By: Wheeler E. Hubbard
If you met me today, you would say that I am the luckiest guy you have ever met that has had a serious stroke. Two years ago, out of nowhere, I had a CVA, a cerebral vascular accident better known as an embolic stroke.
I was unknowingly born with a hole between the two halves of my heart. At age 62 the perfect storm hit. A small blood clot, which normally would be filtered though my lungs, passed through the hole into my “good blood” and went straight to my brain.
I woke up on the morning of October 20, 2006 and couldn’t open my mouth, let alone speak. I was paralyzed in the face – my nose, mouth, tongue, and throat. My physical and mental ability to do the basic function of speaking was completely wiped out. I couldn’t say a sound for 60 days – and then first sounds out of mouth were “Na Na, Na Na.” Like a baby – and for a living I sold insurance to doctors, accountants, and attorneys.
Think of a ping pong ball. That represents the size of my brain that was wiped out by the stroke. I’ve heard it said that we only use 10% of our brain, so 90% is unused. But that part I really needed! So I have several conditions. One is called APRAXIA, which is not being able to say the sounds and the words – I’m getting better at this, but words with more than one syllable are difficult for me to say because my tongue can’t maneuver like it used to.
And also I have APHASIA, more precisely, expressive aphasia, which is not being able to get the words out from my brain and into sentences
Let me try to explain Aphasia to you. Imagine that you are playing bingo. My brain is like the drum that they turn to pick a number. I have about 2,000 words in my brain. To speak, I have got to go in to the “drum” and find the word that I want, concentrate on it, bring it to my mouth and figure out how to say it, what tense to make it, then get it in the right order in the sentence. Something you take for granted takes all my effort, energy, and concentration to do.
What’s happening to me is I have to learn to make the sounds, say the words, and repeat them three, four, or five times to get my brain to make new pathways for them. Sayings like “How are you?” and “I don’t know” I have down pretty well. I am training my brain and body to talk all over again. I think it will take another 3-5 years to get to be quite normal, although APHASIA will be with me forever.
Six months after my stoke I had an operation to fix the hole in my heart. I went to Scipps Green Hospital in San Diego where they put a camera up into my heart to find the hole. Then they sent a mechanism up into my heart. It was a clamp about 1,000 times smaller than my hand. They patched the hole, just like a tire tube on a bicycle, and now I don’t have to worry about strokes anymore.
By the Grace of God I am learning to talk all over again. I don’t talk like a baby anymore, more like a four year old. So I talk slowly and haltingly and with tremendous effort.
Many people wonder what it’s like to have a stroke. Mine felt like I had an ax buried into the top of my skull. It lasted about one hour. I went to the hospital and I stayed for three days. There wasn’t anything that could be done for me. My wife Susie was sent home with a 62 year old that couldn’t speak or swallow.
My step-son Mike Brown came over from Arizona to my home in Temecula, California for a week to get me started on learning how to speak again. When he left, he prayed with me and cried for me, because the damage was more than anyone had expected. After he left, my sister and brother took turns coming up from San Diego (a drive of 70 minutes). For three months they would give me speech therapy for five hours a day, 6 days a week. Then my brother had
to go back to work, and my sister came up 5 days a week for rest of 2007. By that time, I was able to get out a few words at a time. I give my sister Glenda all the credit for teaching me how to speak again.
I want you to know that learning how to speak all over again is the most difficult thing I had ever done. It took me a week to learn to say the word “kick.” My brother taught me to say it.
You’ve heard the expression, “His light is on but nobody is home?” Well my light is on, and I’m home, but some of the lights are burned out. I am probably the only guy you will know that has brain damage and knows it.
I am finding my new life takes some getting used to. Whereas before was just like you. Now, everything I do is in slow motion. I talk slow, I think slow, I react slow. I’m like your Internet connection – on dial up – real slow.
I’m like the turtle that went into the police station to report that he was attacked and robbed by two snails. When asked “What happened” he said, “I don’t know, everything happened so fast.”
If you have had a stroke, my message for you is:
#1 My true faith in the God of the Universe brought me the comfort and knowledge that God would take care of me. Also, my church family and friends gave me comfort and prayed for me.
#2 The financial impact was great. Fortunately, I had a plan to deal with being disabled. The plan is a little shaky, but it’s working out. I was lucky and got Social Security Disability for two years until I turned 65. But not everyone gets that benefit and it isn’t much. I also had income from my business.
#3 Depression, it will happen to you. I took Lexipro. It didn’t do much for me. I quit after two years. Looking back, I think the best thing to do is get out of the house. Do things, go on walks, go the park and watch baseball games, family picnics, walk the mall, whatever. I made for myself a little card that I carried with me everywhere I went. It said, “I had a stroke. I am learning to talk again. Therefore, I speak very, very slowing. Please be patient with me.”
If you have not had a stroke:
#1 You have to be prepared financially. One thing you can’t do when you have a stroke is to worry about money. Everybody needs some long term disability insurance. Sometimes you can get it at work. Sometimes you have to get it on your own. Have your insurance agent come out and show you how much you need and how much it costs. Check it out on the internet. But get some!
#2 If you have high blood pressure, smoke, drink in excess, are overweight, under a lot of stress and don’t exercise regularly, you have to beware. You are a candidate for a stroke. Life is too important and too short to not take care of yourself.
Remember, when you die, no one’s going to recall how much money you made or even what you did for a living. You know, the Bible says that two things live forever: men’s souls and the Word of God. If neither one of those are important to you, you need to step back a take a look at your life. You might be living for the wrong things.