Reaching for the Keys: Available on Audio

My essay, “Reaching for the Keys,” about my experience taking the car keys away from my Alzheimer’s-afflicted father, is now available on audioA huge thank you goes out to Sarah Cronin, musician, sound/video engineer, performance artist, costume designer, writer, and more, who has kindly featured my piece (in my voice!) on her website.

“Reaching for the Keys” was previously published in issue 11 of Saranac Review.

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Herbal Support for a Traumatic Brain Injury

Are you in search of herbal support for a traumatic brain injury? While I am not an herbalist or naturopath, I’ve taken an interest in herbal remedies that might enhance my brain function. After attending this past year’s annual brain injury conference in Vermont, then seeing a naturopath to discuss herbal support for my  chronic fatigue, anxiety, and brain fog related to a TBI, here’s what I learned (*Many of the following have been part of my daily brain-building routine for a long time; others I have recently added, or increased the dosages of, under the supervision of my naturopath):

To reduce short and long term impacts of inflamation on brain tissue, herbalist Guido Mase recommends taking flavonoids like blueberries. One cup a day provides protection for all neurodegenerative disorders. The good new is this: heat does not damage the berries, and freezing them increases the bioavailability of flavonoids. (Thank goodness, because I have countless quart bags full of blueberries in my freezer.)

Curcumin, which comes from turmeric, is another flavonoid that has long been used as an anti-inflammatory; it is specifically used to treat TBIs. My naturopath recommended one TBS three times a day of turmeric, with pepper and some kind of fat to aid in absorption. FYI: it tastes terrible, so I often mix it with yogurt.

Essential fatty acids, like omega 3, help regulate what is called “pro-inflammatory signals” in the brain. Mase recommends 2,000 -4,000 mg of omega 3 oil daily, or three to five TBS of ground seeds. I currently take 4,000 mg a day (soft gels).

Among the more than 300 enzymatic processes in which Magnesium is involved, this powerhouse mineral supports cognitive function, strengthens memory, improves learning abilities, regulates mood, and reduces anxiety and depression (which often accompanies a TBI). I’ve been taking 400 mg a day for several months.

Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, has been linked to fatigue after a TBI. It also plays a role in immune health. Since I live in Vermont, where sunshine is much like a rare commodity, I’ve been taking 1,000 IU a day, but recently increased to 5,000 IU at the recommendation of my naturopath. While I’m told it’s difficult to overdose on Vitamin D, especially if you live in the Northeast, I encourage you to speak with your doctor/medical provider before rushing out to the pharmacy to purchase a 240-day supply.

For anxiety and insomnia: Lavela is a clinically studied lavender oil shown to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. I’ve been taking one before bedtime for a little more than two weeks; my naturopath says it takes about three weeks to notice any change.

GABA supplements: GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a transmitter that regulates communication between brain cells. It plays a large role in behavior, cognition, and the body’s response to stress. Studies have shown that when neurons become overexcited, GABA helps to alleviate the attendant anxiety. Decreased levels of GABA are linked to depression, sleep disorders, anxiety, and more. While I wait for the Lavela to take full effect, I take two GABA chewable tablets before bed each night.

Lion’s Mane: this mushroom is considered a “superfood” for the brain, nerves, and immune system, and has been found to induce what is called “nerve growth factor.” Taking Lion’s mane, consistently and in concentrated doses, helps improve memory, and has been used to treat mild cognitive impairment. My husband is a mushroom forager, so we (or I should say he) made our own tincture. Based on the recommendation of Guido Mase, I started taking 1 tsp three times a day back in October. The recipe my husband and I followed to make the tincture included taking a two week break after three months.

For more information on herbal supplements and TBI, go to Guido Mase’s twitter page and scroll down to his tweet from October 10, 2017: “Herbal Support for a Traumatic Brain Injury.”

* Please consult with your physician/medical provider before taking any of the above supplements. Again, this post is for informational purposes only.


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“Hi everyone, this is quite poignant! The writing style caught me at the first sentence and didn’t let go.”  ~Editor at Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.

In response to “After,” about Melissa’s experience as a nurse caring for conjoined twins.


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Conjoined Twins

Chang and Eng Bunker. Born 1811. Thailand.


One might wonder how conjoined twins manage to survive – physiologically, mentally, and emotionally – after surgical separation. While some sets of conjoined twins, for medical reasons, cannot be separated, as in the somewhat famous case of Brittany and Abby Hensel, since 1987 several have been successfully separated. In some cases, conjoined twins, who are old enough to make thoughtful choices, have refused to be separated. Lupita and Carmen Andrade, who were expected to live only three days after they were born, not only defied the odds, but are now living together, literally. Both refused the option to be separated. According to the Deccan Chroniclethe twins say “it would be like cutting them in half.”

The decision to surgically separate conjoined twins is not one to be taken lightly. Inevitably, ethics comes into play. The most urgent question of all: What if one twin must be sacrificed? Do we allow one twin to die to save the other? Which twin’s life matters more? The questions are endless, questions I can’t imagine having to face if I were the parent of conjoined twins.

You might be wondering why I’m writing about conjoined twins, why I’m sharing with you this extremely rare and mind-blowing phenomenon. I’m sharing all this with you because I cared for a set of conjoined twins as a neonatal intensive care nurse. Though decades have passed since I held all *fourteen pounds of sweetness in my arms, fed them, changed their diapers, and held my breath as I waited for the then eight-month-old twins to come out of the hours-long surgery, I’m still awestruck. So what does a writer do with all that awe? Naturally, she writes about it. Which is exactly what I have done in my essay, “After,” published today at Intima, a literary Journal dedicated to promoting the theory and practice of Narrative Medicine. Created in 2010 by graduate students in the Master of Science program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, Intima has featured writers in the literary and medical fields from around the world.

Thank you for reading “After,” and feel free to follow-up with thoughts, questions, and, of course, your own awestruck moments.


*fourteen pounds is a guesstimate.

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Memoir Dialogue

When writing memoir we’re expected to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, right? Blanket lying to readers is a definite no-no. For instance, I’ve never been to Abu Dhabi, so I can’t (or should not) write about the year I spent (did not spend) in this major cultural and commercial metropolis on coast of the Persian Gulf. But when writing memoir dialogue, it’s impossible to recall, say, the exact conversation you had with your grandmother just hours before she collapsed from a stroke twenty years ago, or precisely what your mother said to you when she dropped you off at school on your first day of kindergarten.

“We alter our memories just by remembering them,” says McGill University psychologist Alain Brunet. The more we recall a piece of dialogue, or event, the more we change it. So how do memoir writers stay as close to the truth as possible when writing dialogue? In every memoir workshop I’ve attended over the past eight years, that question has been the single, most urgent one asked by my writing peers. Dialogue is the brick-wall writers often fear scaling. It’s the aspect of memoir that can easily drive us to say, “Maybe I shouldn’t write this book after all.”

But, wait, if you’re working on a memoir, and considering giving up on it because you can’t seem to find a way over the dialogue wall, I’m here to spot you on your climb upward. This is what I learned about writing dialogue during a recent memoir retreat led by award winning authors Kate Moses and Elizabeth Cohen:

Unless you were blessed with the opportunity to record or write down every last word of the conversation you had with your grandmother twenty years ago, or happen to have had enough savvy as a kindergartner to crayon what I hope were your mother’s encouraging words, then you might want to try what is called the “subjunctive,” or “suggestive,” mode. In this case, you might preface the dialogue with “something like” or “as if.” You can also use “I imagine,” as in “I imagine my mother said, ‘Sweetie, you’ll be okay, I’ll be right here to pick you up …’”

The other option is to employ “representative” dialogue. For example, you might write, “Whenever I was afraid, my mother would assure me, ‘I’m here for you.’” It’s the word “would” which shows readers that your intention is to capture the sentiment of what your mother actually said. The dialogue does not have to be exact, as long as you convey the intended information: maybe it’s how comforted you felt knowing you could rely on your mother to protect you.

Use these strategies judiciously, though. Relying on them too often makes for an unwieldy narrative.

Another alternative is to announce, “I don’t remember what my mother said to me on my first day of kindergarten. All I know is that I was afraid.” Admitting you don’t remember makes you, the author, more credible.

If you’re looking for a good example of how an author recalls dialogue and scene from childhood, Kate and Elizabeth suggest reading Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.

Good luck!







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