8 THINGS I LEARNED FROM HAVING A STROKE AT AGE 44
*** EIGHT THINGS I LEARNED FROM HAVING A STROKE AT AGE 44***
I had a stroke exactly 4 weeks ago today. Not a TIA (mini-stroke), but a full on stroke. It happened while I was at a conference of entrepreneurs in California (I’m from Texas).
I brought my family with me, and we visited Disneyland the previous two days, and the last night — the day before my stroke — I came down with a terrible, no good, very bad flu. I had the chills worse than I ever had, appropriately while watching the stage play of “Frozen.”
I slept it off that night, broke a fever in the wee hours of the morning, and seemed to feel better. Good enough to attend the conference. But after lunch that day (I’d already had to leave and take a nap due to more chills); I was talking with a good friend when I was unable to talk. I knew the words I was trying to say…but they came out as gibberish, and I was not able to communicate. It was a very weird experience, because I remember absolutely everything.
My friend said it would be okay, I went to sit down, and he got the organizers of the event — and two world-class doctors that were attending, as well. They tested me for stroke while the paramedics were called. I actually recovered pretty much between the doctors’ exam and when the EMTs arrived. The EMTs actually didn’t think I had a stroke, because I had recovered so fast and was able to talk coherently.
But they took me to the hospital in the ambulance, and I stayed for three days while recovering from the flu and getting tested for the stroke. The MRI did show the stroke. My family was stuck in the hotel room, all violently sick themselves (except our Amazing Alec, my 5 year old boy with Down Syndrome, who came out of it without a sniffle!). I was finally released, and we had to drive back (slowly, over three days), all of us ill, to the middle of Texas.
I finally got to talk to my Neurologist last week, and he’s pretty convinced that it was caused, in a roundabout way, by that vicious flu.
He said my blood platelet levels were extremely high, in an effort to fight the flu — and that makes the blood more susceptible to clotting. And so it did, which resulted in a blockage to my brain, and that caused the aphasia (not able to communicate).
That’s the working theory, although we’re checking on other things, to include my heart and a sleep study to see if I have sleep apnea (I’m pretty sure I don’t). But this theory makes sense to me, I KNEW it had to do with the worst flu I’d ever had…even though the doctors in California assured me that it didn’t (more on this in the things I learned). And it fits with every test we’ve done. ALL of my numbers are ideal. They’re great…except even now, I have some elevated platelets, left over from the time with the flu. So, I imagine they were REALLY high at the time of the stroke.
So, with that settled for the time being, I wanted to share the lessons I’ve learned from this ordeal. I’m hoping that you can learn from them — I’ve chosen to make this a good experience, and see all of the blessings in it. I know it’s changed my life, and maybe someone can get something from the following.
EIGHT THINGS I LEARNED FROM HAVING A STROKE AT 44 YEARS OLD
1. IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE AT ANYTIME.
My “numbers,” are excellent. The complete blood panels literally have almost everything in the “ideal,” range — not just good, but optimal. I’d never paid attention to the idea of strokes before…but now, I hear it the ads, and see the articles everywhere.
The life you areliving, and the breaths you are taking while reading this aren’t entitled to us. They’re a gift, and the world owes us nothing. Know that this, or another medical emergency can happen to you at any given time. As uncomfortable as it is, please think about it, and plan accordingly.
2. REALIZING YOUR MORTALITY IS VERY SCARY.
I’d never thought that this could happen to me. I guess that goes along with the first point. But it is a scary moment.
You learn, youachieve, you grow, you are proactive about things. I mean, you’re a go-getter! You can do ANYTHING you set your mind to do.
You can’t. When something happens to your body, and you’re not able to speak or form language, no matter how hard you try.
When your body fails you, the fear of mortality shows up in all of its gruesome glory. We are not immortal…at least in this realm.
I think we know that on an intellectual level, but it doesn’t really hit home until something life-altering happens. Then you realize that you won’t be here forever, and that maybe your wife and children won’t have you in their lives anymore.
It’s a very jarring thought. One that we don’t usually have. But maybe we should every now and then, because it spurs you to do something with the life you’ve been given now.
3. THE BRAIN IS A MIRACULOUS, PLASTIC, HEALING ORGAN.
It’s complicated and not only healing, but self healing. I found out that I had an eschemic stroke, meaning there was a blood blockage to my brain. I couldn’t speak, even though I knew what I wanted to say, and later on, I couldn’t remember the names of my friends.
But I healed extremely quickly. In fact, the paramedics that came didn’t even think that I’d had a stroke, because I was back to being able to communicate by then, and I seemed, “okay,” to them.
The way our miraculous minds work is that they literally re-wire to work around the problem in the brain. The brain adapts, and in many cases, it completely overcomes. Now I’m told that there are ALWAYS deficiencies, but In my case, the only deficiencies seem to be having a little more difficulty coming up with the exact right word at times, and more trouble finding my car when I park in big parking lots. But I expect that to heal itself as the brain adjusts and compensates for it. I am choosing to think that my brain will improve as a result of this experience.
I’m in awe of our body and the meticulous way that it works. It’s truly miraculous, and pretty amazing that it runs so smoothly every day with SO MUCH happening at all times.
4. YOU ARE YOUR OWN BEST ADVOCATE, AND DON’T BLINDLY ACCEPT WHAT A DOCTOR TELLS YOU.
When I was in the hospital in California 1,392 miles from home (I checked), the doctors only spoke to me twice in a 3 day stay. The first told me that since I was communicating so well, that I probably didn’t have a stroke. Especially considering my great numbers.
The second doctor, after my MRI results showed I did indeed have a stroke, blurted out that, “yes,” I had a stroke, and I’d just need to take Lipitor and aspirin every day for the rest of my life. First, aside from the fact that it was the first time I learned that I had a stroke — and I was devastated; he only spent about 4 minutes total with me and gave me a lifelong prescription without even talking about it.
I KNEW that it had to do with my flu. It was the sickest I’d ever been, and my body was severely stressed. But they told me unequivocally that it had nothing to do with me being so sick.
So, lean on your intuition and get second (and sometimes third and fourth) opinions. Seek out the knowledge on the subject yourself or for your loved ones. My doctoral team (I’m talking to several now) is telling me to take the Lipitor (it lowers cholesterol, even though mine is fine) for only 90 days. One doctor did say that I need to start drinking a glass of red wine each night. I may choose to accept that advice.
5. IT GETS YOUR PRIORITIES FOCUSED FAST.
When you realize that you may not be here for long, you pay attention to the important things more. You just do. It’s God, Family, and Mission — in that order, and not much else. Maybe that will wane somewhat as the time goes longer since the stroke happened. But it’s so very evident now. You were put here to do something. Do it, and stop the extraneous things that just don’t matter. That sounds general…and like fluff advice. But start each day and week with a plan. Make sure the plan moves you closer to what you want to do. Spend more quality time with your loved ones. Hug them more often. Stop listening to the news and getting into arguments. There’s no need for that, and so many more important things to do with the time you’ve been given.
6. THERE’S A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIKING SOMETHING ON FACEBOOK, AND ACTUALLY REACHING OUT TO SOMEONE.
This is hard to write. I’d like to think that I’m truly supportive and go out of my way to help friends, but I know I could be better. I told folks about the stroke, and there were a TON of “likes,” and comments. Prayers and love sent. And I am truly, truly grateful for these. But honestly, there were precious few direct messages, phone calls and visits. And, other than my sweet boy being born with his Down Syndrome diagnosis and health issues — this was the most scared and alone I’ve ever been. And I was there for three full days.
I did have some folks that reached out immediately and put me in touch with world class doctors and specialists. I had some people send me books, and call just to see how I was and if there was anything they could do…and two family members that offered to fly across country and drive me and my family home from California. But there were about 10 of those for the 400+ comments I received. And only two people actually visited on my last day as I was released…and that was SUCH a Godsend that I needed so, so much. I am forever in their debt.
I’m not trying to shame. I want this to hit home for you enough to remember the next time a friend or family member goes through a rough time. I’m encouraging you to pick up the phone, to type a real message, and to go and SEE someone when they’re hurting. It means more than you know.
7. IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO LEAVE SOMETHING OF YOURSELF FOR OTHERS.
I’m writing a book called, “Daddy’s Advice Book,” and I literally felt comforted that I was leaving something for my kids while I was in the ambulance and ER. Strange that it was what came to mind, but it did. It’s what it says, an advice book on life for my kids as they become adults. My thoughts distilled for them on money, relationships, college, raising kids, finding your “purpose,” how to treat others, and the like. I was assuming that my wife would get it out of my Evernote if something really happened to where I was incapacitated, or worse. This is probably a little different and unusual to have something like this to leave them… but I can tell you again that it made me feel better to know it is in the world and something would survive me with them, and my sweet wife.
I’m thinking of how valuable that would be to me even now if my Dad, Mom, or Grandparents left something for us to read or contemplate. When you think of it that way, you should want to do that for the kids. So, if you don’t have something to leave the kids: a journal, writings, videos of you talking to them…please consider doing something like that. As for me, I’m putting my things in order, and making sure my family will know where things are, and what to do if something happens to me.
8. DON’T FRIGGIN’ WAIT!
They say the number one regret of the dying is that they didn’t live a life true to themselves.
Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives ofquiet desperation,” and that they, “go to the grave with their song still in their heart.”
Having a major medical scare is about a big of a “wake-up call,” as there is. But you don’t need to have one to realize that our time on this mortal coil is limited, and every day that you wait is a wasted day for your potential, for your chance to have an impact with others.
Use MY scare to start this conversation with yourself. What is really inside of you that you want/NEED to get out to others? I have a friend that says this is easy, and most people can do a little introspection after asking the question, “What would you do if you could do anything?” Personally, I think it may be something that started in your heart as a child.
But the thing is, and please get this — your time is too short to be living someone else’s life. You’ve got to be true to yourself. And if you’re just biding time, and waiting until the weekend while working a job you hate — that’s not okay. Certainly not indefinitely. You can do it while working towards something…but make SURE that you are working towards something. A lot of us aren’t, and that unfulfilled potential is one of the saddest things there is. It’s like that Braveheart quote, “Every man dies, but not every man truly lives.”
So, I’m not telling you anything, but just asking you to consider if you’re truly living now. If not, it’s time to do something about that. And if you don’t know that is, it’s time to uncover it and get working towards it.
Thank you, everyone for reading this really, really loooooong post.
Please know that you are worthy, that you deserve the richest blessings of life, and that you are loved.
Connect with Chip at