Third in a four-part series
By M.E. Jones
DEVENS -- If he could, former longtime Nashoba Publishing sports editor Ken Blanchette would still be working at the job he loved.
"Unless they canned me," he said, with characteristic, self-deprecating humor.
During a recent interview at the newspaper office, Blanchette, with his wife, Kathy, recalled the day his world changed, derailing -- temporarily or otherwise -- the career he created for himself about a quarter of a century ago.
"When I woke up that day, something was wrong," he said. "I came in (to work), but I couldn't really figure anything out or remember what to do."
Even the computer he worked at every day was a mystery.
"I think I said 'Good morning' to Becky (at the front desk), but I couldn't even get the (computer) to work."
Even now, 15 months after the series of strokes he later found out he'd had that day, Blanchette strains to find words he wants, which don't flow as they once did, sometimes not at all. He's working with a speech therapist twice a week at Nashoba Valley Medical Center, trying to regain at least some of his former verbal dexterity. But it will take time, he and Kathy said.
He went to the same hospital when he had the stroke, a year ago this past May. "I drove myself," he said. Then, he passed out in the parking lot. He recalls getting up, walking into the emergency room. After that, his memory is blank.
Kathy fills in the gaps. She was playing outside that day with her granddaughter when her son, Derek, called. "Dad's in the hospital," he said.
With Ken nonresponsive, doctors asked if they should administer the shot known to stop stroke progress up to three hours later. She said, "Absolutely." But it didn't help.
Blanchette was transported by ambulance to Beth Israel, NVMC's sister hospital in Boston. He went right into surgery, Kathy said.
"They removed two blood clots from his brain," she said.
In the waiting room, she had no clue what was going on. Not knowing was terrible, she said.
But her husband pulled through and spent another five or six days in Boston.
"He had a fantastic neurologist, Dr. Gottfried Schlagg," she said.
Ken remained "out of it" for 48 hours, attached to a network of tubes. Hopeful moments came when he was asked to move his arms and legs and follow other directions, and he could. Then, the doctor told him to sing "Happy Birthday," and he did.
Blanchette is skeptical about that. "I don't think so ... " he said. "I can't do it now."
His next stop was a rehab hospital in Nashua, N.H. Here, his memories are disjointed. Was this a dream or did it happen? At about 10 o'clock, a woman came into his room, and he was unsure if he was in the rehab or the other hospital. He figured he'd go home. But a man in the room -- "some guy," Ken said -- wouldn't let him get up. The next day, "I was still there."
Kathy's recall is different. She got a call at 8 o'clock. She was told her husband was eager to go home and that someone had been assigned to sit with him so he'd stay put, she said.
Anyway, he spent several weeks in the rehab, where he received physical, occupational and speech therapy. "That was awful," he said.
Still, he concedes he was "really lucky," because he could move. He couldn't do much, though, and it frustrates him that he still can't do everything he used to do.
"I thought things would be a lot better by now," he said.
But he's working on it, with speech therapy at the local hospital twice a week and frequent walks through a local Target store.
Looking back, Kathy recalled that soon after his stroke, Ken's face drooped, and he couldn't lift his arms and legs. Now, his face is back to normal, and he has little or no trouble walking. Speech is still a problem, though.
At one point, he was working on an article for the paper with his speech therapist. But he gave up.
"It's so hard to put a sentence together," he said.
Maybe if he were 34 instead of 63, he'd try harder, aiming to get back to work, he said. As it is, he has been hospitalized twice, transported by ambulance both times. Once, blood had accumulated around his heart. Now, he has a pacemaker to regulate his heartbeat and, hopefully, prevent a recurrence.
And he has a cardiologist he likes at the nearby hospital, Dr. Adam Cerel. "He's been great," he said.
Not so their shared fantasy baseball team. "We're not doing very well" on that score, Blanchette said.