“Brao” sounds like what a pudgy, 59-year-old lady says when she sees photos of smokin’ hot actors, right?

In fact, THAT sound is “RAOW.” (Duh.)

BRAO means something entirely different; it’s a huge motivator for me.

You see, during the roughly two years when my husband was decaying like a malted milk ball (you know the one – looks normal but turns out to be almost hollow, with the malt condensed and crusted on the inside of the chocolate shell? Kinda gummy?), he pretty much did nothing more than sit.

He was dealing with physical issues as well as possible brain trauma and deserves empathy for his decision to take to his recliner (the “decliner”)… and one day while he was sitting there, he realized he couldn’t see right. The lower, inner quadrant of one eye (the part that lets you just barely see the side of your own nose) was black.

So he sat there for a while.

Turns out that even if this had happened to him while sitting in the exam chair at a retina specialist, there wasn’t anything that could be done. A small clot had developed in his bloodstream and upon slipping along one of the hair-like arteries in the retina, had gotten wedged into place. Within three minutes, the region of the retina that the artery branch served had died.

This wasn’t something that could be treated by diet or medicine; there was no operation that was going to bring the vision back. A hunk of dead retina is just that; dead. No more go.

When we finally got to the retina specialist, he was warm and comforting; this is nothing to feel bad about. It just happens sometimes. Jonathan had had a Branch Retinal Artery Occlusion – or BRAO.

But you know, there’s a larger truth there. You can’t do anything that will definitely protect you from a stroke… but you can take action to make it less likely. Right?

Don’t decline. That’s the top advice. Get up and strut around a little. Get the blood moving so little pockets of quiet in the heart don’t get sludgy and start calving like glaciers into tiny clot-bergs.

Make a few different choices at the dinner table. Avoid poisons like diet sodas. Skip the bread basket. Have chicken instead of beef.

Sugar. Damned, insidious sugar, with its hooks deeply embedded in my brain. Resist. Resist. Resist.

Jonathan didn’t. He sat. And declined. And lost the vision in part of one eye. And eventually he died, and never saw his son graduate from high school or got to visit him at college in Vermont. He never got to drive my new car. He has no idea my nephew is going to be a father. He’s missing EVERYTHING.

This journey into Jonathan’s decline comes because in a quest for a cool spot (the furnace is on too high in this chill weather), I ended up on his side of the bed in the early hours. I woke up and found myself caught in a grim memory loop. The BRAO came back to me vividly; I couldn’t shake the reflection of a nightmare time.

This morning, I got up and ate my yogurt. Then I ran the stairs. Up and down, up and down, up and down – ten times in all, grimacing and wishing I had the breath to say all the bitchy things I was thinking about how annoying it is to get cardio exercise…

…and I thought “BRAO.” This is why I do stairs. Forget the waistline. Forget the label on the jeans. Forget being “good” or “bad” about my health. Just do it so you don’t go blind one day.

I could sit comfortably now and ignore the stairs and perhaps lose my vision later… or I can pant and grunt and complain now while thudding from floor to floor in my house and later have a marginally better chance of seeing my son live his life, and meeting my grand-nephew or niece, and eventually buying another new car that Jonathan won’t get to drive. Maybe one day I’ll hold a silly novel in my hand that I wrote and actually published. Maybe.

So – stairs. BRAO, man. Stairs.

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 2.16.39 PM

Google Images assures me that is a retina. Honestly, it could be a hugely injured retina or a textbook example of what a retina is supposed to look like… I wouldn’t know. I just thought the red was pretty. Jonathan’s scans (which were always in black and white, not flaming red) had a large dark shadow over part of this image. BRAO.  Brr.



5 thoughts on “BRAO

  1. so, after a weekend of eating poorly–who am I kidding? OK, a month–you remind me why it matters. I too want a long, healthy future, full of life and great and little things. Thank you–I needed that kick in the butt!


  2. Not to be a pudgy party pooper…I know someone who had a BRAO thing…slim, healthy, exercised…I asked my eye dr about it and the answer to why some get it and others don’t…answer….who knows? I say try your best to be healthy…without going nutty. Put most of your effort into being happy, entertained, and doing stuff that you like with people you like…sometimes that is eating cheese cake.


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