So magical, yet so very ordinary and earthy.  Eminently practical, matter of fact, and at the same time, absolutely miraculous… that’s the way it was on my kayak trip, and has been as my stroke recovery progressed.

Relishing and absorbing the richness of intertidal life while drifting along in a kayak; or lying quietly and hearing the magnetic pings and pongs of the MRI (as it created a picture allowing the medical team to assess the damage the stroke had done to my brain); or sitting with my kayak buddies after a scrumptious campfire dinner of fresh caught Copper Rock Fish and sharing a breathtaking cerise and mauve sunset;

or noticing that overnight my brain and hand had somehow learned to send and receive the new signals needed so I could begin to move the fingers of my left hand individually; or setting up my tent in the majestic mossy forests of the Pacific Northwest, feeling like a humble guest in a world class hotel; or eating breakfast by myself in the hospital, and realizing, with a bit of a jolt, “Why, I could simply live my life…”

All these experiences, and a number I would still like to share have, as they reside in my psyche, dual qualities of ordinariness and the miraculous.

This sense of living in an earthy, human way, and at the same time being in touch with wonder and awe is something I had experienced pre-stroke, but now there is another kind of knowingness, a depth of appreciation for this living interconnectedness.  I consider this another of the gifts of my Lucky Stroke.

Here, as a wrap-up, are some of the highlights and insights of the last several weeks. (The numbers do not indicate order of importance (there are no small miracles!), but I can’t seem to make bullets work in WordPress.)  The items are listed as they occurred to me and rose up.

  1. The stroke team came in the morning after my 24 hour strict bed rest, did another assessment and saw further recovery.  The doctor then said that all the tests so far had been negative.  I could come off the saline drip and the heart monitor; could get up and dressed, and engage in ‘activity as tolerated.’ What blessed words those were, and what a great relief to hear I could set my own pace and didn’t need to lie flat or back off exercise!  On the contrary 🙂
  2. While it became clear to me on this kayak trip that extended kayaking is not really my bag for a number of reasons, there is nothing quite like being at water level, and I treasure the experiences — drifting on glassy calm seas, watching for whales; peering deep into the clear water along the exposed intertidal zones;  seeing Bald Eagles, Kingfishers, and my first Puffin up ahead of my boat; encountering Pine Martens and River Otters, Seals and Sea Lions, not to mention Humpback Whales, at close range and on their level; crashing through waves, working really hard to plow through rough seas against head-winds and making progress!
  3. Up to now nothing about the stroke had been ‘scary.’  But this was scary.  On the second day I had what seemed like a mini recurrence of the stroke.  My arm, hand, face started to tingle and got a bit stiff. Was I having another stroke, two days later?  It lasted only about a minute or less.  Later, the stroke team assured me that this is entirely normal, and of no concern.  It was, and get this, part of the process of the brain creating new pathways!  Kinda like my brain was trying out the old routes, only to discover they didn’t work, and then moving on to find and use new ones.  How amazing is that!  And actually getting to experience it as it’s happening!
  4. There’s nothing quite like hanging out at ocean level, and nothing quite so magical as waking in the morning to look out of the flap of a tent into a tranquil forest.  The peace, the sense of proportion and balance inspire and nourish.  And we even had sun one morning 🙂
  5. The insight, sitting by myself, slowly eating my breakfast, “Why, I could simply live my life!” was like a single, clear drop of water which then rippled out.  Its effects have lasted and changed me, my relationship, my perspectives, and priorities.  I used to be a ‘slotter’, as I now call it: if there were 20 minutes to the next scheduled event, I’d see how much I could fit in; I had a forward lean and I loved my quick pace, and packing a lot in to my days.  Sitting in my chair, post-stroke, I could sense, experience, imagine another way of being, and I felt the rightness and benefits of it.  I could back off from the the notion that I am in charge (I’m clearly NOT), that I’m responsible for ‘making it happen’ (how grandiose, and equally mistaken).
  6. Holy kamoly! I could simply enjoy the experience of letting things arise, and trust that what needed to happen would.  Instead of slotting, I could flow, like a river to the sea. And you can imagine, those of you who know my husband Mike, how these changes, this softening, slowing, suited him. It is one of my great pleasures that he actually noticed, and commented on several occasions on the difference! Our relationship has blossomed.  This is good :-).  Its effects on me have been comparably beneficial.
  7. See Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight on how there can be recovery of left-brain functioning without the concomitant re-entrenching of non-useful habits formerly associated with those old pathways. Revolutionary!
  8. Mostly the stroke has seemed to be full of insights and good fortune to me, and my response has been one of curiosity and gratitude.  At the same time I have had some moments of sadness, related to what I call my ‘loss of innocence.’  People who have had one stroke are more likely to have another, and while the rate of recurrence for people where there is no apparent cause (I’m in this category now), is very low, .05% a year, it’s cumulative.  I have felt my mortality, the not-knowing, the uncertainty, the powerlessness…  there’s freedom in it, release, some excitement, and some sadness.  I stay with it, and it is sweet, safe, and it passes.
  9. I don’t like having cold, wet feet. If you ever take a kayak trip, make sure you take ‘gum boots’, galoshes, Wellies, rubber boots…  Whatever you call them, take ’em along. I didn’t, and had damp feet all day long for a week.
  10. When you are cold, or stressed (see #5), even if it’s positive, your capillaries constrict.  Maybe this is why I had a stroke…  There is no discernible physical cause (negative CT scans, Echocardiograms, Trans-esophageal Echos, cranial Doppler sonografy (to check for abnormal numbers of emboli), Holter Monitor, extensive blood work indicated no problems; I have low blood pressure and cholesterol values…).  This is all good.  But I had a stroke.  Capillaries, and mine for sure, tend to constrict under cold and stress.  (I had Raynaud’s syndrome for decades.) Clearly part of my stroke prevention treatment is to stay warm and keep my capillaries mellow and open to flow 🙂 (See # 6)
  11. There is one other possible cause: Asymptomatic Atrial Fibrillation.  Nothing points in this direction so far, in fact everything indicates A Fib  is not likely to be present.  I’ll keep you posted.
  12. I draw on the peace and tranquility of extensive, roadless, forests and glassy seas; on the flow and arising of the manifold manifestations of waves, on the ordinary, mysterious, and magical forms of life all across our incredible planet…
  13. I don’t live and function from a ‘do list’ anymore.
  14. The medical support and attention I have received has been timely, intensive, extensive, appropriate, and most heartening.  Yeah Canada, and yeah for the health care system.
  15. The personal outpourings of love and caring that I have experienced from close at home, and from far and wide, have buoyed and nourished me. Thank and bless you all for the kindness and healing you have sent my way.  It is a significant part of my ongoing recovery and well-being — feeling held, supported, and loved… by people and the universe.
  • Let me wrap up this account with one final anecdote — one that astounded me as it occurred and still amazes me.  Soon after I got home I sat down to play the piano — one of my treasured activities.  I picked I piece I had formerly known solidly from memory, Of Foreign Lands and Peoples, from Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood.  (You can hear it here.)  Well, I couldn’t play it, not even one line. My left hand bumbled around, couldn’t reach the notes, and didn’t know where to go.  Even the right hand, which was unaffected by the stroke, couldn’t indicate the way.
  • Then I had the idea to get out the music.  It worked!  When the messages came through my brain and didn’t rely on the muscle memory, what came out resembled the piece.  It wasn’t flowing yet, but I could play it.  Then I tried it again without looking at the music, and to my great amazement, that one go-through, with the messages going though my brain to the fingers rather than attempting to use the old pathways that no longer existed, was sufficient to begin to create new pathways and to generate new muscle memory.  Just like that.  Perfectly ordinary and completely  miraculous.
  • It has taken several weeks, and just sticking with it, (no re-hab, just living my life), and my left hand can now do all that I ask of it, all it was ever able to do …which doesn’t include playing the pieces, or doing anything else for that matter, perfectly!  I notice the tendency to return to slotting, to increase my pace. I usually remember to take a breath, come back to the flow and the present moment, relax my capillaries, and tap into my experience of deep awe and fathomless gratitude.
  • Thank you for sharing this journey with me.
  • Questions and comments welcome 🙂

Jill Schroder is the author of BECOMING: Journeying Toward Authenticity. Check the website for a sample chapter, or see the reviews to get a flavor for the volume.

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