The stroke hit Carol Wendle Oct. 3, 2007. When Wendle surfaced to consciousness and realized that her right arm didn’t work, nor her right leg, she thought: “I do have speech. My sight is good. So I’m thankful for that.”
Wendle was 65 and still had work to do. Her husband, Dick, needed her. Her two grown children and five grandchildren needed her. The longtime community volunteer, who served on the Spokane Public Schools board for 11 years, hoped that Hutton Settlement, a unique home for displaced children, still needed her. She’s been on its board for more than 30 years.
In the 17 months since Wendle’s stroke, her faith, family and friends – and her volunteer work at Hutton Settlement – have guided the healing that continues to this day.
When an economy contracts, the tendency is to contract personally, too. It seems counterintuitive to give things away. But Wendle believes giving is what people need to do now, whether they are unemployed, downsized or just despairing over the economic crisis. Give away your time, she urges.
“I see the ripple effects of volunteerism,” Wendle says. “It gives back to the person way more than what they are giving.”
In summer 2007, Wendle underwent a “Welcome to Medicare” physical exam. She was amazingly healthy. She exercised, ate right, never smoked. Her blood pressure was elevated but under control with medication. She had always been physically tough. At 18, a spinal fusion repaired a congenital condition. She was supposed to end up in a wheelchair, unable to have children, but neither scenario happened, and she counts among her biggest blessings her two children – Chud Wendle and Kristin Goff.
The day before her stroke, Wendle attended a Hutton Settlement board meeting. The all-woman board numbers 21. Members are appointed for life. Wendle and other board members began planning Hutton’s 90th anniversary celebration, even though it won’t happen until this July.
At around 9:30 the next evening, Wendle collapsed at the bottom of her stairs inside the house. Dick heard the sound, discovered her, dialed 911 and within a half hour, Wendle was receiving emergency treatment at Sacred Heart Medical Center. The bleed occurred in the center of her brain, slamming the right side of her body.
“This was very humbling for me,” Wendle said. “I love good penmanship and when I had to sign papers in the hospital, I realized I couldn’t write with my right hand. Being a former teacher, that was really a big shock.”
News of Wendle’s stroke raced through Spokane. “When I heard, it stopped the world,” said Hutton Settlement board member Amy Bragdon. “She was just the Energizer bunny all over Spokane.”
After 10 days in the hospital, Wendle moved into St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute. She stayed 35 days, where each day she did five hours of physical and occupational therapy, individually and in groups.
“My arm returned shortly after I got to St. Luke’s, but I was in a wheelchair and they had to lift me down into the pool. It was exciting when I was able to get into the pool on my own (holding on) to the railing.”
The Hutton Settlement children sent cards, banners and posters. Board members wrote notes, visited and pooh-poohed any notion that Wendle quit the board. She ended up missing only one board meeting – in November, the month after her stroke.
“She returned to the board to cheers from all of us,” said board member Missy Willis. “Everyone applauded her magnificent attitude.”
Wendle drew upon the resilience of the children she’s met at Hutton Settlement the past 34 years. It was founded as an orphanage in 1919, but most of the children are no longer orphans in the conventional sense. A few have lost both parents, but usually children live at the settlement because of ill or imprisoned parents or grandparents who can no longer provide care. The children all faced early-life challenges, and Wendle thought of their resilience as she forced her arm and leg into relearning their body work.
Her grandchildren motivated her, too. “My grandson Ben had a dream. He had a dream I was going to be walking soon without a cane.”
On Christmas Eve, Wendle walked without the cane to show Ben his dream had come true. But Wendle still uses the cane when she’s out and about. She’s not crazy about it. She’s also not crazy about the way Rita – her nickname for her right leg – has a mind of its own. Rita doesn’t do well on sand, grass or uneven surfaces. Rita collapsed under her in January, fracturing her ankle.
Wendle uses the cane with grace. She saw this behavior role-modeled on the Hutton Settlement board. Because its members commit to lifelong terms, they age together. One board member, Janet Moffitt, battled lung cancer before her death in 2007. She wore a red-white-and-blue baseball cap, decorated with sparkles, to board meetings. Wendle thinks of Moffitt when she dons brightly colored clothes for board meetings now.
“The board members were an inspiration,” she said. “I watched them go through health changes and saw how they handled the good and the bad and the resilience they had. It set a foundation for me personally. They just handled it, no complaints.”
Wendle now role-models that same grace for others.
“A lot of people would just throw a pity party for themselves, but she stayed strong through it all,” said Kristin Goff, Wendle’s daughter. “She has to walk real slow and one day, we were walking across the parking lot. A gentleman pulled up. He was frustrated and gave us that hurry-up look. Instead of getting mad, she had this big smile and said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I’m trying to hurry.’ In turn, it changed his attitude.”
Wendle also draws strength from the example of Hutton Settlement founders Levi and May Arkwright Hutton. May ran a boarding house and dining hall – and fought for women’s rights – long before women did those things. She and Levi were as tough as the metal found in the Silver Valley mine that built their fortune. The couple couldn’t have children. After May died, Levi built the Spokane Valley orphanage for longevity. It remains solid, from the bricks of the 1919 cottages where the children live to the endowment that means Hutton Settlement needs neither state nor federal funds.
“May and Levi laid the groundwork for so much,” Wendle said, including, she realizes now, the groundwork for her own recovery.
The car Wendle was driving the day of her stroke was a red Ford Edge, from the family dealership, Wendle Motors. She loved it. The Edge was gone the day she got home from St. Luke’s, and she still cannot drive. Rita is too unstable. So this woman who married into a family that has owned a Ford dealership in Spokane since 1943, this woman who drove herself everywhere – physically and metaphorically – now bums rides with others.
To her surprise, she enjoys it. Board members carpool to meetings, which Wendle knows is good for the environment. She has more time for long conversations. This has been the hidden blessing of her stroke, and she urges people, once again, to find the blessings in the current downturn, by getting out of their homes to volunteer.
“The speed bumps in life teach you a lot,” Wendle said. “This has taught me to cherish every moment.”