May 19, 2013 8:46pm
This stroke has been a profoundly humbling experience for me. For one thing, my daily life is not unlike that of a child, where I must be conveyed from one place to the next and kept under constant supervision. I’m fussed over by those who care about me, and shepherded hither and thither, lest I fall down and become stranded like a turtle. It creates a very complicated maelstrom of emotions. I’ve traditionally prided myself on my independence, but now my desire for even a tiny bit of autonomy wrestles with my knowledge that I am essentially helpless, and will be for quite some time to come.
Like it or not, I am beholden to others.
In the first weeks after my stroke, I attempted to keep the story of what had befallen me as private as possible. I was dealing with major cognitive problems, and still wrestling with what had happened to me, and I wanted my stroke to be a private story. But looking back on it, this heightened secrecy was largely about me coming to terms with what had happened. Thanks to email and social media, it was only a question of time till it became known by everyone that I knew, but before then I just needed to come to terms with my changed situation in my own time. It is funny now to remember that I had once thought that I might be back at work in 6 months. In my defense, I had a swollen brain back then and could not grasp that it would possibly be years of rehab instead.
Despite my efforts to keep a lid on it, now a few months later, my family, all my friends, coworkers, acquaintances and even total strangers, are all privy to the fact that I’ve had a major medical emergency. The resultant unexpected outpouring of kindly attention causes mixed emotions in me. I am at once embarrassed, grateful, moved, frustrated, helpless, ashamed, anxious, fatalistic, and hopeful. I cannot sort it all out, so ultimately I must surrender to it. My pride has taken a savage pummeling, as has my habitual sense of privacy; my personal problems have become public property and I am overwhelmed, to the point of shame, by the deep gratitude I feel to all those who have helped me.
Friends have given freely to a fundraiser website to help offset my crippling medical bills. Others are arranging charity auctions, again setting off an emotional cascade in me that is complex. Besides paying the bills, I often wonder how I will possibly pay back all this kindness, which becomes more even more difficult to grasp when the donors are anonymous. Do I even know this person? More baffling still, in other cases the names are there for all to see but they are utter strangers to me. I have thought about that quite a bit; what compels someone to donate money to help a complete stranger?
The narrative that I have come up with by way of explanation is that such people, or their loved ones, may have had some similar medical emergency themselves, and they too were helped by the kindness of others and wish to give back. In any case, I think that is my way forward; I must be henceforth someone who gives freely at such times of need. My heart is full and I have a massive karma bill to pay that easily dwarfs my hospital bills.
So, to all of you who have helped me in any way, whether it be financial or with other acts of kindness; some home cooked meal left at my door, or a cheering present or a kindly email of concern, I say a heartfelt THANK YOU, and I pledge to do my best to both earn and pass on the goodwill you’ve bestowed on me.