Sunday, February 16, 2020

Dilemma: Wisdom vs. Experience


David Wasielewski, the author of this week's post, was on the staff of the StrokeNet Newsletter. As you may know the news letter was discontinued a year or so ago. I have saved many of their articles, and with their permission, will be posting them from time to time. I hope you find them as interesting as I do.   
Peer Counseling
By David Wasielewski

Dilemma: Wisdom vs. Experience

As a Peer Counselor and Stroke Group Facilitator I get to see the whole variety of stroke circumstances. Stroke affects individuals in different ways. Individuals react in different ways to their stroke. There is huge variety of social and medical support that each individual has as they manage through their recovery.

Each requires the counselor to listen carefully to the survivor’s story, ask appropriate questions and, when possible, observe the social support and caregiver situation. In many of these encounters it becomes routine to maintain a sense of objectivity with the survivor, to collect and analyze information before dispensing advice or guidance. In some circumstances this becomes more of a challenge. Our last stroke group meeting presented such a challenge.

A middle aged woman was introduced to the group by her speech therapist. Many of her stroke symptoms were obvious as she sat and told her story. She was fairly young, late 40’s, had some significant speech difficulties but could communicate and be understood. She was hemiplegic, walking with a pronounced limp and had severely limited use of her left arm. She was forced to retire from her job and lost the ability to pursue her hobbies, playing a variety of musical instruments.

Her circumstances were very much like mine when I joined the group almost ten years ago. She had many of the same questions I had when I arrived, along with the frustration and anger with which many of us are familiar. Over time my recovery experience has provided me with answers to my many questions. When would the use of my arm return? When should I be able to return to work? Will I be able to return to the hobbies and activities I enjoyed?

As she posed the all too familiar questions I flashed back to my first support group visit. How would I have reacted if someone had provided the answers for which I was looking? I would not return to work, or my favorite activities. Would this advice have been helpful, or not? I hesitated as I watched the conversation unfold. Was anything I was about to say be helpful? Could I simply give her the benefit of my experience and ‘wisdom’ about stroke recovery and be satisfied that I had ‘done my job.’

As I thought back I remembered that I especially did not or could not have dealt with answers that didn’t match my expectations for a full recovery. I also recall the wisdom of the folks in the support group that prevented them from giving me what might be termed the bad news about a full recovery. They allowed me to vent my anger and frustration while they patiently listened to the angry rants of this new survivor. This was the best thing they could do and they already knew that.

As I recall my days in early recovery I am reminded how angry I was and how patient these wise folks must have been. The wisdom in the situation was to simply listen and offer support, not provide answers. The reality is that with stroke there are no sure answers. Does telling someone with severe hemiplegia that they might not expect to play the piano or flute again lessen their distress? Probably not. In some cases it can even have the opposite effect. It could cause the survivor to lose hope of a significant recovery. They might simply give up on any improvement.

I realized that, even with all my recovery experience my ‘wisdom’ in this situation was to simply listen. Many recent survivors search frantically for answers to their questions. The wisdom of the peer counselor is to realize that the answers, in most cases, do not exist. The most difficult notion in this situation is to realize that the best thing a counselor can do is support the new survivor as they make their own journey through their recovery and that no matter where their journey ends they will have support from their counselors and support group friends.

Copyright @September 2014
The Stroke Network, Inc.
P.O. Box 492 Abingdon, Maryland 21009
All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 9, 2020



Sometimes I get an article that deserves repeating every year. The following is a repeat of one that I put on this blog back in 2012. It is one of my favorites that I came across recently.

This essay was copied from the web site of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago with their permission and with the author's, Cari Biamonte, permission. Cari participated in a study done by the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on enhancing the quality of life of stroke survivors.

This study was done to assess how writing in different ways about the experience of recovery can help physical and psychological health and activity after stroke.


By Cari Biamonte
© May, 2006

To look at me is to think I am the picture of good health. I am a 45-year-old Caucasian woman, five feet three inches tall, 103 pounds with an athletic build. I don’t drink, smoke, or do recreational drugs. I go to church regularly, work out at the gym, and floss my teeth before bedtime. I thought I was in control of my ever-challenging health issues. You see, I have a long history of health issues, none of which include heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, or obesity. Most people assume I am a runner. Indeed I am, or was, and will be again. I have no outward physical defects that say, “Look at me I’m a stroke victim,” but I am, or was, and NEVER want to be again.

Other diseases tested my character: childhood nephritis, ulcerative colitis, steroid induced osteoporosis, vertebral compression fractures, and chronic fatigue. Stroke was a word I was unprepared to hear. I have no family history of it, nor do I fit the profile for such a condition.

Apparently the onset of my stroke was blurred vision. Who knew? My eyesight went from focused to double to unconscious to enlightened. I guess you could say, “I was blind and now I see.” This is my story.

My eyes were closed and my body frozen in fear to the bed. I remember the doctor at the foot of my hospital bed talking into his voice recorder about my condition. He described me as one would an unremarkable specimen. I distinctly remember him saying that they wouldn’t know anything for three days. Three days? I opened my eyes and saw my mother. “GOD!” My insides screamed. “Not again. Holy Mother of God!” I thought. “My mother has seen me fall countless times before. Surely you must know the fear and pain she is feeling, for you too have watched your Son fall, suffer, and die. I just can’t put her through this anymore. I can’t stand to see her frightened. I want to live and take care of my parents, not have them continue to babysit me into adulthood.” That’s when it happened. That’s when things changed for me. There was this sudden awareness that all is well. And indeed it was.

My recovery was complete. Short of a three-week headache, neck and shoulder pain, fear of being alone and uncontrollable emotions, I was on my way to a new and exciting life!

What I didn’t know was how this sudden “relationship” with God would change my life and existing relationships. Suddenly I was struck with a conviction of all I did that wasn’t so “good.” My religion just flew out the window and my relationship with God was a sharp reality. The fact is my relationship was lost behind the trappings of religion. I didn’t have a relationship with God. In order to have a relationship, you need to spend time with someone. If I only spent one hour a week with my spouse, we would have a less then happy marriage, and so it goes with our Creator. I had a lot of work to do and a lot of forgiveness to seek.

For what purpose had I received such grace? I was feeling a tremendous amount of gratitude and responsibility to fulfill God’s will in my life. My sole focus quickly became just that. After all, I was spared from any visible impairment or death—it’s the least I could do. I felt oddly encouraged about the future, yet misunderstood by my fiancĂ©. A faithless man, a scarred and bitter man, an alcoholic who was wounded by the Vietnam War. Visually unimpaired like me, yet damaged goods still the same. What a team we make. Oil and water.

It took a great deal of soul searching and much needed prayer before I felt at peace with my decision to marry this man and thus, began exploring the new me, as did my loved ones. I could see both wonder and confusion in the faces of those who have known me. In less than two years, I had lost my job that I held for 13 years, suffered a stroke, got married, and moved 140 miles from my home. Perhaps it was unfair of me to expect anyone to understand what it was I had been feeling. How do you explain a spiritual rebirth? A sudden wisdom into other’s circumstances, a deep familiar empathy with strangers, an unconditional love for those who’ve wronged you, and an “ooohhhhh I get it now” when reading the word of God. Finding that every waking moment is spent in constant prayer. Wanting nothing but solitude. Having nothing in common with the things of this earth any longer. Who can blame my husband for feeling left out and confused?

What my husband does have is a wonderful gift for providing for and protecting me. It was as if God placed him right there to physically catch me when I stroked. That’s when the Lord began his work in me. This new and different life of mine has given me the opportunity to seek the presence of God, discover who I am, and to focus on using my talents for the sake of others. Interesting stuff. Scary stuff too.

So I suffered a stroke. Others have suffered more, some less, each one differently. No one goes through this life unscathed. What matters most is not what we learn in the midst of our suffering, but that we persevere through the suffering learning to trust and believe in the greater good that is to be revealed. This is a very abstract concept for those with no faith, for faith itself is believing in what is not seen.

I come away from this experience with this advice. When faced with unbearable pain and burdens, get up in the morning, get dressed and get out of the house. If physically possible, walk to a coffee shop or restaurant where you could meet people, read and reflect. Spend time acknowledging your circumstances, accept what cannot be immediately changed, develop a strategy for recovery, and most importantly remain hopeful in things yet to come. Do not fear.

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Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago All rights reserved