Category Archive for: ‘Woody Weingarten’

Stroke survivor exemplifies courageous, upbeat attitude

Rita Martin, dressed in the reds and pinks she loves. Photo: Woody Weingarten.


Strokes temporarily stole Rita Martin’s speech.

But it’s back, still a bit tentative but good enough so she can be understood easily.

Her courage, on the other hand, never left.

Recovery, she tells me, is “a little, little, little progress at a time. I couldn’t talk, and then I could. I was in a wheelchair, and then I was walking.”

Rita laughs a lot, which makes it difficult for me not to adore her.

Her overall upbeat attitude makes it impossible.

“I laughed in a Tibetan hospital, and in an Indian hospital, after I’d had the strokes,” she tells me. “And when I couldn’t talk for a year and a half, I laughed.”

She labels the date of her strokes, events that occur when blood momentarily stops flowing to the brain, “stroke-iversaries” — and believes “everyone should celebrate them because they show how much you’ve done.”

I’d first met Rita in San Anselmo at a Pine Street Clinic celebration where she’d supplied healthful hors d’oeuvres.

Her professional catering efforts, there and elsewhere, are usually gluten-free, sugar-free and free, in fact, of anything she deems harmful to the body, mind or spirit.

She tells me she learned culinary arts by watching her grandmother “cook for the whole family, when I was three or four, and she’d make little kids out of challah dough and I’d put the eyes on them.”

Rita also does acupuncture.

She’s been licensed since 1986, after having apprenticed at Pine Street five years. But she hopes to expand her practice and do more acutonics, needle-less acupuncture with tuning forks.

My wife has been patronizing the clinic for 18 years, adding Chinese herbs to her Western “slash, burn and poison” treatments when first diagnosed with breast cancer.

She, too, has a positive attitude.

But she was never sure what worked — and didn’t care.

Just as Rita didn’t care how hard she’d have to work to heal.

Despite skepticism from a slew of Western docs who thought “I’d never talk and would only be able to watch TV and say yes or no after years of therapy,” Rita was certain she could get much better much quicker.

She did.

She now sits in my living room sipping green tea.

A glamorous 62-year-old, she’s clad in the flowing reds and pinks she loves, sporting oversized bracelets and silver earrings shaped like butterflies. It’s easy to picture her as a hippie in the ‘60s.

She was, of course.

She always liked helping others, even considered becoming a doctor until she realized it “wouldn’t be much fun.” So she worked in Albany, New York, for Refer Switchboard, aiding “druggies, runaways, alcoholics, people escaping abusive relationships.”

Then she helped start the Washington Park Free Medical Clinic there.

She chats now about living on and off in San Anselmo since 1979 — with some elongated trips to Taiwan, India and Tibet thrown in, literally, for good health.

Her thought processes sometimes don’t make it intact from her brain or heart to her tongue.

She doesn’t get discouraged though.

It wasn’t always that way. She “got really angry because the doctors thought I wouldn’t get better and I knew I could. Then, six months into it, I got really depressed.”

Usually, however, she’d “be stubborn and figure out how to do it, or think how I could do it differently.”

There are “very few things that I can’t do now,” she says.

She sums up her attitude this way: “Sometimes I feel good, sometimes I backslide, then I feel good again, but all the time I feel like I’m getting better.”

And she has no specific advice for other stroke survivors — except that they should “accentuate the positive.”

She touts an optimistic book by her Mill Valley friend, Alison Bonds Shapiro, “Healing into Possibility,” and its companion DVD, “What Now?”

Alison, who also survived two strokes, says “around 700,000 occur in the United States every year.”

Both women emphasize recovery.

On the DVD, Rita notes she can hike more than nine miles a day without using a brace or quad cane.

What’s ahead?

For others, she wants to do “stroke education, where you realize you can get better.” For herself, she wants to heal what’s still faulty — a right leg that doesn’t function fully, a right arm that’s flaccid.

And she offers herself the same maxim she’d advise any recovering person: “Believe change is possible.

“I’m betting she’ll get what she wants.

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