You make a to-do list at your kitchen table. Dave and Abigail are out and Scott sleeps like a seventeen-year-old, late on this Sunday morning. Somehow your glass slips from your hand, breaking. Cleaning up shards and liquid an idea flashes in your mind, what if I’m having a stroke and Scott finds me dead on the floor? Absurd, you think. Much to do, but you’re drowsy and driven to nap. You take a replacement drink to the coffee table, lie on the couch, and fall asleep.
You awaken and sip your water. Again, the glass slips from your grasp to the carpet, spilling. It’s late morning. You shower before Dave and Abby return. In the hot water, you scrub your face and shampoo your hair. Then shaving your leg, you drop the razor and start again. You drop the razor. You start again. After several attempts, you decide not to shave. You sit half-dressed on the bed. Midday sun spills into the room. You think to call Scott but you’re not dressed. Besides, it’s likely you’re fine.
Dave arrives home. You call him upstairs; he kneels by you, checks your grasp, scowls and gets you an aspirin. He helps you dress and get downstairs where you encounter Scott in the hallway. None of you see what approaches; though it hovers like a thunderhead, heavy and ominous.
Laundry, vacuuming, grading, not ER visits, you muse. You dry your hair using your right hand. Scott makes eggs. Abby plays SimCity. Dave checks your grasp, frowning. Soon all three gather around you, your need for emergency-care clear to them. Half of you is foreign, an arm hangs toward the floor, a vacant shoulder slouches to follow. You blow-dry your hair raising your good arm to counter these events. Only you are unaware--something of you is no longer present.
Dave’s your surety. Traveling icy roads, you ask, are we going to wreck? Nope, he answers, erasing your anxiety. He navigates zaftig flakes and slick highways. When rain swells the river, you say, no more floods, right? Right, says Dave. You release bad memories, allow a deluge of worry to recede. When your hair is dry, you ask, "I’m okay, right? This will just go away?" Nope, he answers.
Dave can get you there faster than an ambulance, he’s at your left side, Scott at your right. Gravity increases its force upon you with each step to the car. Abby, twelve, shadows behind trembling. Scott pleads for an ambulance, he repeats this, again and again.
Your last memory is of Scott crying, his hands pressed on the window, “Please dad, call an ambulance!” At the bottom of your street, you slump over. Dave will recall that he thought you were dead. At the fire station, just turns away, Dave bolts from the car, bangs on the door and yells, help me, something’s wrong with my wife.
They ask your name and assess you as they transfer you to the ambulance. Your next memory is in the ER, the doctor referring to you as a CVA. When Dave comes in and sees you, his face washes with relief. You’re sitting up, smiling, using both your hands, swinging your legs.
You’re admitted to the hospital though you’re fine. You’re not told, as Dave is, that you’ve had a stroke and further tests are needed. The neurologist also suggests there will be a second stroke. The following Sunday, after languishing on an IV of Heparin, you wake at 2:00 a.m. in the midst of a stroke. You don’t push the call-button; you call Dave waking him, it’s happening again, you say. Only, the voice which slogs from your mouth isn’t yours. It sounds like a deaf person’s voice, a deaf person taking their first stab at speech. This will reveal the cause, a spontaneous dissection of your right carotid artery, causing a clot and a stroke because it traveled to your brain. A second more devastating stroke occurs when the artery’s lining separates from the wall and occludes blood flow to the brain.
You refuse a bed-pan insisting you can use a portable toilet. The nurse pulls a curtain around you. Immediately, your body lunges forward and pulls you to the floor, jamming your IV into your arm. You’ve lost the left side of your body, the right side of your face.
Weeks later, you’re discharged on a gurney to a rehab center unable to walk and just beginning to regain speech. During your time there, you discover a special class of people: physical therapists. You begin the painstaking process of re-inhabiting the abandoned side of your body. Months later, you’re released from outpatient therapy.
"Anything else of concern?" the therapist asks.
"No," you say, "my gait is kinda wonky."
"It is. But there’s no reason," he answers.
For you, the impressive effects of your strokes are cognitive and invisible to others. Word retrieval and other speech issues, swaths of memory gone, trouble with short-term memory and focus. These compel you to live now, a blessing.
You’re challenged taking stairs, a bit of left-neglect means you run into door jams or drop things from you grasp. Your face droops if you drink enough wine or are overtired. Sometimes, when very relaxed, you drool. You lost your singing voice; this you grieve deeply, the loss of a kind of prayer.
You no longer teach college. You had returned to the classroom too soon and your confidence was shaken. Writing returns slowly, first as poetry just as it began. You’re happy to be writing prose again and you publish a few pieces. Often, you write in the second person.
Some days glow like a gate between what is and what was; November 11, 2007 is the day you became someone new, still you, but a second person.
Meg Harris has published short stories, poems, and essays; some of her writing can be found on her blog BluemoonNortheast. Her chapbook, Inquiry into Loneliness, is available from Crisis Chronicles Press. She recently completed leadership training in the Patchwork Farm Guided Writing Process and she is the managing editor at Diaphanous Journal. Meg Harris serves on Connecticut’s State Independent Living Council and she is a 2004 graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Meg encourages you to learn more about The National Stroke Association. Founded in 1984, they are the only national association devoted 100% to support stroke rehabilitation and prevention efforts. Visit www.stroke.org.