My tussle with bronchitis made me forget my tenth rebirth day, which was way back on 11 March and a day I can’t really erase from my memory since it’s a day that changed my life forever. I am eternally grateful that I’m still around and able to celebrate the fact that when the stroke hit me ten years ago, it didn’t kill me or left me in a vegetative or deteriorating state, although because of the deficits and the pain that’s been with me all this time, yeah, there have been moments when I felt that dead would have been better… but not really.
When I first heard the term “rebirth day,” my physical therapist had asked when it was and I’ll admit I had no idea what she was talking about; I was still in bad shape, pain ripping through me unabated, could barely stand and walk, couldn’t use my right hand to do a lot of stuff, and doing something simple as wearing clothes was sheer torture. She explained it to me, how people who’ve had strokes and survived them are said to have been reborn, a rather apt thought given that today’s Easter Sunday, huh?
In a way, I guess I have been reborn because I’m not the same person I was before the stroke. Well, yeah, I am, but not really and there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not acutely aware of this. As a matter of fact, the reason I remembered my rebirth day was because I was trying to head off a cramp in my right foot, just one of the downsides of not really being able to move my toes the way I used to. I felt the cramp coming on, felt how sluggish my toes felt as I tried (and as I have always done for ten long years) to wriggle them and my brain said, as it always does now, “If you hadn’t had the stroke, this wouldn’t be a problem…”
Then I thought, “Oh, shit, that’s right – it’s way past the 11th! How could I have forgotten?” Well, spending a lot of time trying to cough up everything you own can let a lot of stuff slip from your mind. In ten years, I’ve learned – or have had to relearn – a lot of stuff in order to cope with the after affects; some things I still haven’t really been able to compensate for, like walking or, sometimes, doing something as routine as standing up, which can still be pretty interesting all by itself and more so when you have a cat who likes to attack your feet while you’re trying to walk.
To that end, you’d think that after ten years, I wouldn’t be trying to do things as I did them before the stroke – but, yeah, I still find myself trying to do things as if nothing had happened and it’s all muscle memory kind of stuff. That’s given me a rather unique peek at how my brain works; like, one day, I powered up the Korg Triton to tickle the keys, went to do a simple chromatic C scale to get the fingers loose… and totally flubbed it while noting a spike in the pain in my fingers… and I got pissed, not because I flubbed an elementary piano drill but because I had forgotten that, um, that’s no longer an easy thing for me to do thanks to that split second delay that happens between me thinking about doing it and my right hand actually obeying the command. My mind – and muscle memory – insists that I know how to do this and that I shouldn’t have to think about it given I’ve been playing since I was ten or so.
It’s literally a painful reminder that what I know doesn’t match the reality of things. And it’s not like I don’t know this because I do… but because every day is a rehab day for me, I kinda never stop working toward trying to get back to where I was despite understanding that it probably isn’t going to happen but that doesn’t ever mean that I’m gonna give up trying; I’d rather try and fail than to not try at all. After ten years, the biggest issues aren’t the physical ones; it’s trying to keep my head screwed on right trying to deal with all of this, to not be any more depressed than I already am while not letting the nonstop pain make me want to do something stupid – and all while trying to behave as if I didn’t suffer the stroke.
After ten years, I haven’t gotten any better… but I’ve not gotten any worse; some days are better than others but every day is technically a bad day because I’m no longer the person I was before 11 March 2006. I’m different… and that’s not really a good thing but it’s way better than the alternatives. Late last year, my favorite first cousin, whose birthday is a couple of days before mine (but I’m a year older) suffered a stroke and last I heard from him, he came out the other side of it pretty good so he has a rebirth day as well (and I’d have to check out some stuff to find out the exact day). When I talk to my mother, she often reminds me that God isn’t finished with me yet, that His Grace has spared me many of the not-so-nice alternatives of suffering a stroke and I am very damned thankful…
Because after ten years, I still have this very vivid memory of being moved from ICU to the hospital’s stroke ward and placed in a room with an older man who, I learned, had suffered a mild stroke… and it was a constant battle for the nurses to keep this man alive. There were many nights I’d be awakened by the nurses and doctors rushing into the room, no doubt alerted by the monitoring system; they’d either get to working on him right there in the room or they’d take him, bed and all, somewhere to work on him – then wake me up as they returned him.
I remember his family coming to visit him one day and I had asked his daughter what was really wrong with him and that’s when I learned he had suffered a mild stroke, which immediately made me realize that if that’s what can happen when you have a mild stroke, Jesus, compared to that poor man, nothing happened to me at all! Then, one day, I came back to the room after my therapy session that was teaching me how to walk again, and he was gone and I never did find out what happened to him even though I kinda suspected he may have died at the worse or moved to a dedicated stroke facility at the least. Even though I never learned his name, I have never forgotten this man or what a mild stroke looks like.
After ten years, yes, I still consider myself to be fortunate and blessed, thankful that things aren’t as bad as they could have been. After ten years, I’m still presented with daily challenges to not let having this stroke get and keep me down; I’m reminded to keep working toward a goal I may never reach but also to keep working with what I have to work with because quitting just is not an option…