Riding a Harley is probably one of the most important things in my husband’s life. It helps to ground him and as anyone knows who has ridden one, it gives you a sense of freedom like you can get nowhere else. It gives you lifelong friends and memories to always treasure.
An unexpected stroke on March 12, 2014 endangered all of that and more for him.
I asked him if I could write about it, but in his words, so that people could know how it feels to suddenly have your life changed-permanently. What was it like to go through it? What about the doubts in the beginning? How does it affect you not only physically, but mentally? I can’t think of anyone better to tell that, than him.
Take me back to that day that you had the stroke. How did it feel? What went through your mind? When did you know something was seriously wrong? Were you scared?
I woke up and felt funny, dizzy. I felt like I was on a drunk. I knew when I got up that something was seriously wrong. I went to work anyway-I was in denial.I thought it was something that would go away. Once I got to work, I couldn’t find my way over to where we had our morning meeting. I was disoriented. I dropped my grinder when trying to hang it up-that is when work and I decided I was leaving. They knew to not let me drive and told me to call you. I decided to text instead. That was difficult to do. I was scared to death-holding you and shaking.
I can attest to that. The texts I got made no sense, mostly a lot of letters. I knew something was seriously wrong. It didn’t take me long to get out of the house and on my way. It felt like it took forever to get there. It took two of us to get him in my car and we went right to the ER.
It felt like I was in a nightmare, like this wasn’t really happening. I don’t even remember what I thought when the doctor told me I had had a stroke or ‘multiple strokes’. One nurse commented that I didn’t lose my sass when she noticed my Harley shirt and asked if I was going to ride again and I said “It isn’t going to ride its f-ing self!”
I was glad at the time to hear those words coming out of his mouth! Sounded like the Tom I knew well! After a stroke that was a relief. So much was unknown at this time. We didn’t know what it had affected and what would be permanent. All the tests for that would come in time. Getting back on his Harley remained a huge motivation for him to get better!
Talk to me about the tests they put you through and how if felt not to be able to do some of them as well as you wanted, especially at the beginning, in the hospital and then during rehab.
The tests frustrated me and made me mad. They were difficult. They were tests of things I should know and be able to do and when I couldn’t it was frustrating. They would ask me my kids birthdays or ages and I couldn’t remember them. They would put up fingers and I couldn’t see how many. They made me write my name and address and it was a mess. The only good part of it all, was having my friends visit.
The frustration continued through rehab. I wanted to be able to do things like before and I became very frustrated when I couldn’t. The light test I had to do and pass before I could be released to drive was the most frustrated I would get-after the first couple times I was almost in tears from it.
Tom got more frustrated than he should have in rehab. He really did gain ground fast. I can understand how it was so hard for him to be at this point. To pass all these tests and to get better meant everything. To drive, to return to work, to get back to his life. To get back on that Harley. It was hard for me to sit and watch it, to see the frustration. I knew it probably wouldn’t matter what I or his therapists said. He wanted to be better and he wanted it yesterday.
It only took 5 weeks for him to return to work! THAT is determination! He was back on that Harley too! May 3, 2014! That first time, he did wear his helmet, just in case!
Tell me how that felt to be back on that again-what that meant to you.
I had my freedom back.
So it is almost two years later. Tell me about now. What frustrations you still might have. How has having a stroke changed your life?
In the beginning, I wished it had taken me instead of leaving me like this. When my brother in law died, I kept saying, it should have been me, not him. I meant it.
It is winter and I can’t ride. It is tougher on me now when I can’t ride. I have permanent partial vision loss and some memory issues-short term that continue to frustrate me. It is a constant reminder of what happened to me. Frustration and attitude come easier and faster.
I didn’t have much of a filter before the stroke when it came to speaking my mind and now I have none.It frustrates me that people forget what happened because I look the same. They think I am the same as I was before. They forget.
What is the one thing, above all, that you want people to know?
Bad things can happen to you, that you have no control over, but good things can come out of it, too!
Any last thoughts?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!