May 21st, 2008 will be the eighth anniversary since Don's massive stroke, a stroke that changed the direction of our lives as strokes do for most people. This year, to celebration the fact that my husband beat the prognosis of two neurologists and is far from being “a vegetable for the rest of his life,” as they predicted, I'm planning a day trip to Lake Michigan. There's a quaint tourist town on the eastern shoreline that we've both been going to since we were kids, long before we even knew each other. A ship that once took me on my high school class graduation trip is docked there, a maritime museum now. For some reason it gotten smaller as the decades went by. I can't imagine spending a week in one of those tiny cabins now, especially with Don's wheelchair in tow. Perceptions changes over a lifetime. Back then, I thought we were traveling like the 'upper crust' of society.
I suppose some people think it’s strange to celebrate a stroke anniversary, but it could have been so much worse and that ‘could have been but wasn't’ is really what we celebrate. Yes, Don is still wheelchair bound and can’t say more than a handful of unprompted words but he is cognitively almost back to his pre-stroke days and we can still find meaningful things to embrace and keep us busy from day to day. But more than any other benchmark, the stroke does not take center stage in our lives like it did in the first few years when therapies, changing priorities and goals, and downsizing our lives filled every waking moment. We arrived on the other side of the firestorm several years ago, rebuilt our lives from the ground up and now enjoy the fruits of our hard work.
I still visit the stroke supports sites from time to time but the strong connection I once felt there is holding on by a very thin thread. And that is a good thing in the recovery world. After all, it's the goal of any support group to help people to get their lives back on track and living in the real world again, however chanced and challenging that may be. When a member of a support group no longer needs to get or give advice or compare their battle scars the group has been successful in its mission.
One thing I still try to share with people new in the stroke recovery world, though, is the concept of acceptance. Some people mistakenly think that if they accept their stroke limitations---or those of their spouse---that it's akin to surrender and giving up. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Acceptance of what has happened gives you the power to fight your best fight for recovery. It's when people live in denial of their fallibilities or they play the blame game, mad at God and everyone else in their path, that they defuse their power because that denial and anger eats up an enormous amount of energy and time. Acceptance gives it back so you can redirect your resolve to places that will make a difference in the quality of your life.
Don and I have both worked hard over the past eight years to overcome "the vegetable for the rest of his life" prognosis and he's come a long way cognitively, physically and communication wise since the first few years out from the stroke. (Note: communication is more than just spoken or written words.) His ability to be good natured and happy despite his disabilities inspires people where ever we go. I'm proud of him and I think he is proud of me as well. Yesterday at the YMCA while we were both working out we were surrounded by young, healthy people Don looked at me with deep emotion in his smoky-gray eyes and said, "Me cool."
Those of us who live on the Planet Aphasia know that reversing relationships is common with speech disorders, so I pointed to him and asked, "Don is cool?"
"No," he replied and pointed to me while saying, "Cool" again.
"I'm gray haired, old and full of wrinkles and you're surrounded by beautiful young people and you can still say I'm cool?" I teased back.
"Yes!" he answered with gusto to which I gave him a rare public display of affection and then we went back to our workouts. Perception, as I said up above, truly does change as we march through our lives. When you're young and emerging into life I doubt anyone would label an old person working out in a gym as "cool." It's only through the grace of God, love and admiration for our fellow man that we learn to look past the exterior of anyone---disabled or not---and see the spirit within. ©