Holy Limps & Holy Scars
I bruised my carotid artery in a car accident more than 30 years ago. The next day, a blood clot made its way to my brain, and when I awoke in the hospital, I was told that I had had a stroke that had paralyzed my entire left side. I was 23 and thought I was invincible. But I was being told that I might never walk again. I had always expected to live life on my terms, and that wasn’t supposed to happen.
Unfortunately real life has a way of happening. Seeing my reflection in the mirror, I realized that this was not the me I wanted to be. I felt a heavy sense of loss that I was not prepared to deal with.
At the time of my stroke I needed to be in control, and I thought that I could create recovery through sheer determination, will power and perseverance. And that worked for getting my leg back, but to this day my left arm is paralyzed.
The harsh truth that I learned is that sometimes you don’t recover. I wanted to, I tried to, but I could not write my own Hollywood ending. When my arm failed to recover, I plunged into despair until I realized the need for something greater than myself. Desperate, I fell to my knees and called out to God. My prayer was simple — "Lord, help me." At the end of my rope, I found God. (Actually, I think that it was the other way around.) I don’t recommend having a stroke as a way to find God, but for me faith became my source of inner strength. It was a blessing to give him those things that I could no longer control. I honestly don’t know how you recover without God.
I have a unique 30-year perspective on what it means to survive stroke, overcome some of the deficits and live with a disability. I have heard it said that when people experience suffering and loss they receive "holy limps and holy scars." I long ago accepted my losses though I’d much prefer to be whole. The truth is I’m better for having gone through it, but I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. I consider it a blessing to have met God by accident — a car accident!
I was doubly blessed because like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, I got a new heart, one filled with compassion for those facing similar struggles. I was forever changed, and as a survivor, I feel called to help others navigate a path that I’ve been down. As such, I have found purpose as a co-leader of a telephone-based support program called Survivor2Survivor (S2S). In S2S, survivor volunteers call recently discharged stroke patients to provide encouragement, support and guidance to survivors and caregivers.
MARK EGELSTON Survivor
Arlington Heights, Illinois