My first birthday was Aug. 9. But now, I celebrate two birthdays—Aug. 9 and July 6.

On July 6, 2000, I woke up energized and went to a 6:30 a.m. yoga class. After class, my daughter and I stopped at the deli to get our Thursday breakfast treat—fresh bagels and cream cheese.
Once home, I made a pot of coffee, and my husband joined us in the living room for a relaxing breakfast. By 8:30, I was ready to begin my busy day.
I was rinsing the breakfast dishes when I suddenly became very, very dizzy. Trying to restore some normalcy, I sat down by the computer in my kitchen office. But I became more dizzy, whereupon I staggered to the living room and collapsed.
Fortunately, my husband was there and I heard him exclaim, “Marie!”
Even though my family thought I was awake all the time, I remember very little of the next weeks. There are only a few brief moments that I recall—the chief of police in our small town looking down at me, the emergency medical crew carrying me out of the house, the ambulance turning the corner, my brother and sister-in-law standing at the door of my hospital room, my son telling me there were visitors but he didn’t know who they were.
Later, I understood how difficult it was for my family. My daughter told me that she immediately told the doctor, “Don’t do anything heroic. She doesn’t want to live as a vegetable.”
Fortunately, the doctor reassured her that I wouldn’t be a vegetable. The next day, a neurologist told my family I would be back to normal in six months.
On my fifth anniversary, I could choose to see my after-stroke life as a loss or as a gain. I prefer to see it as a gain. I love my life!
I no longer go to yoga classes or walk for exercise. Now, I take strength training classes, Tai Chi, and go to the pool for water aerobics every week day. We have so much fun—talking, joking, laughing—as we work.
This regime has expanded my social world immensely. Without losing the friends I had before, I’ve made many, many new ones.
Sometimes I tell my new friends, “Think about it—if I hadn’t had a stroke, it’s very unlikely that we would have ever met, let alone become very good friends.”
Another positive was that I had absolutely no cognitive damage, so the neurologist was right. After six months, I was ready to write my column again.
But there’s more. I used to shampoo and style my own hair. Now, I get pampered every Saturday by a hairdresser. My family and friends have been wonderful. My husband buys the groceries and helps with the cleaning. My children often come for tea and dominoes, as do our friends.
And anytime I need a ride, I have someone to call on.
One other thing I’ve gained is a healthy respect for the fragility of life. That day in July, 2000 could have turned out very differently!
Think about your life. How have you grown through difficult times? It’s not always easy to focus on gains instead of losses, but it’s worth the extra effort.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at thisside60@aol.com or visit www.visit-snider.com

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