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What I've Learned

First my leg gave out, then everything in My life changed. This is my story of perseverance, recovery, and staying me.
Published: 04/01/2022
Marilyn Warner balance on an exercise ball against the wall during physical therapy.
Retiree Marilyn Warner says physical therapy was invaluable in helping her recover from a stroke. Credit: Courtesy Marilyn Warner

Let me begin by saying that I am doing great. My life has returned to normal, and there is very little I cannot do. That’s the bottom line and what matters most.

I am grateful to say that I have successfully recovered from a stroke. I am normally a very private person, but I want to share my story with you. If this helps just one person as they go through something similar, that’s enough for me. 

I wrote this column as I was going through rehabilitation last summer. I had already made a lot of progress; and I still had a ways to go. These are my lessons learned along the way:  

Life can change in a second. 

You’re okay and then suddenly you are not. I was fine and had been attending a Zoom meeting all afternoon. While cooking dinner (will I ever make hamburgers again?) my leg gave out and then my arm. My husband, Ed, and I knew immediately what it was. I took my blood pressure, which was very high. Then I took some aspirin and a blood pressure pill, and we headed to the hospital. I was scared. I did not know what would lie ahead, but I knew my life would be different.

I am stubborn and determined.

This has proven to be a good trait with the rehabilitation. No one is going to improve for me, so I have to make sure I do the exercises. I spent two days in the hospital and nine days in a rehab center. I told them I would come to rehab more often if someone did not want to be there. I don’t miss my rehab sessions, and I do exercises at home several hours a day. I want to be the best I can be, but the improvement is something that only I can do. 
I wish there were a magic pill that would instantly heal me, but until it is invented, it is up to me.

I am glad I exercised regularly. 

For several years, I have gone to the gym regularly, and I have had a trainer twice a week. This is one of the best things I could have done. Just to brag a little, I was able to do three sets that amounted to 18 chin-ups and 60 push-ups (while balancing on a BOSU ball). Exercising and working on balance and strength gave me a head start for my rehabilitation. I would complain with every exercise, but now I am so glad that it has been a regular part of my life.

I don’t always have to be happy.

This is a big adjustment and, if I want to be sad, it’s okay. If I want to feel frustrated with the slow progress, it’s okay. What is not okay is if I dwell on what is negative and make that the center of my life. 

Marilyn Warner with three friends and family.
Warner relied on her children for support during her recovery.    Credit: Courtesy Marilyn Warner

I’m thankful for what I have.

I could have a glass that is either half-full or half-empty. I decided that mine is half-full. There is a lot to be thankful for:

The stroke could have been a lot worse. I am fortunate that my speech and brain were not affected. I was in a wonderful rehab facility, and I continue to have terrific therapy.

I have family and friends who have been extremely supportive and understanding. It is terrific to have such great cheerleaders.

I am more than fortunate to have Ed. He has been encouraging and has stood by my side every step of the way. He has endured my good days and my bad days. He has been the chauffeur, the shopper, the cook—whatever has been needed. Everyone needs an advocate and supporter. Everyone needs an Ed in their corner.

Every achievement is a milestone.

This is almost like being a toddler. Basically, I had to retrain my brain to do the things I could automatically do before the stroke. Going from the wheelchair to the walker to walking unassisted was a big step. Before the stroke, cooking a holiday dinner and putting out the good china and crystal was normal. After, being able to use a fork without dropping it was an achievement. And I was thrilled when I could tie my shoes!

What I learned, and so did the people around me, was that I have to try. Everything takes me a little longer, but I have to try and ask for help if I need it. 
As I said, I am like a toddler who says, “I do it myself!”

Some things are not as important as I thought they were.

I went into so many stores using the walker, with a heart monitor very visible. People would stare at me or avert their eyes or even ask if I wanted to go in 
front of them in line. I may have looked pathetic, but I knew how far I had come, and that made all of the difference.

I no longer use the walker. I finished five weeks with the heart monitor, and the toilet seat is in the attic. I may not be able to wear my 5-inch stilettos anymore, but I have no problem shopping for other shoes!

I have truly appreciated the thoughtfulness of others.

The emails, texts, cards, phone calls, flowers—everything has meant so much and has helped boost my spirits. It is nice to know that others are thinking of you and wishing you well. 

On days when I feel a little down, I will look at the cards, and they are a great medicine to make me feel better. I am blessed to have wonderful people around me.

I’m still me.

This is the most important thing I have learned. Life is full of changes and challenges. I may have to 
do some things differently now, but I am still me and, good or bad, that has not changed. 
I am still able to participate in activities and do all of the things I did before, maybe a little differently and a little slower but I can do them! I am still me. 

Marilyn Warner is the secretary of NEA-Retired. She also served for five years as an NEA-Retired representative on the NEA Board of Directors and is the immediate past president of the Florida Education Association-Retired.

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