By Mark McEwen
I woke up in a hospital bed surrounded by my father, sisters, brother, best friend, cousin and my wife, Denise. It was 2005, I had survived my stroke, barely, and had been in a coma for two days. I was so far gone I didn’t even know I had been in one. My wife had to make some hard decisions with the doctor and those decisions had saved my life. Little did I know my journey had just begun.
Let’s go back just a second – before I had a stroke, I knew nothing about one. No concept on how serious one could be, no idea how much therapy was involved, how my life would be forever changed, nothing. I thought I would just power through it like I did everything else in my life and it would turn out okay.
I’ve never been more wrong.
Being in a hospital gives you plenty of time to think, but my ischemic stroke made concentrating too hard for much of that. I was just trying to survive and make it to the next day. Doctors and nurses became my friends. Therapy, too. When you’re in a wheelchair and have to learn to walk again, therapy will do that.
My wife became my " caregiver." That's another word that was foreign to me, then, but I learned what it meant and I thank the heavens that she was mine.
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I used to wait patiently for my Denise to come to my room in the evening, bringing food from home, bringing laughter and bringing love. How she handled it, with two-year-old twins and an eight-year-old at home, I’ll never know. And if she was scared about the future, our family’s future, she never let on.
When I finally was released, I became an outpatient and did my exercises from home. Denise used to drive me to therapy, me along with the twins. I was in therapy for a year. Physical therapy to help me walk and to help me regain my balance. Speech therapy to teach me how to regain sounds of letters and words. Occupational therapy to help me think clearer and figure out tasks. Five days a week, three hours a day in the minivan with Denise behind the wheel. It was grueling, but we did it.
Recovering from a stroke is like watching paint dry or watching grass grow. It’s long and slow. Ask anyone who has had a serious one and they’ll tell you the same thing.
Giving up was never an option. Oh, you want to, but you can’t. Looking into the faces of my kids and my wife settled that score for me.
They say every journey begins with the first step, and with me it was no different. What began as awkward therapy became routine. As I could feel myself getting stronger, that routine became the lifeline I needed. Things that were an issue at the beginning melted away. That’s not to say there weren't things that took their place but by then I knew how to deal with them.
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And my caregiver? Denise has been the best friend I’ve ever had. She celebrated all my big accomplishments and the little ones as well. She has stood by me in my bleakest hour and has helped me regain my life. She knew when to push me and when not to. The thing I'll always remember is her love and her belief that I would get better. It’s hard to forget things like that.
There is a song by Bruce Springsteen that Denise pointed out. It’s called ‘If I Should Fall Behind.’ She pointed out these lyrics, “I’ll wait for you, and should I fall behind, wait for me.”
I fell behind and Denise waited for me. That’s what caregivers do.
Mark McEwen is a former CBS This Morning anchor, The Early Show weather and entertainment reporter and 48 Hours correspondent. His book Change in the Weather: Life After Stroke came out in 2008. McEwen volunteers with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association and its Together to End Stroke initiative. Follow Mark on Twitter: @McEwenMark
Photo: Courtesy of the McEwen family
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