**I found this in a draft folder from 3 years ago after visiting Jim in the hospital following his stroke. It never got finished due to my schedule when I returned. I felt it should be posted as a celebration of how spectacularly Jim has fought back from his affliction. So with only the ado of love and admiration…**
I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend with Jim in his therapy facility. I was on the ground in Washington for only 24 hours, but I felt like I experienced a month of life and I managed to do so much more than just visit my dear friend and running mate in the hospital.
I babysat the kids for a few hours, and got to see how much his two year old had grown since I last saw her at a month old. I got to see Jim’s mother, who has held the job of keeping the kids happy and normal while mommy and daddy are away at the hospital; and with an 11 year old, a 5 year old and a 2 year old that is no simple task. I can assure you she has done it beautifully, and done it at the sacrifice of being by her son’s side as much as she would like. None of us who wish Jim well should ever overlook the contributions of those people who are so tirelessly supporting the family.
Two other such people are Casey’s sister and father. They flew in, from Minnesota and California respectively, to help Casey get prepared for Christmas, and just to check in on the family. They took Casey out to do some basic shopping for the family and managed to get 10 large boxes of Christmas decorations put up in just over two hours. They also made a cracking pulled pork, I can’t stress that enough.
I was fortunate enough to stay the night in Jim’s room with he and his wife. She sleeps on an inflatable mattress next to his hospital bed, the place she’s been since he was first hospitalized, and does so with plucky aplomb. She’s adopted the new normal their lives have found with the same forward-looking tenacity of the 13 year old girl I met so many years ago while working together at Camp Frasier in Irvine nearly two decades ago. She’s always had an enviable ability to slog forward through any situation, with the finish line always in sight. I’d call her a strong woman, but she’d beat me senseless for doing so, so I’ll simply call her what I feel she is: a pretty cool chick.
It was about 2 pm when I arrived underneath a thick cover of ash grey clouds that threatened at every moment to open up into a light autumn drizzle, and kept the early afternoon lit with the diffuse light of early evening. The artist in me loved the lighting scheme, just a little melancholy and possibly forbidding, but the prospect of the sun’s resolve to punch through the darkness. As Washington residents, I’m sure it was simply another day for Jim and Casey, but for this Southern Californian it was far more poetic.
Jim’s room is spacious for a single, like a dorm room with one bed and desk set removed. The room is populated with get well cards and Muppets naturally, with the occasional Star Wars action figure donated by his 5 year old son to keep an eye on daddy. There’s a small fridge and a private bathroom, a recliner and a picture window with a nice view that looks over the facility’s courtyard.
Jim’s eyes were alive and smiling, even though he has some temporary facial paralysis on his left side from the stroke. He was sitting in a wheel chair, his left arm resting on an attached tray, across the midline of his body. His children had painted his nails on his affected hand a wonderful shade of Kermit green when he first went in to the hospital, a visual cue to help him remember to engage that side of his body. It had been a couple of weeks and that nail varnish was chipped from wear while Jim idly stroked, poked and prodded his affected hand with his right hand. It had become habit it seemed, partly to keep the nerves in his affected side stimulated, and partly I feel due to the same impulse we all have to casually poke at a limb that’s fallen asleep.
I watched Casey do a bed transfer with Jim while I sipped my coffee feeling a bit useless and noted to myself that for a wee speck of a thing she’s staggeringly powerful. We talked about how he’s been, what his therapists are doing with him, and lamented the food. It was mostly just jibber jabber, three old friends catching up while one of them reclined in bed, unconsciously poking at an uncooperative hand. Then a quick couple of hours later, I was called out to watch the kids back at the house so Casey and her family could have some time together and do some shopping for Christmas, and of course give Jim’s mother some very rare uninterrupted face time with her son.
The Guy Time
When I returned from my quick jaunt babysitting and shooed Jim’s mother away to the house for some pulled pork and beets, I got my first alone time with my best friend. We talked about the future a lot. The financial uncertainty, and the options they have, and decisions there are to make. We talked about how amazing the family has been. We talked about Casey getting laid off in the middle of this exercise through the American medical system. And then I asked a question I had been dreading to ask, because I didn’t know how he would answer; “What is the hardest thing about… this?”
It’s a loaded question with so many rightfully selfish answers that would be reasonable, understandable, but hard to spin. Walking, sitting up, picking up something with two hands are just a few examples of possible answers. I was ready for one of them. I wasn’t ready for the answer I got, but in retrospect it was the only one I should have expected from someone like Jim.
“My kids. I miss my kids.”
Jim, as most of you must know, has been the primary caregiver – stay at home dad if you will – for his three children since Chloe was born 11 years ago. He’s spent the last decade wiping noses and bottoms and catching frogs and coloring; while getting a culinary degree, working in wine shops, and learning the intricacies of wine making. He suddenly found himself only seeing his three children in short visits here and there. Without his children, Jim was finding himself without three of his best friends.
A group of well-wishers had donated a new iPod to Jim while he was still in intensive care to replace his old and broken iPod, and not only did it give him his music library for the boring times, it gave him a window to his children through Skype. He lights up around his kids, even on a screen, but it was palpable how much he wanted to be around them in person. I don’t know why I didn’t expect that answer from him; possibly because I don’t have children of my own
It doesn’t easily sleep three who aren’t – special friends – but it is possible.
To be continued later tonight when I get home.
***Nothing further was written***
Less than 18 months ago, Hemstead was suffering the after-effects of a massive stroke. He couldn’t walk, he couldn’t move his left side, had trouble keeping up with the pace of conversation, and was unable to sit upright without assistance.
This photo was taken last week when he came to California to survey the Western White house, as well as the Western Brown house, the pink one, and also there was a very nice mauve one that tickled his fancy.
He’s leaner. He’s not meaner. He’s walking. He’s laughing. He’s proof that anything can be overcome.
Simpson/Hemstead owes a debt of thanks to his friends, family, the team of doctors and therapists who have had to endure pun after pun during therapy sessions. None of this would have been possible without you all.
Nor without the absolutely tireless determination of his lovely wife. Truly a special woman. She’s not only tolerated him this long, she’s tolerated me. She’s rolled with the punches and countered back hard. I’m proud to call her my friend.
Thank you all for your continued support. The fight isn’t over, and there’s still more heroics to be accomplished, but I know with wonderful supporters like you, Hemstead will prevail for he is the hero of the Simpson/Hemstead campaign:
Today is the day, folks! I’m still putting the finishing touches on the post with all the particulars, but by day’s end you’ll have all the info you need to help donate to Jim’s “Get Up And Walk” recovery fund. Thank you for your patience, and thank you in advance for your generosity and for forwarding to every single person you know.
Now for a special request: We would like to put together JIM’S KICKASS THERAPY PLAYLIST. What song would you like to suggest for Jim’s digital mixtape that we can load to his iPod for the grueling gym days ahead? I’ll start it off: Joe Esposito – You’re the Best Around from Karate Kid.
Please leave your selection in the comments at the end of this post! I’m going to send his motivational power chords a week from today. Let’s fill up his ears with the sounds that inspire us and make us think of our plucky hero!
Sorry for the delay here folks, I’m also prepping for a 3 Day charity event this weekend so I’m a little slower than usual.
What a person comes to learn with stroke recovery is that with every bit of good news comes an equal amount of frustrating news. It’s a self-contained system of checks and balances that seems to serve no other purpose than to make a person wonder, “Will you make up your mind already?”
The added hilarity in that thought is of course that the stroke, it’s symptoms and it’s recovery is indeed all contained within the brain. And the brain is a far more complex engine than we give it credit.
Jim has been moved to his own room, meaning he is out of ICU and out of immediate danger. It’s a moment that we have all been very excited for because it means that therapy can begin in earnest rather than so much effort spent on managing some of the more life-threatening effects of this debacle.
However, this doesn’t mean he’s out of ALL danger. It also doesn’t mean that a month of Rocky-style montages counter-cut with footage of Dolph Lundgren exercising and Jim will be back to the way he was pre-stroke. The road ahead is long and hard, and the reality is that there is no exact science as to how much Jim’s brain can recover the motor skills that have been lost. It’s a work hard and see scenario, and that’s where it can become frustrating. We are talking months, to years of work to return to what will be the new normal. This new normal could be 99% of original recipe Jim, or it could be somewhat significantly less. We will have to wait and see.
Jim’s doctors would have liked to have seen more improvement in him in this last week in terms of sensation and mobility than they did. The improvements were slight, and the lack of greater improvement as the swelling comes down off the brain points toward more damage than what is considered an ideal scenario. This makes it especially hard on Jim, his wife, their mothers and of course the children. It’s psychologically easier to fight something that isn’t nebulous. It’s a simpler battle to rage against a foe who has a clear face and whose defeat is a simple matter of assembling pieces. Jim’s recovery is completely dependent on his brain, the extent of damage to it, and the speed/ability it has to recover. And that is not a precise foe.
With this week in a progressive care room, a targeted and more specific long term plan can be put together that takes the less-than-optimal recovery of sensation and mobility into account.
There is also a plan moving forward for accepting donations from friends and well-wishers, including money, services, and gift cards. That should be ready to move forward by the end of the week. Thank you all again for your constant pressure to make this happen, it’s easy to overlook the generosity of friends when the family is rightfully wearing firm blinders of “get through today, and figure out tomorrow.” Once that official fundraiser goes live I implore you on behalf of the family to send it to as many folk as you can muster.
For those who are asking how Jim is doing mentally, he’s making your typical Jim jokes much to the delight and chagrin of his family, and according to Casey he spent 10 minutes, “ranting about the Laker’s choice of hiring D’Antoni.”
Knowing Jim’s connection to the Muppets, I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing to tell him about the dude who accused Kevin Clash of sexual molestation this last week (an individual who has since recanted his story).
The good news is
– Jim’s in a progressive care room and his periods of sleeping and alertness are normalizing somewhat. His cognitive functions are well and firmly in place, and his sense of humor has not been affected. The act of rehabilitation can begin in earnest. Charitable donations are being set up and will be rolled out this week so we can all help with the family during this emotionally and financially straining time. The group of supporters that Jim has following his care is growing, not dwindling. This is still one of THE MOST important things. And of course the Kevin Clash accuser recanted his statements – this is probably bigger news to Jim than to most of you.
The frustrating news is
– Jim hasn’t shown the improvement his doctors had hoped for yet. The emotional and financial strain on the family is significant and will be long term. The scope of the long term outlook is not locked in, and will remain nebulous for a while as Jim’s brain reassesses it’s resources. The Lakers hired D’Antoni.
Please stay connected, please stay interested. Please keep posting on Jim’s Facebook or here on this site, or on his Twitter account.
I couldn’t find the third image of Jim I pulled for this update, and it was a good one. So here’s a picture of a cute little boy who looks suspiciously like our hero playing with Star Wars Muppets.
When Jim was first afflicted, a small group of people who were amongst the first to know, bound together to buy Jim a new iPod. Music is Jim’s heartbeat, you see. Anyone who spends even a moment browsing his posts knows this; but what they probably don’t know is that Jim’s iPod was cracked and antiquated. Basically, Jim was going through ICU without his heartbeat. Jim would wake up sporadically and the first thing he’d ask is, “Where’s my iPod?” through the haze of his injury and fog of slumber.
Casey called and asked if there was something we could do about that. So we set up a donation site and it was sent to just a handful of people, mostly just mutual friends to see if we could raise the money to give him back his music. The plan was to run it in this small group for the first day and if we didn’t get there we’d open it up to the rest of Jim’s friends list.
You see, the news that Jim had a stroke was still something spoken of in hushed tones. He and his family were still grappling with the reality of this new normal and we were all somewhat concerned with Jim’s family being inundated with phone calls that simply didn’t have answers.
I set a nine day limit on the fund raiser figuring we’d probably, given the nature of Jim’s generous friends, raise the money within 3 or 4 days. I posted the fund raiser at 7pm on Sunday night. By 6am we were 90% to our goal and by 9am we were fully funded. In less than 14 hours, most of them the middle of the night, that small group had changed the course of Jim’s recovery. I was flabbergasted at the quick action and generosity. I still am. Tuesday the money cleared and I was able to pick up a new 64gig ipod. It could hold Jim’s entire music collection. Wednesday afternoon it arrived and Casey loaded it up for Jim.
Thursday morning Jim got his hands on it. The occupational therapist was ecstatic; a small hand-held touchscreen device with a built in speaker was the perfect therapy tool to help him with his spatial awareness and to get his affected left side working on precision tasks. We hadn’t really thought of it in that light, and we certainly didn’t buy it for that purpose, we just wanted Jim to have his goddamned Tool albums and Bill Hicks CDs so he wouldn’t be bored. Besides, Angry Birds Star Wars was coming out.
But no, now it was a tool for his recovery. A wonderfully happy accident.
Upon getting the iPod Jim said, “is this what I need to do to get a new iPod?” I asked his wife to relay to him that this “shit only works once, so don’t go having any more strokes and expecting an iPad or anything.”
The therapist put it to use right away. Directly into his left hand that ipod went. You want music, you do it with this hand. Jim wanted music.
He spent 5 minutes trying to operate the back of this slab of slate grey electronic sorcery at first; Casey said, “I think he has iPod muscle memory.”
Pretty quickly he got it worked out, turned the right direction and playing music through the external speaker. Keeping it on his left side helps his brain orient positionally. He knows where the iPod is, so his brain learns how to process the data coming in to both ears. It’s kind of like having Mike Patton helping Robocop aim when his targeting system is off.
While the doctors work to regulate his sleep cycle and weaning him off the meds to help with the swelling and blood pressure meds to get him out of ICU and into a standard hospital room, Jim has his music and his therapy tool. A gift from a collection of friends, with the spirit of his entire community of supporters.
I offer this story as much for the concept of a small act paying off in huge dividends as I offer it as an update for Jim. In the months coming there will probably be needs on behalf of the family. So many of you have asked how to help, and I know that the time will come and ask that right now to be patient. I’ll let you know more as I know more!!
It’s too hard to write out a long post with the phone so I’ll have top wait until i’mback in front of a computer. Everything moving forward, he’s starting therapy and his sister and niece are flying up today! Stay tuned!
Sorry I didn’t update yesterday, I was caught at work and did not have time to call for an update.
One thing that I did want to pass along though, more an anecdote than anything, is this wonderful little tidbit.
On election day, despite being in ICU and having suffered a stroke, Jim voted.
It was something very important to him as he believes deeply in this country and no power in the ‘verse was going to stop him from casting his ballot.
Sadly I don’t think he cast it for Simpson/Hemstead. But as we always say, a vote against Simpson/Hemstead is still a vote for democracy.
I’ll try to get a status update this afternoon, please comment with questions you might have so I can pass them along.
Thanks for your continued concern. There’s a long road ahead and Jim will need all of your support for the long haul!
Ask questions. About his stroke, his family, or even random crap like what music he’s preferring to listen to or how many fingers are you holding up.
First of all a couple of corrections from my last update:
Jim was not sedated to keep him sleeping, it is a product of the swelling on the brain that keeps him lethargic and sleepy. As Casey told me today,
Now for some updates!
As his wife relayed to me, his general sleepiness is a result of the pressure on the brain. His general state was “resting”. He would talk and be awake so long as he was being stimulated by conversation. If there was a lull he’d nod back off. Casey told me that last night she went after work and found Jim awake, sitting in his bed when she got there. THIS IS HUGE NEWS! This means he’s been responding to the medication to help his brain reabsorb the blood! Awake without external stimulation is AWESOME! Way to go big Jim!
This was confirmed by his mother who said earlier that she sat with him today and had a great long talk, and he was joking with her and Ryan. As we mentioned before, his sense of humor is very Jim and the man we all love is very much there. I know this has been concerning some of you who have been writing me, but please know, JIM IS JIM!!!
His wife was careful to express that of course there is a lot of work to do still and it will be a long road to get back to “normal”. I told her that we’d all be here for that road, offering to help as we can. Sorry, I spoke for all of you. Hope that was cool.
The most prominent question I got today to ask his wife was, “Is there any place I can donate money to help with medical bills?”
The question, and the fact that it was asked multiple times floored her. There is nothing in place right now, but they are working on some ideas on fund raising and we will report more as we have info. If you would like to help or have ideas please feel free to bring them to the table in the comments section below.
Again, big props to Jim and Casey’s families for helping with the kids and keeping Jim company during the days. They’re doing a great job helping get the big guy back!
That’s all for now, please comment or email with questions and I’ll get them answered tomorrow!!!!
On Friday, November 2nd, Jim experienced a stroke that has left him currently without the use of his left side. He was fortunate in that he began receiving treatment within the first hour of symptoms appearing, and he is at a stroke facility. Please know that Jim’s sense of humor is strongly in tact and it’s been reported to me that the slight slur in his speech is not different from Jim’s “three whiskey” dialect.
This is of course difficult news for the friends and supporters of Hemstead. I’ve gotten permission from his wife, the first lady of Hemstead, to post updates as to his condition through the website free from the faux political bullshit we usually entomb our rhetoric in. All of Jim’s posts will be tagged “Hemstead Update” so please find them through there. He will be checking the website hopefully as of next week as well, so please feel free to comment below and send him your thoughts and well-wishes. The family has asked to please not send anything to the hospital, therefore it will not be listed here, because he is currently in ICU and unable to have flowers and such in the room.
We receive updates from three sources currently with Jim and will combine all three into the most comprehensive updates we can as often as is possible. As we all know Jim is a huge (read: borderline clinical) fan of the Muppets. His father, who passed away when he was a teenager bought him his first muppet and they’ve been intertwined like the helix of DNA within Jim’s life ever since. Jim danced with his mother to the Rainbow Connection at his wedding in honor of his father. We went to Muppet Fest (the only one), watched the only live performance of the Muppet Show, and he even convinced Gonzo to paint his house. The Muppets, as most of you know, are surrogate fathers, aunts and uncles to Jim. I suggest you show your support by posting something Muppety on his Facebook wall.
And for god sake, if any of you are friends with any of the performers, Steve Whitmire, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, Kevin Clash, Karen Prell please send them my way.
A group of Jim’s friends, both online and fleshy, have banded together to buy him an iPod so that he will have music, Muppets and access to the internet, so we hope to be seeing updates from him soon.
Okay, now for the updates:
Jim was with his 3 children on Friday when he commented he couldn’t feel his left side. I’m still not sure who called 911, but the decision was apparently swift and he was taken to a nearby hospital that specializes in stroke treatment. The doctors reported a bleeder in the right side of his brain.
Jim has been in the ICU ever since, with an elevated blood pressure and on heavy medication to help his body reabsorb the blood sitting on his noodle. He was talking with Casey on Sunday, and has his sense of humor and all his faculties about him, but is currently under heavy sedation while they bring his blood pressure and some swelling down on his brain. They’re aggressively treating him with medication and sedation to try to avoid surgery to alleviate pressure.
Do know that when he is awake he is in good spirits other than being somewhat bored by the whole thing.
I will post more later, but this is a good start. please feel free to ask me any questions you have and I’ll get them answered as possible.
On behalf of Jim and his family, thank you for your overwhelming and continued concern and love.