Stroke Survivor and Chef
By Dennis Jeffries
Of Strokes and Egg Yolks
I am a chef and a stroke survivor. In fact, you might say I am a chef because I am a stroke survivor. Before my stroke in June 1998, every job I’d ever had required physical work, like putting office cubicles together. I was always on the go, and my wife kept telling me to slow down, take a break, relax. After my stroke, I didn’t have a choice about slowing down - the lack of feeling and strength on my left side made sure of that.
The first step in my recovery was deciding what to do with the rest of my life. After all, I was only 46 when I had my stroke. I started by taking some tests at the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. One day I noticed a newspaper ad for a culinary school in nearby York, Pennsylvania. When I told my caseworker about it, she asked if that kind of work interested me. Mostly I was scared to go back to school because I’d been out of that world for 29 years and hadn’t done that well the first time around - my best grade in high school was a ‘C’.
Despite a flurry of self-doubts, I started the 16-month culinary curriculum in February 1999. When I graduated in June 2000, I had a 3.8 grade point average, even making the President’s List with a perfect 4.0 for two semesters. Today I am a member of the American Culinary Federation Susquehanna Valley Chefs’ Association, and I won their Junior Member of the Year Award for the year 2000.
Today I work fulltime as a Banquet and Pantry Prep person at Willow Valley Resort and Conference Center here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I am the Breakfast Chef, making omelets and eggs to order. I can make six different omelets simultaneously. At times, it can be challenging, but I’ve only messed up a few times. It helps me stay focused if the guests stay in line.
Although I continue to lack feeling and strength on my left side, my mind is still functional, and I do math calculations all day long. However, I sometimes say things backwards. For example, I recycle aluminum cans, and one day I told my wife that I had “half a can of bags.” She responded by asking if I had fun stuffing the bags in the soda cans.
I remember another incident in the hospital two days after my stroke. A neurologist came in, and during our discussion he said, “I’m going to give you three words. Remember them because I’m going to ask you to repeat them later. The words are: ball, car and tree.”
Later when he asked me to repeat them, I said, “Which three, the first three or the last three”? Somewhat confused, he asked me what I meant by first three or last three?”
“You said, ‘ball, car and tree.’ That’s four words.” The neurologist was speechless, and I passed my memory test - plus 1 point.
It has been a long road to recovery. I struggled to keep up with my schoolwork, since I couldn’t feel anything with my left hand. Nonetheless, I am so thankful for my stroke because it forced me to re-evaluate my life. I am not guaranteed even my next breath, but through God’s Grace, I can do whatever I desire.
You might have had a stroke, but it is not the end of your life. My advice to you is simple -- focus on what you have, concentrate on what you can do and face life to the best of your ability. I have, and I know that I can do whatever I attempt. I would rather try something and fail, than to fail for not trying.
This article was originally published in the in the May/June 2002 edition of Stroke Connection magazine.
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