I used to play Bluegrass music. I also used to play Klezmer music, Swing music, Cajun music, Folk music, Western Swing music and Dixieland music, but Bluegrass music was what got me started. On June 5th, 1976, I bought a bass, and by the weekend I had played several gigs, and I had blisters on my fingers. My day job was graphic arts, but I didn’t like that so much – the work was all right, but the people by-and-large were catty and backstabbers, mostly women. I was married to Tom Diamant and had two children, Matt and Rachel. Matt had just turned five and was going to start kindergarten. He was very smart and anti-social – he used to kick and hit a lot. Rachel was two and a half, just putting the finishing touches on her talking skills, a little emerging person, when “the event” happened. I’m calling it this because calling it “the event” is the understatement of the year, and before “the event” I was a very sarcastic person. Actually it was unconsciousness, three weeks of other people not knowing whether I was going to live or die, and then painfully slow coming back. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I was in Southern California, and I was on stage playing and singing when I had a cerebral hemorrhage, a bleeding stroke. Within ten minutes my right side was incapacitated and I could not talk. I was rushed to the hospital, had two brain operations, was in a coma for three weeks, came to being air-ambulanced to Kaiser Redwood City where I spent two weeks, was transferred to Kaiser Vallejo where I spent six weeks ‘being rehabilitated,’ and was finally sent home, then back down to Redwood City to have a portion of my skull replaced. All in all I spent about two and a half months in the hospital, and now am in a wheelchair or use a walker, and wear a brace. I am paralyzed on my right side, including my face, larynx, and some(?) of my internal organs. I also have some brain damage – stroke survivor’s problems: frequent crying, forgetting (short-term memory loss), getting confused when there is anything complicated happening or talked about, and so on.  I’m s-l-o-w-l-y getting better, but I’ll never be what I was.

After about two and a half years I started writing this work. I first remembered everything I could, which was only about five pages. I then had the brilliant idea that if I taped interviews with people, I would get more information and thereby more pages. I then went through many versions of the telling of this story – one a fabricated conversation made out of all the interviews that I had taped (which was a dismal failure). At each interview talking about the stroke made me remember things that I had not thought of before, so my work gradually got longer. The interviews and my thoughts don’t exactly go in any order, but I’ll start with my story/thoughts – it’s a wonder I started it at all. Actually, the stream-of-consciousness aspect to the work is fortuitous and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The people that I interviewed for this book are my family: Linda, my exnanny who is also a nurse, my dad Allen, and my exhusband Tom. I interviewed a couple of people from the Bluegrass band that I was playing in at the time of my stroke: Kathy, who was the band leader and played guitar, and Sally, who played the dobro. I interviewed Laurie, the leader of another band that I was in for a long time, and who knew me the best. I also interviewed Dr. Zweig, whom I refer to as the Bluegrass doctor, and various people who sent me e-mail about the event.  And then I had Claire Levine of Portland OR interview me, asking questions that she wanted to, I didn’t give much guidance, if any.

As to my physical health, I had no significant problems. I had had two kids, the youngest of whom was two and a half. I had a migraines about twice a year, the most significant of which I had when I was on the road with Kate Wolf. I had to miss the last gig with her because I was at U. Utah Phillips’ house writhing around in pain. I also had a condition that was called “erythema multiformae” which means occasionally I would get sores on various parts of my body that would itch like crazy. They would make ME crazy. The sores were also in my mouth, and these would hurt. Tom’s ex-business partner, Jeff, used to call it “my terracotta.” I had a Chinese herbalist whom I called Master Chiang to his face, but whom Tom and I called Mastercharge behind his back, he was so expensive. He said he would get rid of the sores once and for all, but in reality he just made them go away for a little while and then they’d come back. However, it beat taking prednisone, which was also a temporary solution, only prednisone also affected me emotionally, making me liable to fits of anger or crying, and it also made me gain weight.  But when I was pregnant, I wouldn’t take the predisone, which was why I went to Master Chiang.

Those were the extent of my physical problems on the day before my stroke. I don’t even think that the migraines were connected to the bleed – or if they were, the jury is still out.

Beth Weil

Last Modified May 25, 2009 @ 11:41 am
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