Author: Donald Weinstein

It has been a cathartic exercise for me to chronicle and sequence the major milestones of my stroke in detail, from stroke victim to stroke survivor and beyond, so that I could go on with my life.

In February 2002 I had an embolic cerebrovascular accident with severe aphasia. The second I woke up from my stroke that day in the hospital I was frightened even before I uttered any words. It was similar to Monet’s Haystack. There was a pale hue; there were changing lights. The color was gray purple. It seemed to me that I was not visible. I could not see out of my bed and others could not see me. It seemed to me that I was a part of a vague light and I could be a fragment that would not be perceived. In a moment I knew that I could not speak, read, or write. I could not communicate. The nurses spoke to my wife Dale and son Jeff. Discussions were with my son and wife and the doctors, nurses and my business associates. Suddenly, I knew that I could not talk. I could not talk to myself. In those moments I was a non-identity. I wanted to die, at least I thought so although maybe not. I remember that I cried. In a primordial yell, howl and moan I told my son that I wanted to die if I could not speak, read or write. These moments, these were frightening seconds and minutes, this torment. I was a pale tone, not seen or heard or felt.

Within three months of my stroke, on Pesach (Passover), as people ate their appetizers, I played with my granddaughters, Alison, 5, and Jessica, 1, in their bedroom in our house. We colored and they talked, especially Alison. They chattered with each other. They lay on the floor and colored and negotiated for different crayolas. They talked continuously. I loved their voices when they made the sounds of “grandpa”. I thought that that would be my lot for the rest of my days, sitting and talking with my granddaughters while adults sat in the other rooms laughing, telling jokes, and providing insights about national politics. I was reconciled to this fate almost at once, a fate that was sad in some ways. After forty minutes or so Alison joined the other ladies. Jessica took my hand and walked me though the house. She looked at the pictures on our walls and the photos of her and the rest of the family. Jessica asked me questions about some of the people in the photos. She smiled that beautiful wide smile often as she walked with me hand in hand from room to room, not caring whether my speech was fluent or not. She just wanted to walk and talk with her grandpa, me. Quickly, I knew that I wanted this for me for ever, talking, walking, coloring and singing with my granddaughters. How strange was divine intervention or providence? My stroke helped me to understand that my time with Alison and Jessica was more important than the witticisms of politics.

It took me about five months to start to read a kiddie book. I started to read as a child learns to read from the beginning, the two or three word sentences, the ones that they can remember by heart, the repetition from one line to another line, the ones that have the same sounds, roots, hit, bit, fit and kit.

Reading was difficult. It was emotionally draining. It was frustrating. It was physically taxing. It was a solitary act for me. It was a daily litmus test to show myself that I was getting better not just better but “whole”. There were skills that I had to master again. I needed to have the ability to identify the letters of the alphabet. I needed to have the ability to sound out letters in the alphabet. I had to sound out words, letter by letter, until I was able to pronounce the word, reread words over and over and over again and sentences over and over and over again. I needed to read aloud to myself. And I needed to read daily for about two hours, it was a job, a full-time job, to learn to read again, the only successful outcome was to try and try to become a reader.

One of the outcomes of my reading, and that was not even thought of when I first started to read, was to trigger my brain to remember the past and it did. It remembered emotions, events, issues and especially people that I hadn’t thought about for at least six months and maybe for forty years as a result of passages from these books. The more I read the more words became part of my vocabulary, not instantly, but that was how it started. There seemed to be a geometric progression, each word or sentence or paragraph generated at least a couple of new memories with names and bodies attached. The power of the word and the images was clearer to me and the importance of reading was life itself,
as I went through a metamorphosis from a frail anguished stroke victim to a regenerated adult with dignity and self-respect.

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