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July 2007

Telling My Story

So I met an old friend today. Someone I have not seen in a long time (more than 15 years!). We went to high school together and we sat at lunch telling each other about our lives. How do you cover 15 years in an hour? Well you find what is the most important, what stands out the most. For him it was his wife, his son, and his job. He pulled out several pictures of his son, and his wife. They were both beautiful. I was bursting with my news. I had news. I also had important things that have happened to me over the past 15+ years. But none of it involved pictures that I could pull out of my wallet. It was not as if I was going to walk around with an attache of my medical records and say "See here? This is where they wrote down that I had a stroke. Oh.. and see this? This here, this is my heartbeat. Oh, here is an ultrasound of my heart. Oh, oh look there, that is where the hole is. Was. Where is all started."

No, I didn't say any of that. I started by laughing and then I said "Well, I had open-heart surgery in December." His jaw dropped. I mean what do you say to that? Not much. Trust me. I have been making the rounds and sharing that information, and people have absolutely no idea what to say. I then went on to say that I had the surgery because they (the doctors) found a hole in my heart following a stroke that I had in July. Silence. More of the same. No one can respond. No one knows what to say. The initial reaction is the same. Me - all I want to do it talk about it. In fact, that is why I am writing about it I suppose. I cannot stop thinking about it. I can't get it out of my head. I want people to ask questions. Right after it happened I would see people on the street or at work. And in the usual polite way that people do, they would say "How are you?" I would answer "Well, I had a stroke." I couldn't help it. It slipped out before I could cover my mouth with my hand. It just happened. It came on as suddenly as the stroke did. For a few moments afterwards I would walk away wondering why I said anything at all. Who cares? They probably don't.

I remember someone telling me that she lost her baby. I responded "Well, I've had a stroke." I was not trying to one up her. I was not trying to change the subject. Instead I was trying to empathize with her. Explaining to her that you know what? I understand pain and loss. I lost a part of myself not so long ago. I am not the same person that I was. I know what it is like to have people treat you differently and feel sorry for you. I GET IT. That is all that I was trying to do in those few moments. But then when I walked away I felt stupid. Why do people care? My stroke does not affect them. It certainly has no bearing on how they live their lives. But for some reason I still feel compelled to tell my story as a 34 year old healthy woman who had a stroke at 33, then open-heart surgery a mere four months later. My world as I knew it changed. And now I am telling my story.