I will always remember Thursday, May 28, 1998, the day that my life was radically changed. My husband and I had just returned from a wonderful trip to New Zealand and Australia. Now my basic commitment was to finish my dissertation.
However, the Almighty apparently had other plans for my life at that point, because suddenly something happened and my world went into a rapid spin. I screamed to my husband for help!
After a series of preliminary tests and finally being admitted to the hospital, I surmised from the reactions of those involved, that I was really sick.
I was put in the intensive care unit. At the end of the first week, the doctors determined that I probably had two strokes. After I thought about it, I had been having some stroke symptoms such as seeing double and weakness on my right side, but thought nothing of them. The idea of a stroke was so foreign to me. I thought I was too young and healthy for anything like a stroke to happen to me.
I felt trapped, but immediately committed myself to face the challenge head on and to recover as quickly as possible. I wanted to maximize the capabilities I had left.
During the three-week period of hospitalization and rehabilitation, I searched for the meaning of this new and devastating experience. After some serious spiritual introspection, I realized the importance of several things in my life including: my family, living and enjoying each day, spending more time with myself, finding out my real purpose in life, sharing myself with others and seeing the big picture.
This period in my life also gave me an opportunity to observe others, many of whom had conditions more challenging than mine. This motivated me to count my blessings and appreciate how fortunate I was, since therapy could restore some of the things I had lost. Yes, I had to face the new me and my limitations, but I knew I would be okay.
When I returned home, I attended a therapy program where I met some new friends who had similar problems. This became a social experience which helped me out tremendously.
Generally, I maintained a positive attitude. However, I did wonder why me? I never felt sorry for myself though, and I tried never to dwell on my limitations.
Two months after the stroke, I was back attending church and other activities in a limited capacity. Physical endurance determined the kind of work-rest routine I had to develop. I appreciated all of the available assistive devices, but my passion was to get rid of the need for their use as soon as possible.
After I completed the therapy program, I immediately enrolled in a regular fitness program four times a week, nine months after my stroke. I focused completely on exercise, reading and crosswords.
I took daily walks and gradually increased my distance until I reached 2.4 miles. This inspired me to participate in a local 3.1 mile walk, which I successfully completed in less than 55 minutes.
One of my bigger accomplishments was to finish my dissertation. I graduated with a PhD in Public Administration and Public Affairs. It took some hard work, but I did it!
The past few years haven't been easy, but I've learned some valuable lessons: never give up, ask for what you need, commit yourself to the challenge and be grateful for what you have.
Visit the National Stroke Association at www.stroke.org for more information.