When I accepted this job, the DH and I had some idea of what we were getting into. After all, we both spent some time growing up here and met at a college in southern Minnesota. Neither of us were surprised things started getting cold at the end of September; certainly, we weren’t happy about it, but we remembered enough to expect it. What we had forgotten, however, was one of the best things about fall in the North. The unexpectedly warm up. After a couple of weeks with highs barely in the 60s, grey skies, and occasional freeze warnings.
We’ve been blessed with a gorgeous, sunny, 80 degree weekend. Granted my ability to appreciate this weekend has been somewhat limited. My head really hates these kinds of sudden changes in the weather, and lets me know that with terrible headaches. Whenever the Advil kicks in, though, I have made it a point to get outside to do something. I mowed the lawn one last time, and played some catch with Bradley. Anything I could do to enjoy this reprieve from the cold, dark winter I know is coming. Yes. I said it. Winter is coming.
It wasn’t until last night, when the tightness in my neck and shoulder returned after dinner, that a different reprieve ended. I remembered: how I’d been sick at the beginning of the semester, how I’d been sneezing frequently and with a lot of force for the last week; how I have been pretty stressed about my new job; how all of those things are slightly different, but very much the same way I’d been feeling seven years ago. As those things dawned on me, I realized the date, and that for the first time I’d completely forgotten Stroke Day.
Seven years ago, on October 4th, I suffered an stroke, specifically an arterial dissection in an artery on the right side of my neck. I was just 35, so it surprised everyone from my family to the doctors, who took 13 hours to diagnose me. To this day no one really knows what caused it. Since then, I have always found a way to “celebrate” stroke day. Nothing big, so maybe commemorate is a better word than celebrate. This is the first year that Stroke Day passed completely unnoticed by me, until I started thinking about my headache that is.
That I could forget Stroke Day this year is remarkable, since a good friend of mine, who suffered a brain aneurysm has spent the month blogging about her story and preparing for a fundraising 5k. I have, for reasons you can probably imagine, avoided reading Niki’s story. Seeing her posts promoted on Facebook and her race photos, however, probably should have put Stroke Day on my radar. Once I remembered however, I had to work pretty hard not to worry excessively about my headache.
Having a stroke, learning to walk again, writing and teaching again for the first time, those are things that you don’t really forget. More importantly, they are things your friends and family do not easily forget. One thing I have always maintained is that my friends and family were much more deeply scarred by my stroke than I was. I couldn’t see myself getting a spinal tap in the ER; in and out of consciousness in intensive care. The doctors weren’t tell me all the worst case scenarios possible: I would never wake up, never walk, never be the same. When I finally “woke up,” and began my recovery, I felt normal. Yes, I had obstacles and things to do, but I dealt with them the same way I do everything, I just did it. (One foot in front of the other, remember.) I couldn’t see the differences in my personality, in the way I moved. One result of this has been that I am typically able to worry much less about my health. Maybe a better way to describe it is that I am able to treat my health much more normally than my friends and family. For me a cough is just a cough, and a pain is just a pain.
For a long time, every sneeze, cough, or mention of pain meant the DH would ask, “Are you okay?” in a particular tone, then hover over me until I was back to normal. Intellectually, I understood his concern; emotionally, it was stifling and felt like I could never fully recover until everyone would start treating me normally. For the longest time, I just refused to talk about my health. If I had a headache, I took some Advil and Tylenol and did my best not to mention it. My reprieve, my ability to forget stroke day, and then my realization in conjunction with my headache, actually helped me to understand the DH’s worry a little better. I knew my headache was just a headache, but once memories of the stroke began it was almost impossible to get them to stop.
My friend Niki, who made it through her brain aneurysm, talks a lot about celebrating her “Life Day,” the day she had her successful operation. I think she like, a lot of people, sees my insistence on remembering Stroke Day as somewhat morbid and negative. I don’t see it that way at all. Remembering Stroke Day, or this year forgetting it, for me is about recognizing my own vulnerability, recognizing my ability to get up and keep going, and recognizing the strength of everyone who went through that experience with me.