It happened in the wee hours of November 25, 2000. My night of bartending at a club in Columbus, Ohio had drawn to an end. My till and tips were counted and I sat with my fellow bartenders as we waited for the okay to go home. We were all doing the usual, reminiscing about the night and making fun of the people we just served when I felt a strange feeling in my left arm. At first my fingers felt tingly, but then the feeling began to spread throughout the entire left side of my body. I thought, “Hm, well that’s odd.” I figured that if I ignored it that it would probably go away. It didn’t and I realized that something serious was going on. I hobbled away from everyone hoping that they didn’t notice my drooping face and staggered into my boss’s office. I asked him if he ever had trouble moving one side of his body. He laughed at first because he thought I was high (in fact, I hadn’t touched any alcohol or illicit substances that night), and then he became really serious once he realized that something was definitely wrong. He called the ambulance and a fire truck showed up. It was pretty embarrassing at the time, because I had all my co-workers standing around me and a bunch of firemen. The firemen did some tests on me until the ambulance showed up and they strapped me on a gurney and took me to the hospital. The ride in the ambulance is a blur. I remember the paramedics talking to me and trying to keep me from falling asleep, but for some reason all I wanted to do was close my eyes and drift away. Once we got to the hospital I was seen right away and was asked a bunch of questions, most of which I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t remember my middle name, phone number, or address. It became very frustrating for me and I’m not sure why because I’m not a crier, but tears started to run down my face. The kind nurses said it was okay and would get back to me later. The doctors all were certain that I had taken drugs and treated me pretty poorly. I’m thankful for all the nurses that were compassionate towards me in the state that I was in.

I was admitted to the hospital after all the tests were done. The doctors said that I had a small hole in my heart and apparently a blood clot slipped through and journeyed to my brain. An orderly wheeled me away from the emergency room and took me up and down some halls. I noticed that I went by some fancy rooms and I jokingly asked the orderly, “Hey, can I get one of those rooms?” He laughed and said, “No, you don’t want those rooms. If you get one of those you’re pretty bad off.” We stopped by a desk and he was given a clip board with my room number on it. He looked at it for a second and then gave me a sympathetic glance. He thought for a moment and then turned me back around and pushed me into a very nice room. He looked at me and smiled and helped me into my new fancy bed. That room was my home for the next eight days. There were times while in that room that I thought I would die, and there were times in that room that I wanted to die.

There is something strange that happens to someone while their backs are on a hospital bed. My family and friends made constant visits. My new girlfriend (who I later married) was constantly by my side. My phone rang daily from friends that I hadn’t seen in years. Fellow bartenders that watched me get carted away made frequent and rather inappropriate deliveries to my room in attempts to cheer me up. The nurses loved me and sometimes would do their paperwork in my room. But for some reason I felt so alone.

As hard as it was for me to be in that hospital room, it was nothing compared to what was waiting for me once I got home. The road to recovery was a long one and many days of yelling at therapists occurred. It was months before I could return to work part-time and what seemed like forever to get back to full-time.  I’m a pretty happy guy for the most part, but depression grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I’ve never experienced such dark feelings like the ones I had on those lonely nights. Because I didn’t have insurance at the time, large bills began to pour in. It was too much for me to think about, so I stuck them in a drawer and shut it tight. For some reason I looked at letters from family and friends the same way. I guess I thought that people wanted something from me and I couldn’t give of myself to them. I stuck their letters inside the drawer with the bills. Months went by without paying a bill. I’ll never fully understand what made me do those things.

Thankfully, my support system of family, friends, and my girlfriend never gave up on me. No matter how mean or standoffish I was, they continued to see my need and put in the time, energy, and finances to help me out. I’m lucky to have had so many wonderful people in my life.

You’ve been waiting for it and here it is. This is where I get all religiousy. It was great that I had so many people who never gave up on me, but the most important unfailing love that came my way was from God. For most of my life up until that moment I was a decent guy. I had my moments of jerkishness, but for the most part I could be classified on the nicer side. But deep inside I was incredibly selfish. My ego, attitude, and self-worth became my God. In a sense, I was my own God. I believed I was the reason that I was here. My own happiness depended solely on me.  I’d grown up in church and knew all the stories and could answer any Bible test thrown my way. But I didn’t really grasp it. I didn’t really fully believe it anymore. Why believe what a book says when my own flesh is right here? Why look for some all loving/all powerful God to determine what happens tomorrow when I can choose today? The God stuff didn’t exactly make sense in my new life. Well my alarm clock went off that Thanksgiving weekend of 2000. There was a moment that I thought if I just closed my eyes I would die and all would be better. As quickly as I thought that I became very scared that maybe my eternity would not be what I thought it would. There was nothing in my life up to that moment that said I had lived a Christ-like life. I didn’t pray that God would enter my heart that night, because I was too annoyed at myself for thinking that way. The next night I did though. Things didn’t change for me all at once and I didn’t have that “spiritual awakening” that some people have. My spiritual process was a long slow one that continues to this day.

For the past 11 years I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. I’ve got a wife and two kids with another baby coming any day now. My life is about as good as anyone could possibly dream their life to be. Every day that I live is one spent for my family. And I owe it all to a blood clot that escaped through a hole in my heart that had supposedly been there my entire life.

Months after the stroke and after my body slowly began to get stronger; I went in to have surgery on my heart to repair the hole. While the doctors were running tests I heard one say, “Oh no.” It caught my attention and asked what was wrong. “Nothing” the doctor said, “the hole isn’t there anymore. Your heart healed itself.”  Occasionally I get my heart checked out and it is still full.

In writing this blog, I really hope that I don’t upset anyone. Almost everyone knows someone who passed on because of an issue relating to a stroke. I hope that my humor or bringing up the topic in the way that I did does not upset anyone. My stroke is a major part of my life-story. For anyone that has had a stroke I pray that they have a full recovery. And for those that have lost someone to a stroke I pray they find comfort.

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