What I Learn From Marty


Waco, Texas,
March 30
I am the chief caregiver for Marty, my wife of 30+ years. In our previous lives Marty was an Educational Psychologist, I was a call center manager. Marty has had two strokes since 2005 which have caused critical physical and cognitive deficits. We are both in our mid-50's and have two adult children. I would never confuse myself with a professional writer, I do this to document our journey and as an act of self discovery. This is what I have learned over the last years, this is our life.


Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 23, 2011 5:54PM

A Biting Response

Rate: 24 Flag

The act and art of physical therapy for a stroke patient should be part of any ongoing recovery strategy, it’s not, but it should be.  We have had the great good fortune to have a physical therapist visit our home twice a week for the last month.  Great and Wise thought it a good idea for Marty to work with a therapist to help with her overall strength, her flexibility and improve the use of her right arm, broken over a year ago.   

The therapist who is working with Marty is reasonably gentle, knowledgeable, relaxed and a good conversationalist, all important traits to do therapy with Marty.  The ability to hold a reasonable conversation is a must for me as I am always full of questions and pretty much always present, I have the need to supervise. 

Last week the therapist was dutifully stretching and taxing Marty’s right arm, the one she broke in March of 2010.  The therapist was supporting Marty’s right arm with her right hand while reaching across Marty with her left arm to pull Marty’s arm up and across the front of her body; thus stretching and taxing.  The break in Marty’s arm has healed but because of her general lack of strength and mobility its very stiff so the amount and the direction the therapist was moving it hurts, I could see it in Marty’s face. 

I sat across the breakfast table watching the process unfold; the therapist slowly moving Marty’s arm to the point where Marty would sort of grimace and the say “Quit it,” then back again.  Generally I accept and reasonably tolerate this sort of benign abuse of Marty; it really is causing pain for her a good cause.  I don’t like it but truly the means justify the end and I Marty knows that, most of the time. 

As I sat watching the process and making mental notes for when I would do what the therapist was doing I caught Marty’s eye just briefly and saw the flash in her eye, I saw that part of her that hates the lack of control in her new life start to surface.  I could see it before it happened as Marty said stop and grimaced each time the therapist moved Marty’s arm to the point of pain and each time she moved her own arm slowly in front of Marty’s face.  Marty’s eyes lit up, Marty’s brain engaged, old Marty started to resurface as she grimaced, as she felt helpless at stopping the pain, as she thought about her only way to get release from the pain and assert her control.

I started to say something but I was a bit slow on the uptick and before I could warn the therapist Marty reached over with her head and tried to clamp her teeth into the fleshy part of the therapist’ bicep.  I swear I could see it in Marty’s eyes before she did it, I could see in her face she going to put a stop to this nonsense in the only way she could.

The therapist stopped quickly, and pulled her arm out of harm’s way.  I said, “Marty, don’t you dare,” and the therapist retreated and the pain in Marty’s arm stopped, immediately, exactly what my diminished wife wanted to accomplish, stop hurting me.

Her response, biting the arm that was hurting her arm, was almost childlike; it was a way for her to gain control, a way for the person who had the least control to assert her will.  It was clearly a premeditated action; Marty knew exactly what she was doing, she planned it, she exerted control in the only way a person with limited physical capabilities can, she consciously used the tools, she had at hand, so to speak.  Marty has always, always used her mouth to control the outcome of events, she just never bit anyone before, she simply outtalked everyone.

There are times, moments, when Marty exerts control over her life, over her circumstances and says in her actions, “I’m done, quit damn it.”  Sometimes she just shuts down and won’t talk or won’t participate, she becomes passive aggressive.  There are other times when she’s simply had enough of being handled, of being poked, prodded, moved and hurt and she drops the whole passive part of that act.  The lesson learned is if you are going to push her that far, it’s best not present her with an option; she might just take a bite.


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I forgot to add that the physical therapist has a real sense of humor and was great about the whole thing, after she got over the initial shock...
It takes such a great amount of patience on both of your parts to get through these times...so glad your physical therapist understood. Not being able to have control is horrible, I saw it in my husband's eyes more than I care to remember. Thanks for sharing.
Another great moment in your lives recorded here for us all to learn from. I'm with Marty. Leave me alone at some point. The medical world can be so pushy. Just stop already and let's rest awhile. Nothing wrong with that.
This is a very understandable response on her part. To have to relinquish control is so hard for any of us. By the way, I think the neurologist will discover that I had a minor stroke some time ago. We'll see what he says at the end of the month...I have weakness on the right side and a little drooling on the right side of my mouth. If this is the case, I was not even aware that this occured...
We learn so much about Marty, you, the difficulties of life after stroke, and of partnering a stroke survivor. And we learn about ourselves. Thank you for this important series. You are both remarkable.
Like Buffy said, the patience of you both is remarkable. So glad the therapist had a sense of humor!!
so, do you discuss this with marty so that there may be a kinder outcome in the future? or maybe she got what she wanted, and nobody got hurt.
Boy am I with Marty. I know that this is a different set of circumstances, but with my daughter I have to regain control many times over the course of a day. And sometimes I wish I could bite her because I have had enough. I can however let her know with words. -R-
I can see it! What a wonderful connection you have with Marty. You are still so lucky...best to you both. Namaste.
We all have our limits.

I love Feisty Marty! : )
Ya gotta do what you gotta do, in any way that works! Glad the therapist understood.
I have just discovered your blog -- a wonderful gem with insights on what it means to be a caregiver! I was a caregiver for my dad through cancer and two strokes. What you say about Marty rings true and reminds me so much of what I experienced with my dad. Even after his strokes took away his ability to speak, there was still that spark that let us all know that he was still "there," that his condition had not robbed him entirely of his personality. Thank you for sharing your journey and Marty's as well!
Your story reminds me of my C-section 17 years ago. The anesthesiologist had to inject me in my spine. In preparation, the OB nurse offered me her hand which I promptly brought to my mouth and was about to clamp down when she yelled "Hey! No biting". I was mortified!
I cannot imagine giving up control, I just can't, so I know I can't fathom how Marty feels. I am happy she has you in her life, and you her, to share your lifes with us. To help us see...
And in that moment, your Marty was the Marty of the past,albeit in a slightly varied form. Thank you for sharing her spirit with us.
such a wonderful, reviting piece. I hung on every word. I can feel your love for her wife in every word of your posts. She is so lucky that she has you "always watching" I don't know how many therapists would have would have reacted with a backhand.
Congratulations to Marty, she is making progress in her ability to react and communicate. When we lose one ability, our body and mind can search for a way to adapt....the brain is so very complicated. If the therapist did not understand it would be very disappointing. Thanks for sharing this totally human story.
Great piece. Nice to see you on here. I'm not on as much as I used to, so I might miss your wonderful writing.
I appreciate reading about you and Marty's life journey together, such a different life than mine. So different than my time caring for my own family member who suffered from two strokes too.
Having that history, I appreciate Marty's bite even more.
I loved this: "Marty has always, always used her mouth to control the outcome of events, she just never bit anyone before, she simply outtalked everyone." A description only a loving spouse could deliver. As always, entertaining, enlightening and thought -provoking.