The Stroke Network, Inc )
Stroke Changes Lives

By Chuck Hofvander



I was in the hospital when our life changed. No one prepared us adequately for how much our lives would be altered. At night, I awoke constantly. During the day, I was never at peace wondering how our lives would change next. As for speech, at times strange words would pop out of my mouth. Was it a stroke? Was it something else, something serious? No, it was life with our first born!


You wake up several times during the night to feed the baby or to comfort a crying child. During the day, and at night too, you spend every waking hour thinking of ways to get to know, to teach, and to sooth this new addition to your world. As for speech, you speak in ways you never thought you would. For example you say “gaa-gaa, goo-goo” or in a strange tone of voice “he’s a good baby”.


That’s one example of how life changes. Other examples are: going through puberty, leaving for college, getting married, buying your first house, switching jobs. The list is endless. Everything is change.


Recently, I had good friends, Kim and Brian, visit. They were my colleagues before the stroke. Both complained about their jobs and how their work hadn’t changed in years. They were happy in their home lives but dissatisfied in other aspects of their lives.


Then I got to thinking about my life. For years, when I worked, I got up regularly at 4:30 in the morning to start my day and the day generally ended at 7:30-8:30 at night when I sat down and watched TV. Then I started to think about my life after the stroke and realized it wasn’t so bad.


I get out of bed at 6:30-7:30 but when I want to sleep in, I can. I spend my day writing, reading, sleeping, talking, biking, exercising, and eating and it’s all therapy (Ok, not the eating). But overall, life is good. Besides the fact I am partially paralyzed on my right side and have aphasia, I’m still under going therapy for all my handicaps; I wouldn’t go back to my old life.


I am enjoying my “new life.” I’ve come to realize that after the stroke I wasted time regretting my “old life” and feeling sorry for myself. It took over three years and with the help of friends and family but I finally adjusted.





After I came to that conclusion, I thought of a doctor I met at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Robert Hartke, a Psychologist and Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Science at Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois. He led an experiment in expressive writing for stroke survivors. I thought he’d be perfect person to ask, my questions and his answers follow:

Is this realization I have come to a normal part of the recovery process?

I think most people come to some realization that their life has changed as the result of the stroke. Depending upon the severity of the stroke, it could be more an internal realization of their own mortality and need to take care of their health or it could be more life altering, such as the reordering of priorities and change in self-concept that comes with loss of a career and the role changes resulting from being dependent on other family members.

Is there any timetable for this realization to occur?

I think that timing of such a realization is very individualized and gradual. It’s probably more of a process that goes on over time so that the survivor can look back in time since the stroke, reflect and understand how life has changed and/or how they want it to change.

Are there patients that never reach this point?

Again, if the stroke is very minor/mild, survivors may not need to change much. Denial can be a very powerful emotional defense, but my clinical experience would suggest that everyone develops some realization of life change after stroke, some maybe more than others.

Are there any similarities for how the realization occurs or does it differ in everybody?

Mostly, it is an individual experience and may depend on how introspective a person is or how they place meaning on life events. Your essay reviews very common experiences, however: the fact that recovery is similar to going through developmental stages again and the fact that life revisions made are often in the direction of being less driven and instrumental (placing value in who you are rather than what you produce).

More than once, I have heard others tell stories of how they realize that their life has changed, and for the better, when they have the opportunity to compare it with peers who appear consumed with issues that are no longer that important to the survivor. If the survivor has found a sense of peace and reconciliation with themselves, it is a positive experience. If they are not there yet, the experience can raise a sense of grief, anger/regret and alienation over missing a life style they have been forced to end.

I’m sorry I don’t have my ‘old life,’ but I’m determined to live my ‘new life’ to its fullest extent. As William Mather Lewis, former President of George Washington University, once said, “The abundant life does not come to those who have had a lot of obstacles removed from their path by others. It develops from within and is rooted in strong mental and moral fiber.”

Copyright © September 2007

The Stroke Network, Inc.

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