About 20-30 percent of the 795,000 Americans who have strokes annually live with a long-term disability. Yet, outside medical facilities, I have encountered only two of them. Shortly after my release from rehab, I was in the passenger seat of my Dad's car waiting at a red light and watching a pedestrian limp-skipping across the street to catch a bus. His curled arm was on the same side as his lame foot.
"Look! He had a stroke!" I was fascinated as I watched the man pinch change from a coin purse with his bird-claw fingers. The sighting gave me heart. Here was someone like me getting on in the world.
Since then every time I see someone with a limp, my eyes dart to their same-side arm. No, not a stroke.
Then just before Christmas in the Home Depot parking lot, I spotted a woman coming toward me. Limp. Curled arm. Stroke. I tried to catch her eye to give her a smile, but she looked right past me. I was disappointed. I yearned to connect with her … to see the recognition in her eyes of our common burden as if that, somehow, would lighten our loads.
We survivors need some sort of handshake – like a fist bump or a high five – a way of acknowledging the deep understanding that comes from our shared experience. But with bum hands on random sides, a handshake could prove difficult.
Maybe we could salute with our good hand … being careful not to whack anyone if we're carrying a cane.
Maybe we should just stick with eye contact and a smile.
Or I could say: "Here's to you, fellow survivors. Thanks for lightening my load."