Reflections of a Survivor

By Brian Kahlbaugh





My oldest son was a fifth grader this year and got the bug to play basketball for school. I wondered where he got this idea, then thought, who cares, it will be good for HIM. We took care of the registration and then HE was all set for the first practice in about 5 weeks.


November 4 rolled around, SMACK, the lightning bolt of stroke nailed me. After a few days in the hospital, several days at home, I was functioning enough to get myself back to work, easing myself back into the routine, and was also able to leave whenever necessary for rest, doctor appointments, etc. Some time passed.


And the first basketball practice was Monday.


Let me try to paint a picture for you as of that Monday morning:


•  Here I am about three minutes post stroke! I am dealing with the mild deficits, fatigue, anxiety, fear, and all the over thinking that swirls around in the mind of a newly post-stroke person.


•  Still trying to adjust to work responsibilities.


•  Never played basketball, don’t know a thing about the game other than. . . “hmm, round ball, hoop, backboard, GOOOOD!!!”


•  I am also now spending every spare waking moment on the internet conducting research and earning my self-proclaimed doctorate degrees in several different medical arenas!


With the anxiety of a hermit walking out their front door for the first time, I took my son to his first practice. He stepped out on the gym floor. I took my place up in the bleachers along with some other parents. This guy started taking over, talking to parents and kids, then started working the kids on drills. I thought he was the coach. After he had introduced himself he had asked for a couple parents to volunteer helping with a few things during the season.


Given my recent health change, and the fact that post-stroke depression had already started to find a grip on me, I just sat and watched as a couple other parents volunteered. I saw my son looking right at me. Practice continued while my mind kept telling me I should volunteer if for no other reason than at to set an example for my son.


I walked to the table and told the lady to add my name, “besides,” I told myself, “it will probably just involve helping with a few practice drills, and maybe getting the ball bag out of locked storage a few times.”


Two nights later my son and I showed up for practice #2. I was getting around pretty good by now. I glanced at my watch, time for practice to start, where is the coach? I asked one of the other volunteers if they knew where the coach was.


All of the sudden I saw his face glowing with a grin from ear to ear and he said, “That wasn’t the coach that was the coordinator for the whole league and all grade levels. You and I have to split the kids up into two teams. The school will have two teams because of the number of kids that signed up. He grinned again and said you and I are the head coaches.”


Does anyone else know what it feels like to have a sixteen pound sledge-hammer slam them in the middle of the chest?


My very next thought was, “I can’t do this right now.” Then I thought, “If I don’t do this, I show my son it is ok to be a quitter.” Meet Head Coach Brian!!!


The season moved forward, practices two nights per week. There was a full slate of games (two games every Saturday), all out of town, except for one weekend where our school hosted all the games.


It didn’t take long for Coach Brian to learn a little bit about basketball. The kids worked very hard, and most of them were very motivated. I soon discovered that during practices and games, I was no longer depressed and full of anxiety.


I found that practices and games were a relief to me and soon began to love this thing called “coaching.” I became interested, driven to do the best I could, and satisfied with each experience of practice with the kids. I was satisfied with each experience of playing the games on Saturdays.


I also grew to the point where the last half of the season as a coach I was more focused on strategy for each game rather than skill development. There was one out of town team which totally dominated the league. The whole season no team came within 20 points of them at the final buzzer--- except our team. We came within 8 points of the win.


Our overall win/loss record was 8 wins and 8 losses. The kids worked their hearts out, I learned to appreciate every one of them, and I think I earned their respect. I must admit, I also felt a little proud of myself. I believe my recovery was greatly helped by this experience, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.


Some weeks after the season ended, I passed the “coordinator” in the school hallway. We stopped and looked at each other. I told him I still had a key to give back for the ball bag storage locker and began to get it out of my pocket. He smiled, and as he started to walk away, turned his head away, and I heard him say, “Keep it, you’re going to need it for next year.”


I couldn’t help but just smile, and I felt real good inside at that moment.


Despite my stroke, somehow I found willingness, dedication, and open-mindedness, in surrendering to help others. I hope the kids gained something; I am certain I gained a lot.



Copyright © July 2009

The Stroke Network, Inc.

P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009

All rights reserved.