A 2,000 year lesson in life – to freedom (almost)


The cluttered mind

“If only we could access life’s remote control, rewind to the good
memories, pause at our favourite parts, and fast forward through the pain”
– I forget who said it.

I am lying in bed in the ward trawling through memories, for, having a stroke (my designer stroke) lets me do that.

I keep coming back to the part of my life in New Orleans. Those were good memories that left me with knowledge assimilated from
the environment, the people, the history. I learned the cooking, the patois, the wildlife in the swamps and French Quarter bars, found heroes and eccentric personalities, learned to really write and grew up.

(The photographer who had a joint on the 50 yard line of the Super Bowl IV in Tulane
Stadium; my next door neighbour who was the only man ever tried for the
assassination of JFK; opening the Bonne Carre Spillway and spending three days
with a Cajun swamp rat learning about the wildlife [screaming like a girl when
a cottonmouth dropped into the pirogue from an overhead branch], buying books
from Faulkner House Books in Pirate Alley
).

Why all this wallowing in the past I ask myself? I remember reading something about the subject a few years back, so I look up Seneca, a
Roman politician and writer, philosopher in about 5AD, and take comfort in the words of somebody who has studied the subject:

“No one willingly turns his thought
back to the past, unless all his acts have been submitted to the censorship of
his conscience, which is never deceived; he who has ambitiously coveted,
proudly scorned, recklessly conquered, treacherously betrayed, greedily seized,
or lavishly squandered, must needs fear his own memory. And yet this is the
part of our time that is sacred and set apart, put beyond the reach of all
human mishaps, and removed from the dominion of Fortune, the part which is
disquieted by no want, by no fear, by no attacks of disease; this can neither
be troubled nor be snatched away—it is an everlasting and unanxious possession…But
those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear for the future have a
life that is very brief and troubled
; when they have reached the end of it,
the poor wretches perceive too late that for such a long while they have been
busied in doing nothing.”

On the shortness of life – Seneca

But then he also was a tutor and advisor to the Emperor Nero and we all know how that turned out.

Suddenly Amoret comes into view. Nothing focuses my reality as much she can because she is the here and now and you can’t get much
current than now. And my daughters. Conversation continues one way because of my aphasia. I have a chart to point to that somebody gave me at the hospital with everyday objects pictured – you just point to the picture to indicate answers. Then there are the failsafe “yes” or “no” answers.

This is not the first time they have come. Katie is teen-quiet, but looks at me with dog-eyes that say I love you, for this has affected her directly. She was in the car that I drove home while having the stroke.

Tracy, the eldest, had prepared reading material of stroke-flavoured themes. What a stroke is, what it means to you, and diet advice.
She’s like that – thorough – although she didn’t ask if I could read because sometimes a brain attack leaves people without full sight. She must have read about it though, because she brought an MP3 player with an audio book for me.

I could read, but not feel my life-long compulsion to read newspapers. That was the strangest thing about the aftermath of the
stroke. Amoret brought some newspapers for me, knowing my addiction, but I did not feel the need to connect to the world. I was more interested in exploring the world the stroke had left – graphic, lucent images of things past, and imagining life in my immediate surroundings.

But Amoret’s and my daughter’s visit is timed right because a whirling coterie of doctors and assorted wannabes rounds the corner
and heads for me. They check numbers on my chart check my eyes, move my arms, then proceed to address me and my family. Numbers are good. (Passed a test!) You can go home today.

They said it: “You can go home…today. You’ll have to take this medication and go easy and see these therapists…” That was OK,
all I heard was “youcangohometoday!” This was the consultant, as high you can go short of God in hospital, and she said “youcangohometoday!” Point at the chart that says smile. Hey, I can smile on my own.

Amoret and daughters and I share secret smile knowing that whatever the future holds, I’m going home and  they’ll get me back. That secret smile says: “I know we’ve got you back.” Hugs all around. There is much discussion about strokes, so much printed information about, they realise I could have died. I realise I could died.

I have been green-lighted for the journey home – surely everything will get better there. I will get my voice back, my limbs
will straighten out, I’ll walk a straight line and I’ll be able to hold a pen and get writing again. That’s the remedy needed: home.

I look at it as checking out of Premier Inn. Let’s go, now (there’s nothing to point at the chart for that). I rise to leave the
hospital; the doctor says: “There is nothing to keep you here,” but first we have do to paper work and get you checked out. Maybe later this afternoon.”

All this kerfuffle raised the excitement in the ward, but I am the only patient who celebrates. My roommates continue their
personal journeys through their locked-away, one-way street to oblivion. Their only hope for escape is through the dark inside of a body bag. Some may look forward to that; I have no of way knowing.

Deep within the hospital, unknown to me, some other people took interest in the joy on the ward. They have uniforms and have power,
the power to keep me where I was against my will no matter what the doctor says.

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