What I’ve learned about seeing the Aurora Borealis

Mon, Feb 18, 2019


Andy and have gone aurora chasing to Iceland and Alaska, with some limited success. In Iceland, we saw the aurora, but without color — only white and gray. In Alaska, we had some of the same issues and also encountered cloudy weather. We did see the aurora in color from the tarmac of our departing flight. After take off, we got to see an amazing, colorful, dancing aurora from the tiny, round window of an airplane door. While we were glad to see what we did, it only whet our appetite for more.

I’ve learned a lot about aurora viewing. I want to share the information that I’ve learned in order to help friends and family.

Let me first say, that the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute (UAGI) website has a ton of useful information to help aurora chasers. A lot of the information I’ve learned is from that page.

What time of year to go look for the aurora?

Skies need to be dark enough for the aurora to be visible. That means that the aurora is not visible in summer months. According to UAGI, the skies are dark enough from August 21st to April 21st. Note that less light equals more aurora viewing potential.

Activity tends to peak around the fall and spring equinox, i.e. September 21st and March 21st. Thankfully, these aren’t the most frigid times of year in northern climes to venture out at night for aurora viewing. We’ve heard from numerous sources that March tends to offer the best auroras.

The phase of the moon can have some impact on aurora visibility. It’s ideal to go during the new moon, which is also known as the dark of the moon. Basically, it’s when the moon does not rise overnight. If you can’t arrange your trip for a time during the new moon, or with limited moon visibility at night, it’s not disastrous. It’s just that the moonlight will lessen the intensity of the aurora colors and visibility. Here’s a link to a site that can help you find the moon phase.

When will the aurora be active?

Every Monday, a 27-day outlook is issued. I look at the KP Index column. The higher the KP, the more active the aurora is predicted to be.

For more immediate aurora forecasts, see this link. Also, from this page operated by NOAA, check out “The Aurora”image that shows the probability of visible aurora with the aurora band indicated along with an indication of where it’s dark and light.

Experts say that from 10pm to 2am is the aurora viewing sweet-spot.

Where to go to look for the aurora

You’ve gotta go north! For overhead aurora viewing, you’ve got to go to places like:

  • Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Iceland
  • Dawson City, Yellowknife, Gillam Canada
  • Tromso, Norway
  • Lapland region of Finland

Any further south than those places and you’ll generally only see the aurora on the northern horizon.

If you do go to one of the destinations listed above, for best viewing, you’ll need to get away from city lights.

Weather is such an important factor!

You can’t see the aurora if the skies are clouded over. For our trip to Fairbanks in October, 2018, the weather forecast looked good about ten days out. As the time for our trip drew near, the forecast kept looking worse and worse and, yeah, it was cloudy almost every night. What we learned from that experience is that we will only book a trip when the weather looks mostly clear within a 5-day window.

Other resources

  • Aurora webcam outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. This webcam has a wide angle lens. It automatically updates in 10 to 20-second increments.
  • Aurora webcam looking northeast outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.
  • Additional advice for Fairbanks aurora viewing can be found here.

Cinnamon and Sugar Coated Nuts

Thu, Dec 27, 2018


I’m often asked for the recipe for the cinnamon sugared nuts that I make in the fall and winter. So, I thought I’d write a blog post with instructions.


1 cup of sugar – I use pure cane sugar that’s also Non-GMO. It’s the tan, less processed sugar.

1.5 (or more) tablespoons of cinnamon. I use organic Frontier Co-op Ceylon Cinnamon, which I researched extensively for it’s safety. (It’s very low on coumarin.) It has a milder flavor, so I usually use about 2 tablespoons of it.

1/4 cup of water

3 cups of nuts – I tend to use pecan halves, but have also used plain almonds.


  1. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a non stick pan. I use a high walled pan.
  2. Add the water and stir (about 15 seconds) until the cinnamon is absorbed in the water and sugar.
  3. Add nuts.
  4. Cook on medium heat. Stir constantly until the melted/liquidish sugar mixture completely crystalized on the nuts. This process takes about 10 minutes.
  5. Spread the nuts into a single layer over a cookie/baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about 8 to 10 minutes.

After cooling, I gather the nuts from the parchment paper. Bits of cinnamon sugar will be left over. I pour that sugar into an airtight container to re-use in other recipes.




After a stroke, God’s hand creates a walking miracle

Sat, May 12, 2018


Luke 8:38 – 39

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Here’s our story of Andy’s stroke. Note that Andy has added some notes in [brackets] to fill in his details and perspective.



On the evening of Wednesday April 18th, everything was normal. As we went to bed, we set an alarm for 7 a.m. as I had appointments at 8:45 a.m. and 10 a.m. the following day.


Thursday at 4 a.m.


Andy woke to go to the bathroom like he’s done hundreds or thousands of nights in the past. I was still asleep. He went to the bathroom and returned to the side of the bed. In that moment, he started losing control of his right side. He plopped into bed, which must have jolted me awake. I hear him breathing strangely — like he’s in a panic or in pain. I ask him if he’s okay. He says, “I feel weird.” I asked him what feels weird. He replies with, “I feel weird.” He repeats the same thing several more times.


[Andy: I actually couldn’t get fully into bed easily. I was barely on the side and used a lot of effort to roll back into bed.]


I start to get more concerned because Andy isn’t telling me what it is that feels “weird” and he seems to be panicked. Since he was having trouble expressing what was wrong, I thought I should check to see if he could think properly. I thought of a question to ask that he should easily be able to answer. I asked, “Where do we live?” I expected him to say Raleigh or the name of our street or something along those lines. His response was “Eighteen.” There is no eighteen anywhere in our current or previous addresses. I knew something was really wrong.


My heart was racing. I turn on the lights, grab the phone and dial 911. My voice, actually my whole body, is shaking as I speak to the gentleman on the other end of the 911 call. I explain that my husband said he felt weird and that he’s not making sense. He asked me to perform some tests with Andy. He tells me to ask Andy to smile. I see and report that his right side is drooping. The 911 operator instructs me to tell Andy to raise both arms in the air. His right arm was lower than the left. The third and final test was to get Andy to repeat a common phrase. I can’t recall what it was, but it was clear that Andy couldn’t repeat it all properly and his speech was slurred.


An ambulance and fire truck light up our cul de sac. I stand at the door desperate for them to hurry in. Two of the men roll a stretcher near the front door.


While I’m waiting for the first responders to come in, I’m going back and forth between the front door and our bedroom to check on Andy. At about this time, Andy suddenly starts feeling well again.


The firemen and EMS guys come in. I’m trying to explain that Andy was not making sense and his speech was slurred. They do an EKG, check his pulse and check his blood pressure. Everything is normal. Andy is able to talk clearly and make sense again. He told them that he had gotten up to go the bathroom and as he got to the bed, he got dizzy. At first, the head EMS guy said Andy probably had vertigo. (I’ve had BPPV vertigo. I know what vertigo is like. Even while dizzy, I know where I lived and I can express myself.) I knew Andy didn’t have vertigo. I don’t recall exactly how the conversation went — it’s still four-something in the morning — but I told them I didn’t think it was vertigo.


Next, the EMS guy says maybe Andy had a TIA stroke and it had cleared up. (Neither Andy or I had heard of a TIA stroke before. We didn’t know what it was.)  He didn’t make a big deal of it. In fact, he seemed pretty nonchalant. He asked Andy to get out of bed and walk around and there were no problems. The EMS guy asked us if we have a primary care doctor and said that it would be a good idea to contact her. Then they leave.


I went to my computer and search “TIA stroke.” From the results, I click on this page. I skim through it. I see that it’s often termed a “mini-stroke” and that it clears up shortly. Yes, that sounds like exactly what happens. I also see that anyone who has a TIA stroke should go to the emergency room. The website says, “Even though a TIA may seem to be resolved within minutes, with no noticeable or lasting effects, anyone who has symptoms should be rushed to the emergency room.”


I wonder why the EMS guys didn’t convey concern and the seriousness of a TIA? Why didn’t they say that a TIA stroke can be a warning for a bigger stroke? Why didn’t they recommend that we go to the emergency room? What should we do? Though confused, I went back to the bedroom. Thankfully, Andy still seemed back to normal. So, we turned the lights out. Andy fell back to sleep, but I just lay there listening for his every breath and praying. At some point, I fell back off to sleep, but woke back up shortly after dawn.


I go straight to my desk to look up Dr. Harris’ office number and call it. The office isn’t open until 8 a.m.


I’m starting to realize that it would be a good idea to cancel the two morning appointments on my schedule. I was hoping to get an early morning appointment to bring Andy in to see Dr. Harris.


I messaged Andy’s mum in England to let her know what was happening.


8 a.m. 


At 8 on the dot, I call Dr. Harris’ office. I tell the lady who answered the call, that Andy is a patient and that he’s likely had a stroke. She put me on hold, then a nurse in Dr. Harris’ office picks up the phone and says she heard that my husband had had a stroke. She curtly says there’s nothing that they can do. The doctor’s office doesn’t have the equipment needed and that we needed to go to the emergency room. I told her that EMS said to call them. Again, she curtly says that there’s nothing they can do. I was stunned and confused.


So, I go wake Andy up and say that we need to go to the emergency room. I tell him that I read that a TIA stroke can be a warning for a bigger stroke. He says he’s feeling fine… as if it’s not necessary to go to the emergency room. I tell him that he has no choice in the matter and that we were going to the emergency room and have every recommended test.


Emergency Room # 1 at WakeMed North


Andy gets dressed and we get in the car headed to the new WakeMed satellite location, WakeMed North, which is just a few miles from our house.


Amazingly, there’s no one waiting at the emergency room. Because Andy reported having had  a stroke, he bypassed triage and went straight to an exam room with a bed.


The emergency room personnel did all they could do — a chest x-ray, monitored his heart and checked his blood pressure. Their CT scanner was being upgraded and wouldn’t be available until noon. They also mentioned that Andy should have a MRI, but they don’t have the equipment there and at some point we would need to transfer over to the main WakeMed campus off of New Bern Avenue.


We were probably at the emergency room for 45 minutes or so, when Andy starts to get the second stroke. His right side started losing strength. The emergency room personnel realized they could no longer wait for equipment and dilly dally around. Andy needed to be transferred to the main WakeMed location immediately.


[Andy: Knowing that this was likely the full stroke after the 4 a.m. TIA scared me considerably.]


Three EMS people come into the room. I help them transfer Andy from the bed to their stretcher. They asked me if I knew how to get to WakeMed. I told them I have a rough idea, but I would just follow them. EMS told me that they would have the lights on the ambulance, so I wouldn’t be able to follow them. I knew things were serious, but part of me was hopeful that this second stroke would clear up quickly like the other one. But, when EMS said they would have the lights on, I was starting to grasp that something bigger, something serious was happening.


I kiss Andy and tell him I’ll meet him at WakeMed.


[Andy: I was actually a little alert for the ambulance ride. The EMT carried mental and physical tests throughout the ride. I could only see out of the back of the ambulance and while the sirens did not run continually, I could tell we were rushing with the lights on.]


As I’m leaving, a nurse tells me that she will be praying for us. Emotion comes over me. My eyes well up. There was no hiding my concern. On the way out, the receptionist who had checked us in encouraged me to have faith in God. I nodded in agreement.      


Emergency Room #2 at “big” WakeMed 


I don’t know how I was able to drive safely to WakeMed. I can only explain that God took over, protected me and gave me the presence of mind to drive. You know the Carrie Underwood song Jesus Take the Wheel? I may have experienced exactly that in real life.


After a bit of a wait, when I check in at the main WakeMed reception desk, they told me that Andy was in bay C25 and gave me permission to go to be with him.C25 was way in the back of the ER and across from what appeared to be a central command station.


Andy had just had a CT scan when I arrived. The only chair in the ER bay was thankfully right by Andy’s head so that I could easily try to comfort him.   


Andy was understandably frustrated and seemed scared. He wasn’t himself. He would struggle to try to lift his head, right arm and leg. I attempted to hide my concern while trying to calm him down. He likes having his head scratched, so that’s what I did. I kept reassuring him that we were in the right place to get him well again. He didn’t seem to understand why there wasn’t an instant cure. I tried to repeat what the nurses had told us — that there are different treatments to be used in different stroke circumstances. They needed to be certain they were going to use the correct treatment for his stroke.


Andy was rolled off for a MRI next.


[Andy: the MRI was my first ever. I had to remain so still, but the noise was terrible as they scanned my head.]


While he’s away, I email our neighborhood Bible study group, and notify our Sunday school class private Facebook group to let them know what’s going on. At this point, I felt it was necessary to post on Facebook that Andy has a stroke and asked my prayer warrior friends to pray for him. We needed the power of prayer.


We waited a bit for the MRI to be read. The nurse was able to pull up the images on a computer but said she wasn’t trained to officially read them. I didn’t know what was normal and what wasn’t but I could see there was a white patch on one side that wasn’t on the other side.


Next, we learn that a CTA scan was needed to see the blood vessels. So, Andy was rolled out for that. In the hallway, I hear someone say the words “helicopter” and “C25.” My imagination thinks that means we’re about to go to a treatment room somewhere else in the hospital and a new patient is arriving by helicopter and that person would be assigned to C25.   


While Andy’s CTA scan is being finished up, a ER doctor comes to C25 and tells me that Andy has a blockage in his brain and would need a surgery at Duke that had only been in existence for about a year. The doctor tells me he had talked to Dr. Swisher at Duke and she had accepted Andy as a patient. The doctor says he hears the helicopter landing and that it would be taking Andy to Duke. The doctor also mentions that if they had used the “clot buster” medication, it would have been fatal. Hearing the word fatal in the context of Andy made my heart sink.


I try to listen and absorb to what the doctor says, but it is difficult to process it all. I knew that it had to be serious that he was having to go to Duke by helicopter. I try to suppress emotion, but it bursts out anyway. I wipe away tears and get back on focus all while the doctor finishes explaining the scenario in a matter of fact tone.


I sat alone in bay C25 trying to process what I’d heard before Andy was briefly rolled back.


[Andy: I don’t remember any of the details of the conversations. I just remember being surrounded by so many doctors and nurses. I also remember being concerned for the worry and tears filling Sheila.]


The helicopter people arrive dressed in deep blue coverall uniforms that look like something a  NASA astronaut would wear. As they transfer Andy to their stretcher, they ask him if he gets motion sickness because it was a windy day and the ride would be bumpy. Thankfully, Andy doesn’t get motion sickness. [As it turned out, Andy said the helicopter team said that they might not be able to go because of the wind. Andy said take off was a little bumpy, but the ride was smooth. When Andy told me this a couple of weeks later, it made me think of Deuteronomy 31:8 “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” I also ponder what the angel scene may have been. Did Andy have an angel escort on his flight to Duke?]


In the emergency room hallway, I kiss Andy and say, “I’ll meet you there.” After I said that, I thought to myself that was too assumptive, but I hoped it would be true.


When I walked out of the ER entrance, I saw the helicopter. I also watched as they rolled Andy towards it. (I took a photo of Andy being rolled on a stretcher by the helicopter team.) Wow, I never thought we’d be in this situation.

[Andy: the helicopter ride was indeed quite smooth once we took off. We flew maybe a thousand feet or two and I was awake enough to view the terrain. It’s also where I remember being so paralyzed on my right side that I could only move my index finger a couple of inches and my foot from left to right. No other movement.]


Moving to Duke


I had previously been emailing and texting with people in our neighborhood Bible study group. Originally, it was to let them know that we wouldn’t be at Bible study that night because Andy was having a stroke. One sweet lady, Margie, told me that she felt strongly that God wanted her to be with me. She offered to drive me to Duke. At first I think this is a great idea, but I also don’t want to trouble her. As I get in my car, I decide I’m going to drive myself straight to Duke. I ask Siri to text my friend to tell her I’ve decided to drive myself. Margie calls and pleads with me not to drive. I’m on the Beltline, just at the exit where I would go home. At the last second, I take the exit. I relent and tell her that I’m coming home. She says she’ll meet me there.


Again, I don’t know how I was able to drive. God certainly guided and protected me.


While, I’m driving home, I phone my best friend, Toni, who was my college roommate. She is a believer and prayer warrior. I don’t like interrupting and imposing on friends, but this was a situation where I needed her. As I tell her that Andy has a stroke, I hardly even recognize my own trembling voice.


Our Sunday school teacher, Tim, texts me to find out what was happening. I don’t have time to reply to the text. At a stop light, I dial his number and tell him what’s going on. He says he’s going to Duke as soon as he can leave work. I’m really touched by his concern.


When I pull into the cul de sac, there’s my sweet friend, Margie, waiting in her car. I quickly go in the house, grab some transportable snacks and bottles of water. Margie has been in my shoes before as her husband has had a stroke in the past. She wisely tells me that I should bring Andy’s medications and a jacket for me to wear because hospitals are chilly, so I go back in the house and get those items.


Margie enters the Duke address in her GPS and we’re off. In the meantime, Andy has probably landed at Duke. 


While, we’re on the way, one of the Duke neurosurgeons, Dr. Gonzalez, calls me. Road noise, the occasional GPS voice instructions and a bit of an accent make the call difficult to hear and understand. Dr. Gonzales tells me that they can do surgery, but there are some risks of bleeding and something else, I can’t remember. He says the risks are not common (10 to 15% of the time)  but they are real. He says they can do surgery or do nothing. I don’t understand at the time why he’s telling me this. Why would they do nothing? He then says that he’s talked to Andy and while he’s not fully functioning, Andy has indicated he wants the surgery. At this point, I’m finally starting to gather that the purpose of the call was to get my permission for surgery. I say, yes, do it!

I found a great video created on the Wall Street Journal about a thrombectomy for ischemic strokes. It’s pretty amazing. In Andy’s case, he had two arteries to the brain blocked.

[Andy: I remember being in a couple of different rooms to be evaluated and reviewed by the doctor that performed surgery. I remember being anxious for them to operate. I prayed a lot during all of the pre-surgery transfers, evaluations, and scans. Right before being put to sleep, I remember telling God how much I love Him, how I wanted to pray for forgiveness for any sin I had failed to confess, and that if I were to die, I wanted to be with him. Shortly after, I was put under.]


At Duke


The helicopter team had instructed me to go to the Duke Emergency Room and get valet parking. (Yay for valet parking at the ER!) Margie and I go inside. The ER receptionist looks for Andy’s whereabouts. While we’re waiting, Margie hugs me (as if it’s a hug from Christ) and starts audibly praying right where we’re standing. I’m so touched by her care.


A gentleman comes out to meet us and walks with us to the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit waiting room. I ask the receptionist there for the status on Andy. She checks her computer and tells me he’s “enroute.” I’m not sure what this means. I assume it means from pre-op to op or something like that. That’s all she can tell me. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t thinking as clearly as normal. So, I go sit down where I can see the receptionist and she can see me for updates.


All while everything was evolving, I’m trying to keep Andy’s mum, my parents and friends informed. I’m getting phone calls, texts, messages from everywhere. A staff member, Larry, from church had heard the news and called me. He prays for Andy on the phone.  I really appreciate the prayers and concern. I do my best to keep everyone informed, but it is so very, very hard to do when when the calls, texts and messages are continuously flowing in.


Our Sunday school teacher, Tim, arrives and sits with me. As I interact with him and also with Margie, I almost feel like I’m having an out of body experience. I wonder how I’m even able to hold a conversation as my mind is stretched.


I go up a couple more times to the neurosciences ICU receptionist to find out what’s going on with Andy. Twice more she says, “He’s enroute.”  Finally, I ask her what she means by enroute. She says he’s coming to Duke from the other facility. What? I tell her that he was transported to Duke by helicopter and had been there for hours already. She then inquires further and simply tells me he’s in surgery. We are so grateful for the wonderful care at Duke, but I will say that given the seriousness of Andy’s situation, I’m really disappointed in this lack of communication.


Out of surgery and into neuroscience ICU


[Andy: Not entirely sure when, but I think it was post-surgery that I prayed to God that I would recover and be healed. I asked Him for just one thing: that He bless me with more decades to live so that I can love Sheila.]

I get a text from our worship leader, Mark, at church saying he was outside Andy’s room and where was I. I go to the receptionist again and say I’ve heard Andy was in a room. This point is all a blur. About ten minutes later, I get to go back to seen Andy in room 18. I rush back there as quickly as I can walk. (I would have run if I didn’t have a calf injury.)


When I walked in and he saw me, he smiled. Oh, I was so happy to see that smile again. I kissed him and held his hand for a moment.


[Andy: I remember this. It was an answer to prayer. My wife, my companion, my gift from God!]


Dr. Gonzalez comes in and starts performing some neurological tests. He asks Andy if he knows where he is. Andy’s reply didn’t really make sense. I was hoping that his confusion was attributed to the anesthesia.


Dr. Gonzalez had Andy do some strength tests. It was clear that his right side was not as strong as the left, but it was close. Andy complained that he felt weakness in his right arm. The doctor said, “When you arrived, you couldn’t even lift your right arm. You’ve made a big improvement.” The doctor tells me that two arteries were blocked and that he put a stent in his carotid artery.


Only two people were allowed to visit at a time. Margie and Tim took it in turns to visit with Andy and me. When Tim prayed for Andy. It was a brief prayer, but it was certainly a fervent, heartfelt prayer. That was another sweet moment.


[Andy: I have no recollection of my early recovery. For the first few hours, I would fall back to sleep often and barely remember who visited. I do remember being overwhelmed with love and happiness when I saw visitors.]


On to recovery

Andy had multiple wires and tubes connected to him. He had multiple IVs and solutions dripping to him. His heart and blood pressure were monitored.


Every fifteen minutes a nurse came in to conduct the neurological test. I recall one time when they asked him where he was and his answer was on a cruise. Ashamedly, I couldn’t help but laugh at such a preposterous response. I chalk it up to being mentally and emotionally exhausted. If this was a cruise, it was the worst cruise ever!


Sometimes during the neurological tests, Andy would say words that sounded intelligent but they weren’t the right words. Sometimes they weren’t real words at all. I was still hoping it was the anesthesia talking.


One part of these periodic tests was to get Andy to smile. He had some slight right-side drooping.

In between all the tests, Andy sleeps. Thankfully, my neighbor had warned me that stroke victims are really sleepy. This is probably the brain’s mechanism to try to heal and rewire itself. We are fearfully and wonderfully made! (Psalms 139:14)


A couple of guys from our Sunday school class came to visit. (Thank you Adam and Mark!) Andy smiles and says, “Hey buddy.” Then, he quickly falls back to sleep. Their presence was an encouragement to us both.




Texts, emails, phone calls, Facebook comments and private messages came flooding in. I was both overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and by the volume of it. I would reply to one and three more would come it. In between observing and taking care of Andy, speaking with visitors, interacting with his caregivers, etc, I couldn’t keep up. I needed three of me. If you are reading this and you sent a message that went unanswered, please know that we truly appreciate your concern. I did my best, but it was impossible to keep up.


Brain MRI


At around 10:30 p.m., Andy’s sweet nurse rolls his long bed to a MRI department. I walk along with them and try to help whenever I can.


[Andy: I hated this MRI. It was very noisy but also I felt very uncomfortable and claustrophobic – they seemed to do more than the first MRI.]


About an hour or so after Andy returned to his ICU room, a PA or doctor comes into the room and tells me she’s looked over the MRI. Andy has areas showing damage from lack of oxygen. She tells me, “We tell stroke patients and family that recovery takes weeks and months, not days.” I try to soak that in and set my expectations accordingly.


Through the night


Andy’s neurological tests were eventually stretched to every half hour and then every hour. On top of that were other checks, blood work, etc. He continued to sleep in between all the interruptions.


Thankfully there was an area that I could create a makeshift bed and position myself where I could keep an eye on Andy. I didn’t get a lot of sleep, but I was grateful for what I got.


Helicopters would come and go throughout the night. The sound of it would remind me of our situation.


In the middle of the night Andy needed to go to the bathroom. That was quite an ordeal to get him unhooked from all the wires and tubes just so he could walk seven or eight feet to the bathroom. I tried helping the nurse as much as I could. The nurse said his urine needed to be measured in a plastic urinal. To save Andy the embarrassment of a nurse helping him with the urinal, I helped with that part. (This is love, y’all. :-))


It was another ordeal to get Andy hooked back up to all the tubes and machines. At this point, my lack of rest, food and liquids hit me. My vision turned to static and I got lightheaded. I nearly fainted. This was a warning that I needed to eat and drink something. 


I asked the nurse how long she thought Andy would be in the hospital. She said at least until Monday.


Friday, a day of “remarkable recovery”


Our primary care doctor called me to check on Andy. She said that she didn’t know he had had a stroke until she got the notes from Duke. She said, “Given the severity of Andy’s stroke, he’s had a remarkable recovery.”


Dr. Gonzalez made his rounds as did Dr. Swisher. They both indicated that Andy’s recovery was impressive. Dr. Swisher told us that the surgery has only been in existence for two or three years and without it, Andy would have had permanent loss of using his right side. Wow!


With each neurological test, I could see improvements. He was gaining more and more strength and better able to grasp and use the right words. Based on the MRI report from late the previous night, I was not expecting such progress, but the Great Physician had different plans.The word that was used over and over again regarding Andy’s recovery was remarkable.

I am reminded of Ephesians 3:20 – “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,”


Interestingly, Andy seemed to revert to British-English versions of words from time to time. For example, he told a nurse that he just wanted to kip. The nurse looked bewildered. I told her that Andy is originally from England and kip is an English word for sleep.


A parade of caregivers came to Andy’s room that Friday — doctors, nurses, therapists, technicians, pharmacists, administrative, etc. In between it all, Andy slept.


We also had some visitors from our Sunday school class (thanks Jeff, Lou and Adam!) and from our neighborhood Bible study group (thank you Stephanie for bringing me lunch and dinner from Panera!) This was the body of Christ at work.


Both the occupational and speech therapists seemed impressed with Andy’s abilities.


Andy had a echocardiogram and a swallow test, both with good results.


After the swallow test, Andy was approved to eat and drink. A lunch was ordered. It was an unappetizing, plain hamburger and green beans. Andy only nibbled a bit.


By the late afternoon, some of the tubes could be unhooked.


By the end of the work day, all the tests to be done that day were complete, so I hitched a ride home with Adam from our Sunday school class. (Thank you Adam!) It was good to get a shower, brush my teeth and put on fresh clothes. After cleaning up, I immediately went back to Duke. This time, I drove myself.


When I got back to Andy’s room, his awesome friend and personal trainer, Perry, was there visiting. This was the most alert I had seen Andy since the start of this episode. Andy also said that our senior pastor, Brian, had been there and prayed for him.


[Andy: Again, so much love flowed through my heart at the sight and compassion of such wonderful visitors.]


Though I’d never wish to be in this situation again, it was incredible witnessing the power of prayer unfolding before my eyes. We had messages and comments from so many people saying that they were praying for Andy. My friends, Andy’s friends, family, members and staff from our church, friends of friends and practical strangers all lifted prayers. Some friends even bowed to their knees to pray. Some friends had even rallied their friends and church groups to pray. A Bible Study Fellowship group in Indiana prayed for Andy. A church in Texas prayed for Andy. Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Oh, yes, we found God’s wonderful mercy and grace in our time of need!


Moved to “step down”


Late Friday night, Andy had improved enough that he could move from intensive care to the stroke “step down” unit. Step down was just on the other side of the same floor. The rooms were almost identical.


Through the night


Andy’s call button wasn’t working initially. Thankfully, I was there to be his call button and help.


[Andy: my recovery improved dramatically and I would just disconnect all of the monitoring devices and go to the bathroom so fast, I would be back in bed before the nurse found out!]


With the exception of a heartburn flare up, a few checks and lab work, it was a relatively quiet night. Both of us were able to get a bit more sleep.



Andy got to sit upright on the side of his bed and have a small breakfast. He continued to improve. He had some lingering right side weakness and also some intermittent trouble finding the right words.


We got up for a walk around the unit. We took it slow and he didn’t have any problems.


Our Sunday school teacher came back for a visit and brought a class member, Ron, with him.


Overall, Andy was much more alert and able to hold conversations.


A physical therapist came to do her assessment. I could tell that Andy was trying really hard to impress her so that he could be a step closer to being discharged. He did really well through all the tests.


The doctor on duty came by for her neurological exam. She told him that he would need to stay until Monday when he could get a heart MRI because that department wasn’t open on the weekends. Andy pleaded with her for him to go home and to come back for the MRI the following week. Eventually, she and another doctor gave their okay for Andy to be discharged.


[Andy: it was so nice to walk out into the sun and fresh air. I was so glad to be going home so quickly. Duke’s staff have since referred to me as a “Walking Miracle.”]




After a quick trip to Costco to pick up Andy’s new medication and some easy to prepare meals, we drove home. It was so surreal but so good to be home.


Both exhausted, we went straight to bed for a nap in the middle of a bright, sunny afternoon.


[Andy: laying next to Sheila in our comfortable bed, holding hands, and drifting off to sleep was a blessing!]


What to expect from Protein Rich Plasma (PRP) treatment to the achilles

Wed, Apr 23, 2014


I’m writing this post to help others who may be considering or recovering from Protein Rich Plasma injections to the achilles tendon. I found very little information online that really prepared me for what I should expect. Hopefully by sharing my experience, others will be better informed.

Your achilles PRP treatment may vary from mine. I believe the severity of the injury may dictate the healing process.

Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions.

Day of the PRP injection

There was nothing I needed to do in preparation for the appointment.

A large vial (maybe 100 milliliter) of my blood was drawn and then taken to another room for the centrifuge. The vial was marked with my name to insure that I got my own plasma. Also, to prevent any mix up, only one (mine) PRP procedure was scheduled during my appointment hour.

The doctor inspected my achilles and used a marker to identify the scar tissue. He also injected the area with something to numb the ankle. The numbing injections were fairly painful. Two syringes of the numbing agent were used.

I had to wait about 15 minutes for the protein rich plasma to be spun in the centrifuge and collected for injection.

The protein rich plasma injections were not painful because the numbing agent did its work.

I was given a surgical boot and shown how to put it on. I was given instructions to wear the boot for two days. The nurse told me that normally patients were required to wear the boot for a full week. So, I was glad I only had to hobble around in the boot for two days.

I was not supposed to do any walking without the boot. That meant that even if I need to take a midnight trip to the bathroom, I was required to wear the boot. I didn’t have to wear the boot while sleeping.  I was instructed to rest as much as possible the rest of the day and to take it easy the following day. I had to have someone to drive me home from the treatment. Walking in the boot felt odd at first, but I became more comfortable walking in it.

When the numbing wore off about 2 hours later, I could feel some mild pain in my ankle. It wasn’t uncomfortable enough to want to take a OTC pain reliever. I later learned that taking any kind of  anti-inflammatory  painkiller — like aspirin, ibuprofen and Aleve — interferes with the healing process from the PRP injections. In a follow up appointment, the doctor told me not to take any painkiller for ankle pain. He said if I was having a headache or something of that nature and I needed a painkiller that it would be fine to take one.  I’m not certain, but I think that the inflammation caused by the PRP injection is needed for the healing process.

Advice for the day of treatment

  • Wear running sneakers to the appointment. I found that it was easier to walk in the boot when my “good” ankle was in a sneaker. The boot and running shoe height were close enough that it didn’t make me limp as much.
  • Wear pants or shorts that will either fit around a surgical boot or can be rolled up to the knee.
  • Bring something to read while you are waiting for the PRP spinning.
  • Bring a bag to carry your extra shoe home
  • Have someone to drive you home. They may also be needed to help you get in and out of the car.
  • Rest, rest and rest some more after the procedure.
  • Sleep with your boot in easy reach from your bed.

Days 2 – 3

Though the doctor told me to wear the boot for two days, I wanted to be extra cautious, so I wore the boot for one extra day. Based on my pain level, I tried to avoid taking stairs as much as possible.

Day 4

Day four was my first day without the surgical boot. I was instructed to wear a running sneaker at all times while I was up and about. My ankle was SORE. The first time walking on it in my sneakers was OUCH.

Days 5 – 6

My ankle continued to be sore, though I felt some improvement and increased mobility each day.

Day 7 

On the seventh day, the doctor examined my ankle and my progress. The doctor told me that it would take six weeks for my ankle to fully heal. I had unrealistically expected I’d be all better in just a few days.

I was told to continue wearing a running sneaker every day for two more weeks. The doctor told me that I could ease back into exercising in a week, which would be two weeks after the PRP injections. My main exercise choices are walking, tennis and BodyJam (Les Miles dance aerobics). The doctor told me to gently start with walking. He said that once I could walk for 3 miles without an issue that I could play tennis again. He told me not to do BodyJam because when you dance you are up on the ball of your feet a lot which in turn would put too much strain on my  achilles.

Days 8 – 9 

Still quite a bit of soreness.

Days 10 through 13

I experienced a significant reduction in pain. I was tempted to go walking for a little exercise, but I followed the doctors orders to wait.

 Approximately 11 weeks after the PRP Procedure

For a while it felt like my ankle had nearly healed. I had been able to do some extended walking without much if any soreness. At the doctor’s appointment 7 weeks after the procedure, the doctor told me that I could start adding more exercise in. He said I could play some tennis again. I took one lesson a week later and my ankle hasn’t stopped hurting since. it’s really disappointing. In fact, it seems like my ankle is hurting more frequently than before.  I have a follow up appointment with the doctor in about 3 weeks, but I may try to get back sooner.

To Be Continued



His grace is sufficient

Thu, Mar 6, 2014


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