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When I first wrote about Jo Ann (“Hope on the horizon” Salish Current, June 3, 2022), she was living an RV with her dog, Mouse. She had to move her van every few days and was constantly afraid of being assaulted or robbed. She supported herself with her monthly disability checks and a little extra from selling her drawings and handicrafts. She had been homeless for nine years.
Although she had smoked marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine as a young woman, she had been clean and sober for 20 years until her one-year-old grandson, whom she had been raising, was brutally murdered. She fell into a profound depression. Burning incense and performing cleaning rituals to ease her depression in her low-income apartment caused her eviction that left her homeless. That is when she began using drugs again regularly.
Late last year she moved to Garden View, a tiny-home village in Bellingham. I wrote about this hopeful change (“Hope has arrived” Salish Current, Dec. 9, 2022) which put her on a waiting list for supported housing.
Six months after moving to Garden View, she suffered a massive stroke, paralyzing her entire left side, impairing her speech and ability to swallow. (Fortunately, she is right-handed.) She blamed the stroke on methamphetamine, which she had smoked shortly before the stroke. (Amphetamines raise blood pressure.)
She was first hospitalized at St. Joseph’s but after her condition stabilized, she was transferred to United General in Sedro-Woolley to continue her physical therapy and to wait for placement in assisted living. When I visited her, she was wearing a full leg brace and a lower arm brace, and was on a special diet to prevent aspiration. Despite daily physical therapy, her paralysis had not improved since the stroke. Her speech had returned to normal and she had resumed drawing. However, she complained of difficulty thinking. She has been able to continue drawing, which keeps her spirits up.
Her mood was a mixture of sadness about this sudden change in her life and a determination to walk again, despite the likely poor prognosis. She cannot do anything for herself except eating. She says that being so helpless is worse than the 13 years she spent in a Texas prison for delivering cocaine. At least in prison she could walk around outside. She has only been able to walk during physical therapy with the assistance of the leg brace and someone supporting her. She hopes to eventually use a walker to get around rather than using a wheelchair.
She also expressed a strong desire to talk to young people, particularly in schools, to warn them against the perils of drug use. She feels if she can influence even one person not to use, then it will have been worthwhile.
She has felt terribly lonely, since until recently no one had visited after she was transferred to Sedro-Woolley. Her cousin, Tina, calls every day which helps keep her spirits up. Tina arranged for her son, Zane, to bring Mouse to the hospital on the day I interviewed her. Jo Ann could only visit Mouse through her hospital window, since dogs were not allowed inside, but seeing the two of them was enough to lift her spirits. Tina had also arranged for her to have a video call with her twin daughters living in North Carolina, from whom she had been estranged for many years.
Jo Ann had been interviewed for one assisted living program but was told that they did not have sufficient staffing to accommodate her level of disability. However, she has been accepted at a private residence in Everett which takes in people with a variety of disabilities. She is at least pleased that she will be out of a hospital setting, even though she will not be able to reunite with Mouse.
— Contributed by John Dunne
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