Back to :Chapter 7 : Beginning
"If I could always read I should never want of society"
8.1 "....heís got high, apple pie, in the sky hopes...."
I have marked that conversation with Kathy in the last paragraph as a milestone in my recovery but it would be wrong to give the impression that from there I just ran around singing "The Sun has got his hat on" all the time and started to improve. This narrative is written to encourage you to find your own ways of dealing with your specific problems and skimming around the darker days is deliberate, you donít want to read about me being a pain in the butt. People who deal with recovering stroke survivors on a day to day basis perhaps fall into the habit of being reassuring about the emotional crises. Sure, a stroke or any head injury can scramble the emotions but no matter how well or badly we are handling things on the surface as a consequence of our illness letís not forget we are still the same people and still have the same intelligence and emotions.
When told "stroke patients are apt to become emotional and start crying for no apparent reason" I thought it sounded a lousy game and by an act of will stopped myself from succumbing to such emotional outbursts. Thatís not exactly the same as saying I did not cry. Of course I did, more so after being discharged from the rehabilitation unit as reality came crashing back into my existence. Why? Because sometimes the destruction of my life seemed so total and the task I had set myself in resolving to rebuild it so impossibly great that contemplating what lay ahead just dragged my spirits down. That sounds like despair? Not to me, the trick is to be able to let the emotion out and lift yourself, drive on towards your goal of recovery. But if you are doing that remember, lifting yourself is hard work. We all need a break. Take things quietly for a couple of days, gather yourself and then start off again. Have you ever gone on holiday only to arrived at the airport or railway station and find no baggage trolleys available. Your baggage is heavy, its a long way to the bus or taxi rank but the only thing to do is walk. When your arms and shoulders get tired do you turn round, go back and give up on your holiday?.......I thought not.
We all have a supply of determination but it needs to be replenished. That is where humour and recreational activity come in.
Another quality that will be invaluable but if you displayed it before will have been criticised is pride. Before people started pussyfooting around because I was suddenly disabled references to vanity, self - importance and conceit were often made in relation to my seft - confident attitude but as soon as the fog of those first few days started to lift I heard people saying "his pride will get him through." It did help in many ways, the main one being dribbling.
An earlier chapter mentioned that at first there was quite a lot of paralysis around the left cheek and my lips were quite difficult to control because there is not much point being able to move them if one cannot feel them. In those circumstances, lips that feel as if they are clamped tightly together are in fact slack. Now somewhere, possibly in childhood, I had collected a mental picture of a stroke victim dribbling. It is quite an old person, possibly a relative, dressed in an old fashioned way, and is one of those unattached memories that stays a lifetime without ever logically connecting to any past event. So that was my image of somebody who had a stroke. "Iím not going to be like that," I thought one day having noticed a little saliva dripping from my chin. "I am not going to dribble." and my attention focused very hard on controlling my mouth. This happened before the speech therapist had found me and the problem was being tackled without my really having a clue what it was. I still dribbled of course and that created another challenge, to deal with the fact that the goal had not been attained. Missing a goal is no disaster, it just means we are not quite ready to get there. There will always be another chance.
Dribbling is one of the less embarrassing consequences of course. Worst for me in the first weeks was having to be lifted on and off the toilet. When this task is performed by a good looking nurse whom one would normally greet by saying "HELLL - O - O - O" in the manner of an aging roue it is an absolutely excruciating humiliation. This is where several big acts of will came in. Each similar situation caused something deep in my mind to say "I will no accept this. This is not me, I will not be this person." Then you stick your bottom lip out like Tom in the cartoons after Jerry has flattened his tail with an iron. It is not magic but if you keep on it starts to work after a while.
8.2 ....for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows....
The purpose of writing this book was never to provide a chronicle of recovery or describe the treatments that helped me. Several chronicles have been written and there are people far better qualified than I to discuss therapies. We all have different needs and care should (but often isnít though it is claimed to) be tailored to individuals. The most important aspect of recovery though is mental. The carers and doctors can give you little help there, they have seen many cases but have never been there. I, and others in the same position can offer support at a distance but it really is down to yourself. If surviving mentally is an act of will, physical recovery is even more of one. Iím not trying to scare you here, anybody can do it. Just try to find strength deep within you that you probably never knew you had. We are all capable of one miracle.
I have to confess before the next paragraph that you have caught me lying. I told you there is no magic formula, potion or wand available to help you. Well there is a magic word. Not Abracadabra, not Xyzzy (very old computer operators may understand that) but belief.
This magic word has been hijacked by religion but faith and belief mean subtly different things. Faith is complicated so letís stick with belief because Iím not religious and will only upset somebody if I talk about such matters. If people find a commitment to the doctrines of a particular church helps them then its fine, if something works for you, stick with it and squeeze everything you can out of it. Many people in all walks of life credit their faith for enabling them to cope with difficult situations. Others believe their triumph is due to a particular diet supplement, to yogic meditation, arranging the furniture a certain way, aromatic essences, a billion and one different icons, a role model, rituals, Shakespeare, Charlie Brown, herbal preparations, that oojahmacallit they bought one year at Glastonbury....... A whole volume would not be enough to list the things that have given people the inspiration.
It does not matter though what symbol, myth, faith or philosophy, whether the God is called Allah, Jehovah, Zoroaster, Vishnu or the Earth Mother because it is not the God or the symbol that is important, it is the belief. The most potent form of belief is belief in oneself.
Kathyís pep talk had motivated me to really get my head together. As mentioned earlier the negative emotions that were supposed to engulf me had not been a big issue although they were certainly present. There had been no anger and little resentment. This should perhaps be put down to arrogance. Illnesses and bad things did not happen to ME, they could not. It must be a mistake. Werenít there any rules about this sort of thing? It was not what had happened that caused frustration but my complete inability at that stage to do anything about it. It is hard to accept the realities of finding one is not actually Superman of course, but the mountains I had moved in my life were only metaphorical. My recovery, like everybody elseís would be slow. During that initial period of confusion there was ample opportunity to come to terms with the vastly different prospects the future held. There are two stages in dealing with a problem, understanding and removing the cause and working out a plan to deal with the consequences. Stage one was being dealt with by the experts, my job was to handle stage two.
8.3 ....did you write the book of love...
During my first few weeks in rehab, still too weak to make much real progress, it was a time of getting emotions back together and dealing with the personal problems created by the sudden change in my life.
At first we all face the fact that we are not what we were; its natural to do so. I often miss my former life, no matter how successful has been my letting go of it. The world relentlessly moves on but humans like to finish things tidily and tie up the loose ends before we go with it. A stroke is an untidy illness and leaves a lot of loose ends to remind us of the past.
Throughout my recovery but most of all at this stage reading inspired me as well as providing entertainment. It is so vitally important to keep the mind active and if you are a doer that can be particularly difficult. Whilst in rehab I saw so many fellow patients become victims of boredom and resentment, fall into depression and give up. They had forgotten they still had a life even if it is not the one choosen it is possible to make it worth something. Reading is something almost everybody can do, especially now as multi - media technology makes audio books available. I know a few people who proudly boast they have never read a book since leaving school. School books do not inspire us to be lifelong readers its true , but the publishing industry caters for everybody. Fiction can be filled with humour, insight, adventure. Factual and theoretical works can fascinate and open up new interests. Philosophy and Poetry are filled with wisdom and inspiration even if most of the people who wrote the stuff were dysfunctional, misanthropic, substance - abusing wierdos. I hope you will give some of these things a try (Philosophy and Poetry that is, not substance abuse.) You have time on your hands, there is no excuse. These things are not fashionable, but there is a lot to be found in them. Hereís an example of what I mean, a poem by A.E. Housman.
INTO my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
From a collection of poems titled "A Shropshire Lad" those lines in which the poet looks back at past happiness really sum up our tendency to cling to the past. Housman, a homosexual who lived in intolerant times, was like myself not a real "Shropshire Lad" but an import, taken to the pastoral county by a townie family. He was a solitary and melancholy man and his poems reflect a lifelong nostalgia for times he spent in the rural communities which were more tolerant of individualism than the oppressively moralistic urban population. Although Alfred Houseman was writing at the end of the nineteenth century and I grew up in the middle of the twentieth, his verses evoke many memories of familiar landscapes from childhood. On returning to this verse after my stroke its meaning changed for me. The words say there is no point wishing for what is gone. Success, high earnings, those were my fields of lost content. We must find out where we are and move on from there. (People have said I should have taught English literature. How an I doing?) The important thing here of course is not what the poem meant to the writer, or to me. Does it mean anything to you? Please find time to read, or if your eyesight is not so good, to listen to talking books. Novels and Biographies are good entertainment, religious or mythological texts, works on history and science, sport, real life adventure, whatever appeals to you is bound to be well catered for. In a long period of recuperation, with mobility restricted, reading is by far the best way to stimulate the mind and retain or recover mental functions. Analyse text for meaning (or double meaning) exercise those neurones, get chemicals jumping across your synapses like lemmings on "e". I will always be convinced that my recovery is due to the fact that my mind was kept active while the medical people worked on physical problems.
If you vision is impaired or for any other reason you find it difficult to read try radio. TV and film are great entertainment but only passive involvement is needed. With radio or the written word you have to use imagination to get the best out of a story. Paint pictures in your mind. Imagine the scene. Stories are easier, for example I could write "Inspector Clod walked along the lobby and opened the door that led to the drawing room. Inside the blinds were drawn but the furniture was real" and go on to give a detailed description. With Radio there are only sound effects and dialogue to help build your mental pictures. I am not suggesting seeing things in your mind in this way will help restore or improve sight but it canít do any harm can it?
One of the great publishing successes of the nineteen - nineties was a book called Fermetís Last Theorem (no relation to Pythagorasí Theorem) Pierre de Fermet was a seventeenth century mathematician who proposed many numerical theories in his lifetime. Some were so complex they defied attempts to prove of disprove them. Modern computing power changed all that but one problem remained insoluble. The book, a true account, tells how a mathematician became obsessed with solving Fermetís theorem to such an extent that it took over his life, affecting his career and relationships. The book became a best seller because it is not really about mathematics but passion and due to that it gives the reader many insights into human nature. We will return to passion because you will need it. Nobody really succeeds without passion. Bill Gates, the richest man in the world built Microsoft because he is passionate about computer software. Van Gogh and Picasso were passionate about their art. Anybody who has visited an exhibition of their work will understand that passion oozes out of the canvasses. Nelson Mandela was passionate about unifying South Africa under majority rule. Ray Charles was passionate about music, Quentin Tarentino is passionate about films, Richard Branson is passionate about.....Richard Branson (thatís unkind, seriously the man is passionate about his businesses and is also not afraid to fail publicly.) Put passion in your toolbox.
(NOTE: Since writing this chapter I have learned that some health authorities have started to recommend reading as Therapy for people trying to overcome memory or concentration problems. So its official now, reading is good for you. Oh bugger, that means I have no chance of persuading you to try it.)(Again since writing this I have learned Bill Gates is no longer the world's richest man, being down to his last thirty billion. The honour now rests wih another man who has a passionate belief in his computer software business.)But you can bet you life savings I'm having more fun that they are.
Forward to : Chapter 9