I had something clever and “oh so smarmy” to blog about, but there is nothing cute about having a stroke. And a week and a half ago, I had one.
It was a Thursday morning and I had just walked up a flight of stairs in the house when I noticed an odd sluggish feeling. Nothing I could put my finger on. Just a slowing of my actions and thoughts. And then later – the slurred speech, which my wife, the speech therapist caught when she returned from work.
Like an idiot, and not wanting to push the panic button, I figured I would wait until the next day to see if things changed.
They didn’t and I found my blood pressure way above 200. My doctor said, in essence – “get to the emergency room dummy!” which I did at around eleven o’clock that morning.
My long suffering wife drove me to Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia where a CAT scan revealed a hemorrhage in the right basil ganglia. Blood on the brain. A stroke.
We waited until eight that night for a bed to be open at one of the finest hospitals in the state – Dartmouth-Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Hanover NH.
I rode in the back of an ambulance with the siren going, which I had always wished I could do. No. Not a good wish. Not a good thing. What was I thinking?
The culprit? High blood pressure, selfishness and a feeling of invincibility - a lethal combination for a person my age. I will turn seventy next month.
I spent a long two and a half days away from my home and loved ones and the shame of it is that it could have been avoided. Salt, sugar and a reckless regard for my own health was the culprit and I will never look at food the same way twice.
The blood pressure finally came down after some fancy medication foot work and the astute diagnosis of a very good medical team. And, oh yes, prayer. Lots of it – some from folks I had not seen in a long while.
Sometimes you have a “on the road to Damascus” experience, in which you are blinded and flung from a horse with the words of God ringing in your ears, like the Apostle Paul. But this was one time it didn’t, because the truth became a slow thing that slithered along my neuro pathways, revealing in stages which should have been obvious from the start. You are not in this alone. You are loved by many people.
I have reached the age where metaphors tap me on the shoulder frequently and in this case with urgency. Especially those who love you, and they are the ones most affected by your inability to develop healthy habits. It is when I saw the grief I had caused others that it began to dawn on me I need to make some life changes.
We are pebbles, flung daily into the pond of life. And the ripples flow out to touch so many others. Our actions or lack thereof become the matrix in which we live or die and dying is not an option when you have a wife, a sister and brother, nine children, five grandchildren and many friends who love you.
I could lay out dozens of statistics about strokes, like; it’s the third leading killer in people over the age of fifty-five and all that stuff. But statistics are sterile and impersonal.
Lying on a hospital bed in a neurological ward for a few days is a small price to pay for the revelation of our mortality, and I am sure there are many out there who have had this same experience – probably a lot worse then mine, which is considered a minor stroke. But, there are no minor strokes. Who am I kidding? A stroke is a stroke and someone who has suffered one will likely be in line to have another before the “shuffling off this mortal coil” thing occurs.
So, although this blog is short, I hope it catches a few eyes. Do yourself a favor. Check what you are eating. Look at the daily percentage of salt, sugar, fat and calories you are consuming. Try doing that for just one day and then think about moving some of your priorities around. And, for Heavens sake, don’t dismiss the power of prayer.
I would never presume to compare myself with NFL Head Coach Chuck Pagano, who is suffering from leukemia. He has a long road ahead and it will be filled with pain, sickness and an awfulness we could never imagine, unless we have lived through the nightmare of cancer. But, in a well documented and moving speech he gave to his team after a win recently, he said he would “waltz at his two daughters weddings”, and hoist the Lombardi Trophy with his team several times.
I will never hoist any trophy, but I have three beautiful daughters – and I plan to dance at every one of their weddings.