WooHoo! Today is my Birthday. Sort of….
Four years ago today, tonight or sometime early tomorrow morning (doctors weren’t sure exactly when) will mark the fourth anniversary of me suffering a massive Hemorrhagic Cerebral Vascular Accident, commonly known as a STROKE!!
I beg your indulgence for a few minutes of descriptive (maybe a bit gross) commentary.
At this point in my life I was living in New Jersey, renting a bedroom in the home of the family of my long time best friend Kevin (who’d passed away) his wife, Diana and their kids, the eldest being my Godson Joseph and Emmalee.
On February 28/March 1, 2007, I woke in the middle of the night to find myself on the floor, unable to get up or back into bed and yet having to urinate badly. In whatever state I was in, I recall finding an empty water bottle and trying to pee into it. I also recall relieving myself into a sweatshirt I found on the floor. Continuing to think maybe I was drunk (I drank a good bit in those days) I tried, but couldn’t manage to find the strength to pull myself up onto the bed. I was coherent enough to realize something bad was happening and was able find my cell phone with which I called my ex-wife (she always was and still is the love of my life) even though she was living 1,100 miles away in St. Louis. I tried telling her what was happening, she just kept telling me I was having a stroke and basically told me to stay where I was (like I had a choice) A few minutes later Joseph was coming into the bedroom yelling at me for not letting anyone know what was happening and that Jo, my ex-wife, had called Diana, his mom, and told him to check on me. I had Joe help me onto the bed and he went to call the Rescue Squad while I for some reason remembered that I had to work later in the day and called my boss telling him I was waiting on the ambulance to arrive and wouldn’t be in to work. To which I recall him saying “feel better”. The ambulance arrived and they carried me out of the house and into the driveway where I distinctly remember an EMT saying they were going to put me on a stretcher and that they wouldn’t drop me. The next thing I knew I was sitting on my butt with driveway asphalt under me. I guess they dropped me.
They transported me to St. Clare’s Hospital in Denville, NJ where the doctors said I was in the midst of having a stroke. They spoke of “drilling a coil into my skull to drain the bleeding” to which I recall saying I’d like a second opinion. The team of doctors kept asking me if I’d been shot as there was a small hole showing up in my skull on the scan. I told them that I thought I’d remember that! They continued telling me based on the scans they were looking at that I should be DEAD. Very reassuring. As they continued evaluating me, they notified me that they were not equipped to care for me at this facility and asked me if I wanted to go to Morristown Memorial or Overlook Hospital in Summit, which were/are both accredited Stroke Trauma Centers. I remember thinking, I’m having a STROKE and they’re asking ME where I want to go? I picked Overlook.
In the meantime Diana had contacted my sister Linda in Springfield, who in turn had called Jo to tell her it was serious. I found out later that she and my daughter Andrea immediately found a flight out to be with me.
A different ambulance transported me to the Neuro Intensive Care Unit at Overlook Hospital in Summit. There another team of neuro surgeons and neurologists determined that I’d suffered a massive right side brain hemorrhage which I soon learned had basically paralyzed my left side.
I would spend the next seven days in this unit while more assessments were made about my possible future and recovery. Among the numerous opinions offered were that I’d be terribly physically impaired and unable to walk for the rest of my life and would need to be placed in a skilled nursing facility for at least 5 years. Not good news at all.
While I was at Overlook Jo and Andrea arrived from St. Louis. The tears and crying were almost too much. I recall trying to stand with the help of 2 nurses and a walker which proved futile. I progressed to where I could sit up and eat and stand for a few seconds with the help of the nurses. At this point it was determined that I’d Improved to the point that I could be transferred to a long term acute care rehabilitation center. Again I was “forced” to make a choice as salesmen from the Rehab Institute at Morristown Memorial and Kessler institute pitched the merits of their facilities for my long term rehab. I really didn’t have a preference so I chose RIMM.
Upon my arrival at RIMM, I was shown a rehab program that included daily speech, psychological, physical and occupational therapy. I and my family and friends realized that I didn’t need speech therapy but I was forced to take part in these sessions until my social worker responded to the numerous complaints.
After about a week of being at RIMM and seeing the looks of despair on the faces of Jo, Andrea, Linda, Diana, Jessica and friends from work it hit me as I was sitting in a wheelchair one day while washing my face with my right hand and looked up into the mirror and saw drool in my beard and looked down to see it on my shirt when I realized, I was too young to accept this fate which had been outlined for me by the medical folks.
I then asked for a razor to shave off the scraggly beard and set upon my quest to get out of that place as quickly as possible and to live the rest of my life as fully as possible.
While many people in the group therapy sessions spoke of spending hours praying for recovery and of being able to live with their maladies, I, who do believe in God, told all who would listen that while I respected their praying, it was entirely up to me to recover as best as I possibly could.
From that day I’ve pretty much looked at everyday as an opportunity and a chance to get a little better, be a little nicer and help myself and others if I can. While I worked my ass of in rehab in an effort to get released before the 6 months to a year timetable they’d laid out for me, I know that I never would have been able to achieve the results which stunned the rehab personnel without the constant encouragement given by my terrific sister Linda and her daughter, my niece, Jessica (Who took the time to come and be with me at RIMM every day for my entire stay!), Daily calls from Jo, frequent visits from Diana, Joe and Em, calls from Andrea, calls and pop in visits at all hours of the day and night from my friends John, Joe and Keith, even visits from my , at the time Ex, Mother In Law, Claire and Brother In Law Tom and his wife Mo whose son Dan, by the way, dedicated his college radio show to his Uncle (Me) the day after I had my stroke, helped me beyond words of description.
I was fortunate to have some great doctors and nurses (who had to help me do all sorts of unspeakable things) at RIMM and Overlook. I was extremely lucky to be assigned to Tara, as my physical therapist, who when she saw the changes in my determination, worked me harder than I saw her work anyone.. to the point that upon my release, only FORTY ONE days after my arrival, we both were weeping openly.
When I got back home, I couldn’t have continued my rehab in the vigorous manner in which I did without more encouragement from Diana, Joe, Em, Linda and Jess as well as my friends who kept me involved in everything from going out to taking in a few Mets games.
Things went so well that we were able to remove 30 plus year old carpeting and refinish the hardwood floors beneath and I was able to get through the disability process on the first try. (I did have Joe and Linda to thank for getting me to many of the Doctor visits and Diana's nephew, Matt, for helping me out as well)
I even was able to travel to St. Louis during the summer of 2008 to spend some time with Jo and Andrea during which time Jo and I realized we still were in love and she asked me to remarry her.
So here I sit 4 years later, remarried to Jo, able to care for myself, get around independently (though I still do not drive) and living my life to the fullest. I get to follow my beloved Mets albeit from a distance (I truly love the friends I've made through the game chats I've hosted here) and attend a good number of St. Louis Cardinals games primarily because I love baseball but also because of the easy ballpark access. I work out daily, eat healthier for the most part and have lost 90 pounds since surviving my stroke. I try to be an advocate for Stroke survivors, stroke research, folks with disabilities and for Public Transportation in the St. Louis area.
While I was in rehab, I learned that stroke survivors often refer to the anniversaries of the day they suffered the stroke as a second birthday.
So if you’ve read this long winded story thus far I’d like to ask you to Pardon me once more while I wish Myself a
“Happy Stroke Birthday!”
Oh and LET’S GO METS!