Eight years ago today, I was waiting for my dad to die. Hoping, praying, and pleading that he wouldn’t, but waiting for that phone call all the same.
It was early in the morning, and 16 year old me was getting ready for school. Something felt ‘off’; not immediately, but the feeling was gaining traction steadily. I went into my parent’s bedroom to say good morning, and my dad was sitting on the edge of the bed. His head was in his hands, and he was clearly agitated. Asking him what was wrong, he made some brusque reply, clearly not wanting me to worry, but also clearly worried about his well-being. He stood up, momentarily paced, and literally ran downstairs to shower. Looking back, I know he was trying to attach himself to some feeling of normalcy to distract himself from the multitude of sensations he was experiencing.
I looked at my mom: “he’s having a stroke.”
She knew it too. She called 911 immediately.
I had recently completed my lifeguard training. There are two situations taught in lifeguard training where, unless you’re a doctor with a plethora of medical resources at your disposal, you’re truly fucked (besides calling 911 and treating for shock). Those two situations are heart attacks and strokes.
I ran after my dad and tried to convince him to sit down so I could treat him for shock before the ambulance arrived. He refused. I remember sitting on a chair in the living room, looking at my mom and saying, “he won’t let me help him.” We looked at each other for a brief moment, but that moment expressed every fear we had. I can’t quite summarize that instant. My mom ran after my dad.
Madness. That’s how my dad describes how he felt from the moment he woke up that morning. We wouldn’t have the conversation about how he felt that morning for months because he lost most of his ability to speak. After what seemed an eternity, the ambulance arrived, and my little sister and I were left to our own devices.
My sister was 13, and being the protective person I am, I tried to maintain my composure for her sake. What do you do after you see your parents at one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives? Anna and I just looked at each other, and commenced our longest Sims marathon to date (12 hours straight, if you’re curious). When I look back on this day, I think of three things: helplessness, endless hours of waiting, and playing The Sims.
Eventually, Anna and I learned that Dad was still alive, but even learning this offered little comfort. How would Dad be able to recover from a stroke, if at all? At the time he was in his early 40s. Would his age help him? Mom was a stay-at-home mom…how would Dad be able to continue working? There were so many questions, so little information, and no answers.
I was re-introduced to my dad approximately three days later. I say re-introduced because outwardly, his personality had almost completely changed. Dad had great difficulty formulating his thoughts and pronouncing words. He also lost his ability to read. It was incredibly hard for him to communicate, but he still looked the same: no physical effects were present that most people associate with stroke victims. I can’t quite describe what it’s like to meet a man with the body of your dad, but the “scrambled brain” (his words) of a stroke victim. Towards the end of my visit, however, I realized there was one thing my dad hadn’t lost: his sense of humour. He was making fun of his inability to pronounce certain words by quoting the movie Highlander.
We were told my dad’s recovery process would take years. Although we knew it, it was a hard truth. Dad had to relearn speech, writing, and reading; his brain basically had to rewire itself with skills that most of us take for granted on a daily basis. As a journalist by trade, this was incredibly frustrating for him. My family was quickly surrounded by those who truly cared about our wellbeing, and we will be forever indebted to those people (believe it or not, some people will disappear when they hear the words ‘stroke victim’).
The recovery process did indeed take years. However, thanks to recent efforts to reduce the impact of strokes by Alberta Health Services, my dad got incredibly quick care. He made a recovery that is quite literally miraculous. If you were to meet my dad today, you would not be able to tell that he had a stroke. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.
Eight years later, my dad regularly makes stroke jokes about his “fried noodle”. Not only has he relearned the skills and abilities he lost, he regularly uses them to promote stroke awareness. Literally one year post-stroke, he was advocating to improve the provincial stroke response strategy. He speaks about strokes. He wrote a feature in the Edmonton Journal about strokes (thanks PressReader for cutting me out of the family photograph). He also has his own blog where he writes about brain health and stroke awareness. My dad’s latest blog post is incredibly uplifting and indicative of his positive attitude post-stroke; go check it out.
Today is indeed a celebration. Happy Strokeversary, Dad. You’re truly an inspiration.