Gary Gelb

Gary GelbOn the road and then on the road again--this time to recovery

Something didn't smell right to Gary Gelb. Gelb was in Las Vegas making a presentation to his colleagues when he was distracted by a distasteful odor he thought was coming from a nearby chair. But the odor was not coming from the chair or from anywhere else in the room. The odor was merely a symptom of a seizure caused by his brain tumor. And so was the temporary loss of speech that later accompanied the odor and prematurely halted his presentation that day.

Fortunately, four nurses were attending Gelb's presentation being held at a local hotel. "The nurses ran up to me, led me by the arms, and took me out a nearby door," says Gelb. Minutes later he found himself in the hotel's emergency room. At first, he was unable to speak but understood what others were saying. By the time he left the hotel, he was able to sit up and speak to the paramedics who insisted on taking him to the hospital. "I had a CAT scan of my head immediately. Then the doctor came in, closed the curtain, and said, ‘You have a tumor. It's big.'"

The hospital's surgeons wanted to remove the tumor immediately. But Gelb's friends and colleagues had been busy making phone calls, searching for the best place to seek treatment. They came up with three possibilities: hospitals in New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta. Emory's Dr. Costas Hadjipanayis's name kept coming up as the physician of choice, says Gelb. As fate would have it, Gelb, his wife, Janet, and their 15-year-old daughter, Blair, had just moved here from California.

"We went to see Dr. Hadjipanayis and within four days he had me on medication and stabilized," says Gelb. Gelb had surgery two weeks later. Two days after that, he was headed home--after wowing doctors and nurses with how far he could already walk the hospital corridors. In fact, three days after arriving home, Gelb was ready to hit the road. "I made up my mind I was not going to wait," he says. "My first walk wasn't far, and it was all I could do. I realized these walks were exhausting, but you have to motivate yourself a little at a time."

Gelb stayed on a strict schedule of eating, sleeping, napping, and exercising at set times, which helped him cope with side effects from the medications he was taking. He stayed mindful of working on his motor skills, strength, and balance, first by taking walks and climbing stairs, then by doing minor yard work as a stretch.

Gelb also worked on his short-term memory, which had been affected by the surgery. "When I would get into bed and fall asleep, I felt like my mind was going through flash cards," says Gelb. "I was reconnecting words and pictures. I asked Dr. Hadjipanayis about this, and he said my brain was reconnecting the left and right sides. I'd go to sleep not being able to remember things, and I would wake up and do things I couldn't do prior going to sleep."

Now, Gelb is working a full day. He sometimes goes to the office and sometimes works from home-and he still has a nap. One key to Gelb's recovery is staying active, he says. He swims when possible and walks about two miles every evening.

Gelb even has their family dog, Bongo, in on the activities. When Janet and Blair went out of town a few weeks ago to see friends while Gelb rested, his wife asked him to look after the dog, whom he wasn't all that close to at the time. No matter, he and Bongo the Chihuahua embarked on a daily exercise routine, which they both came to love.  Bongo, nearing middle-age, had put on a little weight over the years, but the walks helped him lose a couple of pounds. That's a lot for a Chihuahua.

"Bongo pesters me until he gets walked," says Gelb. "He goes to the door, we put his harness on, and we go for a walk. When we come home, he and I relax."

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