I am a lucky man.
Three months after my stroke, I am, for the most part, a fully-functional human being again. Believe me — I’m as surprised as you are. I expected my recovery to be much longer and much harder than it was. I may not be on next year’s olympic team, but I’m walking, I’m working, and even doing a little driving, too.
Two months ago, I wrote a post about what had happened, and the road ahead. I wanted to expand on that a little and tell you about how the last several weeks have gone.
My stroke was caused by a vertebral artery dissection. There’s an artery that runs up the back of your neck, and it threads its way through your vertebrae on its way to your brain stem. During a softball game with my wife’s company team in May, I fell on my shoulder running after a ground ball that I couldn’t catch up with. That fall caused a stretch in my vertebral artery. I had no symptoms of anything wrong until three weeks later — June 6 — when I slept on my neck funny enough to cause a tear in that artery.
When that artery started to leak, it starved my brain stem of blood. While I didn’t lose any memory or higher-order skills, I lost very basic control of things like swallowing, balance, and eye control. I lost the ability to control my diaphragm, and I had hiccups for a week. To this day, I have forgotten how to sneeze. (I get halfway ready for a sneeze, and then it just fizzles out.)
What every doctor, nurse, and physical therapist has told me — consistently — throughout this experience is that I’m lucky to be alive. Thanks to my wife’s quick work getting me to the emergency room, I survived. For people my age that experience dissections of the kind I had, if you survive, your chance of and prognosis for recovery are excellent.
I spent eight weeks in physical therapy, learning how to walk again. My balance still isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than it was two months ago. There were good days and bad days. Now, I’m walking on my own. I’m no longer a “fall risk,” as they were fond of saying in the hospital. I graduated from physical therapy on August 9. I’m exercising every day again.
While I was recovering, I received cards and well-wishes from clients and strangers alike. peg.gd and PadEdit users from places as far away as Ireland and Germany sent emails and even cards. (Hi Larry!) They shared their own experiences with recovery and self-employment, which provided some much-needed perspective, and for which I am truly grateful.
Work has been busy, and stressful at times. By any measure, and even if I were well, I had a lot of work to do over the summer. With 18 concurrent projects, rest didn’t come easy. Even on days when I wanted nothing but to go back to bed, my determination to get at least one productive thing done in a day kept me going. There were days my wife worried I was working too hard, while I was worried that I was falling farther and farther behind.
The good news is, everything worked out in the end. I am, as I said, a lucky man.
I have a new project starting next week, and extending through the end of December, for FUTEK. They are exclusively retaining my services for four months. For the rest of the year, I’m going to be booked doing technical illustrations for some of their most exciting projects — including instruments helping with amazing research onboard the Mars Science Laboratory.
As such, I’m not going to be able to take on new projects until at least January. (Existing clients — don’t worry — you’re still on the calendar.)
Last, but not least, Michelle and I are planning for a long-weekend vacation around my birthday in October, from the 25th through the 29th. We have a long overdue appointment to relax at a bed-and-breakfast in Portland, Oregon.
Thank you — all of you — for your patience and understanding during this time. People always apologize, saying something along the lines of “I’m sorry you got sick.” I always tell them it’s just a part of the fullness and richness of life — taking the bad with the good — and I’m not sorry it happened.
Though I will say I’m just fine with it not happening again.