At the stroke of one: A collection of stroke stories by Gail Stribling
Editor’s note: Gail Stribling, a longtime Carpinterian and local volunteer, passed away April 25, 2016. She suffered her first stroke over 22 years ago when she was in her early 40s, but through her strong will and positive attitude, she regained her ability to live life fully. In her words, “I tried depressed, but it wasn’t much fun.” Gail didn’t focus on what she couldn’t do, choosing instead to “make lemonade.” Her view of life after a stroke is at the heart of the following article.
“The new garage door moves slower than the old one,” I complained to my husband.
“No, it’s not slower,” he said. “It just moves differently so it takes longer.” Sounds just like me.
I had my stroke in July and spent two weeks in the hospital followed by a four-week stay at rehab. I returned to work at our orchid nursery, part time, in September and attended a trade show in San Diego with my husband in October, to show my colleagues I was back to normal. By January I worked full time. Somehow I managed to live through the first year, but by fall I knew it was time to slow down and retire.
I tried being depressed, but it wasn’t much fun. Instead, I focused on what I could do and found new activities. Reading was first, followed by volunteer library duty, writing class, another volunteer job as dispatcher for Help, Newsletter Editor for California Women for Agriculture, and last, but not least, my duties as Cookie Princess.
In the past, I white-water rafted on the Snake River twice, hiked and climbed mountain trails. I now struggle to stay upright as I scuffle along sidewalks, and stairs are a challenge I try to avoid. Preconceptions of my limitations were altered while on vacation in Costa Rica.
My first challenge was La Mariposa in Quepos, a beautiful hotel with panoramic views built on the side of a hill with a series of stairs, many without handrails. It was a workout every time I wanted to eat, drink or swim. One day I chose the two-hour tour in the butterfly preserve while the others opted for the canopy trip, which involved soaring down cables in the rainforest. The soaring part I can handle, but the climb, up trees, between platforms, seemed beyond me.
In Manuel Antonio National Park, I managed to complete a hike through the rainforest, walked along the beach and crossed a river. I especially enjoyed the part where the monkeys threw green gourd-like things at other hikers. Fresh from my conquest of the rainforest, I decided to try a full-day tour to the mountains. At breakfast, one of the guides asked if I were up to a 45-minute walk to the waterfalls. I assured him all my parts and pieces worked, just slowly, and off we went. What he neglected to mention was the walk was all up and down steep stairways. By the time we reached a waterfall I’d look briefly, mumble, “Beautiful,” and attack the next section of stairs.
My next adventure was a two-hour, class 3, river raft trip. Our raft guide questioned my capability and warned she couldn’t guarantee I’d stay in the raft. I assured her I had no intention of leaving the raft, but also informed her I could swim and wasn’t afraid of water. Only after we donned helmets and life jackets, climbed over a big pile of rocks, positioned ourselves in the raft and listened to the safety instructions, did I start to question my decision. It was decided I would not paddle; my sole job was to stay in the raft.
The water level was low and although the rapids were scary, the biggest danger came from getting stuck on the rocks. I had no problem with the “get down” command, I really liked the bottom of the raft, but the “up” was more difficult. At the end of the trip, I thanked everyone for the nice ride. Taking my job seriously, I never left the raft, even to swim. The only damages were multiple bruises and two broken nails.
I think maybe next time I’ll try the canopy trip, but in the meantime I’ll study Spanish. I want to learn the word for stroke so I can better explain why I walk too far to the right, why I forget things, why I don’t drive, why stairs sometimes are just “too much.” Some people might look at these as disabilities; I just think of them as differences.