GUNTOWN – Many people call Polly Patterson a special person for the extraordinary care she gives her son, Michael.
For the past 20 years Polly has been Michael’s caregiver, making it possible for him to participate fully in the life of the family and enjoy a high quality of life, despite an illness that left him with no ability to speak or move on his own.
For her tireless and loving efforts, Polly Patterson was named the 2009 Caregiver of the Year by the North Mississippi Medical Center Home Health Agency.
“Michael’s nurse nominated me,” Polly said. “She comes out of the Ripley office and first I won for that office, then for the whole agency. I just hope someone who reads this can get the benefit of knowing how your family changes when something like this happens to a family.”
Karon Crowley of Tupelo, Michael’s older sister, said no one could be more deserving of the honor than her mother.
“We’re excited for her,” Crowley said. “She’s always done it with such a generous heart and gives so much of herself behind the scenes that no one will every know.”
When his illness struck Michael was the divorced father of a 3-year-old daughter, Emily. She remained an integral part of his life and is preparing to complete a business management program at Itawamba Community College.
Through almost seven years of weekly visits to the Patterson home as home health nurse, Sandra Stanton said she has never seen anyone more devoted and supportive than Polly is to Michael.
“She is absolutely awesome at taking care of Michael,” Stanton said. “She is so creative and comes up with inventions to make life easier for him, like the pillows she uses to cushion him. It’s not unusual for someone who sits as he does to experience skin breakdown. In all the years I’ve worked with them Michael has only had one bed sore, and that was when he was at a rehab hospital.”
Winds of change
The event that changed the Patterson family happened on Nov. 27, 1989.
It began as any other day, with Polly at her job at Bassett Furniture, working in the product development center helping to create new patterns and styles of furniture.
Her husband, Bobby Patterson, was in Fulton when he learned of Michael’s collapse.
And 24-year-old Michael had gone to his job as a line supervisor at Barclay Furniture in Sherman. His coworkers told his family how the day unfolded.
“Before the work day started Michael would go into a little room they had and sit down on a couch talking and joking with everybody,” Polly said. “As usual, when the bell rang to start work he jumped over the back of the couch and went out into the plant, going up and down both of his lines speaking to everybody.
“A little later he told one of the guys he didn’t feel so good and was going to the bathroom. When he didn’t come back after a while, they went to check on him and found him unconscious just inside the door. They couldn’t revive him and called the paramedics.”
At North Mississippi Medical Center the family was told Michael had suffered a brain hemorrhage due to an arteriovenous malformation – AVM – of the brain.
It is the same condition that author Jill Bolte Taylor suffered at age 37 when she was a brain researcher at Harvard University. She described the condition in simple layman’s terms in her book “My Stroke of Insight.”
“An AVM is a rare form of hemorrhagic stroke,” Taylor writes. “It is a congenital disorder whereby an individual is born with an abnormal arterial configuration. Normally the heart pumps blood through arteries with high pressure, while blood is retrieved through veins which are low pressure. A capillary bed acts as a buffering system or neutral zone between the high-pressure arteries and the low-pressure veins.
“In the case of the AVM, an artery is directly connected to a vein with no buffering capillary bed in between. Over time, the vein can no longer handle the high pressure from the artery and the connection between the artery and vein is broken – spilling blood into the brain. Although the AVM accounts for only 2 percent of all hemorrhagic strokes, it is the most common form of stroke that strikes people during their prime years of life, ages 25-45.”
Author Taylor’s AVM affected only the left hemisphere of her brain, and over eight arduous years she was able to make a full recovery.
However, in Michael’s case the AVM happened in the middle of his brain, his mother said, so every part of his body was affected, robbing him of his ability to speak and all of his motor skills.
“Even though he can’t talk he can still make himself understood,” Polly said. “His brain is still as sharp as it ever was.”
Through the years the Patterson household has developed a daily routine.
Polly and Bobby Patterson share in Michael’s physical care, getting him out of bed, dressed for the day, and seated in his favorite recliner in front of a widescreen television.
Polly’s brother, Danny Johnson, lives nearby and also helps when Bobby Patterson must be away.
“He likes to go to bed late at night and wakes up late,” Polly said. “He loves his television and sits in his chair watching his shows, mostly sports. If you don’t want to watch what he likes, you just have to go out of the room. He eats his lunch – likes a Subway sandwich every day – then likes a little quiet time in the afternoon for a short nap.”
One of Michael’s favorite outings is going to one of the local auctions, where Polly said he is able to raise his hand to do his own bidding.
“I have a little grandbaby and he likes to buy things for her,” Polly said. “Everybody loves him there, and it’s something he enjoys that keeps his mind active.”
It’s not unusual after a trip to the doctor’s office to make a stop at Walmart for a little shopping, another of Michael’s favorite ventures.
“We used to stay in during the winter and bad weather, but the doctor told us not to keep him confined,” Polly said. “If he gets sick – a cold or upper respiratory infection – we get him well and keep going. Whatever the weather we get out.”
As a devoted Mississippi State sports fan, Michael and Stanton – an Ole Miss fan – have a friendly rivalry going on.
“During the Egg Bowl he had his mom call me to see if I was watching the game so he could gloat,” Stanton said. “A few years ago I took a picture of us together and put it in an Ole Miss frame, and it sits in his room.”
Regrets? A few, Michael’s sister said.
“The main thing with a head injury is getting the person to a good rehab facility,” Crowley said. “In Michael’s case they said if we had started rehab sooner he might have been able to walk with a cane. By the time he got to that facility he had lain in bed so long that some of his bones had calcified. Unfortunately, 20 years ago hospitals didn’t have rehab as advanced as they do now.”
Taking life on it’s own terms, however, Polly has kept her focus on “always trying to make sure he’s provided with all the things that make life happy and easy.”
Polly Patterson is a model for people who must provide care to a disabled individual, nurse Stanton said: “She doesn’t let anything about the situation get her down. She rearranged her life as she needed to, and goes on from there.”
Contact Lena Mitchell at 287-9822 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Lena Mitchel/NEMS Daily Journal