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Cherie Buckner-Webb

Grandchildren and grace

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It was the late Sunday afternoon of Nov. 17, 2013, and Boise Democratic Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb was missing her granddaughter.

"I hadn't seen her all day and I needed some face-time," she said.

Indeed, that's exactly where Buckner-Webb turned: FaceTime--a smartphone app that allowed her to chat with granddaughter Zaida, who sat on the lap of Buckner-Webb's son, Phillip Thompson, on the other side of town while Buckner-Webb spoke from her North Boise home. But Thompson said something "wasn't right"; his mother looked tired and she even called her granddaughter by the wrong name.

"I flew over to her house," he told Boise Weekly. "Her speech was impaired and we needed to get to the hospital."

Buckner-Webb said that her first instinct was to go to bed.

"But I've been told by people that if I had gone to sleep, I would have been in serious trouble," she said.

Buckner-Webb's scare is over now. But in a candid conversation, with her son and granddaughter nearby, the state senator spoke of her recovery, hopes for the 2014 legislative session and growth in grace.

Do you recall feeling specific sensations during the stroke?

Buckner Webb: It was really a lack of sensations.

Thompson: I said, firmly but respectfully, "We're going to the hospital." It was painfully obvious that she was having a stroke.

How much time had lapsed?

Thompson: We actually time-stamped it for the doctors. It was less than 30 minutes from the time of the FaceTime conversation to the time we got to the emergency room.

Had anything like this every happened before?

Buckner-Webb: Never, never, never. I kept saying I didn't have time for this. I just wanted to go home.

But they did admit you to St. Luke's.

Buckner-Webb: Oh, yes. I was there for three nights. I just didn't want the label of a stroke; it has a connotation of being infirmed.

Thompson: Once you have a stroke, there's a strong possibility of having a second stroke, and in those first few weeks of recovery, you have to be careful. If you break a bone, it takes six to eight weeks to heal; and your brain is infinitely more complex.

Talk to me about your recovery.

Buckner-Webb: I went through physical and speech therapy three times a week for a while. But I must also tell you that acupuncture has been a real treasure for me. It was a wonderful complement to the traditional medical treatment. It helps the body help itself heal.

And do you have any lessons-learned from this?

Buckner-Webb: I have many women friends that work so hard but just don't necessarily take care of themselves. I'm kind of a zealot now about women's health issues--especially chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and stroke. Women just don't take the time to acknowledge that they can find themselves in precarious situations.

Have you gradually begun your public schedule again or are you waiting for the beginning of the legislative session?

Buckner-Webb: On Dec. 17, I visited three schools in my district--Hillside Junior High, North Junior High and Boise High. Because I sit on the Senate Education Committee, it's so important to understand what the real education landscape looks like. I'm visiting three more schools before the beginning of the session.

I'm certain that you've seen the 20 recommendations from the governor's Task Force for Improving Education; among those is the restoration of pre-recession funding for K-12 education.

Buckner-Webb: I'll be dancing a jig if we can do that. We have shortchanged our children and our future by continually cutting education funding. You know what? I may be preaching before this session is over. 2014 is one of those years--with so many legislators preparing to run for re-election--but I'm hoping for a kinder, gentler session. And I'm hoping that we all keep in mind that we serve the public and need to do what's best for Idaho.

And I'm presuming that you're in support of the proposal to fund a pilot program for an Idaho pre-K program.

Buckner-Webb: If you don't have reading proficiency by third grade, you're doomed. Pre-K is absolutely critical.

Looking back on 2013, how was your first year in the Idaho Senate?

Buckner-Webb: I just seem to gravitate to whatever happens to be the super-minority. It's a little humbling from time to time. Reflection is so important: replicating those things you do well and getting done with those things that you need to let go of. Overall, 2013 was a good year.

How are you any different?

Buckner-Webb: I hope I'm growing in grace. I used to be a little more impatient. When I look at all that is happening in the world, I know that we need to do a few things different. But you know what? We're doing some things pretty well.

I need to ask you if you were at all afraid about the stroke incident impacting your singing voice.

Buckner-Webb: You know what? It was my sister that brought it up in front of my doctor. And the doctor said, "Give it a try." I really hadn't tried until then, but it was all right.

[At that moment, Buckner-Webb broke into a glorious, full-throated anthem of freedom.]

Ain't gonna let nobody turn me 'round... turn me 'round... turn me 'round.

[And with that, Zaida flashed her grandma a big smile.]