Today’s blog post is a little different. This Saturday I’ll be doing a reading at the Lost Lit open mic and photography show and reception in Boerum Hill/Downtown Brooklyn. I’d love to invite you all along, but it’s being held in a small space, and there will be twenty writers presenting. So, in lieu of that, here’s a version of what I’ll be reading, on the theme “Lost”. Hope you enjoy….
About four months ago, this past September, I lost a bunch of stuff. Big stuff. First, my youth — on September 15, I turned from 37 to 38, so I couldn’t hold onto the term “mid-thirties”. Then, on Friday, September 28, I lost my job as a finance lawyer. Securitization. Or, to the layman, lending money against future streams of income. Next, that very weekend, I almost lost my life and my mind. By the time I woke up on Tuesday, I’d lost my short-term memory, the ability to walk, and the sense of feeling on my left hand side. But then, a catastrophic hemorrhagic stroke will do that to you. That is to say, after suffering years of high blood pressure, a blood vessel in my brain finally exploded, leaking blood into my brain. That is different to the more common, ischemic (or, clot-based) stroke, but more deadly, too. While hemorrhagic strokes only account for about fifteen percent of all strokes, they are responsible for more than thirty percent of all stroke deaths.
StrokeFest 2012, as it came to be known, kicked off on what seemed to be a fairly normal day. The only hint that it wouldn’t, in fact, be such a normal day was that I failed a zombie test at the New York Hall of Science. Since I’d travelled abroad in the past year, and recently suffered a bite (from a mosquito), I’d racked up enough points to be classified by an amateur mad scientist’s machine as a “ZOMBIE”. The other risk factor was any recent caving for brains, and I do like haggis (vegetarian, admittedly), so I suppose the blood was daubed on the wall. Beth, my girlfriend, was “HUMAN”, but my ten year-old daughter was a ZOMBIE, too, so I wasn’t too concerned about the likelihood of bring a foot-dragging, dribbling, brain-damaged invalid by the end of the day. Little did I know. In fact, if I’d thought about it, being a practically invincible member of the walking dead army could have been seen as a positive boon.
That night, after dropping my daughter off with her mother and having a very pleasant day, sex was on the cards. Our sex was always pretty great. In fact, for me to be so intensely affected by it that I would complain of feeling “weird” on this particular day would not be something unusual. In fact, it would be sufficiently normal that Beth could be excused for blithely responding, “Look, I’m going to kill you with sex one day, but not today.” Particularly since I was being entirely coherent and calm. After all, we had been having a lovely day; there was no reason to overreact or panic. My left side was feeling odd, though. Beth began to suspect I was worrying about a heart attack.
Sure enough, I was sufficiently concerned to casually remark that it might not be such a terrible idea to call an ambulance. Unfortunately, I had not previously copied Beth on the memo translating such a casual remark from a Scottish man in his late thirties as “HOLY SHIT! CALL AN AMBULANCE!! I THINK I’M DYING!!!” Not that this was a catastrophic omission: The ambulance would arrive within five minutes, and the doctors at Methodist Hospital would begin attending to me within another five. This, you see, is why, when you did that retarded thing to your finger, or needed those couple of stitches, the emergency room couldn’t attend to you immediately. They were busy saving my life in the next room.
Three weeks and a reasonable amount of brain surgery later, my condition had stabilized sufficiently that I was moved to continue my convalescence at a place called the Rusk Institute. Here, it became clear that, for the meantime, I had lost my short term memory.
Each day, the stroke patients at Rusk would receive “speech therapy”. This went beyond help forming words, to working on our reasoning and cognitive abilities, as well as our ability to swallow. But, at least at first, every day would start with the same five questions. Where are you? Why are you here? What’s your name? How old are you? What day and date is it? We all had white boards at the end of our beds, upon which the name of the hospital and the date were written. The day and date questions would have been well nigh impossible without it. And I had a pretty good handle on my name, since that’s how people were tending to address me. My age was a little trickier though, since I hadn’t had a chance to reconcile myself to that whole late thirties thing yet. And, “Why are you here?” would tend to elicit the response, “Have I had another stroke?” One’s enough to be going on with, usually. The one nice thing about losing my memory was that I would occasionally think, “Oh, I must tell my mom about that.” And she’d passed away a couple of years previously. So, for all the things I’d lost, I’d gained a living mother. Kind of. Then after speech therapy, I’d have occupational therapy, where I’d relearn how to cook and wash myself, and physical therapy, where they’s teach me how to walk again.
In fact, to present this reading, I did a quick catalog of what I’d lost and gained during Strokefest, and this is where it came out:
- Job: lost
- Memory: lost and regained
- Life: presumed lost and regained
- Ability to walk: lost and regained
Most of the gains are due to a combination of youth, speedy medical attention and sheer bloody mindedness. After we’d gotten through Strokefest, Beth told me that she’d made a decision, when things were are their bleakest, to put me on her back and carry me back to the land of the living. I replied that, while undergoing a near-death experience, I had crawled over my own corpse to see her one more time.
So, if I can leave you with a handful of thoughts, please:
- Get your blood pressure checked; they don’t call it The Silent Killer for nothing;
- If you have high blood pressure, take your meds, no matter your age (one of the more shocking parts of my experience was walking into the gym at the hospital and seeing the number of young men and women working through their rehab — it was a parade of tattooed-up (relative) youngsters with hipster haircuts and glasses; and
- Most importantly, live your life with love and mindfulness. It might just be the thing to save your life.