It’s nice to be back, after two months “away.”
My friend, Paul Frankovich, sent me a get-well card the other day with a note that read, “You’re only supposed to pick up a stroke on the golf course” but unfortunately, I picked up mine while on vacation on Florida on July 3 and ended up in Morton Plant Hospital’s critical care unit for six days. It was a vacation and a Fourth of July to remember, all rolled into one.
Since the stroke, I have a newly-found appreciation for many things. I realize how fortunate I am to always have been able to walk, talk and swallow since the attack, and through the diligent and dedicated efforts of the staff at Sharon Regional Health System’s Rehabilitation Center in Hermitage, and especially my wonderful therapist, Aleah Songer, most of the fine-motor skills in my left hand have returned to normal, enabling me to type this column.
I have long-been a fan of modern communication technology, such as smartphones and social media such as Facebook, and it provided the capability to receive literally hundreds of get-well messages from family, friends, co-workers and my friends from the Farrell High Class of 1970 while flat on my back in the Clearwater Beach hospital. My only frustration was that I was unable to respond as much as I would have liked.
I learned the hard way how important it is to keep one’s blood pressure in check, combined with a sensible healthy diet. I was stricken about 11:30 at night, after my family and I had been out to dinner, and I had experienced no pain or discomfort throughout the evening. I had taken a nap on the couch, when I was awakened by my wife and daughter who were asking me a question. When I couldn’t get the words out to answer – to which I had attributed to being in a deep sleep – over my angry objection, they rightfully called 911, thank God, and within an hour, I was in the ER, giving dirty looks to everyone who looked my way. In my mind, I was on vacation, and being in the hospital wasn’t a part of my summer plans.
One of the ER attendees, in response to my stubborness, rather sternly said, “Mr. Raykie, we’re only trying to make it possible for you to return to Clearwater Beach for vacation next summer.”
When I was transferred to CCU, along with my vitals report, they sent the following note: “Patient is very uncooperative,” but all of that changed after I realized I was in a whole lot of trouble, and that the staff was doing all that it could to get me out of it. I turned out to be CCU’s model patient, despite all of the IVs, needles and blood pressure checks keepiing me from a good night’s sleep.
The turning point came after my CCU nurse told me how lucky I had been and that things could have been a lot worse. I realized then that if this had happened a couple of hours later when everyone was sleeping, that it would have been devastating. When a Highmark nurse from Pittsburgh called me recently to gauge my progress, she asked if the stroke had left me depressed. “I told her that it was quite the opposite. I felt fortunate to have been awarded the wake-up call, realizing that many stroke victims don’t get that second chance.”
I have dropped 25 pounds in a month mainly because of better eating habits - no more raiding the fridge for a late-night hard salami or baked ham sandwich – way too much sodium and too many calories these days – my wife and daughter have become the family’s food police and thankfully they keep a good eye on me. To be honest, watching David Letterman isn’t quite the same without raiding the fridge.
I used to scoff at pill boxes and other such organizers, but between blood– pressure and other medications, one of them has become a neccessity at the house, to keep me organized.
I got home from Florida on July 11 and besides Janice and Jamie, I was helped along in recovery by one of my most loyal friends, our golden retriever Brady. He was always at my side, resting on the love seat. I think he could sense that something was amiss. I’m a lover of dogs. My stay at Morton Plant was brightened when I was visited at bedside by a therapy dog, a large black poodle
As I said it’s nice to be back after what I have called a stroke of good fortune, realizing how much worse the circumstances of my stroke could have been. I have learned a great deal.
Jim Raykie is executive editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays.