Reflections of a Survivor

By Brian Kahlbaugh


At the Waiting Room


Sometimes we learn something about ourselves, and others, in the most unexpected places.


At my first follow up visit with the neurologist after stroking, I completed registration at the clinic, then went to waiting room and found a seat. Was not very interested at that point in picking up some old rag of a magazine to flip through as though I was reading when really I would just be occupying my anxious hands more than anything.


I found my mind racing with all of the mixed emotions, primarily fear of the unknown waiting for me in the rest of my life, and all the other things that race through the mind of a very “fresh,” new strokee.


And I noticed a man who I discovered, by eavesdropping while standing behind his caretaker at registration, was also there for a post-stroke appointment. I also noticed many other people in the waiting room.


The contrast: My strokes (3 small infarcts), left me with mild deficits that are not very visible, and yet I suffer in several different ways. This man had a stroke(s) which left him unable to care for himself. He bound by stroke to his wheelchair and at the mercy of others to care for his basic human needs. His physical appearance was clearly not what one comes across in their normal daily lives. He did not look well cared for, and had noticeable paralysis, and physical distortions.


Now this was a general waiting room for several different medical services other than just neurologic. As such, the many folks who were waiting, were there for different reasons and one could see by observing that there were a diverse group of people there.  While waiting I observed many things.


Most pronounced was the odd looks others were giving this man bound to his wheelchair. And there were many. Other folks I noticed would change their walking direction so as to clearly avoid walking near this man. Some of the “funnylookers”  would do the old doubletake and try to be discrete as though they thought no one would notice their “second shot” at the wheelchair guy.


I have no doubt but that this man did notice. Probably always does. As I watched him it was clear to me that he was still quite aware and alert as to what was going on around him. I began to wonder what went through his mind, what did he think about, what did he feel, how did these funny looks and changed behaviors on the part of bystanders affect him? The strange thing for me was I did not feel pity for him. The pity I felt was for those who had no idea of the experience of having a stroke, and yet they looked at this man as though he was not a man.


As for the man himself...I admired him. I respected him. And at a certain level, I also understood him. You see in an instant, now that I had a little taste of what stroke can dish out, the man I saw in front of me in that wheelchair was not a decrepit, wasted, human being. I began to think to, what incredible strength, what incredible spirit, what endurance. He was not weak, he had more strength in my eyes than any Olympic athlete I have ever watched.


All of the sudden, while I was (not staring at) but admiring this man, his eyes turned and met mine. There was no fear, there was no “oh-oh better turn away quick or he will think I am staring,” there was no “icky” or “strange” feeling. What was there was calm, a peaceful sense, in fact a sense of friendship. I smiled as we both were still looking at each other, he felt the smile, and we both knew each other a little bit, and the next thing I saw was the corners of his mouth, on either side, both turned up slightly revealing, on the outside a beautiful smile, and on the inside, a beautiful spirit.


The nurse came out and called out a name, and this man’s caretaker wheeled him back for his appointment.  I never met the man formally, but I truly know that we did meet each other and I had made another friend.


As I was still waiting for my appointment, I began to wonder how I had treated others who seemed different from me in the past. Had I looked at others as though they were strange, or perhaps, something less than me?


One thing became perfectly clear. Now that stroke had become a part of my life, through this experience I learned that in at least this one way stroke had changed something about me for the better. I am now more capable of seeing past the exterior, and recognizing the spirit in others. And that, My Friends, is a blessing.



Copyright © June 2009

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