STROKE CHANGED ME
FOREVER — IN AN INSTANT.
Today that’s a good thing, but it wasn’t 14 years ago. Stroke
silenced my body and took total control of my life. In an
instant, I was no longer friends with my body. It had betrayed
me. I no longer trusted my body. I was my own enemy. Full
stop. I didn’t know how to live a day beyond that.
I found a way up and out. But it took time — around
three years post-stroke. My recovery followed an already
known process: the Stages of Grief developed by Elizabeth
Kubler-Ross. Perhaps you know the five stages: Denial,
Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. I saw this
model a couple years ago, and it was amazing to me how I
could overlay these stages onto my journey. It showed me
where I had been and made me feel normal. I had grieved
because I had lost myself. It was my biggest change/death
ever, and it took about three years after my stroke to begin
to embrace life again. I see the stages clearly now, and they
help. Imagine if a stroke survivor could learn about this
early on? It could help! It certainly couldn’t hurt.
DENIAL — In this first stage people often believe the
diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false,
preferable reality. Yup. That was me.
I worked to fulfill all my therapists’ goals. I was so busy
working on getting better and back, I didn’t sit with one
undeniable fact: Rachel had a very big stroke.
I wanted to make time go backwards and ERASE the
stroke. I see that now. I was trying to change history and
recreate reality with no stroke. I couldn’t comprehend, let
alone accept, the magnitude of change that had been forced
upon me at 10: 10 a.m. on April 4, 2003, when I had my
stroke. My focus was the minutiae of goals set by my docs:
Could I walk to the bathroom, brush my hair and teeth,
bathe, do stairs? Could I tolerate a feeding tube now and
would I swallow again? The physical goals of each doctor,
neurologist, speech pathologist, OT or PT were my goals.
It makes sense to fix broken parts so you can use them
again. Injuries change your daily routine, are painful and
inconvenient — even disabling for a time. A full recovery
is expected and possible for many health challenges. We
come back. But stroke is different and goes way beyond the
physical. So, we turn to anger.
UNWRAPPING THE GIFT OF STROKE
RACHEL SCANLON HENRY
Rachel and her son Jason engage in an epic spatula duel
Photographs by Troy B. Thompson; troybthompson.com