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BODY WATCH : How Quickly We Forget That Life Is Precious


When the paramedics came, they asked me to name the President of the United States. I said, "Ford . . . no . . . Reagan . . . no . . . Bush."


That was November, 1991. George Bush was President and I, a 22-year-old graduate student, had just suffered a stroke. There were no warning signs. Just a pounding "headache" in the back of my neck and a strange, disjointed feeling moments before I fell to the floor, incapable of talking coherently or moving the right side of my body.

I would spend the next six weeks in a hospital trying to repair the damage caused by the eruption of a tiny blood vessel in my brain.

The technical term for what I experienced is a cerebrovascular accident (CVA). Apparently I had a malformed blood vessel in my brain just waiting to burst--and one day it just popped. My doctors said it had been there since birth.

During the months of outpatient therapy that ensued, I would learn to walk and talk and care for myself--basic functions I once took for granted and that I now take for granted again.


While confined to a wheelchair, I was amazed at how those around me whined and complained about "the little stuff."

"Stop complaining about your cold," I wanted to scream to a friend who called one day. "Things could be so much worse."

Now, I, too, am preoccupied with "the little stuff." I wish I could go back to the way I felt then. The time I spent in hospital was actually a pretty good, albeit lonely, time in my life. The nurses, doctors and therapists were wonderful, although I wasn't always the ideal patient.

I remember when one of the therapists came to get me for recreational therapy, an arts and crafts session that I was absolutely uninterested in. I was working on my master's degree--I did not want to paint or make Christmas decorations. When the therapist asked what kinds of things I liked to do, I said sullenly, "Dancing." She didn't deserve my attitude but at the time I didn't care.

I despised my speech therapist because I felt so stupid around her. One day, not long after I was admitted, she came into my hospital room. She sat by my bed and started asking questions so she could determine how severely my verbal skills had been affected.

"Lisa," she said, "name a few vegetables for me." I lay in my bed and stared at her. Although I understood what she was asking me, I couldn't answer her. I have never felt so stupid or inadequate in my life.

But I immediately liked my physical therapist, Karen. She would listen patiently and shake her head as I complained about only receiving two showers a week.

I saw her in the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. My boyfriend and I had just come from our swing dance lessons and Karen looked at me in disbelief. When she first met me, I was struggling to move my right leg and arm. I remember taking my first steps with a leg brace while Karen held on to me tightly. She said she got chills when I did that.


This time of year I become reflective.

I celebrated the one-year anniversary of my brain hemorrhage (which I now fondly refer to as my B.H.) by throwing myself a party, complete with a gooey, brain-shaped cake. A friend whipped up "Brain Hemorrhages," disgusting-looking drinks made from Baileys, peach schnapps and grenadine. Black humor, I suppose, but I was truly grateful to be alive and to have recovered.

How quickly we forget.

Last year's anniversary came and went without even a thought. My mother died of cancer in late October and I was too preoccupied with thoughts of her to think about myself.

This year, I won't be throwing a party. But I will try and concentrate on remembering what it was like to be completely helpless and to have an appreciation for what you do have.

I know I was fortunate. I didn't even require surgery. As the blood in my brain dissolved, I began to regain movement. The doctors say I have a less than 10% chance of having another stroke.

Still, shortly after the B.H., I bought a personalized license plate. It says "CRPDIAM"--Carpe Diem--Latin for "Seize the Day." I only wish I could actually live that philosophy more completely. Because you just never know.

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