Introduction - It Ain't No Use to Sit and Wonder Why, Babe
This book is about stroke. Specifically, itís about a massive stroke I suffered on Tuesday, November 15, 2005, on a plane home to Orlando, Florida from Baltimore Washington International. This massive stroke followed a smaller stroke two days earlier that left me feeling weak and nauseated. Those symptoms drove me to an emergency room visit at a Baltimore-area hospital, where a doctor misdiagnosed me with the stomach flu, sent me home and told me to get some rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Itís also a book about me. People say you should write what you know. I know me and I know stroke. This strikes me as funny, because up until a couple of years ago I didnít know the first thing about stroke. I didnít know the second thing either. To be sure, I knew about me -- but you could have barely filled a thimble with what I knew about stroke.
Foreword by Bill Cosby
There I was, back in that mind-set, thinking about Mark, and the bewilderment I knew heíd faced, the hopelessness, the not knowing what to make of the whole deal. It was all on him, all at once, and my heart broke for him and for his family. It truly did. Not that Mark needs any of us feeling sorry for him, because itís not about that. He has too much fight in him to let it be about that. He has too much want in him to let it be about that.
See, the Mark McEwen I knew was this warm, gentle, funny guy I saw on the television, doing the weather. He had a real way about him. (Heís still got it, of course, because stroke can knock you down, but it canít change who you are.) Thereís something about these weathermen on television that makes you warm up to them right away. I had three of them on this old Groucho Marx game show I used to do, You Bet Your Life: Mark, who was on CBS at the time; Willard Scott, from NBC; and Spencer Christian, from ABC. All three network morning show guys.
Event - What a Long, Strange Trip Itís Been
It was as if I was paralyzed, and it was a terrifying realization, but then the terror left me as quickly as it had appeared. Then I just closed my eyes and hoped I was having a bad dream, but when I opened them I saw it was no dream. I was right there in my seat, confused and disoriented and unable to move or even communicate. I was there and not there, all at once. I learned later that I was experiencing a massive stroke, compounded by the stroke Iíd experienced two days earlier, but of course I couldnít know any of this at the time. I could barely tell you my own name.
I have one clear memory of our descent. I was trying to make sense of a senseless thing, this sudden sickness and weakness and paralysis, when I looked out the window and saw the sun looming over the horizon. It struck me just then as the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. There I was, unable to move a muscle without tremendous effort or even to speak, and alongside this agony was this picture of sheer beauty and wonder.
Life Before Stroke: Stand Up
I was twenty-one years old, and I wasnít just broke. I was flat broke. I was also lonely. I missed my younger brother, Chris. This surprised me. Chris was only ten. I donít know why I missed him more than anyone else in my family, but it was probably because he was so young, so innocent. He had his whole life in front of him, and the rest of his growing up to do. I hated that I wasnít around for him, and I hated that even though I had the whole rest of my life in front of me it still felt like I had stalled. Here I was, doing what I wanted, but I was losing hope that Iíd ever make a real living at it.
This was where radio came back into the picture. Iíd always been a rock Ďní roll kind of guy. Iíd always listened to music and talked about music and idolized my favorite musicians. I figured I could parlay my experience at WMUC into an on-air job.
Rehab Ė Try, Just a Little Bit Harder
... it was mostly about the esprit de corps of all of us being in the same fight, trying to retake the same hill. Most of the patients were recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery. Most of the patients were older than me, but there were some who were considerably younger. There were other stroke patients, too. There were a lot of wheelchairs sprinkled around the workout room. There was one guy who always wore a Big Dog T-shirt his kids had given to him, and another guy who had lost one of his legs in an accident. We never really learned each otherís names or back stories, but there were familiar, friendly faces all around, and we greeted each other warmly each morning. Sometimes, it was just a quick nod or smile, but there was meaning to it. There was an unshakable sense that we were all in this thing together, whatever this thing turned out to be.
When They Said Sit Down I Stood Up
Itís a difficult adjustment, to go from a seasoned veteran to a guy who could hardly talk. I spoke s-o-o-o-o-o slowly, people were biting their lips to keep from finishing my sentences for me. It used to be that I could talk rings around everyone else in the room. Now all I could do was try their patience Ė and their friendship.
But of course, I underestimated my colleagues and myself. People couldnít have been more understanding, once I gave them the chance, and I couldnít have been more moved by the warm welcome I received each time I put myself out there. I have Denise to thank for the initial push to go back to the station. She knew how tentative I was about returning to the newsroom, but she convinced me that a visit was just what I needed.