February 28, 2014

Holy Crap!!! I Made it to Yet ANOTHER !!!

“Stroke” Birthday!

Well I made it another year, that makes 7, YES, SEVEN!!! I know, amazing isn’t it?  Hell, I’m stunned, what, with my, “like me or hate me”, “I don’t give a damn”, attitude and all but nonetheless, here I am, YAY!!

For those who do remember I beg your indulgence one more time and add some new highlights since the last rendering of “My Story”.

 For those of you who didn’t know, Today is my Birthday. Sort of….

Seven years ago today, tonight or sometime early tomorrow morning (doctors weren’t sure exactly when) will mark the SEVENTH anniversary of my surviving a massive Hemorrhagic Cerebral Vascular Accident, commonly known as a STROKE!

While I was in rehab, I learned that many stroke survivors often refer to the anniversaries of the day they survived the stroke as a second or “stroke” birthday.

Since my last “Birthday” I’ve been remarkably fortunate.

This last year was marked by some exciting and life changing events as well as what some would consider “run of the mill” occurrences.

Once again, I was able to attend about 50 or so St. Louis Cardinals home games last season including all of the home post season games in their failed effort to capture the 12th World Championship in franchise history.  Again I was fortunate to enjoy every game with my friends at Busch Stadium. These friends, from Bud and Gail in Homers Landing to Ira, Tom, Jim, Alyssa, Lisa,  the Mikes, Nick and the rest of the ushers in right field to Tammi, Carl and Claudia at Gate 6, these folks really make going to the ballpark a fun experience that I look forward to every time.  I truly treasure the kindness and friendship they and countless others have bestowed upon me over the past few years and look forward to another season “at the ballpark” in 2014.

The 2013 season was broken up by 2 pretty big events, the first being successful spinal (lower lumbar laminectomy) surgery in April to relieve what had become intolerable pain and burning in my right (unaffected by stroke) leg, which sidelined me from my regular exercise bike workouts for about 6 weeks.  During the early stages of my recovery it was great of my sister Linda, and niece Jessica, to make a trip out here from NJ to spend some time with me and even take in a Cards game against “my” Mets here at Busch. 

We also attended the mid July wedding of our niece Kate in NJ, which fortunately coincided with MLB’s All Star Game and Fan Fest which was hosted by the Mets last year and I was lucky to attend the Fan Fest with my wife Jo, Linda, Jessica and a couple of my, as Jo calls them “Mets friends” Patti and Liz.

While we were in the area we also took in a Mets game with my brother in law and sister in law, Linda and Jess as well as another “Mets friend” (LOL) David. Of course we picked a game at which the temperature was 102 at first pitch.  **Not that I didn’t enjoy the game but the best part of the evening may well have been my chance to meet an old friend**

I was again lucky enough, at Christmas, to find the time to meet up with and have dinner with my friends Dave, Liz, Mary, Tita and a few other “Mets Friends” Donna, Suzanne, Barbi and yes even Yankee fan Nicole (she’s OK despite this “minor” flaw, LOL).

Those are just a few of the top highlights from a year filled with numerous other moments I am thrilled to be here to cherish.

Quite simply, I’m no inspiration by any means, but if you’ve come this far, go ahead and read what I call my “story”. Pardon some of the “overly” descriptive (and maybe a bit gross) narration.

On February 28, 2007, I was living in New Jersey, renting a bedroom in the home of the family of my long time best friend Kevin’s (who’d passed away) wife, Diana and their kids, the eldest being my Godson Joseph and his sister Emmalee.

It began, to the best of my recollection ( I had a stroke ya know!) with me waking 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’m guessing I fell asleep on the floor at this point because what I recall next was being coherent enough to realize something bad was happening and was able find my cell phone with which I called my ex-wife Jo (she always was and still is my best friend and 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 crashing into the bedroom yelling at me for not letting anyone know what was happening and that Jo 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 ass with nothing but driveway asphalt under me. I guess they dropped me. I was coherent enough to recall this.

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 remember saying I’d like a second opinion. Next, 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 nationally 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 NICU at Overlook (which I later learned was one of the top stroke trauma centers on the east coast) 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 the next 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 introduced to 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 based on the fact that I was communicating just fine, but I was forced to take part in these sessions until my social worker responded to our numerous complaints.

After about a week of being at RIMM and seeing the looks of despair on the faces of Jo, Andrea, Linda, Diana and friends from work it hit me. 

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 the fate which had been outlined for me by the medical folks.

I asked for a razor to shave off the beard and set out on my quest to get out of that place as quickly as possible and 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 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 work friends, 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 like wiping my ass, oh I said unspeakable didn't I ? LOL ) 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 even taking a few trips to Mets games.

I recovered to the point of being able to help in pulling up 30 plus year old carpeting and refinish the hardwood floors beneath and I was able to get through the Social Security disability process on the first try. (I did have Joe and Linda to thank for getting me to the myriad of doctor and clinic appointments and Diana's nephew, Matt, for helping me as well)

I was doing so well that I planned a trip to St. Louis during the summer of 2008 to spend some time with Jo and Andrea.  At the end of this visit as Jo was taking me to the airport for my return flight to NJ, she was crying and told me she really missed me.  I said I’d stay for a couple more weeks during which time on a Sunday afternoon as were sitting around just watching TV and  talking, Jo asked if I still loved her because she loved me, I told I would always be in love with her,she responded by asking “Do you want to get married again?”  I told her that I would, of course, as long as this wasn't out of pity for me.  I asked her time and again until she'd reassured me. 
We got remarried (our “Do OVER” ceremony performed by my brother in law Tom) on December 21, 2008 in NJ and returned here to St. Louis to live our lives together, AGAIN...It’s been 5 years now ..& they said it’d never last ..LOL 

So here I sit SEVEN years later, with Jo, able to care for myself, getting around pretty well, 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 and attend a good number of St. Louis Cardinals games primarily because I love baseball but also because of the easy ballpark access & friends. (& they’re really the only game in town LOL) 

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.

I even manage to "work" a few hours each week during the summer at our subdivision pool, where I can sit poolside as "the attendant" and use my laptop (I've set up Wi-Fi at the clubhouse adjacent to the pool) to enjoy all the baseball I can get, follow my Fantasy Baseball teams, mess around on social media and even make a few dollars.

I look forward to every day and feel that all in all my LIFE is pretty damn good and I should spread the word that life after stroke can be fulfilling and "FUN" ...& to think I may have missed it makes me appreciate every day more than ever.

So if you’ve persevered through this long winded story, I really appreciate it and ask you to Pardon me once more while I wish myself a
Happy 7th Stroke Birthday!”

Looking forward once again to Opening Day and a season of Fantasy Baseball too...
Oh and as always 
LET’S GO METS! & why not?  “Go Cards”
& To My Wonderful Wife... “Jo, I Love More Than You Will Ever Know”, Thank you for always being my partner & my “Best Friend”  !!

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