Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Stroke of Luck: The Power of the Wake-Up Call

© 2010 by Joyce Mason

I thought we’d take a short break from the Word Oracles this week so I could update you on what’s happened since my husband’s stroke last May. I wrote about it in Shocking. Few things in recent memory have held more surprises and cool insights in the end. How far we’ve come from that scary moment when Tim tripped, fell on the floor, and was suddenly unable to move!

Tim’s initial recovery had the usual suspects after four days in the hospital—physical therapy, increased medical visits, and blood thinners. (He was already on the meds because of the plaque build-up in his arteries and a stent procedure a week before his mini-stroke.) In the beginning, he was on a four-point walker wherever he went. I had to get used to driving us everywhere—often. He was still having falls, somewhat slurred speech and experiencing significant imbalance. The hospital arranged for a Hoyer lift, a kind of hoisting device, in case he couldn’t get up without help, as I certainly am not strong enough to lift a grown man on my own. (Our chubbier cat is a challenge!)

The emotional recovery was a different breed of cat all together. Being thrown into 24/7 caretaker mode sent my feelings of worry and resentment into overdrive. The fear that I could have lost him, coupled with what I felt he wasn’t doing to help himself, brought many issues in our relationship to a turning point. I was not willing to go on as things were—or as I saw they could be headed— without significant changes on his part. And I knew there were changes I had to make, too.

The details of how we got from there to here are personal and actually unimportant. With some outside intervention and a lot of “discussions” and soul baring, a miracle happened. Things shifted, not just emotionally but physically. Getting there wasn’t half the fun.

Some of the learning was painful and didn’t even involve each other. After I confided my challenges to her, I had to draw a boundary with a friend whose comments about my marriage and Tim’s health felt hurtful and not life affirming toward my husband or me. Telling my truth has led to estrangement, although I still dearly care about this person. The incident also made clear that a break from one another would be good medicine. I need to let this lie for now. That’s difficult for a “fixer” who wants to be at peace with everyone.

But I also got something out of it that’s even more powerful in retrospect. By saying no to someone else’s negative picture of my marriage and my husband’s health, I said no to that picture for myself. I wasn’t lukewarm about it, either. I was clear and direct in saying that I refused that vision for my future. I made it clear; no one else has my permission to project that picture on me, either.

That painful interaction with my friend and my “pushing back” was a huge blessing in disguise. I am grateful to her. Just saying no to negative forecasts may have been a bigger step than I knew I was taking at the time. Tim has come back to life after years of struggle with a mixed bag of medical conditions. He changed one of his major doctors to learn from his new one that he was being seriously overmedicated for some of his conditions—possibly contributing to ongoing and problematic symptoms. His legs are stronger than before the stroke, and he hasn’t fallen in months, despite his baseline mobility issues with Myotonic muscular dystrophy Type 2. He’s back on a cane from the walker, and he navigates the house without either. There are other improvements so pronounced; I feel like I’m living with a new man.

We keep scratching our heads, wondering with thanks and awe how Tim can be doing so much better than he was before his stroke. Since the blood thinners prevent both plaque build-up in his arteries and stroke, perhaps they are in great part the hero. He started on Plavix only two weeks before the “stroke of luck,” as I’ve come to call it. I also call it his “neurological reorganization.” Without the stroke, there is so much we would not have known and so many important steps in a chain reaction of healing that would have never taken place. Who knew I’d be thankful one day for something that started out so awful?

Tim, too, made a decision to toss that dismal picture of his future out of his mental album. The thought that we might lose each other was potent medicine for both of us. It’s hard to imagine today that we were in such a difficult place only 3-4 months ago. We’re more in love and grateful for each other than ever. The ordeal brought us closer together and to the most important orientation of a successful relationship, when both people are looking in the same direction.

There’s an old song, “What a Difference a Day Makes.” The difference comes from how we handle whatever circumstances life presents us for learning. While Tim and I don’t know what the future holds for us, I’m confident that we will navigate whatever we encounter…

… because now we’re co-captains on the S.S. True Partnership.


Photo Credit: Alarm Clock © Robyn Mackenzie

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