As a journalist, I’ve been in some unusual situations. I’ve flown with the Blue Angels in a C-130 going straight up, an adventure which earned me the flight name, “Chili Man,” having survived a bowl of chili right before the flight without incident. I’ve traveled at 200 miles an hour on a race track and have been upside down in stunt planes. The greatest story ever assigned to me came without warning, and not over the phone or email.
I’ve had a stroke.
I didn’t think much of it at first, as I pulled into a now-defunct clinic, thinking I could just get a shot or something to make this go away. As the ambulance took me to the hospital, I was gripped by one thought: this is bad.
I learned about hospitals, doctors and medicines very quickly, and hospital life became a new way of living for me. Thinking about the next examination was the overriding guide for my day. Little did I know that a vast network of friends and family mobilized on my behalf behind the scenes. My employer and his staff came to the hospital. Others worked to help me establish state and federal benefits.
I constantly thought, “What is this all about?” in those first few days, wondering why my left side wouldn’t work. From the beginning, I had to realize that this was really me going through this, and it wouldn’t just go away, like other calamities in my life. My nickname at work is,” M.O.D.,” or Master of Disaster because I’ve had so many close calls over the years.
Apparently, because of the way I was eating, the term, “Master of Donuts” fit also. I was eating all the wrong things, and it caught up with me. Too much Taco Bell; too much Mountain Dew. The stress didn’t help either. I’m like a fire truck for five different departments that need stuff right now. And that’s in addition to planning my evenings, weekends, and finances. It’s a lot, as I’m sure most of you know. Take this piece of advice: When the doctor tells you to bring down your hypertension and blood pressure, do it.
Then I found myself asking, “Why me?” Everybody told me that this is just something that happens in your head. It’s not punishment for anything, and the sooner you get treatment, the better you will be. My response has been that my left side is still there, and if it’s not damaged or missing, it will come back. Indeed, my mentor Catherine Roberts, told me that it took 11 weeks for her faculties to return after the stroke she had.
That’s not to say that other thoughts don’t creep in, even though I try my best to be positive. Now I can’t work, so what about my finances? How am I going to get around once I get home? I spent several weeks in the hospital, and three months in a rehab facility. It was definitely an education. The first cold hard reality was that there are people around me in far worse condition than myself. That made me feel better, with a sense of, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Seeing functioning people moving around me made me jealous until I figured out they were once in worse shape than me, and have gotten better, so now they are a model for my recovery.
One bright ray of light in this whole adventure has been the tremendous support of my girlfriend, Denise. She’s really sick herself with blood problems and so forth, but put her problems aside to care about me. Early on, I said, ”This is terrible!” She came back with a response I’ll always remember. She said, “Terrible is temporary.” That should be written on the walls in this place.
This is such a different lifestyle than before. Once I could go downstairs, take the trash out, do the laundry and a hundred other things with two hands. Now I have to know what to do with one hand. I can’t do my former job, and things like laundry and personal care will now be a challenge.
Living in a wheelchair every day makes you humble. It certainly makes you appreciate what you used to have. This is my first time going through this, so it’s a different world; however, less and less I’m thinking that this is some kind of a dream that I’ll wake up from.
Several lessons came from all this. If the doctor tells you to cut back and be more healthy, do it. Don’t wait for something to happen that will force you to follow this advice. I figured it would never happen to me, but it did.
Don’t take anything for granted. Things don’t have to work out well all the time. Something good may be around the corner. You are not immune to anything and do what it takes to avoid trouble. I didn’t, and it got me here.
I can’t be mad at what happened; it was my fault. What am I going to do? Sue the back of my brain? It’s like a hurricane – you can’t get back at nature.
This will be a cliffhanger, but it showed me the importance of life. You get one mind, one body, and one life. Use it well.
Chris Daigle is a Houston historian, photojournalist and a regular contributor to The Grapevine Source. To read more of his articles, click HERE.