STROKE — My Internal/External Ordeal — Derek Barton – 2021

My eyes woke to nothingness…

 A void stretched out before me far and wide. All was dark, null and hidden…

 I was blind to anything around me yet I was aware I was growing cold and somehow heavier…

Dead weight sinking.

I sank in my confusion.

My heart began to pound faster from budding fear, raging in my chest like a trapped beast! As if in reaction to my new struggles, steel-like webbing tightened across my arms and legs. Coils of the webbing worked across my chest, snaring me further in a vice-like grip.

I sank further – my thoughts getting fuzzy, losing meaning. I was losing substance.

I could breathe in the inkiness, yet I was losing and if I sank any  further I was going to… melt away to nothingness. Become a part of this ebony matter all about me. Dissolve into meaninglessness.

But I wanted more! I didn’t want to end like this.

I kicked and lurched with all I had left. I wanted more and wanted to fight back against this cruel undertow.

No time or energy could be spent reasoning why this was happening or even what this all meant.

All that was for certain was I didn’t want to sink deeper into the abyss. Shaking and twisting, I continued to struggle and with each effort I inched upward, my body lightened.

I breached a surface, my body aching from the strain. As I lifted from the surface parts of me shifted and sloughed off back into the murky matter, seeming to pay a heavy sacrifice to free the rest of my body.

My eyes woke then to our dark bedroom.  My baby girl, Jessiena still laid next to me and her mother on the other side. I had come in forty minutes earlier and laid down a bit with them, but I had planned to just rest a few and then do some night writing as usual. They were both resting peacefully under the covers.

I was sweaty and like in my nightmare sore and stiff especially on the left side. I pulled up from our bed and stumbled to my feet.  

The skin on my face stung slightly with pins-and-needles. My chest was heavy and my legs were weak. Panic seized me – What was happening? Was this still a nightmare or something all too real? 

I worked my way to the island in our kitchen to retrieve mycell phone. 

My scrambled reasoning was to look up what might be the cause of my symptoms then drive to the hospital which was a few blocks away. My wife wouldn’t be able to come – she’d have to watch  the baby so why wake her.

A terrifying word came up in my google search – S T R O K E.  And the red words of warning DO NOT DRIVE WITH THESE SYMPTOMS!

Yes, I realized I was being stupid and I crashed back down the hall to get my wife.

In the back of my mind, I was arguing with the ludicrous idea that I was having a stroke, still debated whether to wake her.

I got to her side of the bed and shook her as I said, “HHHHuuunnnn—”  I found I couldn’t speak, the words were foreign and mutated to my ears!!  I started shrieking in abject terror.  I have never felt so completely lost and out of control. My body had betrayed me on every level.

Erika woke to a blubbering, screaming 50 year-old child. A horror story writer in a tale so beyond his own comprehension of fear.

Thirty minutes later in the ER I found out I had lost my speech, most of my left arm movement and nearly incapable of walking.

Later after I had gotten some speaking skills back in the rehab center, I told my wife, “I fell asleep next to you guys but woke up murdered! I didn’t awake as the same person. Parts of me were taken, but I’m going to have to fight to get them back.”

I had the stroke on March 29th – It’s now April 20th and I’m still battling almost every waking moment to rebuild. Just today, I walked without walker or cane. Not a long stretch, but it’s a start.

Officially, they discovered a hole in my heart that I was probably born with. The hole had a bleed which clotted and traveled to my brain. In two months or so I will have another procedure to close the hole and cut my chances for a repeat stroke in half.

I have good days like today with small victories. And there are days I breakdown and fume in despair over what I lost and the hurt it caused the whole family. My dreams, their goals, our lives all pushed back to get ME normal again.

I’ve met incredible people in this ordeal: underappreciated nurses who work tirelessly to comfort you, underpaid therapists like Anna and Jazzeline who strive and fight at your side for your small victories day in and day out, and unrecognized first responders who are there in your worst moments when you are lost in indecision.

I’ve been touched by the generosity and warmth of family and friends throughout this dark time! Family who are there in every way, watching over and praying for my recovery. Friends who reach out and offer their support. I especially want to thank all of you that donated to my family (my day job had just started three weeks before the stroke so my benefits hadn’t kicked in.) I will be reaching back out to thank all of you individually. I am blessed to have you in our lives.

My last words to each of you are to BE HERE NOW. Embrace what you have, take to heart who you have at your side and yes, make goals but don’t lose sight of the long road you walked before. Along the way each of us have accomplished many incredible things we can easily dismiss but we shouldn’t. Every aspect of our lives factor into who we are and the substance of our character. I cannot accept nor afford to be the victim. My little girl needs her father, and my family needs me as much as I need them.

Thank you, readers, for being there for me as well. Those of you who have reached out to me, I truly thank you for your kindness.

My road continues and so does my writing. That dark blackness didn’t take all of me and I know I still have a purpose to fulfill.