The Morning I Learned About Strokes
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because sometimes the strong turn weak.
The writer is the author of six books and the host of an OZY webisode, In the Barbershop.
The day was breaking, and the sun seeped through the window to the right of my bed and illuminated the room. I lay on my back, collecting my thoughts. Within the hour, I was due on the barbershop floor to start on my first client. But God had another plan for me, and my life within seconds went in a whole other direction.
With my right hand, I pulled the covers off, toward the middle of the bed, and placed my left foot down on solid floor. My mind reached for my right foot to follow my left, but something ominous took hold, took over my body. Trying to stand, I felt something happening to my right side; my arm and my leg were no longer mine but someone else’s. My heart began to race, as if it were running out of time.
Half self, half not, I gathered my things quickly: The hourglass was emptying. I managed jeans, T-shirt, keys, shoes that slid on, but the front door was now a mile away. I dragged my right leg toward my car and, intending to sit in the driver’s seat, could merely slump. I was losing time and leverage in life, and I needed help.
For the first time in my life, I was introduced to fear, and much to my surprise, fear seemed to already be acquainted with me.
I started my car and headed out. The stoplight at the intersection, which usually shined red for me, brought some luck: It was as green as a fresh dollar bill. I was on the freeway with still at least five miles to go. I prayed and bit down on the fingers of my right hand — they registered nothing — while trying to calibrate the force of my foot on the accelerator. Two miles from the hospital, I noticed the gas gauge was past empty. The hourglass felt like it was almost the same.
There was a service station up ahead, and the stoplights all seemed to turn green as if they, too, knew my troubles. I pulled into the station, parked my car and stumbled inside to the attendant. I left $20 on the counter and stumbled back toward my car. I twisted off the gas cap and pumped, and when the meter said three dollars, I pulled the pump out and let it hang there on its hose. I scraped my fingers alongside the pump as I got back into the car. My right side was keeling toward the center of the car. Three more blocks. Two minutes. An eternity. The sliding glass doors opened, and I stumbled up to the hospital counter.
For the first time, I opened my mouth to speak. What came out was a sound from a person I had never known, whom my eyes had never seen. “I’m having a stroke,” I said, but the two women behind the counter heard no words, just a loud, monstrous moan. My voice was no longer my own. My mind seemed empty.
One of the young ladies couldn’t understand me. The other could. “He’s having a stroke,” she interpreted. It was a terrifying confirmation, what she said. For the first time in my life, I was introduced to fear, and much to my surprise, fear seemed to already be acquainted with me. I’d always thought I was as strong as they came, but in a matter of minutes, I had become fragile.
Before the hospital could admit me, I needed to fill out a few papers. I grabbed the pen and attempted to write the letters of my name: the triangle of the A, the zigzag of the N. Before I could attempt the vertical line of the T, my pen just shot off the paper. For the first time in more than 45 years, I could not write my name.
Nurses began to run toward me. They took me through a set of doors that looked black. By the time they closed behind me, and the tears began to fall from my eyes, I was certain that last bit of sand had fallen through the hourglass inside my head.