Three writing lessons from a stroke of insight

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Have you ever had a near-fatal experience? Today I explore three lessons I learned from the experience of having a stroke.

If you’ve been a subscriber of mine for at least three weeks, you’ll have received an email from me on Nov. 18 saying I was too sick to send out my regular newsletter.

I played things down at the time, but the real story was that I’d been in hospital because I’d had a stroke. My second one in six years.

Both strokes were established in similar ways — the puzzling outcome of having had mild abdominal surgery. I’m not trying to make you crazy here. It doesn’t seem logical to me — or to many doctors — either. Although I have freakishly low blood pressure and exercise regularly and eat healthily, there’s something about my body that doesn’t like surgery. I have surgery and the main source of blood flow to the brain, my carotid artery, breaks apart (this manouevre is called a dissection) and a stroke spins off into my brain.

In 2001, it happened on the right side of the neck and the clot spun off into the right side of the brain. I like to say that it occurred in the “baseball” part of my brain — and because I don’t play baseball, it didn’t really matter.

Before repeating the surgery this year I went for lots of cross-examinations with various kinds of doctors. All agreed the stroke would be unlikely to happen again.

But they were wrong. It just happened in a different place.

The stroke occurred on the left side of the neck, spinning off into the left or language side of the brain. This time it was a bit more dangerous because it directly affected my speech centre. For several days, I had a great deal of difficulty talking. This has now fixed itself, although, from time to time, I can have trouble remembering a name or term.

Probably the biggest challenge is the mind-numbing exhaustion I feel most days.I’ve turned from a seven-hour-a-day sleeper into a nine- hour one. I can’t exercise like I used to (a minimum of a hour’s brisk walking a day) and I don’t really enjoy reading much right now. I expect all of these symptoms to resolve in about six months, although it does suck to have to put up with them.

But the more interesting question is: What did I learn? Here are three major lessons:

1) When you have words, use them. I’m a gabber. I usually talk a lot. I write a lot. And I read a lot. But I seldom see words as precious. They are. Write and speak as if you might never be given the chance again. Don’t waste time; don’t waste your words.Really communicate. 

2) Plan your time so you use each minute in the way you most want to. Sometimes you might need to be walking or running. Or other times, you might need to abandon making dinner so you can write a sonnet. (OK, I just made that up.) But do whatever it is you most need to do. Don’t compromise; don’t take second place. Think hard and act harder.

3) Never forget every day is a gift. I’m grateful to be alive and I’m spectacularly grateful to my patient and thoughtful husband, Eric, and my wonderful kids, Claire, Duncan and Alison. They make my life interesting and challenging and engaging. I’m also grateful to you, all the readers of Power Writing — some of whom I know well enough to visit or chat with — others of whom I know only by their email name in my database.

Life is a gift. Use it. Write with it.

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