Happy Strokeversary, Dad

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. 

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A Love Letter to Books, the Present, and Myself

My entire adult life, I’ve consistently asked myself one question: where will I be one year from now?

This question leads to a string of follow-up questions: where will I be five years from now? Will I fulfill all of the goals I’ve set for myself? Will my goals change?

Will I fail?

Asking myself that final question, my brain immediately retreats under the comfort of my past accomplishments mixed with the utter denial that failure is possible. However, I then get hit with the reminder that failure is indeed possible, and that I have personally failed many times. I’ve failed as a sister, daughter, friend, student, and in many other capacities as well. I’ve failed to write a blog for the past few months, and have failed to even keep to my initial goal of writing two posts per month. We all fail, and failure is inevitable.

The thing is though, without failing, we are unable to fully understand the importance and excitement of fulfilling our goals. Goal setting can be a very scary prospect because it means that we are acknowledging that we wish to accomplish something, and that we may or may not accomplish it.

I have always been dedicated to goal setting, and I believe this practice has helped me earn a lot of the success I’ve experienced. Excluding the past year of my life, it has been fairly straightforward for me to set goals: they almost always involved school. However, upon the completion of my Master’s degree—and knowing I’m not interesting in pursuing a PhD—I realized that my main source of goal setting and fulfillment was now a chapter of my past.

This realization lead to a tumultuous and at times excruciating process of extracting myself from a formalized education system and into what is often terrifyingly described as “the real world”. Trying to pursue a career in my field has been difficult, as I’ve touched on in past blog posts. Living far away from my family and friends in Alberta was extremely hard right after my schooling was done. I was depressed for several months even as those close to me cheered me on, repeating that ambiguous statement that soon things will get better. To this sentiment, I kept telling myself that success was not happening fast enough. This is not to say I didn’t appreciate encouragement from my friends and family; this is to say that I did not know how to live in a world where I didn’t know where I would be a year from now. Hell, I didn’t even know where I would be in a month or two at the time.

My parents kept telling me to enjoy the present. They promised they wouldn’t let me starve or get evicted, knowing that I was searching for jobs every day. However, I found that I could not accept the present. I was hell-bent on hating the position that I found myself in. As you might imagine, this became tiring. Yet, I didn’t care: the present fucking sucked and no one could make me like it.

Books ended up saving me from my constant state of negativity. I started reading with renewed vigor, trying to provide myself with some sort of escapism. I first escaped to rural Sweden with Stieg Larsson’s thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I continued to read my way through other faraway locales such as Paris and England. What had started out as escapism eventually (over the course of several months) led me to appreciate my own present, and gave me the perspective that I am an actor in my own story. Along with reading, starting my current job, making new friends, and rediscovering yoga continued to help me appreciate the value of the present.

I now try to seek out opportunities to appreciate the present as much as possible. I continue to be inspired by books, and have coincidentally (?) read many books recently that use the present/notion of time as a major theme. These books include A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, Room by Emma Donoghue, The High Mountains of Portugal The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel, The Shack by Wm. Paul Young, and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I highly recommend all of these books, and would love to hear your thoughts on them if you’ve read them.

I am proud to say that I’m now more comfortable living in the present, and am more able to appreciate the opportunities that the present affords me. I’ve learned to create more manageable goals that strike a balance between keeping me motivating and not threatening my ability to appreciate my life right now. While I am far from figuring this whole adult thing out, I finally feel like I’m taking control of the pen and writing my next chapter.