Michael H.



Back in June of 2011 I had a stroke and an accident (in that order) while driving in Staten Island, New York.  I never made it to the funeral we planned to attend and I surely won’t be making it to mine anytime soon.

My life took a turn but not necessarily for the worse.  Every now and again it is good to go through changes, so, I’ve been told.  Sometimes we do it because we want to and other times it is forced upon us.  In this case it was forced upon me. In many ways my life had been comfortably stagnate from my own perspective in the months preceding “The Event” of June 18th but that all changed.

What a long, strange trip it has been.  More than a touch of gray but I will survive.  Thanks, Grateful Dead for those lyrics that inspire me so much these days.

So I’ll start at the begging and later on skip around like flashbacks on TV.  On Friday, June 17th Susan, Mike, Mulan and me traveled from our home in Maryland to New York to attend a family funeral on Sunday. Susan was my girlfriend, Mike is her son and Mulan is our pet Shiatsu.  The funeral was for Gert, Susan’s x-Mother-in-Law and Mike’s Grandma as he called her.

Saturday morning I rose early to take in a morning of yard sailing while Susan and her mom hit the malls. The weather was wonderful and I was feeling great and loving doing what I enjoyed most. With Susan’s routing and my GPS I was hitting the sales and grabbing up some great stuff for Ebay and for my own selfish self. 

Suddenly I felt confused and disoriented and although I had never had a stroke before I knew I was having one now. I tried to get off the road so I could continue to have my stroke with some degree of privacy but I ran into a moving car instead.  Nobody got hurt but there was a little body damage to both cars.  There, is of course, no such thing as “a little” body damage.  I called Susan confessing the accident with the excuse that I had had a stroke.  I needed my wallet because it had my driver’s permit in it; the police were sure to be on the way.  Susan rushed to the scene. I fussed around for my cigarettes but my coordination was way off and they must have fallen to the ground.  Maybe Susan took them away. She hated my smoking. Instead of the police coming an ambulance arrived. I tried to explain that I couldn’t go to the hospital because the police were on the way but Susan and the medics would hear nothing of it. Just another cigarette would surely make everything all right.

Sirens blaring and I was rushed to Staten Island University Hospital where a team of nurses and doctors continued to save my life.  They succeeded because I spent a few days confined to a bed with side rails so I could not escape.  I felt captive.  I was told that I could not walk yet because I had a stroke.  I protested, insisting that I could in fact walk.  I could not help but to wonder if I could in fact walk.  Calls were coming in from all over the country from relatives and friends.   I wanted Susan to come back but strangely she never did.  It was too much for her.  Sue’s brother Jeff and wife Beverly did come.  Bev brought pastries or me.  I wanted her to come back.  I complained to Jeff that I was being held against my will.  He said it was for my own good and I have yet to forgive him.  I just hated that remark.  He’s a really nice guy and all but I don’t care.

I was in that hospital for several days.  Pneumonia had come and gone and my near death experience, if I had had one was unremarkable.  I took a special liking to a young nurse named Samantha.  She wanted five children, 3 girls and 2 boys and already had the names picked out.  She was adorable.  No, she didn’t have a husband or even a boyfriend.  All the good-looking guys (like me) were taken or too lame (unlike me) to bother with.  I only saw her that one time but I met her sister who said she was off work for a few shifts and most likely partying somewhere.  I wanted to save her from that lifestyle.  She was not a Jersey Shores kind of girl. What a nice girl she was and I didn’t know many nice girls.  I miss Samantha and always will.

I complained of my sore back and wanted out of my soft bed just to sleep on the floor.  It was against hospital protocol I was told.   I really didn’t give a f**k about hospital protocol and the damn doctors.  Yes, the doctors had saved my life and all. I freaked out a poor nurse by saying that the doctors had done me no favors.  Well, the doctors knew best so I was given morphine and I liked it.  All was forgiven.

My stay at that hospital was short because I wanted to go home, a 200 mile trip. 

Travel arraignments were made by my sister, Kathy, my logistician.  Home to me was not really my home but was St. Mary’s Nursing Center.  I was whisked away first class and the travel back to Maryland was uneventful save for making a pit stop to gas up and an opportunity to pee first class in the parking lot.   I hated peeing in a bottle.  We did not have an on-board urinal.  I hated using the bottle because it had spilled onto me and made me look incontinent and that was a first impression I did not want to make. Along the route there were communications between Kathy and me.  Upon arrival Kathy put out the bulletin message to all concerned “the Eagle has landed.”

I really don’t remember my first day at St. Mary’s.  I do remember my new friends Ella and Doreen.   I especially remember their promises to “sign me out” for road trips. Maybe to one of their homes, I fantasized.  The promises were never kept but those promises meant possibilities.

I also remember Denise bringing me back special treats from McDonalds.  I had no cash but promised to pay her back as soon as I did have money. The Big Mac I ordered was complimented by supersized fries and a coke.  When I did have money Denise refused it.

I was constantly hungry.  We got five meals a day:  breakfast, brunch, lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner.  It was not enough.  I figured that upon release I’d be ready for the fat farm and joked that was how St Mary’s really made money.

I was upset that my wallet was still not with me.   I really missed it.  Susan had turned it over to my niece Genie for safekeeping.  I was told that I didn’t need it, my ID, and money was unnecessary.  I was obsessing, so I was told.  Still I wanted it.  This is America and who doesn’t need money?  I was not reunited with my wallet again until early August.

Brian, my son, flew in from Miami just to see me.  I had not seen him in years.  He was strikingly handsome and the staff took such notice of his GQ good looks, dress and manner that was a real plus for me.

Brian’s visit was too short and mine was short too. The time had come for me to move on.  Again.  The doctors thought I would benefit from more intense therapy.   I took that as bad news thinking I was really in a bad state and beyond their rehab capabilities.  One of my activities was to stack small cones one on top of the other without knocking them over any in the process.   A monkey could have done it.  I could not.  I was so discouraged.  Another activity was to stack colorful plastic rings on round wooden pegs and then remove them one by one.  I was too clumsy.  A kindergartener could do it.  No way could a dog.  Dogs are colorblind I reasoned.  Speaking of dogs, we got weekly visits from Pets on Wheels and I bonded with xxxxxxxxxx.  With help, I was mobile with a wheelchair.  I chased after that dog for hugs and sloppy wet kisses.  I had been kissed by worse.  Pets on Wheels visits were anticipated like a kid waiting for the ice cream truck.    We also got a visit from an Elvis impersonator.  The old ladies were quite excited.   I was not.  He was not Elvis.   It was a onetime event.  I didn’t care.

When my wallet got delivered it was kept in St. Mary’s safe for safekeeping.     Safekeeping?  I wanted my wallet and its’ contents.  I felt naked without it.  But the staff insisted on keeping it from me anyway.  I was regarded as too irresponsible to have it, I figured.  I was told that things got stolen from the facility.  That was the least of my concerns. 

So I was readied for transport to the internationally acclaimed Washington National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C.  It took a long time for my entourage to arrive.  My entrance was a grand event.  I had been greeted by doctors and nurses, hospital administrators and others.  The only thing missing was the flashing lights of media cameras..    

I made myself at home surrounded by a wonderful, caring, loving staff from all over the globe.  Food was excellent if not abundant.  My main complaint was that I didn’t get enough of it.  I pulled one of the dietary staff aside and complained that I wasn’t getting enough food.  Yes, I was going to give the facility a five star rating in the “Washingtonian” magazine because the food was outstanding but I also planned on complaining about the meager servings.  I was always hungry and remarked that they were trying to starve me to death.  I begged for more and more food and my demands were often met.  I was given extra servings by a kind kitchen worker.  I also got cash money delivered Fed Ex from my sister.    I spent it very wisely in the vending machines and at the Starbucks in the lobby but the money ran out fast.  I got graham crackers from sympathetic nurses, if not for me at least for my pet mouse.   I told the story of how I wanted graham crackers for my pet mouse.  “You have a mouse?” a nurse screeched!   “You have a mouse in your room?”  I explained that I did not have a mouse in my room.  It was in my drawer.”  I thought it was pretty amusing but the nurses did not share my humor.  

I made a friend for life at the Starbucks.  Kathy was a hospital administrator in a wheelchair who rolled forward to say “The coffee is on me.”  I was flattered to have such a gorgeous lady pick-up my tab.

At the vending machines I met a sixteen-year old boy in a wheelchair.   I engaged him in conversation wondering, as I put it, ‘What is wrong with you?”  He replied simply saying that his legs just stopped working one day.  I confessed to him that I felt sorry for myself sometimes and he comforted me saying “That’s alright.  It’s okay.  I understand.”

I now had my own wheelchair.   It was just a loaner but I took full advantage of my wheels and traveled everywhere, earning the nickname Cruiser from Dr. Paul Rao, an administrator and author of the book Managing Stroke: A Guide to Living Well After Stroke. Our friendship was immediate.  More is being written


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