Lunch with Marjorie: Dental care, brain surgery and playgrounds—part one

“I always like the hummus here,” Sara Salberg said, ordering the garbanzo bean specialty in a veggie wrap with roasted eggplant and carrots from Kiki B’s lunch menu. I ordered my favorite—a turkey, cream cheese and cranberry wrap with homemade garlic chips.

“I have two forks and no spoon,” Sara noticed. “In Rockford, it seems like there are never any spoons,” she remarked, speaking a stream of consciousness, staying in touch with her thoughts.

“And it says it’s CHIP-approved,” she remarked, as she eyed the menu approval of the hummus wrap. “I try to eat that way. But then I’ve had a bad couple of months.”

Sara’s sunny smile is always ready, even as she talks about her life-threatening brain surgery.

“I wasn’t going to start our chat with your brain surgery, but what did happen?” I asked.

“Initially, I was feeling fine,” she said. “My dentist had me coming in every three months, now that I’m over 50. For a year, he’d been telling me he was hearing noises…noisy carotid arteries.”

“Your dentist heard noises in your head?” I asked.

“He takes his stethoscope and listens to your carotid artery,” she explained.

“No dentist I know does that,” I said.

“Hmm. Well, finally after a year-and-a-half of him saying that, about my sixth visit, I went home and told my husband, Chuck,” she said. “Then, I went to my doctor here in town…my first doctor wasn’t going to do anything. I said, ‘Listen, we’re friends, you’ve delivered all my babies, please, just test me because I want this dentist to get off my back.’ He sent me to a specialist.”

She was advised to get her carotids cleaned out—something like plaque removal.

“He said it was really urgent, but he couldn’t get me in for six or seven weeks,” she said. “We were going to Arizona to see our oldest grandson, who was 7 at the time.”

Sara tried one of my garlic chips

“I don’t taste the garlic,” she said. “Oh, there I do,” she said—more stream of consciousness.

“Your taste buds still work?” I asked.

“They’re very good,” another smile.

“On the way to Arizona, I told my husband we should go to Mayo because we had gone there for our 50th and 55th birthdays when we were out there visiting our kid and grandson,” she said. “So we had our foot in the door.”

She wanted a second opinion.

“We were nonchalant about it, even though there was pounding in my carotids,” she explained. “The doctor said it was an emergency—but six or seven weeks!”

Sara didn’t have an appointment, but when she called and said she had had a diagnosis she didn’t understand and wanted a second opinion, they told her they had an opening that afternoon. But they couldn’t do the tests they wanted to do that afternoon, because the lab was closing. It was 5 p.m.

“They weren’t sure they were looking at the carotids for the problem,” she said. “They just knew it was something else. We were going to be in Arizona for five days, so we went back and forth—this hour-and-a-half drive, but it was worth it.”

An hour before their flight home to Chicago, Mayo informed them Sara needed a special procedure because of a malformation in her brain, which had been there from birth—weakening blood vessels.

“The arteries, the veins, and in between, the capillaries, were wound up together like a ball,” she said. “Those capillaries were ballooning and were going to rupture.” She pointed to the back of her head…making an imaginary line from the left to the back.

“But when I was young, I hadn’t stressed out all of the capillaries,” she said. “Once (the stress) started—probably from weight and age—the few capillaries left were doing all the job. The rest were going to rupture, I guess. They would have just popped one day. I would have lost my whole right side of my body—this side of my brain—paralysis and blindness.” She pointed to the left side of her head again. “When they took that malformation out, they bruised me a little. That’s why I have the loss of short-term memory.”

“All from an alert dentist,” I marveled. “It’s so good you got that second opinion. Otherwise, they would have cleaned your carotids, and it would have gone on.” She nodded.

Sara and Chuck returned to Illinois, and Sara had the surgery to reconstruct and cut out the damage. They saved what could still be useful.

“Sounds like a huge surgery,” I remarked.

“It was almost nine hours.”

“Insurance covered this?” I asked, imagining huge bills, too.

“Isn’t God good? We just always had good insurance,” she said.

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at

from the July 5-10, 2007, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!