Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Family Emergency and Truck Repair (good news on both)

Location: Highway 509 RV Park (el 270 ft); Mansfield, Louisiana

Warning: There are no pictures in this post. Those who are looking for their picture fix for the day should seek it elsewhere. :) LOL Ut oh, I just posted a picture to the post. 

Today is day 47 since Brandon had his stroke. He continues to go to Physical Therapy/Occupational Therapy three days a week for two hours per day. Improvements in the range of his arm movement and grip strength is still being seen almost on a daily basis. Hopefully, the improvements will continue until 100% recovery is reached. But if it plateaus at a lesser percentage, then we will still be thankful for what will have been given back to him. He is capable of walking, albeit with a limp. He is able to drive himself and take care of all of his personal hygiene. While determined to improve physically, he is also just as determined to adapt to the situation. He is able to figure out solutions, using his current physical limitations (which improves daily), to accomplish any and all everyday tasks presented to him. I'm sure there are some people who have experienced similar situations that have given up and quit trying. I am super proud to say that Brandon isn't one of those people and I believe he is capable of helping others gain the type of determination and inner strength that he shows. I'm just not sure how to put them in touch with each other. All things happen for a reason, that may be one of the reasons. :)

One of the other reasons may have been to have me back in Louisiana when Freedom started having problems. My plans were to head to the Porcupine Mountains and Apostle Islands along Lake Superior until I received the call about Brandon. Those would have been some isolated places to have truck troubles. Instead, Freedom had troubles within 25 miles of the dealership where I bought her. They have been working on her for the last 8 days but I should pick her up this afternoon. They haven't conclusively found the problem but that is not unusual for electrical/electronic problems since they only happen now and then. But by searching the internet and using some of the Ford Forums, I think I found the solution for them and notified them of it yesterday. All Ford truck owners should pay attention to this part. There is a wiring harness connection for the main electrical/electronic parts of the truck and it is located very, very near the emergency/parking brake. 
That grey/black connection is the culprit.
The cable in the foreground is the
parking brake cable.
Since I've been traveling out west for the last several months, I've gotten in the habit of using the parking brake more and more. The vibration/pounding from releasing the brake seems to have loosened some of the pins in the connection. They are checking the connection to ensure everything is connected properly. Ford will be notified and hopefully, they will change the location for such and important connection. 

This is why my back up camera quit working for a day then corrected itself, why when I released the parking brake Freedom started after not starting prior to that, and why there were messages like "engine overtemp" when the engine was cold and "service advancetrac". All of these conditions were created by a loose or disconnected wire in that wiring harness. My confidence level is high that this is the problem but I will drive it around for several days before hitching Liberty up and hitting the road around the first of September. I've been in dry-dock so long that I may have forgotten how to hitch up. I hope I didn't throw away all of my check-lists :). I also need to decide where to go after hitching up. I want to be back down here the week before Thanksgiving which gives me about 10 weeks of traveling before coming back for a good family dinner. After that, longer travel plans will need to considered. I wasn't able to think seriously about travel plans until I knew Brandon was OK and Freedom was repaired. North, east, south or west,,,,,hmmm,,,,decisions, decisions. 

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya down the road. 


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Family Emergency (update 6). Good News, Good Visits, Bad News

Location: Highway 509 RV Park (El. 275 ft); Mansfield, Louisiana

Today is Day 39 since Brandon had his stroke. He is going to Physical/Occupational Therapy 6 hours per week. He supplements that official therapy with his own exercises and movements. Improvement is still being seen daily. An example of that improvement is 
this picture. I took it after a nice lunch with my two youngest children, X-wife and granddaughter.
Notice Brandon raising his right arm to give his niece, Olivia, a hug. Just a week ago, he could not raise it nearly as high. This lunch date was last Saturday (3 days ago). Since then he is able to get his arm above his head for the first time since the stroke.  
On the left is my daughter Brittanie, who is the mother of Olivia. On the right, is my son Brandon.

X-wife, Olivia and Me
My oldest son, who lives about 3 hours south of here, came up 2 weekends ago with his girlfriend to visit and mow the yard. I forgot to take any pictures. I'll make it a point to get some next time I see them. I would have mowed it, but I don't want to get in trouble with the "retiree's union". 

Brandon's improvement was the Good News.
Time with the family was the Good Visits. 

Now the Bad News:

Freedom is in the shop. Something is wrong with her electrical/electronic parts and the mechanics are trying to track it down. This situation is so bad that she puts herself in "limp mode" whenever it happens. Afterwards, she will only start intermittently. Last Saturday, while she was just parked, I tried starting her 4 times. She started on the 2nd and 4th time. 

I can't travel with an unreliable truck. If they cannot find out exactly what is exactly causing the problem and correct it, I will have no choice but to trade her off for another truck. The question then will be either another Ford or something else. I'm not partial to any particular brand and chose a Ford this last time because of the extended cab, the factory installed fifth wheel hitch prep and a couple other things. 

When traveling alone, some people get attached to their vehicles and RV's. Some people even name them, geeez. Not me of course (ignore the names on the header picture). But if I were one of those types, I could understand it. After all, Freedom, Liberty and I have been places where it was just us and no one else around for miles and miles. It is a comfortable feeling after hiking walking alone and getting back to the parking area to see Freedom the truck parked there just waiting. I'm tempted to say "with the light left on for me" but that would be silly,,,,, because that would just run the battery down. :) 

I really hope they can fix her.

I may be traveling again around the first part of September. Time and situation will tell.    

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya down the road.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Family Emergency (update 5) and Pics of Riding Around

Location: Highway 509 RV Park (el. 275); Mansfield, Louisiana

Today is Day 32 since Brandon's stroke. It is beginning to sound repetitive, but it is still true, he is improving daily. When people talked about going to physical or occupational therapy I used to immediately assume it was needed due to something not being right with the muscles. I was wrong (not totally, but mostly). I may still be wrong, but the following is my understanding of this situation. In Brandon's case, the therapy is to assist in re-establishing the connection between the brain and muscles. The muscles still know what to do but they aren't receiving the signals from the brain telling them what to do, such as walking, raising arm, etc. The remarkable, mostly misunderstood brain, is frantically re-wiring itself to avoid the places which were damaged by the stroke. Humans are fortunate that we only use a small part of our brain. Maybe God made portions of it as spare parts to be used in such a "re-wiring" situation like this. It seems a lot of the re-wiring happens at night during sleep. I guess that makes sense, because as some bodily systems slow down at night, that releases more resources for the brain to use in it's re-wiring work.

Specifically, Brandon is now able to walk anywhere by himself and is able to stand still for longer periods of time. That may sound minor, but just imagine the amount of work the brain and muscles do to keep you in balance while standing. As the doctors and PT's said, the leg and foot are coming along at a faster pace than the arm/hand. He is able to raise his hand up about half way to the elevation of a normal handshake. That is significantly more than just last week. He is able to grasp the hand of another person or a doorknob with enough force to twist the doorknob or grip a hand. This is way more than just a few days ago and is the part that is improving more rapidly each day. He is able to drive himself anywhere and is using his right foot to control the gas. That right foot was not able to even move a few weeks ago but is now able to move gently enough to control the amount of gas being given to the truck. The importance of this can not be overstated. It not only shows the amount of improvement in the leg/foot but also provides Brandon the freedom of being able to come and go as his own free-will dictates. That freedom helps heal the soul. To be restricted to one place and having to rely on others for your movements, etc has to wear on a person after a while. 

To add an exclamation point to his improvement and freedom: Brandon drove himself to Shreveport to return his wheelchair to the medical supply company. He relied on that wheelchair for his movements as little as 2 weeks ago. While in Shreveport, he dropped by the hospital to visit with the PT's and OT's that first worked with him in the days after his stroke. The last they saw of him was 3 weeks ago when he was still confined to the wheelchair and could only walk a little bit while using a walker and someone holding on. This time they saw him walk from the parking lot, through the hospital to the Physical Therapy department. Pretty good, uh? 

Brandon has maintained a mostly positive attitude throughout this whole ordeal. He has shown his family and friends the way a person should perform when dealt a bad hand in life. He has become an inspiration to many around him and some who barely know him. His determination and lack of self-pity is impressive to all. Yeah, I know, he's my son and I'm biased, but when it's the truth it isn't biased, right? 

I was able to drive around a little bit to get some pictures of the area. 

The pictures are of Smithport Lake, also know as Clear Lake.
It is located about 7 miles or so to the east of the campground. It looks much better than the last time I saw it. It is a man-made lake built in the 1950's (I think). 

At the time of construction, the lake was deeper, but due to excessive silt build-up and lack of dredging, it has become much more shallow. So shallow that it promoted the growth of vegetation that began to choke the lake. When it was at it's weakest, it was invaded by the Giant Salvinia plants which has killed many lakes in the south. I've been away for a while so I don't know what remediation was performed on the lake, but it appears to be working.

This picture is of the typical roadway in this part of the country. 
Northwest Louisiana
The trees grow so high on each side of the road that you can only see straight ahead, straight back or directly overhead. It is almost like driving through a tunnel. 
Northwest Montana

It is completely different than most places out west where you can see for unlimited distances in all directions.   

Ya'll take care of each other. Cya down the road. 


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Family Emergency (update 4) and Pictures of The Rock Chapel

Location: Highway 509 RV Park (El. 275 ft); Mansfield, Louisiana

It has been 25 days since Brandon had his stroke and he continues to improve daily. He can walk unassisted for any distance and his balance while standing is almost to 100%. It is amazing that any of us can stand still when you think about the amount of signals your brain has to tell your leg, foot and body just to maintain your balance. Every muscle, all the way down to the little ones in your toes, are receiving many signals per second to contract or release, just so we don't fall over. His arm and hand is coming along as well but at a slower pace, which was expected and is normal. He is now able to reach and turn the door knob with enough grip strength to open the door. That was impossible just a few days ago. The human body is a wondrous thing. God did a good job, uh? 
This is from last week. Olivia, (who has her Uncle Brandon wrapped around her little finger) got him to push her around in his wheelchair. 
This is again from last week. Olivia and Brandon being pushed by my daughter, Brittanie (Olivia's mother). Brandon didn't need the pushing, but Olivia liked it, so it was done.

Brandon is very hardheaded determined about getting better as soon as possible. He is being cheered along by a couple hundred friends and acquaintances on Facebook. Prayers are being sent up for him by many of those same people. I have seen a lot of great things around this country in my travels, and this is one of them. :)

I was able to drive around for a couple of hours the other day, so I acted as though I was new to the area and went exploring. I have seen almost everything in this area many times over, but this time I wanted to try to see it as if it was the first time. It's hard to do that, but I gave it a try.

First stop was the Rock Chapel. It is located in the town of Carmel, Louisiana which is the town just down the road from me. In the 1880's, a group of Carmelite Monks (yep, that is where the town name comes from) built a monastery in the wooded hills of Northwest Louisiana. A few years later, a group of Nuns showed up and built a convent and a school for girls. 
They all needed a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of monastic/convent living, so they decided to built a small chapel deeper in the woods. They used rocks from around the area for the walls and a couple French Monks painted frescoes on the walls and ceiling. 

When construction finished around 1891 they had created what was to be named, The Rock Chapel. Sadly, over the years, there were two major fires. 
The last fire, in 1904, completely destroyed the monastery, convent and school. Instead of rebuilding, the monks and nuns just left the area and were apparently transferred elsewhere. The only thing that remained was a cemetery and The Rock Chapel. 

Of course as the decades passed without a caretaker, the Chapel fell into disrepair and was nearly lost forever. In the early 1960's, some local people began a restoration campaign to bring the Rock Chapel back to life. They repaired the building, cleared some of the trees/underbrush and placed proper markers for the 6 graves of priests/monks located at the entrance to the building. 

They also asked a local artist, Miss Eugenie Manning, to reclaim the painted frescoes on the ceiling and walls. Using just small pieces of the original work as a guide, she did an excellent job and is remarkable to see. For the next decade or more, the Chapel was open to the public for all to see and enjoy. That changed when vandals started destroying the building and it's furnishings. Satanic symbols were being left around the place. Again, a group of locals cleaned it up and then, regrettably, locked it up. Heavy wooden doors with an iron gate was used to secure the building while a locked gate was placed across the access road about 1/2 mile from the chapel. 

I was very lucky when I dropped by there the other day in that the place was unlocked and I was the only one there. It is a very peaceful place and you could easily imagine the monks and nuns visiting. It is a place where you can refresh your soul.
From the Chapel looking back towards Freedom
Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.