Reflections of a Survivor

By Brian Kahlbaugh




I was thinking (Whoa. . .got to be careful with that concept). The first visit from my neurologist’s nurse practitioner while still in the hospital, was the first opportunity my family and I had to begin asking questions after we had a day to digest and consider the news we had been given.


The nurse practitioner’s first name is Gail.


Most survivors, I am sure, recall those first few days, during the periods of time you were lucid. All the questions, fears, confusion, shock, jumbled thoughts. Doubts which would race through your mind with a cohesiveness similar to that of a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle spread out on a table where the first two pieces had yet to be joined.


Do you remember that place where there were a thousand questions you wanted to ask? When the time came to ask you were unable, either due to physical inability, or due to not being able to stay lucid long enough. Or because when you had the chance, so many of the questions charged into your mind so quickly, each one seeking its own answer and ferociously trying to deny the other questions from interfering, with the result being the loss of coherency. A thousand questions remained, none yet answered.


We find ourselves needing help. . .needing guidance. . .needing some direction. . .we need some answers. . .we need to know what is next. We suddenly find ourselves as an infant looking out into an unfamiliar world, needing to be cared for in ways unique to each stroke. Some of us need to be totally cared for to meet our most basic human needs. Some of us need to be cared for to meet even the most basic needs of our soul. All of us need tending to in some way. Every one of us who survived stroke fell  between these spectrum points.




This became the primary question burning to come out from inside. Given the numbers of stroke survivors needing care annually, I speculate the medical community anticipates this question and seeks to provide an answer for each survivor.


When asked for the first time what I should expect, not realizing at the time the ambiguity of my question, Nurse Gail provided me with my preliminary glimpse of what was ahead.


The essence of that forward looking glimpse was very complex, intricate, involving many dynamics, was thoroughly scrutinized, precise, and delivered with delicate and yet responsive sensitivity.


I was basically told I might feel a little more tired than usual for a while, and I might be a little more emotional than usual.




Excuse me?


Does anyone know what the word “Understatement” means? Sorry to sound cynical, but that glimpse just didn’t cut it. . .not even close.


There I was, having experienced one of the most scary experiences of my life, three small strokes having been confirmed. I was filled with fear of what lay ahead, desperately wanting answers to questions I did not even know I had. Bearing witness to the fear my wife was experiencing, and the best I was given was I might be a little more tired and emotional than usual!!!


Here is the best part.  .  .  .I bought into it, believed it, thought whew, good news. Sort of like, ok, now that’s over, dodged a bullet, couple weeks I will be good as new, thank you very much, can I go back to my old life now?


This is my half of this story: ignorance, fear, denial, and bitterness for not having been given all of the answers I sought at the time.



There is another side.


We know stroke is complex (another understatement). Is it even possible the most accomplished experts on the planet could provide an accurate and complete answer, even if one existed, to the question? I have to believe if it were possible to precisely and definitively provide an answer to the survivor, the medically trained and educated would.


Too much is involved for the medical community to answer for the survivor questions for which the survivor really wants to know. I believe the reason for this has less to do with the physical part of stroke and more to do with the soul of the survivor. My soul seeks comfort, security, certainty of future serenity, and a promise of nothing painful (physical or spiritual).


Coming fresh off of stroke, I am sure there are other survivors like myself, who, when we asked the question, “What next?” we were really asking for satisfaction of the questions in our souls. . . and we were asking the medical community for these answers. We can not demand of them answers for which no human being can sufficiently provide.


Nurse Gail, I asked for answers you could not possibly provide. I am sorry to have put you in that position. Thank you for doing all you could to try to ease my mind. Thank you for being kind, and for being available. Thank you for shedding a tear with me next to my hospital bed. Thank you for your kindness toward my family. Thank you for lifting my spirits in playful banter, when all I wanted to do was cry.


It must be difficult, Nurse Gail, caring for people who have just been struck by the lightening bolt, and watching those who do not survive it. I wish after my strokes you could have shared with me my first great big belly laugh, or the time I first felt peaceful inside, or the time I did not feel afraid. . .again, for the first time, or to meet the friends I have found who have also survived, and even thrived. I would like you to know, Nurse Gail, I acknowledge your kindness and regard.



Brian stroked November 4, 2008. 



Copyright © September 2009

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