Saturday, June 02, 2012


One month.

One month today since a doctor in the ER of CoxSouth made the diagnosis that started a new chapter in my big book of life.

One month. Probably the most frightening and frustrating month of my adult years, and if I live to be 91 I hope I never experience anything more shattering.

There's nothing inspirational about actually having a stroke. It's all kinds of messed-up madness.

I remember that first hour at the hospital, trying to touch my nose with my left hand and having it splat down somewhere between my lips and chin, and feeling terror seize my heart. "I'm left-handed oh sweet Christ I'm left-handed," I gibbered to myself, moving my numb hand over my mouth, trying to will my fingers to work.

I remember realizing my left thigh was numb as I tried to raise my foot higher than six inches off the bed and seeing it tremble from the effort, watching it drift off to one side before falling back onto the sheet.

I remember trying to move in bed and feeling the dead weight of one side of my body, heavier than I thought possible, and wondering how many pills I would need to kill myself, and whether I'd be able to open the bottle without assistance.

The days I spent in the hospital were not ones I want to experience again. Blood-thinner injections in the gut. Too many moments staring at the ceiling as I was wheeled to CT scans and ultrasounds. Days spent listening to my roommate's relatives discussing what care facility he would need to go to; he'd been hospitalized for nearly a month and he was still nowhere near ready to go home.

At night I would think about never being able to stand on my own and I would tremble.

A few friends and colleagues came to visit and I was embarrassed by my weakness. One person sat by my bed and I saw silent tears spill from her eyes. I felt heartbroken; did I really look that helpless?

I felt age accumulating on my face as rage started building in my heart. Goddamn it, I thought to my body. You had no right to do this to me. You had no right to break down on me. With each new day and night I felt a year older. With every shuffle of my feet I felt another five years added onto my frame.

More than once I hoped a blood clot would bust free and finish the job so I could be done with it.

But it got better.

Anger helped. The first time a physical therapist came in and suggested a walker I felt a flash. No fucking way in hell was I going to use one of those things. When she strapped the wide black belt around my chest I felt another flash: goddamn this sort of humiliation. I didn't care what it took, I was going to make sure this wouldn't be a part of my life for long. I would make chicken salad out of this chicken-shit situation.

(And though I didn't know it yet, my friend Shawn would soon be putting it in more positive terms: great joy from great sorrow.)

Speaking of friends: I learned new things about the people in my life. For whatever brain cells it killed, the stroke sharpened my vision, helped me focus. What I see now is frankly remarkable — caring and decency from unexpected quarters, clueless selfishness from people I once considered close.

(Tamlya has an interesting observation: "Seems to me you have some very strong and decent women coming to your side." She is right and she is one of them, in good company with Addie, Amy, Melinda, Donna, Kathryn, Missie, Mary and Kathee. "Just consider the women your personal team of Amazons," Tamlya writes. I do, and I am blessed. Now I need to find jerseys.)

Early on my old friend Smitty suggested using this experience to summon The Writer and restart the typing machine inside me. I scoffed at the idea — I hadn't written in a month — but he turned out to be wise. My first attempts at typing were disasters. My hands weren't in sync, so a word like "Brookfield" came out as "Bookrifled." But it was great occupational therapy for a typist, and it helped me channel some of the anger that's percolating inside me. It led to where I am now, some 50 posts later.

One month in, and some things in this new world still startle me. I can't reliably write with my left hand. I don't have as much energy as I used to, but it's harder to fall asleep. The dreams are more vivid with each new night. And maybe I'm amazed, still, by the enduring power of the friend who populates those dreams.

I'm trying to let go of some ways of life that weren't and aren't healthy — a form of repentance, perhaps, to atone for past excesses. That's the hardest part of all this — that, and not losing my balance when I pee.

I'm still angry, very angry, but I don't think that's bad. So long as I don't let it consume me, or tip me too often into depression, I should be OK, I should be alright. I'm working hard to find forgiveness and accept what has happened to me. I'm trying to be a better person as I face new challenges. I'm trying to find my grace and place in this universe.

I'm trying real hard to be the shepherd. I am, Ringo.

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