Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Peeps

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."


  1. I never see people with strokes out in the community either. That means a lot of stroke survivors are sitting at home which makes me sad. I'd settle for someone smiling when I say hello.

  2. It's always good to meet those in the same boat. Feeling alone is one of the worst feelings ever.

    Blogger finally fixed my login issues and I can comment without jumping through ten hoops. :-)

  3. I have seen only 3survivors with disabilities also. One I have seen a couple of times out walking laboriously about a mile from my house,one was in a restaurant weaving among tables and one is a yoga instructor. Two other able-bodied strangers have approached me and told me that they, too, have had strokes; both encouraged me to persist in recovery because change continues for many years. I also wonder what to do with my recognition of other survivors given that I got encouragement from the two who approached me. And, like Rebecca, I worry that the ones I DON'T see are inactive at home. What can we do about those?

  4. I'm also perpetually on the lookout for other survivors.

    A while back Spaulding held a "Stroke Reunion." One of the speakers called us "My Tribe"--I liked that.

  5. I've only seen a few, maybe because I'm not really comfortable yet with walking while looking straight ahead.

  6. I haven't seen any survivors in my community either..Where are all the others?Possibly and hopefully, more are recovered than reported. Most people would never pick me out as a survivior anymore, until you tried to give me directions....or multiple commands. My physical deficits are now limited to fine motor control and coordination while my cognitive deficts are the most glaring and even at times nearly invisible.

  7. I have a standard bike ride that I do 3 or 4 days a week, up a steep mountain road. About once a week I see the same man, with the stroke walk, trudging up this steep road to the top of the dam. I always slow down and chat with him for a bit. It's interesting, for months we just passed each other without a word and when I broke the silence, he turned out to clearly have a vibrant, warm, and welcoming personality. I have to be careful when I approach him from behind because a few times, my "hello!" has shocked the heck out of him. His mind is very focused on his walking. So, anyway, the moral of the story is that this kinship to stroke victims is a part of your loved one's lives now too.