Life After Brain Surgery

A week ago my family was all meeting up at a parking garage outside of University of Maryland Medical Center Baltimore, gathering our belongings necessary for the long day ahead, and rushing inside to get to where I needed to be by my 5:30 appt time. Sadly, the hospital sent us on a long run around until we finally landed right where we needed to be, but we got there. Tension was high among the group, of course. The nervousness in the air; palpable.

I was asked if I was ready, more times than a few. How do you answer that? How are you ever ready to risk leaving your family behind? How are you ever ready to risk not coming back to them the same as you left them? So I lied. I was ready, yes. I lied and said I was fine. I lied and said I was going to be okay. I was petrified.

Questions began, IV was started, prepping was moving at the speed of light, but I was still stuck. Lingering, waiting for my entire family to hug me all at once. What would be my last thing to say to each one of them? How do you decide that? You cannot scare the kids, Kristen. You cannot upset your sisters, Kris. And my God, don’t let my parents feel my fear.

Last night I was asked what I felt in those moments. What was it that I told myself to help me get through it and make the final decision to go through with it.

The answer is my life. I wanted my life back. The vibrant, exuberant, fly by the seat of her pants girl was gone. She was replaced long ago by a zombie of a woman that was barely surviving this world. She could no longer head out on grand adventures, planned or otherwise. She spent her days hardly able to make it up and down the stairs let alone to a school event with homemade brownies.

She couldn’t make it to concerts with her sisters anymore. She had to cancel plans with friends more times than a few. She couldn’t get outside and run around with her two sons anymore. Life as she knew it ceased to exist.

But this morning. 7 days after the scariest decision of her life, that girl woke up at 5 am without an alarm clock, went downstairs without a single creaking or aching bone (stairs are a different story), and made herself a cup of coffee. Do you realize how long it has been since that has happened? I won’t count the nights where sleep never happened and I got up at 5 to start a day after a night of no rest. I’m talking actually slept for hours, woke up, went down, and made my own damn coffee??

Let’s ask my little baristas when they wake. I bet ya it’s been a while.

Good morning, world. It’s good to be back.

Little Things

So yesterday I broke down several times. Surgery is one week away. So of course my nerves are a wreck. It’s normal. I’m told I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t worried. But let me explain why I broke down yesterday.

I was cooking more meals to freeze for the kids to have during my hospitalization and recovery. My oldest son was practicing his trumpet. (actually a 1956 coronet which is so bad ass) I decided to pick it up and wow him with some things. Ya see, I taught myself to play the trumpet when I was 10ish. Yep, picked one up and taught myself. I was incredibly talented. I say this not to brag, but just to say I am confident in that fact. My talent was passed to my kids, each knowing how to play but only my older son choosing to play. Anyway….

So I played a few scales, a little improv, and then it happened. The damn nerve in my face fired like crazy. Electrical shocks down my jaw. The hammering pain in my bones of my face. And reality hit me.

Even though I don’t play regularly, it is something I do enjoy. I love to just play and reminisce about my youth and my time in band, both concert and marching band. How I was chosen as a freshman in high school to play with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore band for commencement that year. How much I loved having solos during concerts. How I know it was something that made my parents proud. And it truly was a passion.

Now, I can’t play. And that devastates my heart. If they can’t fix my nerve disorder with this surgery I will not be able to play. Ever. A little thing with a huge impact.

My heart is hurting. My soul feels like it was a personal blow. She is weary. She is broken.

Little things can bring with them the misery of a thousand broken hearts.

Brain Mush

Hey guys. So I’m like 18 days away from brain surgery and my brain is just a mess. We already know my nerves are bad, hence the reason for the surgery. But lately, between the chronic pain, planning for surgery, and the fear and anxiety that go with it, my brain is total mush.

I get all these ideas of things to write, yet I never actually do it. I have note after note in my phone with ideas for blogs or poems or stories and there they sit, just in the note pad, not going anywhere, not being seen by anyone. Such a sad thought, huh.

So I promised myself today that I would post on my blog. That I would get back into writing, no matter how mundane and repetitive. I intended to keep everyone posted with like daily updates on my journey towards surgery. Obvs, that hasn’t happened. I have a hard enough time keeping up with my school work, the kids’ school work, and the household crap. Ugh.

Anyhow, so surgery is getting closer. I have been working on a plan for who will have the kids and who will help me at home once my hospital stay is over. That isn’t going well. This coming weekend I will be meal prepping probably 40 meals, just in case I am down for a while. Honestly, I thought part of being in a “close-knit” community meant I wouldn’t have to worry about such things during times like this, but it seems I don’t know the right people or something. So I’m just going to plan myself and make sure my kids are covered when I’m not able to cook for them. I mean, this is major surgery. I won’t bounce right back and be in the kitchen like June Cleaver the day after they slice into my skull. Right?

So meal prepping it is. Any ideas are greatly appreciated! You could comment here with suggestions!

For now, I’m going to write as many things as I can and see if I can get my creative juices flowing again through all this messed up crap in my head.

 

Death Will Find Us All

It is truly a sad time in my life right now. I am not writing this seeking pity or condolences. I am writing this because I have so much to say on the topic of death and how we don’t ever know when it will find us. Today, we buried a 56 year old grandmother. Three months ago, my 34 year old brother-in-law. My poor children (my daughter especially as this was her grandmother today) have seen so much death in their young years. And it makes me ache from deep within my soul.

I have a special place in my heart for children. And to see so many show up to Mrs. Audrey’s funeral today really broke my heart. But it also made me happy to see just how many children she mattered to. Just how many children she helped in so many ways. But that heartache, that grief, will follow these children. As much as we like to think that children are more resilient than us adults, we must recognize that they will forever hold these memories in their hearts, aching and not understanding why they had to endure it at such a young age. They will think, 20 years from now, back on this day and remember the tears and the sobs of those around them. They will remember just how much they loved Mrs. Audrey and all that she did for our little farm family. And for some of them, it will be their first memories of death.

That is truly heartbreaking. To think of how many children will most likely cry at our first horse show of the season. Shows where normally Mrs. Audrey would show up late, barreling up the dirt lane pulling a horse trailer, stopping at the porch to drop off the cooler full of ice for our food stand. The times we will laugh remembering those times and her heart of gold will be the only thing that gets many of us through the upcoming show season.

It is times like now that we reflect back on how we interacted with others. Did we show them enough appreciation? Did we let them know they were loved? I know that I thanked her many times over the years for her love for my daughter. She showed her love in many ways, never faltering, never failing. And my daughter will hold on to those memories forever. I know that I have raised my daughter well and she never let Audrey’s good deeds go unnoticed or unappreciated.

As I sat through the service listening to all of the things said about her, I could only hope that when my time comes, those same things are said of me. I hope that people note my strength and resilience, my love for my children and my family and friends. I hope that by the time death finds me, I have achieved all of my goals and watched my children reach theirs. Death finds us all, but will we be ready?

Kristen A. Ruchalski

Story Time: Grab a Seat 

Hi everyone. I would like to share my story with you. Some may call it bragging. But some may be inspired. Here goes nothing. 

At 17, I found out I was pregnant. Wow! I never expected to be a statistic. I never intended to let down my parents, embarrass my siblings, or shame my family. But there I was, barely attending school as it is was due to rebellious teenage ways, and pregnant. When I went to the guidance counselor in April of my senior year, he informed me that I could not come back and finish out the year. I would have to go back in September and complete another year. Due to give birth September 14th, I knew that wouldn’t work. So I took my fate and focused on getting ready to have a baby. 


September came, and my world changed. On the day when the world mourned the lives lost in the terror attacks in NY, DC, and PA, I became a mom to a beautiful little girl. Boy did I have to grow up fast! A year after her birth, I took my father up on the offer to pay for the GED test. I passed with no problems. I wasn’t stupid, not by any stretch of the imagination. I was a teen who rebelled against tough times and tough authority and made poor choices in the process. But stupid, I was not. 

A few months after getting my diploma, I started community college. I did amazingly well! But a few semesters in, I was raising my little girl alone and work became priority. I had to stop attending college. 

And then, 4 and a half years after my first child, I gave birth to a chunky little boy! But a few months after his birth, I found that I still had not learned my lesson about men and bad choices. His donor was a drug addict who abused me and threatened to kill him. But I was strong enough to know that I needed to get far, far away. I did. I also enrolled in college again and continued working on my degree. 

17 months after chunky monkey was born, I gave birth to another son. His dad and I did all we could to raise all 3 kids in a happy, healthy environment. But we were young and it didn’t last. We currently co-parent. And it works for us. As has the co-parenting with my daughter’s father (mostly). Don’t worry, chunky monkey knows his background, and he loves the dad that has been and continues to raise him. 

5 years ago, when the boy’s dad and I split, I lived in my sister’s attic. 3 kids, me, and what personal belongings we could fit, spent a year living in my sister’s loft style, finished attic. Though it was cramped, we had love. I had the support of my sister and her strength to learn from. 

All was going fine. I was able to get my own place about a year later and began building a life for my kids. I decided that finishing my degree would be the only way to do that. Considering I was raising 3 kids and working full time, online college would be the best option. 

So I researched different schools, applied to a few, and determined which university would best fit my life and my long term goals. I chose my university and got started. Many people said I would never finish. That I would drop out just like I have in the past. 

Well I didn’t. I pushed myself through days without sleep, nights of research and discussion posts, and weekends of fine tuning academic papers. I was determined by the pride I saw in my children’s eyes. I was motivated by their wishes for a bigger house with a private yard. I worked my brain to the point of exhaustion. My body ran on coffee and dreams! 
This past weekend, our dreams became a solidified reality. The first step towards the life we want was recognized. With my family there, I walked the stage at my commencement ceremony. Not only did I finally earn my bachelor’s degree, I earned it with honors. Out of 271 bachelor’s candidates, only 12 earned honors recognition. I was one of those 12. I earned my BS in Psychology with a 3.97 GPA. 


I know my family was proud to see that up on the big screen. But I had no idea that the emotions my children felt were so strong until after the ceremony. When I exited the building and searched for their faces through the crowd, I became discouraged when I didn’t see them exit. I began to walk to find them when my Dad found me in the crowd. He informed me that everyone was waiting out back for me and to hurry!  

As I turned the corner, my children ran to me with open arms and tears streaming down their beautiful faces. My Dad was able to snap a few candid moments. Here is my favorite. 


Nothing was more powerful than those moments when my children held me tight, crying, and offering up their congratulations. They stated how proud they were and how happy they were to see me on that stage. I still cannot look at the pictures without crying. I told everyone I would finish this time. And I did it! With honors. 

~Kristen 

Good Morning

The days pass, and I still find myself without the right words to share. I feel like I’ve lost my vision for my writing. It used to come so easy, now it’s not the same. I have a million ideas; none of which match what I used to write. 


I have not had the time I would like to have to work on my novel. College studies take up so much time. Kids take up a lot more! Lol. And now I’ve had ideas for a series here on my blog. 

Most of us are people watchers. I think it’s rather natural. As I watch the interactions of the people around me, I often try to imagine the background stories, the current situation, and what the future will bring. Do you? 

My birthday is in a few days, and graduation on a few weeks. I feel that I have changed as a person, thus changing as a writer. I used to share just poetry and a few bits of my novel. I pretty much had a theme. That’s all changing. 

This blog will be changing to a collection of whatever thoughts I have that day. It may be political rants, poetry, short stories, mom stories, funny things, sad things, etc. 

I hope you will stick around. And I hope you understand the reasons for the shift. 

~Kristen

Twenty Years

Twenty years ago, my world turned upside down. It’s seems so strange to say something happened to me twenty years ago. Man I feel old.

Twenty years ago the world lost a beautiful person. A son, brother, nephew, cousin, friend. His adorable smile could charm anyone. His eyes, like heaven’s stars, could light up any room. He was a mysteriously, complicated person. One who seemed to have it all together. He had plans, goals, and dreams. One of which, was the car he was planning to buy when he turned 16. Too bad he passed away 4 months before his birthday. But I still remember how he would talk about that car.

I remember the night we lost him. And the weeks leading up to his death. And I know that those events forever changed the person I was meant to be. His death made me who I am. As the years pass, I mourn for him in different ways. Initially, of course, it was mourning the loss of my friend/boyfriend (I was 13, he was 15, what do you call that?)

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Now as an adult, I mourn for the younger me who had to deal with that at such a young age. I mourn for the man he would have become. I mourn for all of us who knew him and loved him so deeply. As a parent, I mourn even more for his parents, knowing I could never imagine the pain they felt during that time and even still.  My oldest child is now 15, the same age he was when he was taken from this world. I cannot even begin to fathom losing a child.

I have talked about him often over the years with friends, family, and even strangers. His death was caused by something so stupid, yet so typical of the age group. The teen years are full of exploration and experimentation. I get that. But losing someone because of curiosity and the need to fill some time, well that’s just unfair. I have used his death as a lesson for my own children, warning them of the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and especially “huffing”.

If you don’t know what huffing is or how negatively it can impact your life, please do some research. Huffing is inhaling chemicals to get high. In this case, gasoline. Can you imagine gasoline being the last thing you smell in this world? Gasoline is something we all need regularly in order to get around in our vehicles, run our lawn mowers, etc. Can you imagine how that smell has impacted all of us who loved him? Can you imagine filling up your gas tank knowing that something you need is the same thing that wrecked your world?

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. Considering it’s the twentieth anniversary of his death, I decided it’s time to take my children to his grave. Over the years they have heard all about him, especially during lectures. But I feel now is the time to finally solidify the lessons. Seeing his headstone will surely have an impact. (And NO, I am not looking for opinions on that topic).

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When I say this event changed my world, that is no exaggeration. For a long time, I wanted to die too. I wanted to join him wherever he went after this life. I no longer wanted to live knowing that he would never come back. After his death, I began writing. As soon as I find those journals full of poetry, I will share them with you all here. Until then, warn others in your life of the dangers of huffing. And when you hug your children, hug them much tighter than the last time.

I have no idea what path my life may have taken if he had not died. Would we have been high school sweethearts who would have later married and had the perfect, picket fence life? Or would we have had a nasty, knock down, drag out break up after prom? Who knows? But I know that I would prefer that either of those had happened rather than what actually did happen. Even if we had lost touch and ended up hating each other, I would still rather that he be alive and not buried in the cold, hard ground.

I will miss him every single day for the rest of my life. But my belief that I will see him again one day keeps him in my heart. I hope that he is proud of who I’ve become and I like to think he’s smiling down on me.

Until we meet again, Brooks, you are forever in my heart.

~Kristen