Preface: Broke my neck November 5, 2014, and two days later, wore a Halo. Began immediately looking on the Internet for advice — on sleeping, washing hair, balancing, etc. Found little or no advice. This is written to help others who all of a sudden have a cage on their head.
For a glimpse of pre-Halo Renie, see the other article on this Site entitled “Recipe for Life”
***LIFE CAN CHANGE IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE***
After 55 years of marriage, divorce was finalized in January 2014. As I was living by myself for the first time in my life, I “Renie-fied” the house and filled my life with the people and things that bring me joy. Organization of all three attics was done in the winter and spring of 2014. In the heat of summer and early fall, my extensive culinary library was reorganized — you have to see it to believe it! I was half-finished when another life-changing event occurred.
Up until November 5, 2014, my life was traveling for business and pleasure, seeing old friends and making new ones, writing, redoing the house, creating recipes, and teaching culinary arts and the delights of wine.
I came home November 2, 2014, after five wonderful days in Boston for Les Dames d’Escoffier’s International Conference. It was a joy to see friends in food, fine beverages, and hospitality from all over the country, Canada, and London.
On Monday, November 3rd, life began back in Fort Worth with the usual pleasures in my life…..maintenance of the house, car to the shop, changing bulbs to LED. Little did I know that this week would prove to be a life changer for me.
Tuesday, November 4th, I had a pedi/mani with Rhonda Lewis who comes from Shreveport.
On November 5th, the day of the accident, I made my first entry in my wine book #131. It was lunch at Ellerbes with Cyril and Blakesly Chappellet of Chappellet Vineyards. What wonderful wines!
That evening began with a hard hat opening of new Cliburn offices downtown on Main Street. Walked to Bass Hall to see a 2013 Cliburn documentary with Keith Crow and Cindy and Terry Snider. I hosted Nikita Mndoyants in May/June 2013 for the Cliburn International Piano Competition. Since he was one the six finalists, I knew he would appear in the documentary several times. Did not have even a glass of wine because I was driving myself. Was home by 9:30.
Got ready for bed. Decided to come downstairs for a ginger crisp cookie about 11 pm. Came down the front stairs wearing open-toed slippers (a soft flip-flop style) which I’ve decided were the culprit. Fell head over heels 10 feet landing on the entry hall floor. I did not black out, but could not get up immediately. Knew what happened because I told John Burk by telephone that I fell and then scooted back up the backstairs, up the common stairway, and down the hall to the bedroom. Must have been in shock. Got in bed, phoned the Burks and said I had a little fall but was fine and was going to sleep. John said I will have the telephone right by my ear. Call if you need to. Stephanie was in the background saying they should come over here, but I said I was going to sleep. We agreed I would call if I needed them.
Woke up at 4:40 am and needed to go the bathroom. Put my legs over the side of the bed and knew I was in trouble. I felt so woozy and weird. Because of a very deep bruise on my right knee, crawling was impossible so I scooted into the bathroom like a baby. With great effort and by piling bathroom rugs, I got on the toilet and said, Thank you, Lord. Then scooted back to the bed.
I called the Burks and told them I was in deep, dark trouble. John said, “be there in 20 minutes, Don’t move!” I laughed to myself.
Burks arrived in two cars. Stephanie had her needlepoint knowing we might be at the hospital for a while. John called 911 and gave all the necessary jargon. Within five to six minutes, I had seven of the neatest, nicest-looking, best dressed young men in my bedroom. All had perfectly combed hair, shirts tucked in, and concern on their faces. Stephanie said I kept apologizing for not being able to get up and make them coffee. Southern girl tried and true. Four were EMTs and three brought the fire truck. They didn’t have a pedi collar, so put me in a regular too-large collar and on a very cold board and got me downstairs and into the ambulance. I started laughing as we got to Camp Bowie and bounced toward Harris downtown.
Called my assistant, Christi Schmidt. Told her I fell and could not move, but stressed I could move but would not move. Was making jokes and fully cognizant. To be honest, I remember very little of my hospitalization except images of wonderful friends lining the walls. As John Burk told me, nothwithstanding the trauma experienced, I was on a combination of medications for pain and muscle spasms. They were keeping me extremely relaxed because they did not want me to move at all. Family saw to it that I was never alone in the hospital.
The official diagnosis was that I had broken C1 and C2 (along with cracked ribs and multiple contusions). Based on logs kept by Stephanie and my medical records, I know the decision to get the Halo was made on Thursday the 6th. A technician came in to measure me for a Halo, immediately known as “The Beast.” It was screwed into my skull at 2 pm on November 7. They did the “installation” right in Trauma ICU. Stephanie and John were sent to the waiting room while the Halo was put on. Have been told I was somewhat sedated but afterwards, I told Stephanie about hearing many unpleasant sounds during the installation, mainly a hammering noise.
My torso was encased in a hard shell “vest” lined with sheep’s wool. Despite giant black buckles over the shoulders and at each side of the waist, those were simply to adjust to the size of the individual wearer. The straps were bolted into place. The “vest” was topped with four poles screwed into my skull, secured by a metal piece across my forehead. My head was essentially frozen. One surprising aspect was that I had tools attached to the chest of the Beast. They were to assist anyone who had to remove the Beast quickly in an emergency.
After the Beast was put on, lying down left a big air pocket in back of my neck. We tried a dozen ways to fill the negative space so I could sleep comfortably while on my back. Was initially given a foam insert, but it was not overly comfortable. Stephanie put a hot pink polyester (felt like silk) nightgown behind my neck, and I found that comforting for a few weeks. Discovering the use of an airline neck pillow was brilliant. Slept without problems after I started using that along with weaving the hot pink silky gown around the pillow. Happiness is finding a comfort zone!
Dori Boone Constantino brought Stephanie a large desktop calendar where she could put essential information to keep an accurate record of needs, events, caregivers, and so forth.
I was in Trauma ICU for two nights and transferred to a regular hospital room on Saturday, November 8, then transferred to Texas Health Rehabilitation on 11-11-14. Do vaguely remember seeing dear friends at the end of my hospital bed, and it warmed my heart greatly.
Had some hallucinations caused by medications that weren’t a good match, so I needed someone with me 24/7. My son, Sterling Thomas, took the night shift when Stephanie would go home to rest.
Rehab was a huge blessing in every way. Dr. Bixler, head of Rehab, had magical ways of encouraging patients. The therapists began to give me life skills I would need to move around safely like using a walker, getting in an out of the bathroom, and such. This was the beginning of not being able to look left, right, or down, which continues today.
My eyes gave me trouble reading, even in Rehab. It was scary but resolved itself.
Moved to John and Stephanie’s on Thanksgiving Day 11-27-14. John brought me home in his truck. Leaving Rehab was my first hoist into a vehicle. We stopped at CVS on the way. Arriving at the Burks, I was lifted up the front steps. So wonderful to be in a home! and have Thanksgiving with family and friends.
The stream of wonderful caregivers began in Rehab and continued at the Burks. It was terrific to go to a place where I had no responsibilities and could concentrate on gaining strength. Mastered the walker by making the trek between the house and Stephanie’s art studio next door. Ate well.
One of the biggest challenges in the beginning to swallow large pills. We tried several methods including crushing the three or four largest ones because I could not do the natural movement of throwing my head back to swallow. Cutting pills in half didn’t work because cut pills have sharp edges adding discomfort to swallowing. Even putting pills in apple sauce, honey, or ice cream was still difficult when you can’t throw your head back. John Burk talked me through some scary moments of pill swallowing.
Moved home to Thomas Place on 12-11-14.
On Christmas Day, after spending the night at the Burks, Stephanie, grandson Jonathan, and I took a large chocolate cake and 20 boxes of of four large petit fours per box to Texas Health Care Rehab with “Thank You from Renie.” Dr. Bixler was there. I grabbed his arms and did a slow do-si-do.
Emphasize a support system in healing — Fifty percent of my healing is thanks to the best support system ever. Not only family and friends, but caregivers, nurses, PT and OT professionals, and a caring and incredible group of doctors are responsible for the stable shape I am in today. Opening cards, letters (received a couple from people that I didn’t even think liked me!), gifts, photos, flowers, food, books, magazines, soft blankets, disabled assistance gadgets, and best of all, the caring look in people’s eyes, the firm squeeze of a hand, a kiss on the cheek, and words of support — all good!
* Attitude Adjustment – Subconsciously I know that people don’t like to be around downers. I love people and was not going in the closet and have a pity party. In rehab, friends would bring lunch or dinner.We would ‘wheel’ down to a lovely room with big windows, visit, laugh, and tell stories. It was especially nice to see children and fun to explain the Halo, known as The Beast, that was screwed into my skull to keep my head totally frozen in place. I can remember often bending at the waist and not realizing that I was that near a table or other piece of furniture. The poles on the Halo would wham it. Didn’t hurt me but I sure was startled! Secret is smile a lot! It makes people know you are comfortable with yourself. That makes them happy for you. As soon as you are able, smile at every given opportunity.
* Stephanie and John or rather Saint Stephanie and Saint John were my advocates from the very beginning. Don’t ever let someone you love be in a hospital or rehab without advocating for them. I was in no condition to do that for myself. Even now I often ask questions of them such as was there an alternate to the Halo or how close did I come to dying? I really don’t remember! And it is hard to get answers because I’m not sure they know.
* Nothing Bundt Cakes (new hospital go-to item; John ate most of them) — Hospital gift hit of the year has to be the Nothing Bundt Cakes – think I got 15. Awesome! Tasted a few — bites of different flavors but basically my son-in-law Dr. John Burk was the happy recipient of most of them. Guess that’s why he loves me so much!
* Cards, Gifts, Visits — groups of friends in Les Dames d’Escoffier from Dallas sometimes arrived bringing food to rehab, the Burks, and then my house. By New Year’s, we often went to a restaurant. Pi Beta Phi Sorority members were generous with surprises, time and picking me up for book club and meetings. As a result I felt somewhat like a normal person.
Live in a two-story house, although it is actually four stories with the basement and attic. A hospital bed replaced the dining room table. The chandelier was raised so I would not hit it with the Halo. Handrails were installed down the steps to the powder room, at the sidewalk steps, and up to the front door. A contractor was asked to work on plans for an elevator, which we happily now have but don’t need at the moment.
* The limitations of someone with a Halo — Am trying to remember the first few days after the Halo was part of me. Yes, it was heavy but actually not as heavy realistically as I had been told. By this point I had lost some weight maybe five pounds say to 114 or so. Was told the Halo weighed 15 pounds. Actually lost a pound a week for eight weeks or so. Seven months later when the Halo was removed discovered that it weighed only about 9 pounds. Every time I went to the doctor they took 15 pounds off what I weighed. Wrong! But sounded good to me. I got down to just under 100 pounds — actually hated that because I felt weak. My answer — get on the treadmill indulging in a cup of hot chocolate and a glazed donut. (We put that photo on Facebook.) Am now working to stay about 108 – 109 which I feel is just perfect for me. I feel strong and energetic!
* Speakerphones! Oh my gosh — couldn’t get a cellphone to my ear through the poles and headgear. Finally figured out that the speaker phone was the answer. Yay! Don’t take my communication away from me!
* Getting dressed and undressed — First you’ve got to buy the clothes and nightgowns that go over the Beast. If I had a quarter for every trip to Target and Walmart — WOW. Bought extra extra large tops to go with the work out pants that I already had. Bought pajamas with button down tops and normal pants It was amazing what these stores had although they didn’t last through dozens of washings, they fit the bill. And when the Beast came off, I could give these to people who needed them.
* You may feel that you can get dressed alone, but the back rods on the harness are different lengths. You can either step into your top, or pull it over the halo. It has to be much larger than your normal tops or button up the front. And there was no way I could dress or undress alone. Was so weird. Many friends who brought me home can relate to this. Eventually after a party or night out when I no longer had 24-7 help, friends came in to help — thank goodness — because I could have never gotten ready for bed.
* The wonderful caregivers and I got real imaginative. Since I came home December 11th, party invitations were beginning to arrive. And I am not going to miss a party! Imagination Central came into being. Stretchy clothes were a priority — and I had some. Planning bling for the Halo was priority. Stephanie presented me with a box of amazing goodies — ribbons, stickers, Christmas lights topped with a tiny tree of twinkling lights that I controlled with a pocket battery, small ornaments that hung on the poles, feathers, glitter, and amazing stuff. See the photos in the gallery on this Site! Creative ways to hold things in place became priority. Hair clips to hold jackets on my shoulders were clipped to the Halo poles. What fun we had designing all this for the Holidays of 2014. And imagination extended to New Years, Mardi Gras, Valentines, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day. The joy was keeping my own spirit up, but also the spirit of the people I was with. Little did they know that they kept me alive and racing with pleasure.
* We played “Let’s Dress Renie” (see photos). We would try on outfits to see which pieces worked with the Halo and kept those clothing items in the downstairs closet. Outfits were always coordinated and planned well in advance of the days they would need to be worn so there were no surprises. Long-handled shoehorns were necessary for slip-ons because I could not bend down to tie shoes.
* Sponge baths and washing hair — Okay, no baths or showers for seven months. Yikes! Well actually it wasn’t so bad. The kitchen sink became my sponge bathing area. Lots of wash rags, towels, and my amazing help probably kept me cleaner than ever before. Using cheesecloth to clean and exfoliate the skin under the harness was easier than it sounds. Lidia would wrap cheesecloth around a long wooden spoon and run the cheesecloth inside the vest between my skin and the sheepskin. I would push the Beast backwards and forwards at the waist to accommodate the spoon. It felt marvelous. A backscratcher was helpful. Seven months later when the Halo and harness were removed, the sheep’s wool lining was as clean as snow. I was amazed and so was the technician! Said he had never removed a Halo with a lining that clean. About the hair — the OT therapist started us on the right path. Part of the halo was a lightweight metal piece across my forehead and around the back of my head. The two holes in my forehead and the two in the back could not get wet. How to deal. The therapist taught us how to put wash rags under the metal pieces that circled my head to keep the water away from the holes. She took a wet rag and squeezed it on batches of hair at the top of my head so that it was all damp. Then she worked a little shampoo on the top of my head. Another wash rag was dampened and squeezed though out that soapy area until the soap was cleaned out. It felt wonderful!! We did this once a week or so.
* Caring for holes in my forehead and back of my skull — The holes in my forehead and the back of my skull had to be cleaned twice a day with Qtips and Saline. Doctors warned that any infection could travel to the brain very easily, so we were meticulous with this daily routine. During the seven months of wearing the Halo, Stephanie took me to the doctor five or six extra times to check new redness around the forehead screws. At one time, they responded, “we can tighten the screws.” My response was “I don’t think so!!” Was surprised to find out when the Beast was taken off that the screws did not go as deep as I thought.
* How to make preparations for your surroundings —* I live in a two-story house, but couldn’t do stairs while I wore the Halo. There is no looking up or down or sideways. With no bedroom downstairs (have a guest house but wasn’t going to sleep out there) we turned the dining room into the Queen’s boudoir. It worked! Hospital bed was delivered after John Burk bought wrapping materials for a 3 section dining room table and 10 chairs. They were stored in the garage. The chandelier had to be hooked up closer to the ceiling – otherwise I would definitely hit my head and the Halo on it. Stephanie ordered a recliner for the night caregiver to rest in. It all worked! Appliance garage in kitchen became bathroom cabinet full of shampoo, scented soaps, dry skin lotions, toothpaste, medications, and toiletries. Bought a second electric toothbrush for the kitchen.
* Video closets and storage areas now. You never know when something like my accident might have to call on your remembering where the black and white pants are that go with the red blouse in my closet upstairs. That’s a reminder to video all closets upstairs and downstairs.
* After cleaning out three attics before the accident, I knew better where things were — There was so much luck involved. Besides cleaning out all three attics over the last two years and upstairs closets as well, I could tell caregivers where things were almost saying to the third hanger to the left in the closet in the library or closest one in the bedroom. There is a pink blouse that might work. Advice I would give is to periodically video your closets. That brings it all home.
* Trust only one or two people to put things back — You will begin to know the people and caregivers who have the skills to put things back where they came from. That is very important.
* Importance of your environment being comfortable and pleasing (meetings; small gatherings) — Again I was lucky. Had been working on Reniefying my house to make it welcoming and comfortable for both small and large groups. I could invite people over for wine and hor d’ouvres or a small group for dinner. A little encounter with a Halo was not going to stop this Southern girl from entertaining friends. Especially those who had been so wonderful to me!
* Also hosted board meetings at my home. The board members were extremely gracious to just plan a brown bag lunch/meeting at my house since my travel and mobility were limited. It was wonderful to remain active in my causes.
* Put things at eye level is important because with a Halo my head was in a frozen state — no looking left, right, down, or up, only straight ahead. Even when the Halo was removed after seven months, I still could not look left, right or down. I did have a little movement to look up. With no Halo, movement was easier because I didn’t have to worry about it hitting the doorway or furniture.
* Swallowing pills. Use honey or apple butter if too difficult and bigger pills were difficult. Normally when you take a pill, you throw your head back — a rather unconscious movement — to get the pill to the back of the throat and swallow. We went through a period when we crushed them. Later we used a pill cutter and sliced them in half. That was not the best answer because the edges were sharp where you cut them and that hurt! Use of painkillers and muscle relaxers ended about the time I went to the Burks’ house, so I could again enjoy wine.
* Time Release pills cannot be cut in half.
* Learning to get in and out of cars. How careful people were thinking I couldn’t get in their high SUV. Must have been a game with me — I’ll show them how strong I am. Because I never met a car (including the huge range of SUVs), a truck, a jeep that I couldn’t conquer, it gave me confidence. My car is a tiny Kompressor sports car and I could even get down into that! Truth is the only impossible embarking was getting in and out of the back seat of a two-door car. Easy fix was to ask if I could sit in the front. Over and above, my main thought was, I’m not going to break because I’m not going to fall!
* Played a joke….came out of the gym and there was a red Vespa in the parking lot. Got on it and asked a trainer passing by to take my photo, scared to death, he did so. Put it on Facebook titled, “No Need for a Helmet on this Ride!!” It was funny how many people thought I had actually taken a ride on that Vespa in my condition.
How to bond with the Halo.
* For a holiday or any festive occasion, decorate the Halo. Friends and family loved it. It became a participatory event for onlookers. When I smiled and rather became the life of the party, they knew that I was OK. This bling started with a box of goodies Stephanie found at different places. There was bling for everything — tiny turkeys and fall leaves for Thanksgiving, a small Christmas tree with flashing lights that fit on one of the poles (I put the battery pack in my pocket!), plus holiday ribbons wrapping the poles, New Years party hats and tiny glassware, various small horses hanging from the poles wrapped in leather shoestrings for the Stock Show and Rodeo, purple gold and green ribbons and beads for Mardi Gras, all sorts of Valentine hearts, small soft fuzzy bunnies clinging to the poles for Easter, ribbons in a Maypole affect for May Day. People are surprised and and glad to feel that kind of positiveness coming from the patient. It makes people smile, and sends love and caring your way. In early June the Halo was removed and the collar replaced it.
* As soon as you are able, smile at every given opportunity. It helps people who are around you know that you are comfortable with yourself so they are happy for you. They smile back which probably gives them a lift for the day.
* If children look at you with big eyes, the halo probably frightens them and they think you are in pain. Tell them (with a smile) that you don’t hurt. Trust me, then they smile.
* I will never forget the day I started back at the gym — mid-December 2014. With a caregiver at my side I came through the door, Beast and all, and jaws dropped. The trainers had all come to the hospital or rehab the month before and there I was coming to work out with a with a nine pound extremity on my head! These dear people made me feel like I could do it, carefully but with determination. It increased my morale to have people walk in, in disbelief. I never quit smiling and needless to say hold my head high! That made the Halo seem lighter. After watching me almost every day for several weeks, one of my caregivers said if she can do it, surely I can, and she started working out. Stay active — just keep moving. Your strength comes back faster than you might imagine.
* Navigate cautiously. You can look ahead of you to know what’s coming. Keep hands free to hold rails or a caregiver’s arm. Friends and family are generally more afraid for you than you are.
* Enjoy the caring and take people up on their offers to do things such as pick up a box of Qtips at the drugstore. The patient cannot drive a car or navigate more than a few steps when first home. No stairs allowed until the halo comes off. We made some accommodations putting up handrails and in regard to rugs. Secure pads under the rugs so there is no slipping, even when still using a walker. As I said earlier, we turned the dining room into my bedroom.
* Learn to receive. My motto was, “Don’t ask me to go somewhere if you really don’t want me to because I always say yes!”
* You cannot see to the right or left unless you turn your whole body in that direction.
* Nor can you see up or down, so you cannot see your feet. That means NO STAIRS. Install handrails where necessary for safety.
* Importance of eating. The Halo (called the Beast by us) weighs 9 pounds. For a small person that is a lot! Have as many colors on your plate as possible. Each color represents different minerals and vitamins. I often put photos of my colorful plates on Facebook. Of course, my wine colors also varied between white, Rose, and red! Asked my caregivers to chop and dice the basic mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery). Then I could saute a veal or lamb chop, make a stew, or a crunchy salad. They kept vegetables and apples sliced, ready to dip into hummus or queso. It was definitely fun to cook again! Certainly chef’s deli dishes played a part in everyday nutrition. Going to Central Market became a special event. Shoppers and employees made my day with their comments of cheer and caring. All the Foodies greeted me. And I got great exercise in a large space with no steps! Men and children were more likely to approach me and wish me well.
* Be very aware of your balance with that much weight on your head. Tighten your core and it’s easier to walk in a straight line. And you are less likely to fall.
* You can’t expect to heal broken bones while you lose weight. Eat small meals four to five times a day. Meat, chicken, and fish with a lot of Ensure or a dairy boost are good.
* Walk slowly with a politely commanding attitude. I can eventually get where I am going.
* Look straight ahead in the distance to see what’s in front of you that might cause a stumble.
* Daytime is one thing, but night time is a whole other challenge. Don’t do it alone! Turn on lights. I gave my iPhone flashlight a lot of work!
* Everyone is different in reacting to this ordeal. Some choose to go in the closet and have a pity party, but success is bred by showing conservative energy and smiling. Noticeable improvement will occur when you start walking. Start slowly. That slowness may remain, but distance and strength will improve.
* In a split level house with small steps, you must use hand rails because you cannot look down. You must use your feet to feel and step down. You can see straight ahead, but when you come to the spot that might have to step down, you can’t look down. You must use what you have to adjust to your surroundings. Work it out until it serves your purpose. If there is a friend nearby, reach out for a hand.
* Just months before my fall, my housekeeper of over 50 years retired. My journey would have been much different if my dear friend was still coming to my house every day. Susie Mae (or Mae Mae as I called her) knew better than I did where everything was in this house. She knew how I liked things. I have Lidia now, but only two days a week. She was gracious enough to start coming on Saturdays also after I came home. Still needing caregivers four days a week meant I had to learn to trust strangers with even more personal caregiving than I had ever required from anyone before. This brought the need for all new “Attitude Adjustment” again on my part.
* Learn Caregivers Strong points and adapt to their strengths. Who was good at organizing or at cooking or at driving. As I taught cooking for over 30 years, it was fun for me to show tricks of the trade to someone who was helping me. My days were planned by who was here and what their strengths were. Some caregivers preferred working nights, but by Christmas, I could stay alone at night.
* In addition to the extra hand rails, transforming the dining room into the Queen’s Boudoir, buying the extra-large tops and pajamas at Target and Walmart, we still had other improvements to make to my environment. Since I had mastered the walker, we built a stand for my computer to be up high enough for me to see it. With the walker as the base, we added stacked bedtrays on top until I could easily see the screen. Also ordered a portable Drafting Table that I kept on the breakfast bar to hold my calendar and anything I needed to read. I could adjust the angle of it to read and write comfortably. Holding my eReader up high also got burdensome, so I began getting the audible narration for my selections so I could listen to my book more than reading it. Was so much easier on me. Since I can’t look down, still get my books with audible narration to this day.
* Uber — as my need for daily caregivers began to wane, Uber became my new best friend. At first, I was just using Uber in the evenings so friends did not have to travel out of their way to give me a ride. Gradually expanded my use of Uber to all areas of my life, i.e., going to and from the gym, routine medical appointments, the Apple Store, lunches or dinner with friends, all the way up to trips to Dallas to get my hair done or go to board meetings. Now, when I go out of town, I am not confused by using Uber in a new city, and when I go to wine tasting events, I can taste more than sip and spit since I won’t be driving home.
* Keeping a sense of humor makes people want to be around you, whether it be family, friends, or caregivers. I learned early on when I began to take Uber and Lyft, not only do you rate the drivers, but they rate you. If they see my name, I want them to dash to pick me up. A sense of humor helps in all sort of ways.
* Humor through fire — When I was at the Burks, John who is the jack-of-all-trades, came up with a solution when my walker could not get through several narrow doors at their house. It took bare minutes to move all four wheels from the outside of the rods to the inside. Deed done! One day at meal time, John walked to the table holding this small piece of equipment which none of the rest of us recognized. When Stephanie asked, John said “This is a periscope. Thought Renie would like to see her feet.” While laughing Stephanie response was “Where have you been hiding that?” John said, “Oh, I have several of them. The first time Stephanie and I drove to my house to check on things, she ran over a gutter, flattening a tire. She called AAA and said we had an emergency and her Mom was just home from the hospital. They were there in 11 minutes!
* Tenacity — slow and steady wins the race. Balance and mobility were constantly worked on with PT and OT, wonderful people who each came twice a week. Daily trips to gym with slow and steady cardio built strength and endurance. The rhythm of the treadmill kept repeating “I think I can, I think I can.” How could I not try hard to please the best support system in the world!
* Importance of learning to receive. Like many women, I have taken care of everyone around me. Now, I had to be taken care of. Only have two of four tendons in my left arm since a disastrous rotator cuff surgery in November 2011. That made doing my hair or putting on necklaces a challenge notwithstanding the Beast. With the Beast, I absolutely had to have help with anything above my shoulders.
* It’s important to understand there is nothing too small to do for someone in a Halo — a milkshake, smile, cookies, lunch — bring to or take out, company.
“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” Walter Winchell.
* Bone Stimulator — My doctor recommended this device in March 2015 after having his own good experience with healing a broken bone. It hung around my neck and was actually very comfortable. Wore it four hours a day from April until late December 2015. In August, I no longer had to wear the collar except on a road trip, in an airport or on the plane but I continued to wear the Bone Stimulator. In the Spring of 2015, I sought a second opinion from a physician at UT Southwestern. He told me he would have ordered the Bone Stimulator from Day 1.
* Halo gets heavier after three months of atrophy of neck muscles. The Beast feels like it has gained weight, which is impossible. Went through a short period when I was more tired. In the same sense while wearing the Halo, I never thought of myself as disabled. After the Halo came off, I had to watch carefully every step I took. Falling was and still is “forbidden.”
Dealing with Strangers
* Sushi Axiom with Pi Phi Page Turners. After I had been home about a month, I went to my Pi Phi Page Turners book club at Sushi Axiom in Montgomery Plaza. I was at the far end of a long table so I could see the whole group. A good looking 25-year-old guy stopped by our table of ten, pointed to me and said I want to talk to her, pointing to me! He said that he wore a Halo when he was 13 and it changed his life by bonding him with our Lord. He later achieved his passion to successfully play baseball at A&M. What a good story!
* Luke’s Locker. Quality walking shoes was essential during my time in the Halo. No matter how dressed up I got, my feet always sported top-notch walking shoes or sneakers. Keeping my balance was too important. While shopping at Luke’s Locker one day, I met sales person Jonathan Swiatocha. Jonathan suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was 10 years old. While briefly paralyzed, Jonathan vowed he would recover and become a marathon runner. Now, 13 years later, he has fulfilled that dream, and has hopes of competing in the 2020 Olympics as the first marathon runner with a traumatic brain injury. Jonathan’s story and inspiration was such a confirmation to me to just keep going.
* Doorman at Modern Museum. “See my scars,” as he pointed to his own forehead. He told me “Halo scars are dimples.”
* In early March 2015, my assistant, Christi Schmidt, and I were leaving a dinner in downtown Fort Worth honoring legendary Fort Worth chef Walter Kaufmann. The dinner, part of the Fort Worth Food & Wine Festival, was held on the stage of the Bass Performance Hall. We were using the Stage Entrance off Commerce Street so climbing stairs was not necessary. During the dinner, a nasty winter storm blew through town. By the end of the dinner, snow and ice coated the streets and sidewalks in downtown Fort Worth. The valets were bringing cars to the very far side of Bass away from the Stage Door — nearly two whole blocks away from us. As Christi was trying to help me navigate on the slippery sidewalks from the Stage Door to the lobby of the Bass Hall, complete strangers surrounded us and made a walking human cocoon from the elements. Security unlocked the lobby so I could wait inside while Christi went to the valet stand and bring the car back to get me. Before we knew it, Security had ordered one of the valets to bring the car to both of us. We were touched at how many people helped us be safe that night.
I had wondered if I would miss the Beast after he came off. I didn’t, but after seven months of constant companionship, he became my award of merit. The Beast had and still has his own personality. He resides in my living room, often moving from chair to sofa to chaise, complete with a touch of bling to remind us all of the experience, actually a fun one, of Life in a Halo.
First Published by Debbie Gore in 2011
That reputation as a spectacular hostess set the stage for what would become a lifelong career. Renie began taking every cooking class she could find, including twice-a-week private cooking lessons with famous Chef Charles Finance (from the Hotel School in Lucerne), who had retired in Fort Worth. She learned to cook the best of classic cuisine over the next 12 years. The benevolence of Chef Finance set Renie on a course of paying it forward, one that had a definite beginning, but no end in sight. In that spirit, Renie began offering cooking lessons so she could share what she had learned. Her fascination with food, wine, and traveling expanded to being recognized in the field of food and wine writing.
Renie mentioned luck several times in the interview, but I view it as recognizing a path intended for you. Renie said, “Luck entails being at the right place at the right time. I was and I am. In fact, I could go so far as to say, I will be.”
Recipe for Life
Under the Cuisine Concepts umbrella, she writes articles on wine, food, restaurant reviews, and shares stories and photographs of her travels. She still gives the occasional private cooking lesson, bringing her full-circle to how she started her own journey. www.reniesteves.com
“Spice” of life (adds fun and flavor): Renie’s social life overlaps with work. She always wants to help people understand the fun of food and wine and the camaraderie it brings to those gathered at one table. She says, “think about sitting around a table set with Italian ceramics, eating a sensuous wild mushroom risotto and sipping a silky red wine.” Teaching is happiness for me . . . I can’t share my knowledge about cooking and wine fast enough.”
“Complexity” of Renie’s “Recipe for Life” (the facets of life): Renie truly “has never met a stranger.” She is still close to childhood friends from Shreveport, Louisiana, seeks to meet up with college friends even when traveling abroad, and cultivates new friendships each time she leaves home. Whether she is at a neighborhood restaurant or on a press tour overseas, Renie watches people and makes a new friend every day. She discovered a long time ago that you can only learn while you are listening, not while you are talking. Renie always puts that to use and can draw out even the most reticent person. While she is happiest when listening to someone tell her about an “aha” moment of their own, she is most gratified when she can share a morsel of knowledge that she has gleaned through her experiences and travels.
Renie’s recipe on a “budget” (financial comfort of having diversity in projects):** **Renie’s projects keep her focused on food and wine. Whether helping write recipes for a new cookbook “Culinaria: The United States” or writing about Texas Wine Trails for a “North American Wine Routes” book, Renie feels lucky and fortunate to have such fulfilling work. Before writing her own books,”Dallas is Cooking!” and “Fort Worth is Cooking!” Renie tested the restaurant chefs’ recipes so they would be friendly for the home cook.
“Binder” of Renie’s recipe (bringing it all together with balance): Renie believes that “people who love to eat seem to be the happiest souls, and with a lot of luck I have surrounded myself with these people.” Renie keeps a lot of balls in the air with writing, teaching, travel, and family, but those all weave together as one resplendent cloth that binds her life together.
“Health” of Renie’s recipe (self-care): As a two-time cancer survivor, Renie pays careful attention to her health. She doesn’t miss her checkups, especially since her colon cancer was discovered in a routine exam. Exercise is her outlet for both physical well-being and social fun. She forces herself to get enough sleep which always proves to be the biggest challenge for her.
“Nourishment” of the recipe (makes life full and satisfying):** **Renie Steves has taken the people she loves in life: family, friends, and those who assist her and keep her organized and blends them with travel, food and wine for a nourishing and satisfying “Recipe for Life.”keep looking »