This was written by my friend, Gordon. We ran it in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, but I thought it should be here, too. Read it. It’s important. Send it to others. Send it to yourself.
Stroke changes life utterly, but doesn’t steal reason to live
With all of the suddenness the word implies, a stroke unalterably changed my life in the summer of 2008.
One day I was a fully functioning adult – independent, working, driving, walking, and going where I needed to go when I needed to go there. The next day I was in a hospital bed, completely paralyzed on my left side, totally dependent on others for help with even the most basic, private functions.
It took some getting used to. Four years later, I’m still trying to get used to it. Deep down, I know I never fully will. But I’m lucky. For one thing, I survived. I’ve come back a long way, further than my doctors expected. I can walk, slowly and with a cane. I manage to get by with the use of only one hand. I can drive a car. I can’t do everything I once did, but I have an enjoyable, productive life.
I had a lot of help along the way, much of it during the month I spent in a rehabilitation center. I’ve never been in the military service, but I liken rehab to basic training: A bunch of people with little in common are thrown together with the goal of getting out of there as fast as they can. Quickly, I saw that the people who worked hard got better. The people who didn’t work hard regressed. I decided to work hard.
I had some inadvertent incentive. One of the staffers asked me, “What kind of work did you do?” – past tense. That got my attention. I was just turning 54. I wasn’t ready to spend the rest of my life sitting in the corner and staring out the window. I worked even harder.
It paid off. After six months of inpatient and outpatient rehab, I made it back to work. As I said, I’m lucky. My stroke didn’t rob me of the ability to think or to communicate. I work in an office, not in a mill, on a ranch or at a warehouse. Physically, I couldn’t do a lot of jobs. I can do the one I have. Much more important, I can still be a husband, father, grandfather and friend.
I’m different now. I’m the guy gimping along, noticeably so. I’m much more aware of the challenges handicapped people face. I’ve learned a lot, especially how kind, helpful and supportive people can be.
I’ve also had to deal with the fact that people admire me for battling back. It embarrasses me. I don’t think I did anything out of the ordinary. Faced with similar circumstances, I believe, most people would have done the same. Mentally, quitting is harder than trying. I can put up with being handicapped. I’d have had a hard time living with myself if I’d given up. My message, then, is that if health problems hit you, do your best to recover. You’re likely to improve faster and you’ll feel a whole lot better about yourself.
I feel compelled to deliver another bit of advice, although I don’t want to put myself in the position of the reformed sinner thundering from the pulpit. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that all those warnings you’ve heard about obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol turn out to be true. My stroke was self-inflicted. I’d readily trade every doughnut, cheeseburger and bag of potato chips I ever ate if I could regain my full mobility.
That won’t happen, but I’m grateful for what I do have. In the rehab center I learned a great lesson from another patient, José, even though we couldn’t converse. José’s stroke had cost him the ability to speak and the use of both arms. He couldn’t even feed himself. But José held his head high and always smiled. His stroke had taken away a lot, but it hadn’t taken away his pride and dignity. He hadn’t given up.
A stroke transforms a person’s life irrevocably. It eliminates some options. It doesn’t eliminate the choice to keep trying.
Gordon MacCracken, Centralia, works in public health communications. He is a former daily newspaper editor and writer.