How a Stroke Straightened My Priorities

Gratitude Lights the Way

Photo: Michael Kogen

It was Easter Sunday morning almost four years ago. I was picking up my then 86-year-old mother and bringing her to my place for the afternoon. On the way home, while driving on Interstate-95, I had a stroke. I wasn’t feeling stressed. I had no numbness or weakness in my face, arms, or legs. I was fit and healthy. I wasn’t stressed, confused, lightheaded, or dizzy. I didn’t have a headache. The truth was, I FELT NOTHING.

As the stroke was happening, my mother, who was in the passenger seat, panicked. She snapped her fingers in front of my face. There was no response as I kept driving, my hands gripped to the wheel. She screamed, “Bonni, pull over! Pull over!” I did hear that in the distance, but didn’t react. I wondered why she was telling me that, and looked down at my right hand, shaking in the console. Then my mother did something heroic: she highjacked the wheel and sent us crashing into a guard rail.

Such began my long journey into the strangeness of Stroke Land. It was two hospitals; brain surgery; acute-care in-patient rehab; physical, occupational, and speech therapies. I had to re-learn how to walk, talk, swallow, and get back to living my life.

It’s going to be my birthday soon. I can’t help but think back to the stroke, personal victories (like tying my shoes), and how thankful I am just for being alive. The isolation of the pandemic, though, has made me appreciate life even more. While I miss being with friends, general socializing, travel, Broadway shows, going to the movies or jazz clubs, and I could go on and on, life gets down to the simplest of things.

I am healthy. My family and friends are healthy. While after the stroke, I couldn’t organize my thoughts, today I can sit here and type. A once weakened body, who could barely feed herself, is now strong and getting stronger. Even four years later.

Remember: A stroke can happen to you. Any time. A n y w h e r e. As human beings, our frailty can present itself when we least expect it. (The fact that mine happened while driving on I-95 was pretty creative, wasn’t it? Thank goodness it didn’t happen when I was alone in the car, or on a hill, at an intersection, or someone was walking in front of me.)

I am grateful to have made it through another round of the moon and to be surviving this strange Year of the Virus. With much indebtedness for living, I say to myself with most heartfelt emotion, “Happy birthday.”

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person,” Albert Schweitzer wrote. “Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Bonni and husband, after the stroke

Author of POUND RIDGE PAST, Stroke Survivor memoirist, HuffPost contributor, and “Bonni Brodnick Blog” -ger (bonnibrodnick.com)

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