The day my life hit the pause button
Everything seemed normal when I got up that day. I went to the gym. I was working in my basement home office when I started feeling a strange vibe I had never felt before.
It started with a queasy feeling in my stomach — not hunger, nor the effect of a hangover. It was different and it spread fast and I knew something was not right. My mouth was dry and my hands were not steady.
I had a premonition that something bad was about to happen. I wanted to get out of the basement but as soon as I got up, my legs gave out. I crawled up the stairs and stumbled, jelly-legged onto the living room couch.
Realization dawned that I was having a stroke as I felt my left side go numb. My mental faculties were still sharp enough to take the most important step. Knowing time was of the essence, I called 911. I could barely describe my condition and mumbled my location to the operator. I started praying.
After that it was a blur — people asking me questions, me mumbling answers, lots of voices in the background, needle pricks, stretcher rides, people reassuring me and ambulance sirens.
The dust settles
When the dust settled and I was fully aware that I was in a wheelchair in a room overlooking the rehab hospital parking lot, the enormity hit me.
I wheeled my chair to the door, nervously smiling at the people passing my room. I guess I was looking for that person who could make this nightmare go away. Then, suddenly, somebody stopped, smiling back at me, saying “It only gets better from here.”
A big cloud lifted and the light of optimism shone through — the eternal candle of hope was rekindled. I was alive and I could work to get better. I didn’t know how — or how long it would take — but I knew I would get back to normal. Whatever it takes, I promised myself.
Time to write my own fight song
There came a time I call a “critical decision point.” I had to decide if I would go down the rabbit hole and play victim for the rest of my life or stand up for myself and put up a fight.
The path of least resistance is the rabbit hole — in other words, rolling over and playing dead. The difficult but rewarding path is to put up a fight. I firmly believe every human being has a fighter inside them who just needs encouragement. Once the choice is clear, we can start scripting our fight song.
Failures should motivate, not discourage. Initially, when I failed to do a simple routine at the rehab gym, it frustrated me. I kept at it over and over again. It would tax my brain, but my stubbornness didn’t allow me to give up.
A stream cuts through mountains not because it’s strong, but because it’s persistent and relentless. The definition of bravery changed for me. Bravery was that little voice at bedtime telling me that the task I’d failed today would be easier tomorrow when I would put in extra effort.
Dwelling on a setback puts shackles on the feet. I learned to keep moving on. Moving on does not mean forgetting lessons learned. It becomes the launchpad for second chances at life, with experience and a roadmap. It can mean a chance to be an inspiration to somebody.
Moving on means changing what was done in the past — trying out new things and seeing what gives the best results. When I tried to maintain the status quo, I stagnated and went into a funk. As the beautiful saying goes: If nothing changed, there’d be no butterflies. I might not have seen the improvements day by day, but when I looked back after six months, I was amazed.
Achieving smaller goals gave me the courage to set and achieve bigger goals. I finished a 5K organized by the American Stroke Association. I also learned a new trade as I found my brain was sharper than before. Setting these mile markers has made me move on and soon they’ll disappear from my rearview mirror, too.
I got a new lease on life and plan to make full use of it.