Months after the “event,” well-wishers would ask about my husband's recovery from his stroke. My response was always, “He's getting better every day.” Getting better every day was, for me, as much a statement of hope as it was quicker than explaining how devastated his body, mind and emotions had become after suffering four strokes.
Several years prior to his strokes, Malcolm had been diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Any one of these diseases puts a person at risk for developing a stroke or heart attack. All three together, and the denial that anything bad could happen to him was the basis for my 53-year-old husband's multiple strokes within a three-year period.
Malcolm was prescribed medications for these diseases and was advised to change his diet and exercise habits. It was easy for him to ignore this medical advice. After all, each day when he looked in his mirror he saw a successful, attractive, 6-foot, 185-pound picture of health. He had a good job, attended his son's football and soccer games, participated in school and community events, and was a great cook. No one would have predicted the fate that these “silent killers” had in store for him or the lifestyle change that would occur for both of us.
The day of his first stroke was like many others. He and our son were running errands. As I spoke with him on his cell phone, I detected something strange in his voice and energy level. Something was just not right. (After 22 years of marriage, a wife knows these things.)
After vigorous protest and clearly annoyed with my apparent alarm for nothing, he went to the emergency room. Malcolm had suffered a stroke caused by a shower of blood clots to the back part of the left side of his brain. These blood clots caused damage in the brain, leading to slurred speech and weakness of the right arm and leg.
After three months of physical and speech therapy, just as life was beginning to return to normal, the second stroke occurred. This time, while shopping at a local mall, he felt sick to his stomach and sat down on a bench. We drove home, but his situation worsened.
Over a period of several days, he suffered two more strokes, the biggest of which attacked his brain stem, leaving him with complete loss of control over his body. The only thing he could do was move one eyelid and breathe on his own. That in itself was a miracle since the brain stem is where breathing is controlled.
Five long, painful months of inpatient care and rehabilitation culminated in returning home to a lifestyle that we had never imaged. He was now dependent on someone else for even his most basic needs. Our life became focused on outpatient rehabilitation, wheelchairs, feeding tubes, syringes, lots of prescription medications, diapers, socks to alleviate pressure points, and a need for patience that would test the love of even the best relationships.
It has been nearly four years since Malcolm's first stroke. He works hard each day to be as self-sufficient as possible. There are still many challenges of everyday life for both of us. Some things he may never be able to do, like read or brush his teeth. There are many things he can do, however, like using special techniques to swallow his food, dress himself, tie his shoes, transfer himself from bed to wheelchair, make his own lunch, and occasionally dine at his favorite restaurant. With effort, he can speak well enough so others can understand him.
If he could go back in time, Malcolm would certainly take the treatment of his high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes very seriously. We hope, by telling our story, someone else will take action to fight back against these silent killers. As we move forward, we live each day with a heightened awareness of how precarious and precious life really is. Neither Malcolm nor I would want to miss a moment of it!