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State Council for Persons with Disabilities

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On December 20th, 2017 I went to work despite not feeling that great. I had been overworking as I used to wear a lot of "hats" at my job. I was a manager/chef/banquet manager/line cook/prep cook/caterer... at a very busy restaurant chain in southern Delaware/ Maryland. Upon arriving at work I felt very fatigued, not at all myself, but I decided to brush it off as that is my nature. However, I began to sweat and as a reflex, I went to the restroom to wash my face in an effort to control the heat I was feeling throughout my body and to gather myself and do a body scan. When I tried to open the restroom door with my right hand, I noticed that my right hand and arm were not responding. I quickly opened the door with my left hand, entered the dining room and collapsed. The next thing I remember I woke up in Atlanta General Hospital with a rubber ball in my right hand with the word "stroke" in my mind. I had no idea what the word "stroke" meant, nor did I have a name for water, but I knew I was thirsty. I had no idea of the extent the stroke created in that moment, but I would soon find out. That afternoon a nurse came in the room and asked me to lift my right hand over my head. In my mind I said, "no problem", not the words did not reach my lips. "That is strange", I thought to myself. Deficit #1 speech was gone. The nurse said, "you had a stroke in the left part of my brain, and it affected the area in your brain that controls your speech. Now, could you please lift your right hand over your head?" So, I did as she asked, except I raised my left arm over my head, my right arm did not respond at all. Instead, my left arm got the signal and functioned to compensate for this new deficit. She mentioned that I used my left arm, not my right, so "please concentrate on moving your right arm over your head". After several attempts to get my right arm to obey, I gave up. I was beyond exhausted and frustrated, so I used my left hand to hold up my right hand over my head, hoping this would suffice. I just wanted to rest and sleep, but she corrected me by holding my left arm down, and in a very stern voice commanded me to lift my right hand and arm. By now I thought, "this is serious. My brain was not connecting to my right arm and hand."

After several attempts I finally got my right hand to move ever so slightly, but I was exhausted by that effort. But she insisted I repeat these movements over and over while my energy drained more and more with each attempt. All i wanted to do is sleep and I wanted her to go away. Little did I know at the time she was saving my life, for if not for her the mobility may never come back unless these repeated movements were used to rewire my broken brain. She never gave up on me, and that was my first exposure to my new life as a stroke survivor. She even played the "Rocky" theme song over and over that day, prompting me to keep moving my right hand as the part of what was left of my brain was trying to account for all of my new deficits and damage the stroke did to my brain. Quickly I saw she was my savior, that the way out of this is to repeat, repeat, repeat and oh yeah, you get the idea, repeat again and again ad-Infiniti. The horror and trauma of those few waking minutes felt like a lifetime as I gauged where and who I am in relation to who and what I was prior to this incident. The word "shocking" came to mind as I saw that I was really screwed up. Then I had to go to the bathroom. I hit the call button and the nurse came and I motioned I wanted to go to the bathroom only to realize my right leg wasn't responding either. It was then that I knew that the same procedure (repeat, repeat, repeat) would be my road to recovery in all aspects of my new life as a stroke survivor. I must note that I lived in two Buddhist monasteries where I learned mindfulness meditation, and this would be critical to my recovery. Along with my physical and speech deficits I have memory issues (reading, writing, math, among cognitive issues) that are still part of my therapies going forward. Being a former artist from a very young age, art became a constant companion on my road to recovery as well as a source of happiness and joy amidst the anxiety and depression as well as a form of relaxation.