Another birthday, another excuse for celebration. No matter how much we pretend to deny it, deep down, we all like being made a fuss of on your own special day. For me it’s the 57th time I’ve celebrated. Not sure how that happened, because it feels like moments ago, I was turning 16, sneaking into pubs, passing myself off as 18 and brandishing buckets of bravado.
Most years, you just treat your birthday much like any other day. Apart from nice gifts from loving friends and family, perhaps being taken out for a meal, or even having a shindig to mark the occasion, the day comes and goes and you feel no different when the sun comes up next morning.
I won’t forget my last birthday in a hurry. In fact I’ll probably never forget it because it became one of the markers that altered my life – in the same way that seismic activity can alter a landscape. That day sucked out a good portion of my excess bravado and forced me to come face to face with the concept of mortality. It crushed the belief that I’m the only person in this universe to whom nothing bad can happen.
Last year I spent March 10th in an intensive care unit after some blood vessels in my brain suddenly decided to rupture. The technical name for what happened is a hemorrhagic stroke. The experts think it was caused by hypertensive crisis, or a massive spike in blood pressure. I wrote about it here on Women’s Health Talk blog not long after it happened, so the details are there if you care to find out more. I decided to mark the anniversary of the ‘incident’ as I like to call it, by writing about how I feel, one year on.
As it turned out for me, it was a stroke of luck. Many people who know me have used the cliché, wake-up call when referring to my miraculous, almost complete recovery. But I’ve never fully understood what I needed to ‘wake up’ from.
Okay, I admit I’ve never been the most enthusiastic exerciser but I love to walk. I have never touched a cigarette in my life. I don’t indulge in greasy, fatty, cholesterol laden foods, although I could probably ease back on the salt a bit. I enjoy a regular tipple, and while I’m no raving alcoholic, a few icy cold beers or glasses of wine are a ‘medicinal’ part of my weekly routine. (Don’t judge me).
My life is not filled with stress or anxiety, in fact some would say it’s charmed. My work is portable and I get paid for doing what I love, plus I get to travel when the itch becomes unbearable. Heaven forbid, if there was a category under which I could be shoved, it would be normal.
Perhaps what precipitated the incident is ignoring some vital contributing factors – those being genes. Both parents have suffered from high blood pressure for most of their adult lives, and both parents have suffered mild strokes. My older brother also suffered two severe strokes that left him wheelchair bound, and sadly, he passed away due to complications including diabetes.
It’s not so much that I ignored these genetic factors but rather that it was never at the front of my mind. I didn’t for one moment think that potential catastrophe could happen to me. I have never been one for regular doctor visits because of severe iatrophobia – i.e. a fear of visiting doctors. (Phobias are real disorders, and I take mine very seriously thank you!)
Perhaps what I needed to wake up from was ignorance, and indeed I have…at least in my own way. I now know that I have a condition that needs to be controlled by medication and I accept that, but I feel as though I belong to a ‘club’ that I never asked to be a member of.
I don’t, and can’t offer advice. Everyone’s circumstance are different. I can only report on what happened to me. However, if my genes were a major contributor to the incident then(if you are in the habit of looking for advice), perhaps it would be wise to make sure you know enough about your family history to make informed decisions about your health.
I now pop 3 pills every day, and I’ve been assured that as long as I keep doing so, there should never be a repeat of ‘the incident’. And gobbling a few tablets is a fair price to pay. I bought a blood pressure monitor at the advice of the doctor who keeps up my drug supply, but I keep forgetting to use it. Perhaps it’s another phobia but I can’t find a name for it. I’ll call it sphygmomanophobia.
I also take bee pollen every day because up until two months before the incident, which happened overseas, I had done so for over 10 years. I’d stopped taking my pollen simply because I’d run out, and hadn’t got around to re-ordering. I’m not suggesting for a moment that this oversight had anything at all to do with what happened, I’m just telling it like it is.
In summary, twelve months later I feel great. It could have been worse, and fortunately the incident has left no legacies other than a slight motor disconnection on my left side. I often forget I’m holding something in my left hand and tend to drop things. My left foot sometimes feels a little ‘sluggish’ – as though it doesn’t quite belong to me. While I can still sprint to the bus stop when I need to, I have to focus on lifting my foot onto the pavement from the kerb. My leaping days may be over, but this tiny disruption to my motor skills is unnoticeable to anyone else. The pills have some side effects including dizziness and nausea, but my attitude is to disgorge a few complaints every now and then, but suck it up.
This birthday I’m making up for last year’s detour in my quest to enjoy life. The incident has never – not for a second – stopped me from doing the things I love, or even slowed me down for that matter. I’m not sure what it would take for that to happen but I hope I never have to find out.
Happy birthday to me!