Three Lame Dames in Wayne, Maine
We can’t make new “old friends”. Sometimes we make new friends and in short order they become as close as some of our old ones. This is especially true when we cross paths with other souls who have perspective about our journey.
I connected with Pamela in an online stroke support group about a year after I had a stroke at age 35. I was looking to find other people who had strokes in my age group. She was originally from the town in New Jersey where I was living at the time. She had a severe stroke when she was 36. We talked online at first. We had a rare, shared experience of becoming disabled in our thirties maybe a year before I reached out. We had so much to talk about such as how we were managing our condition and adjusting to the new reality of it. It was exactly what I was looking for in online support. She lived in Maine, and I was in New Jersey so it was a while before we met in person. But, since she was originally from my town, we did meet when she was in town visiting family. She met my kids and my husband. Pamela’s eyesight was affected by her stroke so she was unable to drive, and I was able to drive her around town. We very quickly felt as if we had known each other much longer.
Before she connected with me, Pamela had met Amelia, another stroke survivor in her thirties. Pamela was eager to introduce me to Amelia because we had the added common experience of having been pregnant at the time of our strokes. She lived in Virginia Beach, VA. Amelia had a complicated medical history that became more complicated during pregnancy which is what led to her having an ischemic stroke at 10 weeks gestation. I had a hemhorrhage at 26 weeks so there were these differences in our experience. I was mother to a 22 month old boy at the time of my stroke, where Amelia’s step children were already teenagers when it happened to her.
When Amelia first contacted me, she couldn’t believe my story. We both had to deal with being unable to walk properly and the loss of the use of our left arms at the time we gave birth. I had the added challenge of already having a 2 year old to take care of.
No 2 strokes are exactly alike, but the effects are often similar. Usually, the side of the body opposite the side of the brain where the clot or bleed occurred is initially paralyzed since the brain controls the body’s functions in a crossed way, meaning the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body and vice versa. Often there are changes to our ability to think such as our executive function which is being able to plan and carry out the activities of daily living. Sometimes the ability to speak is lost.
Pamela, Amelia and I spent a lot of time getting to know each other over the phone and through emails. We compared notes regarding our deficits. We all have a condition known as drop foot on our affected sides which is the inability to lift the foot while walking. Each of us used a bulky brace at first to help lift our foot. Pamela still uses a brace so many years later, lacking enough movement in her ankle to use an electronic muscle stimulator as Amelia and I have been able to do.
Amelia and I were affected on our left sides, Pamela on her right. I am the only one of the three of us lucky enough to retain use of my dominant hand. Amelia was left handed, and had to adapt to using her non dominant right hand. Pamela had a similar challenge losing use of her dominant right hand. We adapt quickly to using a non dominant hand for things such as eating, less well to handwriting.
Amelia traveled to Maine with her family soon after she connected with Pamela through the support group. They hit it off immediately upon meeting.
I remember deciding it was imperative that I meet another woman who had become disabled during pregnancy. With less than a year of recovery under my belt, I planned to fly to Virginia alone to meet Amelia. I was feeling like a major badass when I made this bold move. There was still so much to figure out about living with the disability, let alone how to travel with it. Amelia’s children warned her about meeting someone she had only known online and letting her stay in their home. Everyone knows this is a big no-no. We found this amusing. Amelia was a bit shocked that I would get on a plane by myself to visit with so little recovery behind me.
There were challenges associated with staying in unfamiliar surroundings. Amelia lives in a beautiful, contemporary multi level home. I figured if she could live there with her disability, I could figure it out for a few days. We were happy to just hang out together and talk for most of my stay. We shared all of the ways we had learned to deal with losing the use of one arm, managing our drop foot, and trying to keep a sense of humor about all of it. We could easily make fun of each other since we were dealing with the same situation. I think I stayed for five days after which we felt like sisters.
Amelia and I kept in nearly constant touch through copious emails detailing all aspects of our lives and our recovery. It became a truly supportive reationship like I originally sought by joining the online support group.
I maintained friendships with both Pamela and Amelia for many years. Amelia traveled to Pennsylvania with her family once to stay at my family vacation home with me and my family. Our husbands had the unique bond of having a wife who suffered a severe health crisis.
Pamela, Amelia and I developed amazing friendships but the three of us had yet to be in the same place at the same time. In 2016, we decided that needed to change. By then traveling on their own presented less of a challenge because they were much further along in their recoveries. They each booked a flight to New Jersey where I live. We held our first “Lame Dame Reunion” at my lake house in Pennsylvania. It was all about laughing, relaxing, eating, drinking, shopping, swimming, comparing notes and teaching each other the things we had figured out along the way. We had so much fun that we decided this had to be an annual event.
In 2017, the second annual Lame Dame Reunion was held at Amelia’s in Virgina Beach. It was a gathering beyond compare. None of us have friends like the Lame Dames beause if you aren’t lame, you don’t qualify by definition.
The third annual Lame Dame Reunion took place the fourth week in August, 2018 at Pamela’s sister’s lakeside cottage in Wayne, Maine.
The hike to the dock on the lake was tricky with steep, uneven paths and steps with no handrails. The weather was perfect the first day we were there so we wanted to sit on the dock. The walk down the hill started ambitiously. The paths were covered in wood chips that, while uneven, were relatively level. I think my friends are either braver than me, take more chances, or both. They were way ahead of me when I stopped on one especially dicey step in fear. Amelia turned around and asked me if I wanted help. It isn’t the blind leading the blind, but something similar. She started to walk back to help me, when suddenly and semmingly out of nowhere a man appeared on my left side to help me and Amelia down to the dock. It was Pamela’s father coming to check on us.
We spent a few hours chatting on the dock in sunny, warm weather. We had brought some snacks and drinks to hold us over until lunchtime. I took a lot of pictures of this rare gathering of friends. Pamela’s brother in law showed up just at the right time to help us walk back up the hill.
We met Pamela’s parents, brother-in-law, brother, boyfriend, and several friends. One morning, we lame dames “hiked” (limped) over to a neighbor who runs a cafe/bakery out of their home. Pamela’s parents joined us. The food was truly delicious and fresh. I had a fascinating conversation with Pamela’s father about how he came to be one of the original founders of the community college that I graduated from in 1983. The story went back to 1967.
Neither Amelia or I had ever seen where Pamela lives with her boyfriend in the remote woods of Monroe, Maine, more than an hour’s drive from Wayne where the rest of her family lives. Personally, I was a little surprised at the ruggedness of their home, but I’m sure it’s the love and care of the wonderful man she lives with that keeps her there. We were lucky to have dinner out at a harborside restaurant with Mark the night we made the trip to Monroe to see their home.
On our last night in Wayne, 6 of us piled into a 7 seat minivan to go out to dinner. Pamela’s parents are 84 years old, her brother is 6'7" tall, and the three of us are lame in our unique ways. There were several iterations and attempts to get everyone in the van with me being too short to climb up into the backseat, Pamela and Amelia trying to climb in on their weak sides unsuccessfully at first, and her brother being too tall to fit in the second row of seats. After several different arrangements and a lot of laughter, we all got in and on our way to a beautiful Italian restaurant.
I felt like part of the family with Pamela’s parents. Her mother told us a lot of stories about how she grew up. I ordered a pasta dish with fresh Maine lobster. We made sure we took plenty of photos of this special event, including some of just the three lame dames that will be framed and displayed near the others we framed from the first two lame dame reunions.
I can’t promise you will have an experience as rich as mine if you join a support group for whatever crisis you have been or are going through, but I would definitely recommend you give it a try and see what happens.
Thank you for reading. :)