Life in the aftermath

Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part story about the victim of a burglary struggling with daily life in the wake of the attack. Part one ran in Sunday’s T-R.

It’s Tuesday, and Sarah McGuire has an appointment at Primary Health Care Inc. The appointment is unrelated to her PTSD, unrelated to her ataxia, unrelated to her post-concussive disorder. In fact, most of her medical appointments are unrelated to her condition.

“I don’t like to say I am disabled,” she says. “People look at me different. Can’t they see I am a normal person, just in a broken body?”

There is not much local doctors can do for her anymore. It is part of the reason her mother, Sharon Olson, has organized a fundraiser to help pay for Sarah to go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. To cover the $10,000 cost of her treatment there, her mother is trying to sell 5,000 tickets to raffle off a 2013 Ford Fusion.

The buzz of Sarah’s electric toothbrush fills her bathroom as she waits for People Rides, a free transit service for people like Sarah who are unable to interact with the fixed route of the Marshalltown Municipal Transit system. She runs a pink plastic Conair brush through her golden hair. Although she doesn’t know it yet, her favorite driver, Tom, has returned from his three-week respite to deal with some chronic health issues. He’s a “cool dude,” she says.

Once downstairs, Tom helps Sarah from her walker to a wheelchair and guides it over to the lift that will elevate her into the van. But before he does, Tom begins to wheeze slightly.

“Sit down for a minute,” Sarah tells him. “I don’t want you to have an asthma attack.”

The trip to Primary Health Inc. is a short one, and inside, the lobby smells of hand sanitizer. Sarah wheels up to one of the kiosks. The clerk greets her by name before asking Sarah whether her address and phone number is still the same.

“Nothing ever changes for me,” Sarah replies.

The woman hands Sarah a form to sign, renewing her Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act agreement. Inside a room with cartoon characters on the wall, a licensed practical nurse enters; her demeanor is friendly. She too knows Sarah by name.

“So, how you doing?” she asks Sarah.

“Same stuff different day,” Sarah says.

“I know you need help with your medical bills, money to go to Mayo,” the nurse says. “Do you need anything else? We are just trying to see if we can do anything here.”

Sarah tells the nurse how her mother surprised her with the fundraiser but that her mom doesn’t tell her much about the ins and outs of it, but word has been getting around. The nurse then tells her that at the end of the year, Sarah’s insurance, Iowa Care, will be eliminated. Sarah’s face goes placid.

“My stomach just turned over,” she tells the nurse.

“It might actually be a good thing for you,” the nurse says.

With the governor signing a new Medicaid reform bill, it is possible Sarah could qualify for services for which she hadn’t previously qualified. Still, like many government reforms, the details how it relates to Sarah’s condition specifically and its timeline are still uncertain. It could be a long time before Sarah knows exactly how the change will affect her life. Still, it’s the first bit of potentially good news she has gotten in a long time.

She grabs the nurse’s hands and begins kissing them.

It’s the day after Independence Day, and Sarah sits in her side room. She is halfway through her second 20-ounce cup of coffee, waiting for her shower nurse, Bonnie, to arrive. Since her meds frequently make her drowsy, Sarah drinks a lot of coffee.

In plastic totes behind her are her arts and crafts supplies for painting, for drawing, for making jewelry. But the meds do more than make her drowsy, they also curb her creativity and limit how long she can use her hands without them hurting.

“Do I be healthy or do I be creative?” she says.

Before her attack, Sarah worked doing embroidery at Cabela’s in Richfield, Wis. where she lived after leaving California but before she came to Iowa. It was the best job she ever had.

She stands and uses her Invacare wheeled walker to head toward her bedroom to select today’s clothes. On her way, she passes her bookshelves. Embedded among books on astrology and beadwork, somewhere between an encyclopedia and a “Calvin and Hobbes” anthology, are books with titles such as “How to Interpret Your Own Dreams”, “The Stranger Beside Me”, “A Scream on the Water” and “Cold, Cold Heart.”

On her coffee table, sits envelopes from the Mayo Clinic and Tripp, P.C., a law firm out of Pella, Iowa. Throughout the apartment are various ladybug knickknacks; it’s become a running gift theme with her family ever since they began calling her “bugs” when she was a girl. Her grandmother used to have to set the tiny red insects free after Sarah would capture them, put them in a jar without punching holes in the top and forget about them. Now, her apartment is littered with flower pots, pillows and stuffed animals bearing the insect’s visage. Nine years ago, she even got a ladybug tattoo on her left shoulder.

The volume is turned low on the 2009 psychological horror film “Orphan” playing on the Lifetime channel.

Once inside her bedroom, Sarah hops onto her bed and scoots over to the edge grabbing for a clothes basket. On the door is a high-polish chain lock, and near her bedside table is a 2-by-4 she wedges against her door while she sleeps. The basket sits right next to her commode, a portable toilet Sarah keeps at her bedside because she is unable to make her way to the bathroom in the dark.

“I’ve had this since I was 25,” she says. “You aren’t supposed to have this when you are 25. It’s not f—— fair.”

Sarah sifts through her clothes, settling on a gray V-neck T-shirt — one of several she bought at Walmart with the last pay check she ever got — and a pair of ankle socks. Her jeans sit neatly folded in the bathroom. With the washer and dryer in the basement, Greg does Sarah’s laundry since her attack.

Bonnie arrives as she, or another Home Care Plus nurse, does every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to help Sarah shower. But before her shower, Bonnie sits Sarah down on her futon. Risers Greg installed to help Sarah access her walker more easily when she is sitting elevate the futon. Bonnie begins to take Sarah’s vitals. She wraps a blood pressure cuff around Sarah’s arm, squeezing it taut. She studies the gauge; then, she holds a stethoscope to her chest and listens to her heart. She notes the numbers in her ledger.

“Everything looks good,” Bonnie says.

In addition to helping Sarah shower and taking her vitals, the Home Care Plus nurses ask their patients simple questions about how well they hydrate themselves, whether they are having issues with their meds; they review safety measures like the handrail secured to Sarah’s stairwell or the one inside her shower — anything to keep their patients out of the hospital.

After Sarah retrieves it from her storage compartment on her walker, Bonnie runs the pink brush through Sarah’s hair.

It makes it easier to brush when it’s wet. The two head to the bathroom for Sarah’s shower and return roughly 20 minutes later. Bonnie commences brushing Sarah’s hair, which fills the room with a floral scent.

“You look tired today,” Bonnie says. “Did you not sleep well?”

Sarah shakes her head.

“Were you worried that I was coming at nine?”

“I had nightmares,” Sarah says.

“About what?”

“What do you think?”

A few minutes later, Bonnie leaves, and Sarah is alone again.

Contact David Alexander at 641-753 6611 or