Saturday, February 20, 2016


Barb Polan
Barb's Recovery
Posted 3rd January 2012 

I know that some survivors consider the day of having a stroke as a "rebirth" into the world - becoming a new person infused with gratitude for a second chance, having a fresh way of looking at everything previously taken for granted. They celebrate "rebirthdays." I, for one, do not look that way at having had a stroke. To me, having had a stroke meant the death of my old life, not the birth of a new one. Sure, there are things that are better now: my focus professionally now is on being a writer, not being an editor because I couldn't sell enough of my writing; I have concrete proof that I am well-loved by my family and friends; I know that the hard work, determination and strength of character that my recovery has required can all be diverted to some other worthy task once my rehab is complete; I can accept that "what happened is what happened and [for me anyway] is not likely to happen again," to paraphrase Bartholomew Cubbins, of "500 hats" fame. That does make the stroke I had the beginning of a new phase of my life? Does that mean I was "reborn" after all?

Often, when I wander through semantics and my personal experiences like this, I end up with many questions and few answers - just like being in adolescence over again. And learning to walk makes me 1 again, while redeveloping my reasoning skills puts me at 7 or 8. And, because of the spasticity in my hand, I still can't crawl; although I can get on my hands and knees, keeping my fingers curled. Not being able to tie my shoes, use a knife to cut my food, or zip my coat puts me pre-kindergarten, right?

And yet, I am still the same person inside as I as before the stroke - I'm just missing some handy skills I used to have. One day, perhaps 6 months after the stroke, my younger brother was visiting; I was in the dining room on the phone with my boss, using speakerphone - giving my boss shit about something or other; we were tossing smart-aleck phrases back and forth, always laughing. As soon as we hung up, my brother said," Now THAT's the Barb I know." or "Barb's back," or some equivalent. That epiphany happened with several people - friends and family who would turn their heads to look at me with a bit of relief as they register, "I remember HER."

Just as I was not perfect before the stroke, I am not perfect now. Like everyone else, I have a long list of attributes and another of flaws. Let's not get into details. As much as I don't want/like to blame the stroke when something goes wrong - communication, calculations ( I tend to way overtip now - is that because I figure it out wrong or because Millie's been a waitress so long? If I figure it out wrong, it should sometimes be over- and sometimes under-tipping, right? There's that 8-year-old again), I do like Dean Reinke's phrase "stroke-addled" to cover for a mistake. Sometimes perfect words or phrases already exist and we neglect to apply words in a fresh way, falling back on the trite instead. There it is: those damn semantics calling my name again.

Where does that leave me? Reborn into a more grateful version of my former self? Or my former self interrupted by a nightmare? I have a hard time getting a handle on this. Part of it, I think, has to do with the fact that throughout the stroke, I never lost consciousness - I stayed awake throughout the CAT scans, MRIs, repetitive questioning about the date, the president's name, where I was and whether I could squeeze this or that doctor's fingers. There was never a point at which I woke up and had to be told what had happened; I experienced it all in real time. Wouldn't a rebirth start with an awakening, the dawning of knowledge about my injury? Am I trying to make this experience too formulaic, when really, "every patient is different, every stroke different, every recovery different"? Yes, that's ironic.

I'm not saying that those who consider the date of their strokes as a rebirth are wrong; they are perfectly right about themselves. It just does not fit ("ring true for" would have been the perfect trite phrase for here) me - either one of me: pre- or post-stroke Barb.

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