Four years ago today, I suffered an ischemic stroke. In the hospital, three days later, I had a massive stroke. I lost a lot. As I have said many times, “I miss ME.” Nevertheless, I count my blessings every single day. I could have died.
So, what I have learned during the four years of loss and recovery?
I am incredibly happy and blessed!
“COMMUNICATION:” It was just a word before. But, when your degree is Communication and you make your living communicating, it is doubly devastating when you cannot talk, read, write, and understand even your own name. I just wanted to say my son’s name back to him. Today, though speaking is difficult, I am blessed to share my story making speeches about stroke and possibilities.
“PATIENCE:” I was never patient. However, my body and my brain are recovering slowly. Hurry up already!
“MATH:” I cannot “do” math at all. I can read financials but I cannot “calculate.” One of my therapists said, “Math is overrated.” And so it is.
“READING:” I miss reading. A lot! I can read again because years of “reading therapy,”. But, I do not enjoy it. Words used to flow in my mind to the pages. Now, I need to concentrate on every word. On the other hand, “listening” to a book is OK.
“PODCASTS:” have been a salvation for me. I listen to everything imaginable.
“THERAPY:” I have “done” physical, occupational, speech, vision, acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and more. Years of therapy. Hundreds of hours! Thousands of hours on my own trying to be “back to normal.” Nonetheless, I have brain damage. But the brain is fascinating. The 80% of my brain that was not damaged is slowly developing neuro-pathways to accommodate my new brain possibilities.
“MIASMA!” The term I use when I think about insurance, disability, social security, income, and the rest. Do you know that the average insurance policy covers 20 hours of rehabilitation? It does not matter what part of your body that is injured: 20 deplorable hours. “Injured knee? 20 hours of physical therapy. Here’s your bill!” A massive stroke where 20% of your brain is dead and you need years of therapy? “20 hours! And, do not let the hospital door hits you in your disabled ass when you leave because the insurance company wants you GONE!”
“FRIENDS!” I have the greatest friends! I knew that before my strokes. However, people throughout the nation helped my family during those dark hours when I wept about everything including how to pay for therapy. My friends did everything. Grateful beyond words. Thank you all.
“NEW FRIENDSHIPS:” Through support groups, the “brain attack” network has given me an outlet to cry, laugh, learn, and just “be me.” So thankful for my follow stroke, aphasia, apraxia, etc. survivors. I am grateful to be on this voyage with you.
“FAMILY!” In one instant, my wife took care of everything. And she still does. She never let me give up hope. My brothers have been my rock throughout this unexpected journey. My extended family has supported me in so many ways including not overprotecting me. And our son. What can I say about Ethan, the little boy who on his 7th birthday helped me to the restroom when I was scared go alone the first night when I came home from the hospital? He had to grow up too soon, but he is such a great young man. Almost 11, he inspires me every day. I love you Ethan!
“DELIBERATE:” Every single day is hard. Simple things that I used to take for granted are challenging. Using a knife, using a pen, figuring a tip, applying toothpaste, writing a birthday card to my son, driving, etc. Typing this update will take me hours and leave me with headaches. Everything has to be very deliberate. And, I will make so many mistakes. However, now I let it go.
“PRAYER!” When the second stroke happened, I could not reach the call button to cry out for the nurse. For two reasons: I was paralyzed so physically, I could not reach the button! Second, I lost my ability to speak in one instant. I could not yell! During that hour before the discovered me, I prayed for me. I prayed for my son. I prayed my wife. I prayed for my brothers. I prayed for Mom and my stepdad Karl. I actually prayed for death if I could not recover. But, my Dad, who had been dead almost 20 years, kept telling me “You will be fine. You cannot give up.” Since my strokes, so many people have told me that they prayed for me. I am eternally grateful for their prayers.
“LOSS!” 2012 was the worst year. Ever. My two strokes in January. My stepdad’s failing health. My Mom, my rock, succumbing to ovarian cancer. And then, my beloved parents dying 13 days apart in September. My wonderful Uncle Roy dying of a heart attack. I lost my career. I lost my identity. “Please! Just get the year over with!”
“HOPE!” Despite it all, I think my strokes were a blessing. I was so obsessed and driven to “succeed” I lost track of what “success” really means.
“Family. Friends. Helping others. Having meaning in your life.” That is it.
And I do.