Let’s Get It On
I peeked at the title of the brochure I'd been given — “Sex After Stroke.” Oh goodie, something else to worry about. It might as well have said, “No Way You’re Having Sex After Stroke.”
LIFE at the CURB
A Unique Perspective on Survival by Stroke Survivor and Comedian John Kawie
Fourteen days into my stroke — and 21 days after my wedding — I was sitting on my hospital bed contemplating a future of AFO’s, wheelchairs and Velcro. My new body may have needed the first two, but at 47 I wasn’t about to trade in my favorite Jack Purcells for a pair of Velcro-strapped sneakers that all but screamed “reverse mortgage.” So I decided to sharpen my one-handed shoelace tying technique.
In the middle of attempting to unravel yet another tangled rat’s nest I heard a determined rap on my door. A stout, strange woman stormed into the room like a human microburst. Discombobulated, she pulled her worn, hemp bag across her body, plopped down in the chair opposite me, and with no introduction or preamble, leaned forward and asked, “Mr. Kawie, are you able to have an erection, and more importantly, have you had one lately?”
Now, anyone requesting that information had better be wearing a white coat with a stethoscope around their neck. When I responded, “And you would be…?” she revealed she was St. Vincent’s resident psychologist. Her concern seemed to me like dropping a turkey and making sure that the pop-up thermometer’s okay. But she wanted an answer so I said, “All systems go...Houston we have no problem.” With that she took a booklet from her bag, deposited it on my lap, and disappeared.
I peeked at the title — “Sex After Stroke.” Oh goodie, something else to worry about. It might as well have said, “No Way You’re Having Sex After Stroke.” Is this the next shoe that drops? Is stroke the clown car of debilities, where just when you think you’ve seen every problem there’s always one more rearing its hideous, painted face ready to jump out and spritz you with a seltzer bottle?
The cover was divided into four quadrants each showing huggy, happy couples who looked anything but disabled. However two of the guys creepily resembled Richard Simmons and Dan Quayle. (Talk about a cold shower.)
I turned the page and glanced at the Table of Contents. Fear of this, fear of that, fear of things I never feared before. I was overwhelmed with everything I wouldn’t be able to do. So I did what my younger self would have done with a Playboy magazine — skip to the pictures. Only in this case they were simplistic line drawings reminiscent of a DIY Ikea manual illustrating various positions. It was a veritable, disabled Kama Sutra attempting to do for wheelchairs what my hormone-enhanced teenage mind did for the back seat of a ’57 Chevy. If erotica was the objective, it wasn’t working. Still, I was impressed they came up with so many. Personally, I could only imagine three:
Fig 1. Me on the bottom
Fig 2. Me on the bottom
Fig 3. Me on the bottom
The rest of the day was what I now call the “Afternoon of Mixed Epiphanies.” One minute I’m a helpless stroke survivor never to experience intimacy again — and the next I’m thinking maybe all is not lost, because, in a way, stroke is like starting over. I remembered when I was a kid my libido’s built-in GPS guided me. It may have taken me the long way around, but it always got me where I wanted to go. Eventually, with a little practice, I got the hang of it.
Like trying to tie a sneaker one handed, but way more enjoyable.
Editor’s Note: Despite John’s light-hearted take on the issue of sex and intimacy after stroke, we know it can be a difficult subject for people to broach with their doctor and often with each other. If you’d like a more serious take on the topic, visit our March/April 2009 issue of Stroke Connection online or request information by calling 1-888-478-7653 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.