Are you living up to your potential? I know that stroke can be extremely devastating to how you perceive yourself. I thought that if I can change a couple of minds then maybe my story might be worth reading. I have to warn you, what I am going to say has not all been a can of corn!
Let me take a few minutes to give you more about my background so it makes sense why I wound up where I am. I didn’t just fall into this, where I am now, but followed the path of least resistance.
I had my stroke while on a business trip in Toulouse, France. That was in 1994. I was only 36, which I found to be the age range of most stroke survivors who use the Internet. Ages 30 through 60 are a more predominant age for stroke than I ever thought. I had a reasonable education of an Associates Degree in Engineering Technology and a Bachelors Degree in Business. I thought that with my education and background that I would go a long way with my career in Aerospace! I was highly motivated and willing to work my tail off!
I had spent my first five years in an aerospace laboratory performing tests and writing technical papers about my mechanical and physical testing. I think that performing this type of work is what makes me so analytical and motivated to take the time to be able figure things out. This was a great job but was not something I wanted to do forever.
I spent the next two years working as a Quality Engineer. This job also required an analytical approach but usually meant that we were the bearer of bad news that our plant had manufactured a part incorrectly. My last seven years were spent as the Group Quality Engineer in charge of the other Quality Engineers and Inspectors. I had too much responsibility and I could hardly keep track of everything. I had to travel all over the world and visit businesses that made parts for my company. I was also expected to stay on top of what was going on in our plant.
My company manufactured the cowlings that wrapped around the big Pratt & Whitney (Pratt) aircraft engines. The cowlings were actually referred to as Fan Reversers, as they helped stopped the aircraft upon landing. I was the one who had to give each Fan Reverser a final inspection before they left my facility. We would then deliver them to Pratt at the Airbus facility in Toulouse, France. Pratt had to place them around their engines and then assemble everything onto the wings of the A-330 aircraft. Pratt wanted me there for the first few in case there was a problem.
I was stressed to the max! I could not make a move without somebody asking me 80 million questions! I was burning out and snapping at people over nothing! I think the 14-hour days caused me to reach my breaking point!
One morning I woke up and the room was spinning out of control. I was having a TIA, also known as a mini-stroke. The TIA’s only lasted for minutes but I had several of them over the next three days. I just thought I had just been working too much. Then, my stroke happened, it hit me like a thief in the night!
I tried calling my wife from the French hospital but just gave a garbled a message. I thought I was speaking clearly but found out later that I made no sense. Little by little, over several hours, my motor controls completely stopped. I was locked-in and had no movement below my nose. Now here is the scary part, my cognitive functions continued to function at about 95%. Can you imagine not knowing what was going on, not being able to talk or move and your doctors and nurses talking to you in a foreign language?
I can order French meals and knew some of the common French phrases but that’s about it for my knowing the French language! I recognized about 5% of what they were saying and everything else was Greek! They took me to an operating room and put me to sleep. When I woke up I had a tracheotomy! Talk about nightmare! It was every ones worst dream come true! Needless to say, my story is probably not much different, in principle, than most of you.
Things could not get much worse and I decided right in the beginning that since I still had my mind that I was not going to give in. Figuring things out was my specialty. What was so discouraging, though, was that I was REALLY paralyzed. I could not fathom how weak I was. I don’t know how you guys feel but my paralysis is a total weakness that is impossible for an able-bodied person to imagine. I had a feeding tube down my nose, a suction tube down my throat and an oxygen tube hooked up to my throat. I did not know how I looked and still did not know that my speech was gone because of the stroke. .
Anyway, I want you to understand that I have had my share of shock and awe! I know that you and your loved ones have gone through equally devastating times. I do not consider myself to have gone through anything more or less than you all have. Just consider that the pain that we all have gone through as enough to make us brothers and sisters.
Do you remember the movie with Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray called, “What about Bob?” Murray plays Bob and Dreyfuss is his psychologist. The good doctor goes on vacation and Bob follows him there bugging him for advice about his psychotic life. He is told to think about taking life in baby steps, meaning, take things slow. Take your time making decisions about only one thing at a time. Overcome it, accomplish it and then move onto the next thing he wants to overcome.
This was my mantra almost from almost day one. I knew I must not focus on improving more than one thing. Whatever it was, it had to be achievable and then I had to move to my next goal. Of course, my very first goal was communication! Without it I was toast! This had to be the worst period of my life! Living without communication is a horror story and I lived without it for over a month! I had to make contact with the outside world. My inner dialogue was perfect. I had to let everybody know that my mind was still there and that I could feel everything that was being done to me.
I began communicating by blinking once or twice to yes and no questions. Next, I was blinking to the written alphabet to spell out words. And finally, I was staring at objects I was interested in and looking at a communication board to spell words and sentences. This progress did not happen overnight and took tons of patience. I thought, baby steps, Steve, baby steps!
Next, my most important goal was being able to move and control my head. The human head probably weighs over 10 pounds. If I were sitting up in bed my head would flop over. The nurses would prop pillows on either side of my head. Eventually, one of the pillows would move down and my head would move with it.
One time, I was propped up in bed and left by myself for about an hour. My wife had to go eat dinner and a nurse was supposed to look in on me, which she didn’t. Gravity soon started making the pillow move down and so did my head. My neck and head eventually were almost perpendicular to my body. I know I had to look contorted! The nurse obviously had gotten called away and then forgot about me. My wife came back from dinner and found me like that and was furious!
Little by little and day by day my neck was becoming stronger. I had to continuously perform neck exercises. For a long time, my head was bobbly. I started by lifting from left to center and then right to center, forward and backwards, over and over. The computer use was excellent exercise, too! Slowly but surely my head control became better and better. “Baby steps, Steve, baby steps”!
I guess my point here with telling you about my first goals and accomplishments after my stroke is to let you know that life after stroke is nothing more than a series of baby steps. You cannot give up because you think your life is ruined. I could see that the only way to get whatever I wanted was to use my noggin and then to figure out a way to make it happen.
Setting goals that are too much could make you think that something is not achievable . But, start out slow and bite off a small piece of it, just a nibble. Be patient and take your time mastering that small piece. You can do so much more than you ever thought.
If you go to my web site at http://www.stevemallory.org/ you will see that I have been extremely busy over the past 10 years. I was able to accomplish these things by taking it slow, not trying to do too much at once and then making sure that I mastered whatever it was that I had to do. I certainly do not have everything listed. Just the ones that I do have listed should show you that I made up my mind not to sit still after my stroke. You must live up to your potential if you want to feel that your life has been successful. You do not have to feel that having a stroke was the end of your life. It’s true, things will never be the same again but does that mean that living a productive life is finished? Are you ready to end things just because you are out of shape, walk or talk funny?
It’s not the end of the world but making a life for yourself again is something you and your family can brag about! You don’t need your old job back or have to drive again, especially if it’s not safe to do so. What is important is that you are the best person you can be and that you aren’t sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.
Most people know that I am a Christian and although I am not going to evangelize, please bear with me while I quote my favorite scripture.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2Cor 4:18
This verse was the key to me being able to accept what I became after my stroke. I had so many things wrong with me that this burden was almost too much to live with. So, I made up my mind to do what I could and to do them well and to just accept what was too much to change. I feel like I’ve lived up to my potential by doing things this way! A friend once told me that life is like a blank canvas. You can draw anything on it that you want.