I prepared a mammoth like breakfast to take my mother last Saturday. She absolutely loves it when I come through the door with a plate of hot grits, bacon eggs and biscuits. She eats every bit and I feel really good about my efforts. Afterwards, we sometimes head for the park and walk for a little while. She can barely walk more than twenty steps before returning to the bench to smoke another cigarette. For her it is the best part of a Saturday morning out. Sitting under the picnic shed, in the fresh air, smoking and talking to one of her three adult children. One of us is always there running in and out of her house.
Physically, she was pretty much the same before the stroke. An attractive woman about six feet tall, well read and in touch with every thing going on in the world. Before the stroke she had strong opinions about politics, sports and what she did and did not like about her life and ours. She taught us to respect her wishes; follow her instructions and live in a way that let everyone know she was the mother of three extraordinary children. She did her job and we did ours, as well. Before the stroke, we would laugh at her contentious conversation and demand for perfection then go home to our separate lives.
But one day- we walked in on a stranger. She looked at my sister and I without recognizing either of us. She was standing at the end of the hall staring at the door, haphazardly dressed and confused. A stroke does not always land a person on the floor or in the hospital. She is a diabetic so we thought maybe she had taken too much insulin. We immediately started a game plan to get someone there to help everyday. After years of finding her with low blood sugars and calling 911 we were conditioned to think every episode was related to her diabetes.
As time progressed she could not finish sentences, shunned reading as well as sports and slept all day. During a visit to the Ophthalmologist, the doctor noticed eye ground changes and the fact that she could not understand how to put her chin on the examining bar. He looked at me,regretfully, and said “this is not a problem with insulin –I think she has had a stroke”. I was stunned. We immediately went to get an MRI. He was right – she had experienced three to four mini strokes over a period of time. We hoped it was a reaction to her insulin, because that could have been reversible – a stroke is a stroke. It cannot be reversed.
That was more than a year ago. Although she knows and loves us, her contention has taken on a different meaning. We now understand that it is frustration over the loss of control and the sometimes unfair changes that life has forced upon her. At age seventy six, she has been a Type 1 Diabetic since age 17. She gave herself two shots a day before disposable needles were available. She boiled and reused her needles until they became dull. It was a tough life for a woman who served as a domestic or “the help” for one family for many years. She never complained about the job, but she was always frustrated over the shots.
One thing I know for sure is the attitude, belief systems, faith and temperament inside a person before a life changing illness is what remains in them afterwards. Therefore, we must feed our minds with positive energy, peace and joy while we are in full control of our faculties. Learn to pray and build a spiritual foundation while in good health, for if those seeds are planted inside you – they will remain there for your calling in times of crisis. As with many illnesses, it is extremely difficult to absorb new things after a stroke. So live life with purpose, a pure heart and healthy habits as much as possible – before the stroke.