Welcome to Pushing the Limits, the show that helps you reach your full potential. With your host Lisa Tamati, brought to you by lisatamati.com.
Lisa Tamati: Hey everyone. And before we get on the way with the show today, I just want to remind you to check out all our great programs that we have. We have our www.runninghotcoaching.com, where you can find out all about our online run training system, we get video analysis, your customised personalised plan made specifically for you, and ongoing support and help and education around everything running. So check that out at runninghotcoaching.com.
We also have our flagship epigenetics program, which is all about optimising your genetics and making the best out of them and how to do that. Understanding what your genes are all about and how to get the right food, the right exercise, the right timings for everything. Understanding every aspect of your life, your place, your career, your social environment, all of these things, your predispositions and much more. So check that out. Go to lisatamati.com and hit the work with us button and you'll see our Peak Epigenetics program right there.
Also a reminder to check out the longevity and anti-ageing supplement that I am now importing into New Zealand and Australia in conjunction with Dr Elena Seranova, a molecular biologist who is behind this product. Now this is all about the sirtuin genes basically, which are all your longevity genes. Now NMN is a precursor to something called NAD, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. And this is an absolutely essential compound for every in every single molecule— every single cell, I should say, of your body. It's very important in regards to ATP production, and in regards to metabolic health, in regards to autophagy, in regards to sirtuin genes and upregulating those. Make sure you check out the episodes that I did with Dr. Elena Seranova and head on over to www.nmnbio.nz if you want to find more about the science of that, and why I am super excited about this product, this longevity and anti ageing product, NMN.
Right. Now, today I have something very, very different. I've turned the tables on myself and I have a very dear friend interviewing me about our book that we wrote together. Cushla Young, she's a, got a master's in English and she is the person who helped me rescue my book when I had a hell of a mess, basically. So I hope you're gonna enjoy this interview. This is all about my mum's story. It's about mindset. It's about going up against all the odds, it's about going against the establishment. So it's a lot of things we cover in this interview. So you're also going to hear from my very special mummy. She's going to come to work and tell us a little bit before she heads off on her coffee date. So now over to the show with Cushla Young and Isobel.
Well hi, everybody. Welcome to Pushing the Limits. Today I am doing something very unusual. And so hi everybody in YouTube land who's listening to this as well. I want to introduce my best friend, Cushla Young. Cushla, welcome to the show.
Cushla Young: Thank you.
Lisa: For starters. Now I'll give you guys a bit of background. Cushla and I have been friends for now, a decade or so. Cushla is the lady that helped me write this book. Without her it would not exist. It wouldn’t have come out before Cushla came along. The book is Relentless: How A Mother and Daughter Defied the Odds. It's my latest book, and Cushla is the magic behind that book. What we're going to be doing today is talking about what the book is about, which is the story of bringing my mum back from a mess of aneurysm, major brain damage at the age of 74, when it was against all the odds, when the medical professionals were telling me the brain damage is so bad that she's never going to recover.
Being an athlete I went, ‘No that's not happening, and we'll find a way.’ This is going to be all about that story. Now I'm going to hand over the reins to Krishna to actually interview me, but I've actually got a very, very special guest sitting here next to me, who is the actual star of the show. And so Cushla is going to, she's going to take off for a coffee date. So I'll have to let her come to work first. So I'm going to pass you over to my very special mummy. There she is, Isobel. And she's gonna talk to Cushla for a second so I'll just pass over the headphones.
Cushla: Hand over the reins.
Lisa: You’re on, Isobel.
Cushla: Hi Isobel, morning.
Isobel: Good morning, Cushla. How are you?
Cushla: Taking off for a coffee date soon, are you?
Cushla: So you are a guest of honor for a few minutes on this podcast. This is, I'm going to be a little bit different because I get to interview your daughter rather than her interview others today.
Isobel: That's good.
Cushla: So, but we'll start with you. So you have been on one heck of a journey over the last few years.
Isobel: I sure have.
Cushla: So how can we start with how you're feeling now?
Isobel: I'm feeling good.
Cushla: You're looking great.
Isobel: I can go for a coffee and I can go walking on my own. And I can do almost anything.
Cushla: When Isobel left my house after a lovely glass of wine the other day, you didn't have one, but Lisa did. You drove, didn’t you? You drove her home?
Isobel: I did. Yes. I can drive now. That's good. Especially if Lisa’s having a wine.
Cushla: You get to be a mum.
Isobel: I do, I get, revert back to being mum. Yeah.
Cushla: Yeah, and that must have given you a lot of independence that you have lost for quite a few years.
Isobel: Yes. It’s awesome. You don't realise how isolated people are. They haven't got— We all have a way of getting around here. It’s isolating. Yeah.
Cushla: And can you tell us a bit about what you have been getting up to? I understand you've been doing some art classes with your sister. How's that going?
Isobel: Not as well as I would like to but it's, we're doing all right, you know?
Isobel: I'd like the results to be a bit more spectacular. But—
Cushla: It must be nice to be creative.
Isobel: Oh it is. It’s good, it does me good.
Cushla: Now, do you have much of a memory of the hospital time?
Cushla: No. What's your first memory that you can recall?
Isobel: Probably where we went to a meeting with all the big guns—
Lisa: At the hospital.
Isobel: At the hospital, and they wrote me off, really.
Cushla: Did they? They underestimated you as well.
Isobel: I can remember saying—
Lisa: I was feeling good. I was feeling good.
Isobel: I was, I was feeling fine before this. Now. I'm feeling terrible. I have been demoted, I've been, lost my independence. Just because they were talking like they were, they shouldn't have done that.
Lisa: They took away all your confidence. And—
Isobel: Yeah, they just.
Cushla: And so your background is similar to mine. You're an educator.
Cushla: Have been for decades and decades. You must understand how demotivating it is when somebody tells you what you can't do rather than what you can do.
Isobel: Yeah, that’s it exactly.
Cushla: So when did it change for you after that meeting? What were some of the first things that happened that gave you a bit more confidence?
Isobel: Getting on a driver's license probably was a major breakthrough. Lisa took me down to the dam by the port and just—
Lisa: It’s been months.
Cushla: Round and round you.
Isobel: You will, ‘now you drive.’ I was totally gobsmacked.
Cushla: But you did it.
Isobel: I did it.
Cushla: And I understand the doctor was utterly shocked—
Isobel: He was.
Cushla: —when you went in to get your medical for your license.
Isobel: Totally blown away.
Isobel: That was a blow away.
Cushla: It had probably been a while since the doctor had responded that way.
Isobel: Yeah, I think so. He was a nice doctor. So that was good.
Cushla: So could you give some advice to someone who might be going through something pretty tough at the moment. What would you say to them?
Isobel: Just hang in there and—
Isobel: Fight hard. Yeah. Yeah. You've got to grit your teeth and just carry on, really. Yeah.
Cushla: You're one tough lady, aren’t you?
Isobel: I must be.
Isobel: So that's what we did.
Cushla: Can you describe some of the routines of things that you do at the moment that keep you in such good health?
Isobel: I go to the gym most days.
Lisa: Do weight training, cardio.
Isobel: I do weights, I do cardio, I do walking on the treadmill, yoga.
Cushla: And you still do your hyperbaric as well?
Isobel: Yes, every day at the moment.
Cushla: Everyday? Wonderful. Still eat the smoothies that Lisa makes you in the mornings?
Isobel: They’re pretty terrible.
Cushla: But they’re good for you, right?
Isobel: But they are good for me. Broccoli is not exciting, and it’s sickening.
Cushla: What we've noticed is, about over even the last six months, is how fit and agile and glowing that you are. That's amazing.
Isobel: It is amazing. It's amazing that you said that. I don't always feel it.
Isobel: It's hard to know where you're at, so.
Cushla: Yeah, I think sometimes what you see is yourself reflected in others’ eyes, and that's a really good indication of how far you've come.
Isobel: Yeah, and I have come a long way.
Isobel: Yeah, a really long way.
Lisa: A bloody long way. All right, now you can go get coffee.
Isobel: I’ll pass you back to Lisa—
Lisa: —and get yourself a coffee date.
Isobel: I will.
Lisa: Thanks, Mummy.
Lisa: She’s an absolute legend. Thanks, you have a nice coffee. We're now actually going to get into her backstory. Because, I would have done it the other way around and had her at the end of the show. But she needed to get to a coffee date. So she’s just rolling. Yeah, we're rolling with the punches.
But Cushla, this— can you, I'm gonna pass the reins over to you fully. Because you know the story, you lived it with me, you helped me from the get-go pretty much. So over to you. Oh now I’m an interviewee.
Cushla: Got you. We're flipping the tables, aren’t we?
Lisa: Yeah, we sure are.
Cushla: To be interviewed for once, which is fabulous. So this has been a long journey for you and your mum and your family, and you're right. I was, I had known you for a few years before this happened. I think from my perspective, the thing that was so shocking about what originally, with the aneurysm, with your mum, was just how quick things changed overnight. I think we see Isobel now and— how old is mum?
Lisa: She’s 79.
Cushla: 79. So we're going back quite a few years, and I used to often pop into the shop and see your mum, and just pop in and say hello. And she is now but she also was been a very intelligent, clear-spoken woman that used to do acro-aerobics all the time, she was very fit and healthy, very independent, working still pretty much full-time.
Lisa: Yeah, she was.
Cushla: For somebody watching, to see overnight that she went from that, from a completely functioning full-time working adult, to just being, nothing was there. Overnight, the aneurysm took her from being completely functional to nothing. I think the shock in that first visit and I saw her quite a few weeks after the aneurysm, and you’re back up to New Plymouth. You'd been in Wellington. The shock of seeing her lying there, she had aged a decade overnight.
Cushla: It’s hard. Hard to see. I think the shock of that must’ve ripped through your family quite viciously. You notice that change overnight.
Lisa: It was huge. Yeah, to have growing up with mum being always the one supporting me. And the one that was there for me in all the phases of my crazy, upside down life that I've had, you know, with all my adventures supporting me with all lower— dramas and relationship breakups and divorces and business growing.
Cushla: Rooting for you at most of your races.
Lisa: Oh, yes. Yeah. She’d seen, been there, done that with me, I can tell you that she had a hard life with me. She had a good life, she had exciting times with me. She was really the rock of my world. And then that turned upside down very much overnight. And, you know, you go from being this adult kid to a complete role reversal, where you're now you know, having to do everything for your mum, you are advocating, you're fighting, you grow up really quickly, even as a fully-grown adult. Obviously, I still am very much, when you've got a parent, you’re still like a kid in a way to them. That is that was a biggest shocker for me I think was to be, no, now you are the one that's caring for your mum, and you are going to have to pull out all the stops to help her and it’s you know, no longer about you being the selfish egotistical athlete, and there's nothing wrong with it, if you’re an athlete, you have to be if you want to reach, know, do the stuff that I did. But that was a shocker.
And then not, like the— we had medical research mishaps from the very get-go when mum had this aneurysm that happened early in the morning. And an ambulance driver came into the house, you know, they got her into the ambulance up to the hospital, he knew already that she was having a neurological event. And he told the doctor so much, and he just ignored it. He ignored it.
He said, ‘No, she's having a migraine, I think. So we'll just leave it for a few hours and observe her and give her some painkillers.’ Well, you know, ‘Thanks very much for that.’ The first six hours not knowing, and she was dying, basically. She was dying. And I knew she was in deep trouble. And I didn't know what to do. Because at that point in my life, I had no idea of anything like this. So I was never, you know, in a situation like this, I didn't know what was wrong with her. But I knew we were in trouble. And that was a very big wake up call. I actually got our mutual friend, Megan Stewart, who's a paramedic here and the head of the ambulance here. And she came up to the hospital at that time. She sort of rattled some bloody cages very quickly. And because she knew immediately what was happening, stroke or aneurysm or something neurological, migraines. She went and told this doctor what for. He then relented, and we got a CT scan. And that's when we saw the blood right throughout the brain. So that was a very big wake up call for me in a number of ways. Obviously, the shock of it happening to your mum, the fear of her dying, she's being very, very, very close to death at this point. And then realising that, you know, the medical system had not worked for us. And I'm not— you know, we're all human, and we all make mistakes and stuff. But that was a pretty big one. That was a pretty big one.
Cushla: I think, in those situations, we want to trust the people that are— the medical professionals that are around us. For the most part in ED, they're an amazing group of people. But I think also there is a lot to be said for your mum. You knew what a migraine looked like, you should have before. And it's a matter of trusting yourself, isn't it, enough to then think, this isn't to your question what you’re saying, and then fight as hard as you can for a different outcome. Because my understanding about aneurysm is there's a golden hour, or it's really important to be treated.
Cushla: A short time.
Lisa: Surgery, that's the golden hour, they talk about getting you into surgery within the hour. It took 18 hours. 18 hours, because not only do we have the medical mishap and we also had the fact that we had to get to our Main Hospital down in Wellington, neurological. Living in a regional area, unfortunately, that's just the way it is. But we had to wait another 12 hours for the air ambulance to actually get to us, and when you're over 65, you’re sort of bumped down the hierarchy, especially if you— if they don't think you're a good, you got good odds. So, you know, we— there were, at that time we had a baby that needed help, and that was more urgent than mum. They have to make those calls. I understand. I don't like it; I understand it. It’s your loved one and you don't really give up.
Cushla: Not at the time because you're also going through the shock of what's happening and trying to process that. In that moment, can you describe, I suppose I want to focus a little bit on what was happening to you and your body. Because I think the thing about this really, this story is that it's not just about a mum surviving an aneurysm, but it's also about you and your family and how you've managed to pull yourself back together as well. So not just Isobel but yourself. I know that a lot of us, all of us will face a moment in our lives where we have to handle a bit of trauma.
Cushla: What was going on in your body and how did you cope so that you had the ability to fight for your mum? What are you doing in your mind?
Lisa: So in the initial phases, Cushla, you know, you are in shock, you're out, you're terrified. But very, very quickly, oh, especially after the mishap, once I realised what had just happened and the ball’s up that that was, and that it was likely going to cost your life. I just went into what I call mission mode. Like, ‘Okay, right, I am not going— I'm going to research the hell out of this. I'm going to learn everything I can. I'm going to be hypervigilant. I'm going to watch everything they do. I'm going to question everything they do. I'm going to get my family organised.’ Because I had get them down to Wellington. My father was, of course, falling to pieces because it’s the love of his life. He's been, you know, married to her for 55 years. He came up to me already in the ED and said, ‘We better start planning the funeral.’ Because they were, you know, saying to us, she's like, unlikely to survive. And I'm like, ‘Dad, we're not even considering that. She's alive, she's still breathing, and we're gonna fight with everything we have. Here's a list of jobs to do: I want you to go ring so and so, organise this, get the boys down, my brothers down to Wellington, blah, blah, blah.’
When people are in a crisis, you need to take control and give them jobs to do so that they, their, you know, their amygdala, that their permanent part of the brain doesn't go into complete full-blown panic, and which doesn't always work. And I'll relay a story a little bit later, where I did go into full blown panic. It's all very well and good to say this. But at that point in time, I was like, ‘Dad’, I shook him, I grabbed him, I held him and I said, ‘No, you've got this and this job to do, we're going to do it, and follow me, dad. Follow me.’ And that was basically how it was then for the next few years. Yeah. My brothers as well, they were very much, ‘What do we do?’ I had no idea at the time, but I pretended like I did. Fake it till you make it. What we're doing this is how we're going to operate over the next few weeks. So it was being down on Wellington together, organising the family to be down there, all the logistics that go along with that, and your jobs and your, you know, partners and all the rest of it. And then a 24-hour watch over Mum, and being hypervigilant, explaining to the boys everything that I was learning medically, because I was like, studying forever, I was just going, going, heart out, trying to understand and get up to speed on something that I was completely not aware of prior to this, learning what an aneurysm does, what vasospasms are, what I've been looking for, what they— signs.
We were only in the neurological unit, we weren’t in the ICU, which, looking back when I arrived, what the hell. When she got down to Wellington, they get straight into surgery, they started draining her blood off the brain. She started to— start to have that pressure released. But then we had to decide the next, in the next couple of days, though it had stopped bleeding at that point, but it was about to go out in time again, it could go at any moment. How do we clamp it? What do we do? Would we cut into her brain and put a physical clamp over the area? And it was a mess of aneurysm. Like we're talking a 16 millimeter huge aneurysm. We went up through the femoral artery, and we weighed up the pros and cons and you make that call. She's got a 50% chance of dying this way, she's got a 30% chance of dying that way, pretty much. So we'll take the lesser evil, but she was going to have to have two operations and in that way you know. So that was gonna be really touch and go, really touch and go. I remember them wheeling her off for that operation. I think it was on day two, through the doors, and you just don't know if it's the last time you're going to see them alive, and the whole just trying to hold your shit together.
Cushla: I know that you're very good at compartmentalising parts of the— of something when it happens. What I remember you talking about when we were writing the book, was how you were able to put the jobs that needed to be done in that box. The research you were doing in this box, your family in that box, and probably, and I know this because we had phone calls and I was in touch with you at the time, your emotions and your shock and your trauma in this box. It was a matter of kind of keeping you know, all those juggling balls in the air at one time. But also, and importantly allowing you to have that emotional spot as well. And I know that you were very good at compartmentalising and giving yourself time to do that, but not letting it overtake you, letting you drop all the other balls at the time when you were dealing with the emotional side of it. I think that's really important because I know— so when Lisa and I first met, I was a bit of a Lisa Tamati fangirl, before we became friends, and I got to know you really well.
Lisa: And then realised, oh no.
Cushla: Yeah. I mean, we just saw you as Wonder Woman. You know, there's tough, tough, you know, athlete. Then I got to know you, as a human being, of course, a woman, there’s a vulnerable side to you. But what I think is really important at that time, an immediate trauma time, as you gave yourself time to release a bit of that stress and that trauma by leaning on your husband Haisley, by your phone calls to me. But also, like, I know that you went for some runs, went to get gym, threshed it out, you probably screamed at the ocean at one point. Do you know? That's also important, isn't it? It's not just—
Lisa: If you want to sustain— we knew this was going to be a long, long, long battle. While we hoped it was going to be a long battle, a short option was not a good one. This is something that I've learned doing ultra marathons: is to— in particular in the Libyan desert crossing, where you have to read the book for the whole story. But I did an expedition across the Libyan desert with three other guys, one of them being this abusive boyfriend that I was with at the time. There was a very extreme situation that we were in, we needed two liters of water a day, etcetera. And I'm having this big domestic fight with the boyfriend right in the middle of the Libyan desert.
Cushla: In the most extreme environment on the planet.
Lisa: In the most extreme environment, walking 45 kilometers a day with 35-kilo backpacks and only two litres of water a day in a military bad zone, not a good time to breakup with a boyfriend of five years. And in that moment, when he left me and disappeared over the sand dunes, that was a turning point for me, and I fell apart initially. And I was like, ‘Oh, God,’ started crying in the rails. I can't afford to lose any more tears here. I've got to pull my shit together, because I cannot let the energy dissipate that at the rate of I want to actually survive. It was getting down to that sort of level of you know, you're going to survive this or not. And so I learned in that moment, really a very hard lesson in compartmentalising things in your brain. So like, ‘I'm going to fall apart, but not right now. I'm going to put that off right now because I have to focus on this, and getting through the desert and surviving.’ That's been actually a really good lesson. It's never a pleasant one to actually have to instigate where you have to actually compartmentalise.
Just interrupting the program briefly to let you know that we have a new Patron program for the podcast. Now, if you enjoy Pushing the Limits, if you get great value out of it, we would love you to come and join our Patron membership program. We've been doing this now for five and a half years and we need your help to keep it on air. It's been a public service free for everybody. And we want to keep it that way. But to do that we need like-minded souls who are on this mission with us to help us out. So if you're interested in becoming a patron for Pushing the Limits podcast, then check out everything on www.patron.lisatamati.com. That's P-A-T-R-O-N dot lisatamati.com. We have two Patron levels to choose from. You can do it for as little as $7 a month, New Zealand, or $15 a month if you really want to support us. So we are grateful if you do. There are so many membership benefits you're going to get if you join us. Everything from workbooks for all the podcasts, the strength guide for runners, the power to vote on future episodes, webinars that we're going to be holding, all of my documentaries and much much more. So check out all the details: patron.lisatamati.com. And thanks very much for joining us.
Lisa: But in this in this situation where you're dealing with— you're having to study like really hard. And we have access now to the greatest minds on the world that come in, all those information about out there that you can study. So I was studying all the drugs that they had on, all the procedures they were doing, what is the normal plan, and what happens when you have an aneurysm, what are of the some of the dangers, or of the things that I should be looking out for, what are the signs in your body. You know, all of these types of things in the initial phase and then later on at it went into rehabilitation research and study. And so that was one aspect of it. And then we had a 24-hour clock system, much to the disgust of the people at the hospital because they didn't want us there 24 hours. They don't like that. There was no way I was leaving my mother when she could die at any minute alone. No way.
So I had massive battles with the hospital, for them to be able to allow us in. And then having to fight for that. So you're fighting on all these fronts, you're already fighting with— your mum's in deep, deep trouble, and then you're fighting against these systems. And they may have some good reasons for those systems. But there was no way I was leaving my mother alone when she could die any second. A family member had to be with her at all times. And I was very, very strict on that. We had some big blow-ups at the hospital. We got through really in the end. And we tried to be as unobtrusive as possible when we did what we were. And we picked up things that they missed, because she was on a neurological ward, they only come around a couple of hours into obviously, patients. But going back to the whole compartmentalising things. I know how to manage my body really well, and how to pace myself really well from doing ultra marathons and stuff, and expeditions. And so I knew that we were going to be in the for the long haul, I knew sleep deprivation was going to be a problem, I knew that the family dynamics were going to be a problem, that there was going to be fighting because of the stress there was it we were under, and we were all living in one motel unit. And that mum was in deep crap, we had my father to look after who was just, you know.
Cushla: And he was down with you in the initial stage.
Lisa: He was here, he was; and he's very much, was a homebody. He didn't like to be out of his garden and sheep. So he was very, very stressed on that front, and of course his wife in such dire straits. He was, but he— so we managed to, had him to manage home because he started having heart problems. And so I had to eventually actually send my dad back home and actually lied to my dad that, ‘She's okay now, we've got her, Dad. She's all good.’ Because I think that we're gonna lose him. I was making those sorts of decisions and just running the ship. Like you said, I know the importance of, for me, especially exercise and fresh air for my mental well-being, that if I was going to sustain it, I had to have at least half an hour to an hour every day out from this whole thing, where I just go and do a workout.
Again, all the fear, the cortisol, the adrenaline that's running through my body flat stuck and try to manage it, and making sure that she was looked after, and that time. You know, you feel guilty and everything for leaving the hospital all. But you had to do that after a few days. You know, just a couple of days, I didn't, but after that. It was— it’s setting all these things in place. And we need to do that in our daily lives. We need to set up systems and processes and understand our own bodies and how our bodies work so that we can manage the stress levels and we can manage the movement that we need, the sunshine, and needs for sleep and recovery and all those aspects. And of course, in a situation like that, sleep deprivation was a massive, and there's not much you can do about that, you have to function at that level for as long as you have to.
Cushla: And I think a lot of people that are in stressful situations, whether or not it be something like what happened with your mum, or even at work or just in daily life, big stressful moments. A lot of people put the self-care to the side. And they just think, ‘Well, I'm not that— I don't have time for that,’ or, ‘I shouldn't have time for that.’ That's when the guilt that kicks in, and yet, it probably is one of the most important things to prioritise in terms of your day and compartmentalising your day through to handle stressful situations because it allows you to have the focus and the energy that you need and get back into the the stressful—
Lisa: Into the fight you're in. Yeah, absolutely. You need to be able to have that energy put back in. It might only be 10 minutes out in the bloody— you know, like when we, here's another situation which we'll probably get onto later with my dad. In his situation, in the hospital for 16 days, fighting for his life. It was sometimes 10 minutes in the waiting room doing press ups. That was all I could get before I went back into the battle zone if you like.
Cushla: Just to release that.
Lisa: Just to manage the cortisol. Reach, I call it discharge and recharge, and then reset. Come back into the moment. But yeah, it was a heck of a lot of lessons to be learned and then leading in a crisis situation. My brothers were amazing. They were very supportive, and they were, followed everything that I asked them to do, basically. Because I'm the study-er of the family, I'm the one that is into research and science and studies. They trusted me to do that thing. And they were like, ‘Well, you tell us what to do, we'll do it.’ And that's really great. Because you've got your roles. That is, in having somebody lead the charge, so to speak, even though you don't know what you're doing, where you're going, and there’s certainly no rehabilitation over the next years, because this process took years, having that person that's got that responsibility, got that, ‘This is what we're doing. This is how we're doing it, I just need you guys to do this bit and the other thing.’ And my whole entire family were willing to do that. They were— my dad was just, jumping ahead in time, my dad was just amazing, how he stepped up to the mark. When he had a wife that had done everything for him pretty much.
Cushla: He was, back when she came back to New Plymouth, he was cooking, and—
Lisa: He was doing all the things.
Cushla: He was doing all the things, yeah.
Lisa: It was a shocker for him, but he stepped up to the mark to the best of his ability. He was the most wonderful, caring husband. He didn't give a— he didn't care that she— when she came back home for the first time, and we actually got her out of the hospital after three months. Now, I'm jumping ahead in time. But he didn't care that she had no function, basically. She was in a vegetative state who had a heartbeat. She was alive, and we were fighting. That was all he needed to know. He had his wife at home, she was alive, she's stabilised, we were fighting together, and we were on a mission. Every day he had his jobs to do and the things to do. He was just relentless in his love for her, stepping up.
Cushla: So going back to the moment where— so she's in Wellington, and you need to read the book to find out what went on in Wellington. The moment that she was transferred back to New Plymouth was a bittersweet moment, wasn't it? You were able to come home and be with Haisley and be back at home with the family and friends around that were helping. But you knew that the care that you would receive back in New Plymouth wasn't at the level that it would be in Wellington, basically just because Wellington is way more resourced. And fair enough, you can have a very small region. Taranaki here, you know, we're a little provincial spot in New Zealand. So we knew that we wouldn't get the care that you got in the big city. So talk us through how it was like to come home—
Lisa: It was terrifying. I was happy for all those reasons, but at the same time, and I was happy that she's apparently stabilised. But she was in ICU for the good part of the two of the three weeks that she was in Wellington when she was in and out of coma. Once she'd gotten out of the coma, then they had to get the stent out of her heart, and she kept dropping. What happens when you take the stent out is that pressure can start rising in the brain again, and three times as they tried to take the stent out, the pressure went up. On the third time, they said, ‘Well, if it doesn't work, this time, I'm going to have to operate and put in a permanent one.’ And the third time, it worked. But it only worked for the next 24 hours, and then they were like, ‘Right, she's not— her pressure’s not going up. She’s keeping consciousness, she's not falling back into the coma. She's good to go.’ And I had researched, I knew that that was not the case, that she couldn't have— that pressure could go up over the next 70 days at any point, and if that pressure went up, it would happen very quickly, and she wouldn't— she could die.
So I knew that even though they weren't telling me that, she could still die in the next 70 days. If that happened in Wellington and the pressure started to go up, they were— they might be able to recognise that, they might be to go in and do something. They wouldn't be able to in New Plymouth. I was hypervigilant on trying to understand how I could notice if something in her consciousness was going down, right. All I could do was to understand some of the symptomatic things that she did which might exhibit if her pressure is starting to go up, because you wouldn't be able to communicate it to me, you wouldn't be able to see it, you would slowly lose more and more of a brain till it was gone basically. So that was a huge fear bringing her home, and of course putting her in an airplane with a pressure change. Yeah, I didn't know what it would do. In fact, it was nothing, but there wasn't a problem, really. But you know it this time you just—
Cushla: You don't know.
Lisa: Yeah, so for the next 70 days, I'm like, hypervigilant. If I noticed something down on, I’ll be like, ‘I think she's doing this and doing that.’ Then they took her off the oxygen at the same time, and that was a big problem. They didn't see it as a problem that she was, ‘Her oxygen states are alright.’ What they were forgetting was that she was sleeping 18, 20 hours a day. So when she was asleep, she wasn't breathing properly, and I believe she had sleep apnea. So I said to them, ‘I want a sleep apnea assessment.’ They said, ‘No, she doesn't need that, why should she need that? Her oxygen stats are okay when she's awake, so why would she?’ I knew about sleep apnea. So I got a friend of ours, he's actually a sleep apnea consultant, Jez Morris. I said, ‘Come into the hospital illegally, would you do that?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I'll do that.’ Well outside of rules actually, so not illegally, but you know.
We sneaked into the hospital at nighttime, put on these machines onto her, did an assessment overnight, because it had to be an overnight thing. We got the results, and when it came back, severe sleep apnea. Now, this is absolutely key. Like her oxygen levels were down at 70% SPO2. she was Cheyne-Stokes breathing, which is not a good thing. Probably going to be on your way out in the next couple of months. Her oxygen was so low that she was knocking off any brain cells that she has, the infections that are in her body were just going apeshit. So bacteria was exploding, and they're already known. That was actually the one of the signs that I picked up because I had done a lot of racing at altitude, and I was seeing a lot of the signs in her that I had at altitude when I had altitude sickness and things like that.
That was at first wind, because I had to convince the bloody staff that we needed to have the CPAP machine on here, and they weren't trained in CPAP machine, so they didn't want to do that. I'm telling what she needs, she's got this and you know, him being a sleep physiologist was able to convince them that okay, this is a good thing for her now. He said he'd been banging his head against the brick wall for decades, trying to get for stroke patients an assessment that is part of the process. Because very often, this happens that that part of the brain is damaged in the stroke or the aneurysm, and even in things like concussions, that you can have a change in your breathing situation. And that part of the brain that monitors that is not working properly. So it should be staying apart and perfect, and that's what I believe, and that's what he believes.
So anyway, we got the CPAP machine. Initially started to have little bits of improvement, but we're already two months, three months, two and a half months or something into her time in the hospital and we're running out of time. But she's stable, nothing we can do with her, basically. She's pretty bad, and we've given paid lip service to some physio and some speech therapy and stuff, and now it's time to get you out of the system.
Cushla: And I think at that point, I think they, if you saw Isobel at that moment in the hospital, you would see an old woman who was probably on her way out. You didn't see the vibrant person that we saw before the aneurysm, that was so independent, and so highly functioning. For the hospital, I think they just saw an older woman—
Lisa: Another older woman.
Cushla: —another older woman, and a family that wasn't willing to accept the fact that they had an ageing mother. So there's that little bit of not understanding who she was before, and how abrupt this change was. We knew that if we could just get her back, even if it was a little bit back, then you could take her home and start working on rehab. Can you talk about how quickly they just wanted to move her into a home?
Lisa: Oh yeah. And this is what happens very often when you're over 65 is the answer is get them out of our budget into someone else's budget. That means putting them into a hospital-level care facility. If you've got anything, that's the normal route that you go, and they will try and convince you of that route, at least in our situation. I can't speak for everybody obviously. We came up against a brick wall of this, especially the social worker who shall remain nameless, who just was totally against us being able to have the caregiver that I wanted, the caregiver for in the morning for an hour, and one in the evening for an hour, which is part of, they do provide the service and so on. But it costs more money, and you stay in the budget. That's the key point.
We were fighting over these resources. What I want people to understand is you have to fight for the resources that you want for your loved one. And we have limited resources, it's a fact of life. If you want to get some of those resources, and you think your loved one is worthwhile, worth it, because they’ve spent their entire lives paying taxes, being good citizens and have a right to have some of this, then you better be prepared for a fight because that's what you're in for. And we did have the fight.
Cushla: And it was interesting that, because as a family, you were willing to bring her home and you're willing to do a lot of the care yourself. You didn't want to be taking up a resource in a care facility. You were prepared to do that yourselves, as a family, at home. So in a sense, there's a lot of money to be saved. Because I know how much you have given up and how much it costs the family to care for her at home. But that is what you wanted, and your family wanted was to just, to have her home. I remember in the book, you spoke about wanting Isobel to hear familiar sights, smells, sounds around her to aid her in her rehab. And that in having those, you felt that she was going to make more connections, neurological connections, because she was in her own home, with her own people around her, with her own sights and sounds and smells around her. Can you talk a little bit about how positive you felt that was?
Lisa: Yeah, that's a huge piece of the puzzle. I had a friend's mum who actually worked in stroke rehabilitation. She really encouraged me to do that and said how important this was, and it just made total sense to me. I knew that when you're in the care of any facility, no matter how good they are, they can never provide the love and the attention that you can. Because they've got other people and you're just another patient and in— they provide a magnificent service and so on when this is absolutely necessary. But in this case, we had the willingness and the ability to do this. They said to me, the social worker said to me, ‘There is no way in hell you are going to cope with her. She's 24/7 around the clock care, two people at all times, there is no way you're going to cope with her.’ I actually came and threw my books on his table one night, across the table at him. And I said, ‘Read these. This is who I am and my family are, and we are not giving up without a fight. We may go down fighting, but we're going to go down fighting, we're not going to go down and take the easy route out. It is not in our nature.’
It's a fundamental difference between a family that’s a fighting family and a family that isn't. It's very much influenced by the people in power in these situations, the medical professionals, the people that are associated with all of it. And you have no confidence to stand up against all these professionals, usually. They're the ones that have been to medical school, they're the ones that have been to whatever, social work. Whatever the case may be, and you have a tendency to think, ‘Well, they know better than me.’ But one thing they don't know is you. And they don't know how strong you are. They don't know the resources that you have. They don't know your mentality. And they don't know, really, they're all guessing as to what will actually happen based on their experiences. But that's what becomes partly a self-fulfilling prophecy. So when they say to you that there is no hope. No, that's their opinion that there's no hope.
I had time and time again, people telling me, ‘There is no hope, there is no hope, she's 74, her brain damage is so massive, it cannot be that she ever would.’ I was like, ‘We’ll see.’ I'm only ever going to listen to the ones that tell me I can do, not the ones that I tell me I can't do. They may be right. I'm not saying they're not right, but I'm gonna throw the book at this. I'm gonna do whatever it takes. And it's all about attitude and effort and grinding it out then I'll take that one any day, I'll take that option. I'm a fighter. I'm a worker. And my family is too, and we're not going to go down without a fight. I've seen lots of— I saw lots of other families going through the same process, because this thing's happening every day in every hospital around the world, right? It is very much, ‘Well, statistically, this person's not a good bet. Therefore we'll just go through the standard of care, we’ll be the— do the humane thing, we'll do all this— tick all the boxes or do it all right.’ But the anomaly cases, the cases like mum’s, why is nobody coming to say to me, why do I get— no, I'm out there telling everybody that story. That’s why I've written the book is to empower other people in these types of situations, even different ones. But why is nobody asking me, ‘Well, what did you do?’
Cushla: What did you do to get there?
Lisa: They’ve been— I’ll let you know, when they mum here today, talking and walking and going off for coffee and driving up to see her friends, you would have no idea that she ever had anything.
Lisa: She’s just completely normal again. But I was told that was an impossibility. How many people are told, you have a terminal illness, you are going to die of this thing? When you plant this sort of stuff, they're making educated guesses based on the statistics of the past whatever and their experiences, and I get that. We can't give people false hope, but we've also can't take away all hope.
Cushla: No. That's a really powerful message, I think. I was talking to a friend of mine who is battling with cancer at the moment. She has the most amazing mindset, her mindset. So she's— you know, she was told she had three months to live, that was, I think, six months ago. Her mindset— and she's just been through some chemo and the tumors have shrunk. Her mindset, basically, is that cancer is not welcome back. It's just not. I'm going off to live my life. If I die of it, well, okay, I die of it. But in the meantime, I'm living my life, and I'm— it's not welcome back. She is charging in life and sure, she has her rough days. I really love how you said, it's— there's a responsibility for them not to give false hope, but at the same time not to take away. similar situation with my father, he has myeloma, so cancer of the blood. I think at the time, the doctors said, ‘After this treatment, you have between five and fifteen.’ He immediately said, ‘I'll take the 15, thanks.’
Because it puts them at that, at the point that it would have taken them to 85, and he was quite happy with it, because at the time he was 69. I love that. And we're six years down now. And I think mindset is huge—
Lisa: Oh, yeah.
Cushla: —in the way that you approach things. Because, sure, we might, I might die by being run over by a bus today. But if you don't live life thinking that things are going to get better, that you have the power to do, to have control over your health and your well-being, the way that you deal with these traumas, if you don't have that mindset—
Lisa: You're definitely not going to—
Cushla: — you're definitely not, you're going to roll up in a corner. As my friend with cancer said when she went to hospital, she's like, ‘Oh, I'm surrounded by all these sick people.’ Which I loved. Because she didn't see herself in that.
Lisa: That’s one of the reasons I take mum to the gym every day.
Lisa: I don't take her, I didn't take her, we did go to the physio program at the hospital. Don't get me started on that. But it was dreadful, it was shocking. The story’s in the book, if you want to read that one, that is a real battle. But they— I like her to be surrounded by athletes going for it. Because that rubs off on her. She's not a patient, she's an athlete. She's training for her Olympics. That is the attitude we take every single day. And I make no concessions that she is 79 years old, and, ‘Oh, isn't it time for her to relax?’ No, it isn’t time for her to relax. It's time for her to work harder. It's time to go harder and the older you get, the more effort you have to put into, if you want to stay alive. That is the key.
When you stop wanting to be alive, then yes, sit on the couch and do nothing. Because it's what that will lead to. If you still want to be alive and enjoy life, then you have to fight for it. This goes whether you’re bloody 10 years old, or 95 years old, or 105 years old. If you give into the easy way, if you go, ‘I don't feel like training today.’ I don't feel like training most days. But most days I train. Because it keeps me healthy, fit, and I'm being prevented. That's what I'm all about now is being in the prevention space, and then helping people who are in dire need navigate the waters of into connecting people to the right doctors in the right studies and the right information and the right books and all of that sort of jazz.
Cushla: When I was in the depths of my training for a marathon, I remember that exact conversation with a friend. She said, ‘I can't—’ You kno at the end of the day, I go for a run. And she's like, ‘You've just worked a full day.’ And I'm like, ‘Yeah, And I'm tired. But I'm going to go do it because you never regret it when you finish it.’ At the end of that 10k, you've never thought, ‘I really shouldn't have gone for that run.’ You don't. You come back thinking, ‘That was awesome.’ Sure you're tired, but you were tired before you went out for the run. So you actually end up more energised.
Lisa: You mean that will energise your cortisol in—
Cushla: My muscles might be tired, but you’re energised.
Lisa: And you’re getting stronger.
Cushla: Yeah, I think that's a really good message, that you don't regret it once you get out. It's always just those first, first few five minutes, or I always say the first 4k of any round was always more difficult than the rest.
Lisa: 20 minutes is all it is.
Cushla: Yeah, it is. It’s always shit.
Lisa: So same for me. And if I warm up properly, then it's only shit. If I'm in a hurry, and I run out the door, and I don't, then it's gonna be more shit, warm up quickly.
Cushla: The more experience you have with training, or with whatever it is that you're doing for self-care, understanding that the first little bit is always tough. And the more that you experience it, the more you know to expect it, then you know that you're going to get the buzz at the end and you start looking forward to that.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, I had that conversation with my brother yesterday, because I've been telling him, he's very funny. He does a lot. He's amazing, boaties, he does weight training. He's a surfer, and he surfs sometimes six hours a day, but he doesn't do cardio. And, you know, I monitor his blood, and his health and his everything. ‘You've got to do some cardio, we've got some issues here, we need some cardio please.’ And he's like, ‘I hate cardio, I don’t want to do cardio.’ And then we’ll do five minutes, and he’s like, ‘I don't want any—’ and I said, ‘It's about pushing through that barrier. It's the same as if you tell me, why aren't you going surfing anymore? And I'm like, “Oh, because it's so hard, and I don't want to get hit by the waves and get smashed around.’ And he's like, ‘what are you talking about? It's awesome.”’ As long as you go through that barrier. Pushed enough, long enough to get through that, and I'm having to go through that.
It's always that initial adaptation phase, that time when you're not fitting, you're not good at the surfing or the running, or the whenever, when it's shit. Let's be honest. But if you hang in there long enough, if you stay with the tension long enough, then you'll start to make the adaptations, and then you start to actually like it, and then you start to enjoy it, and then it will become like, ‘Wow, I’m actually into this.’ And you still have the days we don't want to do it. And those are the days when you have to just take action, a small piece of action, and put my running shoes on or I'll go to the letterbox and I'll see, or I'll just do 20 squats and then 10 press ups, and then I'll just stop there. Then you do those, and then you're like, ‘Oh, now I've got a couple more minutes.’ And then, you know, the next minute you've run for an hour or something.
Cushla: And, really, this is such a good title for the book. Because it's not, it's not just about your mum's story. It's about the process of taking those small actions and how those small actions all build up and all add together to make a big amazing solution. What I probably— again, going back to the fangirl in me, this isn't a story about Lisa Wonder Woman who can do everything, because she can't. She has vulnerabilities, and she has rough days and she has days where friends need to pick her up.
Cushla: But what you've done with your mum, and what you can learn by reading the book is how those small actions actually build up and accumulate. That is relentless. That's what it means to be relentless. It doesn't mean that we should all run a marathon or an ultra marathon, or that's the journey that most people should take. That's not what we are saying here, but it's about how, if you have some self-care and take those small steps, whatever that may look like for you at the time of your life, that you are living a life that is relentless.
Lisa: Yeah, yeah, I love that.
Cushla: Be way more powerful, more fulfilling, and you’ll last longer.
Lisa: You’ll last longer! We all want that. And you last longer helps me, you know, rather than yeah, it's all about for me, it's about healthspan as well. You don't want to be living in a horrific state of affairs and barely alive, but still kicking, that's not living. It's— we want to push that degeneration out for as long as possible. And the exciting thing, what I'm excited about, because I study this type of stuff obsessively, is the stuff that's coming down the pipeline with regards to longevity and anti-ageing.
I'm like, ‘Mum, if I can keep you alive for another 10 years, the technology is gonna keep you alive for a lot longer.’ That the advances in medicine, the advances in science are going to mean that you can possibly live for a hell of a lot longer. If I can hold my, you know, 52 year old body together, now, by the time I get to my 60s here, I'm going to be things that are probably going to mean that we're going to live to, they're talking 150 and beyond. Whether I'll see that or not, but my children might, or our little ones, and this next generation might, and we may. Who knows? Because things are changing so rapidly. And there's one having each and the latest and greatest stuff. I love shiny objects. I’m doing the research and in staying across all that and maintaining so that I can actually get to hopefully enjoy the benefits of it and not have something major happen out of the blue. Because most of these things that come at us, the big four, the cancer, the cardiovascular diseases and strokes, and the diabetes, and the Alzheimer's, if you take just those, they are predictable a long way out.
If I had known more about things then mum’s aneurysm was bloody written on the couch. Her dad died at 52. Now I've done our genetics and we have, I have a very poor lining of our blood vessels. They're like glycocalyx is very, very poor quality, which means we're more prone to strokes and aneurysms and stuff. So now I know that, okay, so now I can do something preventative about it. I didn't know that when mum went down, she was always struggling with her weight and always, always having problems with that. Now we've cracked that code. She's tiny now, she's very slowly, and she’s lost 35 kilos, and we've cracked the code on it. But hey, it's taken me bloody years to work that out with for here and now. But we have that science now. We have that epigenetics and all the genetic tests, and we have all that available to us, you know? And yes, it all costs, and people go, ‘I couldn't afford this.’
Cushla: Can you afford not to?
Lisa: Yes, can you afford not to? Yes, this stuff costs money, all this stuff costs money. To keep mum going, costs me over a couple of grand a month. But I would— instead of having a fancy car—
Lisa: — I got a fancy mum.
Cushla: Love it.
Lisa: You know, it’s just, if you don't have anything within your—
Lisa: —you can do the stuff that makes, you can get for free, which is exercise, which is not eating bad shit, and eating right and things. But if you have got a little bit of resources, where are you putting it? Are you doing it, for me superfluous things like, I don't go and have facials and massages. Well, massages will be actually healthy, so I probably shouldn't lump that in with it. But, you know.
Cushla: You don’t have fancy shoes.