On a fine July day, Coleen Jones’ electric wheelchair rolled out of Antigonish’s R.K. MacDonald Nursing home, down busy Main Street and up the long hill on Church Street to Sobeys.
“It felt wild, like I was free again,” remembered the 65-year-old on Monday.
She was free again.
Six years earlier, the St. F.X. Universityemployee and community organizer had been blindsided by a stroke.
Left paralyzed on one side, brain damaged and suffering from severe depression, Jones was imprisoned by her own brain. She stayed in bed for six years. The woman who managed the St. F.X. masters in education program for teachers and who would bring international students into her home for supper didn’t leave her bed or want to see her own family.
“I prayed every day to die,” said Jones.
Her daughter, Cara Jones, grieved the mother who had always been her inspiration.
“To be honest, I prayed God would take her, because I knew that’s what she wanted,” said Cara, an author, youth
organizer and inspirational speaker.
Then Coleen’s whole world shook again.
It was the beginning of July and Coleen was at her lowest point yet, unable even to keep food down, when a nurse found her thrashing in her own bed.
She was having a grand mal seizure — an intense form of seizure that occurs when electrical activity over the whole surface of the brain becomes abnormally synchronized.
Coleen was rushed to hospital and Cara came home.
“I came home early because I thought mom was going to die,” said Cara, who was getting married in August.
“We planned to have our wedding at the nursing home because we knew mom wouldn’t be able to leave.”
Coleen had two more of the massive seizures in hospital and then, after a few days passed, a fog seemed to lift.
“I could feel it,” said Coleen.
Then she woke up one morning, looked at the bright day out her window and to the bright green electric wheelchair she’d hardly ever used.
Outside she felt the sun warm her skin and the fresh air fill her lungs.
She saw her old community going about their business on Main Street.
She marvelled at feeling her old self coming back.
And she knew what she wanted . . . frozen fettucini Alfredo dinners.
Well, she wanted a lot of things, but first she’d head to Sobeys.
While there, she figured it’d be a good idea to get some new clothes, so she stopped into Mark’s Work Wearhouse in the Antigonish Market Square Mall for T-shirts and pants.
When Cara stopped by to visit her, the nurses told her she was in the garden.
“I nearly fell over,” said Cara.
“There she was buggying down the hallway. We talked for days. She said, ‘Where is everybody? Why doesn’t anyone visit me?’” Cara explained the last six years — how much she had missed.
Coleen has talked to her doctors about the change that followed her seizures but the brain is a mysterious world that isn’t yet fully grasped.
All that anyone knows is that she’s back.
And she’s on a mission.
She writes a blog with just her index finger on Cara’s website (https://carajonesspeaks.com/) about her own recovery and simple changes that could be made to improve the lives of the physically disabled.
Always a champion of social causes during her working and volunteer life, her new goals are to reach out to the lonely people around her and help local businesses become more accessible.
One idea she’s had is for nonwheelchair accessible businesses to put a sticker on their door bearing their phone number so they can be called from outside by someone who needs help getting in or wants something brought to them.
She spoke at her daughter’s wedding, which was held at St. F.X. instead of the nursing home.
She takes joy in her children and grandson, and seeing the friends who meant so much to her before the stroke. Though her senses of taste and smell remain damaged, she eats out and cherishes each bite and the moments she sees people sharing all around her.
She still has struggles with moments of depression and frustrations with the limits of her body. Those six years have left her suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
But she’s not going to miss out on life anymore.
“This is me,” said Coleen.