What fantastic luck in so many ways during your ordeal; now I’ll wish for the best luck of all – that your mother-in-law recovers quickly and fully.

    • Thanks, Lexie. Our apprehension and dislike of cold weather has only been confirmed this visit. Who would ever want to live here? 🙂 We didn’t have much time to hang out with family and friends this visit, but the short moments together are always good ones. I’m ready to sit still for a while, though, and write.

  9. So glad to read your mother-in-law is on the road to recovery. Best wishes to you all.

  10. What a blessing she is on the road to recovery and you get to stay there much longer. Prayers for her continued progress.

  11. Brrr…it looks cold there. Love the picture or your mother-in-law in the hospital surrounded by family, including her grandkids. Very sweet. Glad she is getting better.

    • It IS cold here, Ellen. Crazy! From the moment you step outside, the icy air grabs your legs as if you’re not wearing pants and it takes your breath away. but not in a magical sense…

      Glad you liked that birthday photo – here is a secret about that one: we lit a candle in a cup of sorbet for her to blow out. Very quickly. In this photo, she just finished that, and my sister-in-law to the right is actually fanning the room with a towel to get rid of the smoke and smell… 🙂

  12. It seems to be falling into place, finally, Liesbet, but it sounds an anxious time. Glad everyone could rally round to help. Back to sunny SD soon 🙂 🙂

  13. Worrying times for you all, but sounds like she is on the mend now😄

    • She is, Gilda, and we are relieved and very happy about it. Still hard to leave and pick up our own lives again, thousands of miles removed…

  14. You are so right about everyone needing an advocate within the healthcare system Liesbet! Sorry to read about this difficult time for your family, your mother in law sounds amazing… glad to hear she is now on the road to recovery and that things worked out and fell into place for you timing wise. It looks so cold! Enjoy some sun in San Diego.


    • Thanks, Peta. We spent half an hour this morning, just sitting on the back step, feeling the San Diego sun on our faces. About the best feeling we have had in quite some time! It is nice to know that my MIL is in good hands now. Time to get our own life straightened out, “start” the year, and, maybe, make some plans? 🙂

      The fact that one needs to be so on top everything is quite concerning to me for older people. They get taken advantage of by so many companies and spammers (also in regards of “upgrades” and electronics). It breaks my heart. We try to prevent this and counteract as much as possible, but it is impossible to “fight the system”. I know I’m vague here, but I think you know what I mean.

  15. Great to hear that serendipity was on your side so that you will be able to return West together. Your MIL sounds like an incredibly strong woman which bodes well for a full recovery. I look forward to seeing your MIL happily recovering at home and you and Mark enjoying San Diego’s sunshine with Elvis and Friday again soon. Hug from Penang where we are hoping for positive news tomorrow morning. Will write back to your email when I have the good news in hand.

    • Mark’s mom has the good genes, Lisa, and his dad the bad ones. Guess what kind Mark inherited most… BTW, we just discovered some news about the gene mutation, called CHEK2. Ever heard of it?? It explains a lot of his family history. On a more positive note: we are back in San Diego. Frida and Elvis were ecstatic to see us last night, after our walk home from the airport. It’s good to be back, loud planes or not! 🙂 Keeping our fingers crossed here at the other end of the world for your news…

  16. Retirement Reflections

    January 28, 2018 at 20:49

    I am so sorry to hear about all that your family has been through. I am happy that your Mother-in-Law is on the road to recovery and that your house-sitting plans worked out for you. Sending positive vibes to you and your family. Thinking of you.

    • Thanks, Donna. Now that my MIL is in good hands and things look more positive, Mark and I can pick up our own lives again. It has been a crazy year so far! I assume it can only get better from now. 🙂

  17. It sounds as though you dealt brilliantly with all the slings and arrows thrown at you all. I hope your mother-in-law continues to make a good recovery.

    • She appears to be doing well, Hilary, and is expected to go home in less than a week from now. We do love the fact that being flexible is part of our lifestyle.

  18. Oh my what a lot of strain all of you have been dealing with. I hope your mother law is continuing to improve. Such good news that the house sitting is working out so well to allow that flexibility. Hugs to both you and Mark and very best wishes.

    • This has been an interesting house sit in many ways, Sue, and we sure are glad with everybody’s flexibility and understanding. Now that we are back to our own lives and face less “activity”, chaos and stress, we almost feel a bit lost. Time is a precious and fascinating thing! 🙂

  19. It’s a long road I know this well Liesbet. I’ve just gone through it with my husband and definitely, the patient needs an advocate around. She is lucky to have you both there. You’re a good daughter-in-law. I hope all will continue well for all of you. <3

    • Your husband is so very fortunate to have you, Debby! What you’re having to go through can’t compare to our situation (in regards to my MIL anyway). Your positive, caring and indispensable presence is mind-blowing and life-altering. Of course, we love our family and partners, but the heroism sometimes performed can’t be ignored. 🙂

  20. So glad things are relatively back to normal and your mother in law on the mend. I had been thinking of you!!

  21. Good to hear that things are still working out, Liesbet. Time must be flying pass with you being so busy. I have a 91-year old aunt who is currently in hospital after suffering a stroke. I go and see her every other day as they only allow two at her bedside at any given time, plus only one hour to visit a day so as to give patients time to rest. She was on a drip-feed, but is now able to swallow and so is eating soup and ice-cream. It’s heartbreaking to see her in hospital, but she’s getting the best care.

    • I never knew that swallowing could be affected by a stroke. I hope your aunt will recover soon, Hugh.

      In my mother-in-law’s case, no visitor restrictions seemed to be in place. At least not for immediate family. And, recently, she can eat ice cream and blended soup as well. What an improvement from the drip-feed. She still has a feeding tube in her belly, though, but can administer it herself. She returned home yesterday, so a whole arrangement is in place with visiting nurses, therapists, family and friends.

      • Great news to hear she is home, Liesbet. It’s a place I know I’d want to be if I was ill. I think being at home can often help aid recovery.
        My aunt is in hospital for at least another six weeks, but I’m pleased to say that she is slowly getting better.

        • People at home are obliged and encouraged to recover quickly, because they have to, and because they enjoy those surroundings and can’t wait to be back to normal. The problem is that this antsiness can get them in trouble, if they are not careful enough… 🙂

          It is a slow road to recovery after a stroke and it pleases me that your aunt is doing better as well, Hugh!

  22. So glad things are working out and your MIL is recovering. That’s great she took such phenomenal care of herself and her health…if not, her recovery probably would have been even more difficult.

    I know this has been a really tough start to the year for you both, but hopefully it’s all up from here!

    Much love and hugs. xo

    • I don’t know how my MIL remained in such great shape. I guess she went for short walks often and worked in her small garden. Her condition is more due to “good genes” in my opinion. Knowing what I learned about all that and seeing how two people of the same age look and age so differently, based on their ancestors…

      Thank you for the love and hugs, and… right back at ya! xx

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