My Five Year Strokeversary

1824 days ago … yours truly nearly kicked the bucket thanks to a life-altering stroke. I talk about it every year around this time because I’m reminded how quickly things can change in someone’s world.  I remember it like it was yesterday. Some back-story — I had just had a birthday and was in St. Louis to belatedly celebrate with a lazy weekend of shopping shenanigans with my good friend Jill.

People always ask the exact same five questions when they’ve found out I had a stroke. In no particular order:

Q: You had a stroke?! What happened?!

A: I was in a hotel and woke up to the worst flu-like symptoms I had ever experienced. Crushing headache, unrelenting nausea, overall achiness and borderline delirium. Even in my stupor, I decided to get up and make some tea and then go back to bed. The tea-making process took FOREVER. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t hold on to the coffee cup. I was wobbly and unsteady.  I was starting to lose dexterity on the left side of my body.  To this day, I’m still not sure why I did this – but I hobbled over to the mirror and tried to say my ABC’s. It sounded like this: “EEHHHRRR, EEEEEEYYY, SSSSSSSAAAAARRRR”.

Q: Did you know you were having a stroke?

A: Oddly … yes. Unfortunately, when I called 911 I couldn’t quite convey this, as I couldn’t speak. In my head I was talking clearly … but what was coming out of my mouth was slurred gibberish. By this point, I had one goal in life … and that was to get downstairs to the lobby before I blacked out. My symptoms were getting worse by the minute. I heard the ambulance off in the distance and managed to hop … on my right leg … to the parking lot. Everything got a little fuzzy after that.

Q: What caused the stroke?

A: To this day … no one knows. I was a non-smoker with no family history, no medical history and zero drug use. Plus, I had just had a physical where I was deemed healthy as a horse. (Ironic – because I have a freakish, irrational fear of horses … less I digress.) Multiple tests, MRI’s and brain scans showed that I suffered a Right Cerebral Infarction … a medium-sized stroke, yet the cause remains unknown. 60-70% of patients who suffer a stroke recover from it and never experience anything like it again. Guess that makes me part of the (lucky) majority.

Q: Do you still suffer from the effects?

A: Not really. However, for the first three months after the stroke hit, I simply could not control my emotions. I would be laughing one minute, crying the next and then fly in to a rage right afterwards. Lather, rinse, repeat. I truly thought I was losing my mind. Come to find out the stroke zapped near my Orbitofrontal Cortex and it took longer than expected for my brain to rewire itself. Those 90 days were gut wrenching for everyone involved because no one knew if I’d come out of it. Sure enough, I did … and relatively unscathed. The stroke also erased my ability to correlate names with faces. To this day, I can’t remember names to save my life. Consider yourself lucky if I haven’t seen you in a while and I actually recognize you.

Q: Did it change your life?

A: I got bounced out of the hospital with a semi-clean bill of health after 72 hours. But during those 72 hours, I deduced this stroke was a sign to start REALLY living life to the fullest. A brain explosion = the ultimate wake-up call. I vowed that for exactly one year I would not say “no” to anything – no matter how outside my comfort zone it was. Skydiving ensued. There was a spontaneous $4,000 weekend trip to Berlin. I went white water rafting. I started meditating. I attended countless writing programs. Once my friends deduced I was incapable of saying no — the requests ranged from the surreal to the sublime to “let’s eat an entire gallon of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby just because we can. Whaddya’ say?”  I reconnected with so many friends I had put on the back burner, it wasn’t even funny. I purposefully surrounded myself with good energy and it was the wisest decision I’ve ever made.

Q: Do you ever worry it’ll happen again?

A: Nope. Trust me when I say I’ve packed more in to these last five years than most people do in a lifetime. The stroke caused me to have a complete Zen overhaul of my life. Hell, I even traveled to India for a 12-day spiritual sabbatical. Ask me about running in to the Dalia Lama in the Lei airport. Talk about an esoteric experience. I think the stroke was God’s way of telling me I was in a rut and needed to shake things up a bit. Well, goal achieved – thanks to my never ending circle of friends. And while we’re at it – let’s give a little credit to the man upstairs for allowing me to recover quickly and better my life to the nth degree. I’m blessed, lucky, spoiled and grateful. Oh – and did I mention happy to be alive and/or kicking?

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Flower Power

My mom – The Bevinator – once told me that she had a “black thumb”.  Sure, she was an amazing cook, skilled accountant and dedicated wife, but when it came to keeping plants alive, she was fairly useless.  All the flora that would enter her house would usually meet an untimely demise. She claimed they were “defective”.

After years of trial and error, however, she finally found her calling. She would plant hearty, sun-worshipping flowers outside in giant pots and then dutifully ignore them. Of course, the flowers would thrive and radiate color in our backyard all summer long. The more she forgot about taking care of them, the better they would do.

Mom was big on Mother’s Day Weekend – and all she ever wanted was for me to plant flowers alongside her. As she got older, I would end up hauling all the potting soil, planting all the flowers and she would just sit in her lawn chair being bossy.  It was our thing. It was tradition. It was the floral circle of life.

And now I miss those few days more than anyone knows.

So – in my infinite wisdom – I decided to come home and plant flowers this weekend with my lovely Aunt Barb. 1) So that Dad could enjoy flower power throughout the summer and 2) to keep Mom’s Begonia Brigade alive in spirit.  Since our backyard backs up to an overgrown thicket, it’s rife with varmints. Deer, squirrels and the occasional fox would try and decimate our planting handiwork. The flowers always came back – unfazed and undaunted – from the pesky pest attacks.

Mom always planted the same flowers – rarely deviating from her tried and true varietals. She’d look at me with disdain if I’d try and introduce anything urban and trendy – like, say, a Lantana plant. (“GASP!”) She was impatient with anything other than impatiens.  This year I’m going to plant most of her favorites, but may deviate slightly from the norm. For instance – she’d always demand planting a sweet potato vine that would engulf most of the backyard. No wonder we had problems with critters.

Every time I visit a nursery I will forever be reminded of Mom painstakingly going up and down every aisle and snooping for her favorites. She’d spend hours trying to find just the right pot or pair of gloves to accessorize. For someone who had a black thumb, she certainly seemed to enjoy the entire gardening experience.

More than anything though – Mom enjoyed her quiet serenity. She’d sit on the back patio most mornings or in the early afternoon and simply enjoy her flowers.  Yes – she’d take time to stop and smell the roses … she just wouldn’t plant, prune, water or weed them after the fact. Go figure.

Miss you, Mom. Hope you like what we’ve created in your honor. Aunt Barb and I figured you’d LOVE it.

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