In my experience, life-changing days do not announce themselves. This was the case a few months ago when an ordinary day came to an end and I finished my nightly ablutions and approached our bed.
I said to my husband: “Did you take the dog out?” but heard instead a muted flow of unrelated syllables. Suddenly there was an unexpected stillness inside broken by the sound of an interior voice: “You are having a stroke”. Seconds passed that seemed an eternity. I remained eerily calm. I was in my body. My body was in danger. I could not communicate. I needed an aspirin. I needed to go to the hospital. I felt no fear. I was acutely aware of the separation between “me” and my body, but not “out of body”.
Two weeks earlier I had decided to move my private practice to a more suitable location. I found a space I fell in love with. I came to a verbal agreement with my new landlord, called the movers and arranged a date and time for my move. But when the day of my move came, “something” made me stop the process. The message was loud and clear, and unlike other times in my life when I had ignored such messages with not very good results, I decided to listen. On the very day of the move I told the movers to move all the furniture to our garage. I was absolutely certain despite all reason that I was not to move to my new office.
My husband of twenty- five years did not try to dissuade me. He watched, he listened, and he supported my decision. We both thought perhaps the warning had to do with the space itself, had faith that I would know when the right time came.
Now the warning became clear. A stroke.
I stood still, still acutely aware but with no sense of panic for seconds before I began to attempt to communicate to my husband what had happened. His back was to me and he is hard of hearing. I mustered all my energy and tried to enunciate my words: “I AM HAVING A STROKE!” I heard “ah ah ah ah”. Tears began to flow unbidden. My husband turned to face me. He saw my confusion written on my face and realized something was seriously wrong. When I tried to speak again, he got it. He immediately reached for the aspirin, gave it to me, and got dressed. The hospital was less than a mile away. We were there almost immediately. In less than two hours my speech had returned. I could be understood, although speaking took an unprecedented effort. Hours later I left the hospital. Days later I underwent surgery to clear the blocked artery in my neck that led to the stroke.
After the surgery, the calm that accompanied the incident was gone. I became impatient with myself, wanting the ease of communication I had before. I dreaded sitting at my computer. Would I still be able to write? I wondered what a writer did when the mind could not focus, could not find the words necessary to express itself. From the inside of me to the outside world there seemed to be an insurmountable distance.
I remembered a Hospice patient I once had who suffered from Lou Gherig’s disease. She had been lucid but trapped in a body that could not communicate. At the time I was astonished at her will to live, wondering what made her cling to life so hard despite her circumstances. Now I saw her situation from a different vantage point. Life was precious, even when lived from a distance. She had been at peace.
But not I; I was outwardly inpatient, impossibly emotional, unable to concentrate. I had a sudden insight that I was no longer familiar with myself. Normally patient and slow to anger I became impatient and able to reach rage stage quickly. My normally quiet spirit was in turmoil. It had once felt like a peaceful dove. Now it reminded me of a hummingbird in perpetual motion. Such effort to be a hummingbird! I wondered if that was why hummingbirds often seemed ill humored. I could identify.
Shortly after the surgery I was told that the arteries to my heart were blocked. I saw the best specialists who all agreed that I was “a ticking time bomb”. My husband and my children were extremely concerned. My children advocated surgery. My husband offered his support in whatever I chose to do. Despite conceding that the open-heart surgery might be the best way to proceed from a medical standpoint, my spirit once again sent out a warning that I could not ignore. NO SURGERY. STOP. NOT NOW. My body was not strong enough to survive another invasive procedure. I knew that. Not yet. Immediately a name from my past surfaced: Dr. Dana Myatt. I set out to find her.
Dr. Dana Myatt was someone I never forgot. I met her almost twenty years ago when she had just finished school. I recognized in her the spirit of a true healer. Dr. Myatt was a dynamo whose focus was how to make her patients better. She poured her seemingly endless energy into being the best physician she could be. I looked for her and found her and she agreed to work with me despite her very busy caseload. She and her husband, Nurse Mark, made a commitment to help me heal. I could do no less for myself.
Dr. Dana did not try to dissuade me from undergoing surgery. She told me what she could do for me, and what she thought we could improve, and offered her support in whatever decision I made. She gave me a diet to follow, a list of supplements to take, and bless her heart, she even took on my hummingbird spirit. She has been there for me every step of the way, watching me succeed, rejoicing in every victory, and digging deep for knowledge to meet the challenges of my sometimes unique symptoms. She is the physician we all yearn for and deserve but seldom find. My gratitude to her for walking this journey with me is endless.
Slowly I am finding my way back to my writing, my way to myself. I have learned much about friendship, and even more about love. My husband has walked with me every step or the way through a very difficult few months when the woman he fell in love with almost disappeared. My children put away their fears to respect my wishes. I know how difficult that has been for them and it makes me proud to know that supporting me has been more important to them than convincing me to act against my wishes to assuage their fears.
The last few months have been full of challenges and blessings. Meditation has become possible and I have discovered peace exixts in the space between the movements of the wings of the hummingbird. Life is the more precious for its fragility. Love the more magnificent for its constancy.