It began with the headaches that initially felt like the flutter of butterfly wings on the left side of my temple, gradually escalating to what I suspect it must feel like to have that little penguin from the movie, Happy Feet tap dancing in my head. Self-diagnosing, I attributed them to problems with my sinuses, or to the barometric pressure due to the highs and lows of Atlanta’s fickle winter temperatures. A rushing sound, much like running water followed, resulting in a frantic search throughout my house to see if faucets were running somewhere. Lying in bed later that night the mystery was solved. The sound was coming from my head or rather my left ear. Spawned from a woman whose ancestors believed in using remedies from the earth, things like Tansy and Sassafras, I self-medicated. I took Tylenol for the pain in my head and threw in a few M&Ms as well for good measure. Whenthat didn’t work, I finally made an appointment with my doctor.
However, nothing prepared me for the diagnosis: Stroke! Rather a mini-stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA occurs when a blood clot temporarily clogs an artery, and part of the brain doesn't get the blood it needs. The symptoms occur rapidly and last a relatively short time. Most TIAs last less than five minutes. The average is about a minute. Unlike stroke, when a TIA is over, there's no injury to the brain. But of the people who've had one or more TIAs, more than a third will later have a stroke. In fact, a person who's had one or more TIAs is more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn't. Because you can experience a TIA and not know it, thus not receive immediate medical treatment makes it all the more frightening. Recognizing and treating a TIA can reduce your risk of a major stroke.
Of all the “conditions,” as my late father used to call his age-onset illnesses, that I knew I was susceptible to, such as diabetes (my family has a history of it), or breast cancer (women who’ve never given birth are more likely to develop it than those who have), a stroke was not something I ever considered. Sure, somewhere in the back of my mind I realized that I was a candidate. After all, African Americans are more prone to strokes than other races. I suffer from hypertension where my blood pressure fluctuates from normal one day, to being slightly elevated the next. But I faithfully take my medication.
Weight also plays a role. Admittedly, my once ‘brick-house’ figure is now a mansion – with carport; however before my stroke episode I had joined Weight Watchers and started an exercise program of walking. Granted, every now and then I do suffer a lapse where nothing less than a Snickers bar seems to curtail my post-nasal drip.
Strokes, mini or other kinds are not supposed to happen to me, I think. They are not supposed to happen to someone whom folks say look much younger than she actually is, despite that one chin hair that continues to return even after repeated plucking with industrial strength tweezers: the same one that a few months later started to play hard ball by growing back gray. Strokes are not supposed to happen to someone who has finally realized a life-long dream of becoming a writer. Why, stories I once wrote in my head now practically write themselves down on paper! Staying busy recording the roads I have taken over the years has kept me from dwelling on the few not taken.
Initially, having suffered a TIA left me overwhelmed with a tsunami of emotions. Experiencing it made me realize several things: the first being that strokes do not discriminate between age, gender or class. Strokes don’t care whether you are politically aware or even politically correct. Having had a TIA has made aware that I am not immortal, thus I feel more self-protective of my dreams. If anything good has come out of this health scare, it has been a renewed affirmation to live life to the fullness every day. It has also renewed my zeal for discovering my truth/my purpose.
I’m finally starting to get my strength back and have begun to feel like my old self. My old fighting self – the self that survived a 21-year career in the military despite my mother telling me that I couldn’t, as I was too head strong and didn’t like to be told what to do. The self who survived six weeks of Air Force Basic Training on my knees cleaning grout from restroom tiles with a toothbrush, and the self that once got up too close for comfort to buffalo on the roam in South Dakota and other the misadventures of a female soldier/airman.
Admittedly, whenever I feel a headache coming on, I become a little frightened. Yet, I don’t plan to live my life worrying about suffering another TIA or even a full blown stroke. I have too much I still want – no – make that – need to do.
Daily I garner inspiration simply by living. Daily, I learn some lesson or something that I feel compelled to write about and share.
Things like the importance of ‘test-driving’ a new hairdo for gale-force weather before going out in the wind. Or to at the very least, have some hair pins to pin up said wind-tossed hair if you don’t. I also need to keep in mind that scarves are not my friend whenever I forget this, and think that a colorful scarf would make the perfect accessory to an outfit. Sadly, forgetting this has never failed to result in some disaster, like the time I wore a scarf to work, and somehow got it caught in my desk drawer, so when I tried to get up from my desk that it almost strangled me to death as I fumbled to open the drawer.
I also vow to remember to take my panty hose out of the freezer after 10 minutes or so. (Someone once shared that the cold kept them from running easily). However, I forgot and left mine in the freezer for 2 days. In truth, they might have remained there much longer had my husband not reached in freezer to get a steak and found my panty hose caressing a T-Bone. Frankly, to this day I fail to see what was the big deal, after all they were brand new and still in the pack, and not a pair that I had already worn.
Last but not least, I will wait until the family cat is napping before trying on a toe ring. I learned this the day I decided that a toe ring was just the thing to accent my brand, new pedicure. Purchasing one at the Dollar Store, I hurried home to try it on the middle toe on my right foot. It immediately sprang off of my toe. I tried again. Once again it sprang off and rolled across the floor, only this time one of the kitties, the one that weighed 18 pounds at the time, chased after it – and sat on it. Alas, I’ve finally learned to appreciate what my mother always told me. That what does not kill you; does indeed make you stronger.
Recently while chatting with a couple of women, one of them remarked how well I appeared to be doing after this health scare. Immediately the other remarked, “I am not surprised, as she is a strong woman.” You see, long ago I realized that while life can be tough – that I am tougher. Eight years ago while doing interviews for my debut book, The Venus Chronicles, one newspaper columnist, called me a “woman of many stories.” He was right; yet I refuse to let that be my epitaph.