Saturday, August 05, 2017

4 years later...

As some of you may know, I survived a stroke four years ago tonight (more about it here.) It happened after I accidentally tore an artery in my neck by moving my head the wrong way during a bike ride.

Thankfully I came out the other side rather intact. My soul was still there. and I remained able to do the things I had always done. Still, this rather insane experience has had a profound impact on my life's path, and I've learned a few things along the way.

As I mark another milestone in this journey, I thought it might be worthwhile to jot down a few of those learnings and observations and share them here:
  1. I don't live with endless regret. I don't kick myself for taking a ride that day. I don't kick myself for the pre-u-turn head toss that touched everything off. There was no way to know this could happen, and beating myself up for putting myself on the path that led to the event doesn't do anyone any good. It's done. Move on.
  2. I do live with endless worry. To this day, I feel like I have a Sword of Damocles hanging over my head. Every minute of every day, I question whether that little twinge I just felt is everyday fatigue that we all experience on occasion or the onset of another major event. I fear whether a forgotten factoid is a sign of some kind of stroke-related cognitive impairment. I've been told I sailed through with my Carmi-ness intact, but there's so much we don't know about how the brain works, so I still wonder and worry. I often feel a low level of baseline dizziness - like I've had a couple of sips of rum on an empty stomach - almost as a near-constant reminder of what happened to me. Thankfully that goes away when I'm on the bike, and the faster I go, the better I feel (weird how that works) Every once in a while I'll come across an article that quotes scary stats about stroke recurrence, and I get even more freaked about. But you can't hide under the covers. So I don't.
  3. I can see it in everyone else's eyes. I get asked if I'm OK a lot. By my family. By friends. By colleagues. People I haven't seen in a while often hold my gaze just a little longer than is comfortable. They ask how I'm feeling, then ask again to be extra-sure. No one ever believes me when I say that I feel fine. I get that. There's almost an expectation of vulnerability, and it's clear that everyone will be looking at me through that lens for the rest of my life. I get that, too.
  4. I'm still afraid to ride the bike. I took my first ride fairly soon after I recovered, but I still carry some residual fear of messing myself up again. I installed a handy rear-view mirror on my bar-ends, and now wonder how I ever rode without it. I still favour my left side - even when I sleep or drive the car - and I shoulder-check to my left with great care. Despite every shred of evidence that suggests I'm good to ride, I start every ride with thoughts dancing through my head of what could go wrong.
  5. But I still ride. My wife, bless her, constantly encourages me to take the bike out, to go and explore. I dawdle, often finding other things to do, and sometimes never even make it out the door before a) the rains come or b) darkness falls. But eventually I force myself to push off and disappear for a while. I've been bike-commuting to work more than ever this year, each ride treated as something of a victory. I often take the long way home. My initial wimpiness aside, it feels wonderful and once I'm rolling, I wish it would never end.
  6. I tolerate mean-spiritedness even less. I've never had much patience for people who are less than kind. The stroke dropped that tolerance to zero. I'm so conscious of the value of time now that I simply don't bother with people who tick me off. I'd hate to do the math at the end of my life and realize I devoted undeserved time to anyone who didn't deserve it. I remember what it felt like as I was locked in, aware of everything around me but completely non-verbal, to wish I had used my time better. So I won't make that mistake going forward. I'm not being arrogant; just pragmatic. We only have so many minutes. Let's use them more wisely.
  7. Small things mean a great deal. I celebrate things - events, moments, people, even routine tasks - that, beforehand, I might have simply allowed to slip into the past. I appreciate little things more, and I try to take the time to enjoy them more than I might have beforehand. Whenever I do a radio or TV interview, for example, I pause after we're done and reflect silently on how privileged I am to still be able to do stuff like this. I'm lucky that my brain still works much as it always has. I chase sunsets with my camera more often. I linger beside a farmer's field and watch the cows. I watch my wife and kids when they think I'm not looking. I stare at stuff. A lot. It may seem odd to others that I'm spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about and hovering over seemingly everyday moments. But that's the thing about this experience; It has taught me that the everyday can be pretty magical in its own right. And if we don't deliberately drink it in, what are we drinking?
  8. I'm thankful. This may seem like an odd thing to say. Who, after all, would be thankful after having had a major health scare? So, no, I'm not glad it happened, but since I can't change that reality, I am glad that I've been given another shot at this life thing. I'm glad I was able to return to the person that I was - unlike so many others whose lives are ended or are irrevocably altered by something as tiny as a clot or a bleed. I'm acutely aware of how close I came to a very different fate, and how blessed I am that I am where I am. I'm still far from perfect - I was pretty flawed to begin with - but I feel, I don't know, different in a not entirely negative way. Let's just say it changed me.
None of this is new. None of it is earth-shattering - not for me and certainly not for anyone else. But as August 5, 2013 fades further into my and my family's rear-view, I realize it'll never completely stop influencing how my life continues to play out, and by extension how it continues to color the story of us. For every extra day that I've been given since then, I remain thankful, and hope my wish for another doesn't come across as being too greedy. Whatever I get, I'm profoundly grateful to have received it.

Your turn: Can your - or anyone's - life be profoundly changed by a single moment? Has it happened to you?

Related:
So, about that stroke... (Aug. 5, 2014)
When even a thank you seems lame (Aug. 7, 2014)
More stroke stuff... (Aug. 21, 2014)
Coming up on Canada AM (Feb. 7, 2015)
Winding down the day that was (Feb. 10, 2015)
Two years on... (Aug. 5, 2015)
3 bonus years (Aug. 5, 2016)

4 comments:

tiff said...

Of course a life can be changed in a moment. The accident avoided, the grace given by others, forgiveness, trust, 'I do,' 'it's a boy,' 'it's a girl,' 'you're cured,' and on and on. The trick, as you've pointed out, is to recognize those moments and allow their impact to be fully experienced.

Joy T. said...

"I want a divorce". Earth shattering. Heart broken. Grief stricken. In a split second, 23 years meant nothing to one person and everything to another. That was eight years ago now but it profoundly changed my life, for the better. #6 is so important to me now.

Bob Scotney said...

11 years on from my stroke I can identify with a lot of what you feel, especially with people asking am I OK and that little niggles that appear and go from time to time. Keep fit and keep up the good work. Carmi.

Thumper said...

I'm 15 years out from a pituitary tumor, and while a lot of the what-ifs and general fears abated over the years, I don't think they ever truly go away. And it's not necessarily a bad thing...fear isn't always a hovering shadow. Something it's a kick in the pants, getting you to DO things. For me, it's the 3 Day. Walking is something I can do, it's something I can control. Maybe even outpace that shadow.