George Boardman: Dodging the big one |

George Boardman: Dodging the big one

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. In my case, I’m referring specifically to June 30, 2020.

As you will recall, we were in the grip of the coronavirus shutdown as the economy was tanking — the worst performance since the Great Depression. We were also in the midst of the worst fire season in California’s history, and the Boardmans were getting ready to move from Lake of the Pines, our home for 20 years, to the suburbs of Nevada City.

But none of that mattered to me last June 30 about 8:30 p.m. as I helped my wife, Mimi, put food in the pantry. Much to my surprise, I had a stroke.

I knew something was wrong when the top of my head became very hot. I headed for the shelf where we kept the drinking glasses. I never made it.

My wife realized immediately that something was wrong. I had the sense later that she was trying to hold me up (no mean feat for somebody who’s 70 pounds lighter than I am) when she was actually slowly lowering me to the floor.

Interestingly, I passed just one of the three FAST tests, the ones that are supposed to tell you it’s time to call 911. My face wasn’t drooping and both of my arms worked fine, but my speech was slurred to the point I was unintelligible.

As I rode the ambulance down Highway 49 to Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital, it occurred to me that I hadn’t said goodbye to the love of my life — now 52 years and counting. I decided then I was going to fight like hell to make sure this wasn’t my last roundup.

It turned out such drama wasn’t necessary. Yes, I had a stroke, but I dodged the big one — the one that will put you in LaLa land the rest of your life, turn you into a cripple, or just put you out of your misery.

My stroke was pretty much a non-event after I made my soft landing on the kitchen floor. I got up on a stool until the ambulance crew arrived, and they walked me out the front door to the gurney for the ride up our steep driveway.

I spent the next two days getting holes punched in my left arm — I looked like a mainlining junkie when they were done — and being tested continuously, sometimes at 3 a.m. I needed a good night’s sleep by the time I got home.

Aside from the various scans, I was tested repeatedly to determine how many functioning brain cells I had left. This included repeating various words strung together, identifying pictures of a variety of items, and describing a scene I can still recall: A woman was drying dishes while the kitchen sink overflowed, and a boy was falling off a stool trying to reach the cookie jar while a girl watched. I don’t know what it proved, but I aced it every time.

I got to walk around the hospital a lot to demonstrate my ability to walk a straight line while maintaining my balance. I was also asked to eat a graham cracker and wash it down with a glass of water while a nurse watched. A lot of stroke victims have trouble swallowing.

I didn’t get away unscathed. I knew where I was and who I was after the stroke, but I wasn’t sure about our address, phone number, or my Social Security number. That stuff came back to me the next day, but I spent several weeks blanking on words I was searching for while speaking, and I had trouble spelling words I’ve known forever.

I also went through a couple of weeks of depression after I got home and the excitement wore off. Until the stroke, I was in good physical shape and felt fine. I assumed I would spend the rest of my life in a long, slow decline until I finally arrived at checkout day.

The stroke changed my thinking. I was told you’re most likely to get a second stroke in the first three months after you have the first one, and a scan showed the carotid artery on my right side — the likely cause of the stroke — was significantly impaired. An operation took care of that problem.

I finally got tired of feeling sorry for myself and decided to do what I could to avoid another stroke. My gym was closed, so I bought a weight-lifting bench and a set of dumbbells to work-out at home. I’m back at the gym lifting as much weight as I did before the stroke.

I also instituted a regular regime of walking, a task I find boring but now necessary. I even bought my very first pair of hiking boots for use on the trails around Grass Valley and Nevada City.

I banned alcohol, red meat, cheese and eggs from my diet for three months. When I drink now, I limit my consumption to small amounts of wine or beer a couple of times a week. When people who have known me a long time express skepticism, I just tell them, “Brother, I’ve seen the light.”

I don’t know what the future holds for me, but sitting around waiting for something bad to happen has no allure for me. I was fortunate the first time and I’m going to do what I can to make sure there isn’t a second one. In the meantime I’m going to continue to enjoy life, especially now that the COVID-19 restrictions are behind us.

I’ve developed the custom of thinking about what I can be grateful for every Thanksgiving, and it wasn’t hard last year. I wrote most of this column Thanksgiving morning with the expectation it will appear in The Union on June 29, 2021. I’m grateful I was able to email it to my editors last Friday.

George Boardman lives in Nevada City. His column is published biweekly on Tuesdays by The Union. Write him at

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