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Lessons Learned from My Mother

By Frank Murgic President & CEO of Sunshine Drugs.

Several years ago, I drove to my mother’s place to pick up a dinette table she no longer needed. The table was in good shape; the only reason she wanted to replace it was because the edges were too pointy, and she was worried the grandkids might get hurt by bumping into it.

When I went to pick up one end of the table, I realized how heavy it was and that it would require a few guys to move. Not only did this table have sharp edges, it also had a tabletop made of thick tempered glass. However, before I could even turn around to tell my mom that I would get some guys to help me, she had picked up the other end and said, “Come on, let’s go!”

“Holy cow!” I said to her as we began to move the table. “You’re strong!”

“It’s not about the strength,” she replied. “You have to have the will.”

I will never forget those words. “You taught me a lesson today,” I told her.

That’s my mom. She never went to the gym, never went on some wacky diet, never jogged, never swam, and never biked, but what she did do was always stay very active. Throughout my life, she has constantly been doing something. As an example, she would wake up at 5 am and, by 7 am, she had already prepared all the meals for the day and gone for her morning walk. Later on in the day, she would garden, mow the lawn, meet with her friends, eat a healthy meal, and go do some more walking with a friend. She was always active.

This past March, my brother found our mother unconscious on her bedroom floor. She had been lying there for more than 15 hours. We soon learned that my mother had suffered a massive stroke on the right side of her brain, which affected the entire left side of her body. At the time, we all thought mom was a goner, that she would never recover. I will never forget seeing her on that gurney, helpless and unconscious.

At the hospital, the doctor showed me the CAT scan, and it was not good. A large portion of the right side of my mother’s brain had been affected, and chances of a full recovery were not in her favour. How could this happen to my mom, a 77-year-old woman who, up to that time, was still climbing up trees to prune them?!

Ultimately, Mom was diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (PAF). I have to thank the emergency medical technicians who helped discover the condition. Basically, her heart would sometimes skip a beat here and there, which would cause her blood to pool. Eventually, it led to the stroke.

Doctors started my mother right away on warfarin, a blood thinner, and modified her existing heart and blood pressure medications. Those first few days showed little improvement, but, slowly and surely with the help of the rehabilitation team – and with great will and determination – she started to recover. Within a few weeks, she was slowly starting to move her left arm, hand, and fingers. Soon, she was on her feet with the assistance of a walker. Mom’s cognitive function was starting to improve as well, and she was eventually healthy enough to be transferred to a dedicated rehabilitation clinic, where she endured more rigorous therapy. Mom, never being one to complain, adopted the attitude that she would be back to where she was before; she embraced the rehab with 100% effort.

One day, the attending physician, a senior doctor who was also of Eastern European descent, examined my mother and gave her the best possible advice. He realized the type of woman my mother is. The best way to recover, he told her, is when you get home, get back to doing what you were doing. You love to cook, so start cooking. Work that left hand and those fingers by kneading that dough when you’re baking bread or strudel. Get back to gardening and force yourself to use that left side, using the shovel and other utensils in that left hand.

Eventually, my mother was improving dramatically to the point where the rehab clinic would give her weekend passes. What do you think my mother wanted to do? Go cook! She wanted to make sarma (Croatian cabbage rolls). Well, I think she made enough sarma to feed the whole neighbourhood.

I must admit that my mom is an excellent cook. I can still recall from my boyhood the pleasant aromas of my mom’s cooking coming from our home; she would feed all my friends when they came over. While those first few meals my mother prepared after suffering the stroke were not her greatest, she did her best. Later, I started to gauge her improvement by the taste of her food. Eventually, she was released from rehab and got back into her normal daily life.

Today, Mom goes regularly to her family doctor and makes additional specialist appointments. She gets her INR checked at our pharmacy, and she gets her meds delivered in our OnePac system.

I would like to thank all healthcare professionals who have helped my mom on her road to recovery: the doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, rehabilitation specialists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, and family and friends. Thank you all.

Most importantly, thank you, Mom, for doing your part! One of my favourite quotes is from the entrepreneur and motivational speaker Keith Cunningham. It relates to my mom and what she has been doing her entire life: “Ordinary things consistently done produce extraordinary results.”