Tale of Two Strokes

“Tell me the truth. Are you going to leave me?” Mark Reynolds stands on the sidewalk on a cool summer morning.

Mark’s heart sinks. He stands frozen, wanting Ellen to talk to him.

Mark hasn’t always been the best husband, but the commitment he made all those years ago remains. They overcame the external pressures of being a biracial couple and the difference from growing up on opposite ends of the planet.Ellen Reynolds says nothing. She turns away from Mark. Mark watches his wife of eighteen years continue on their morning walk alone.

Mark runs to catch up to Ellen. Side by side, they continue without saying a word. They return home to dress for the day’s work. Over the past month, Mark would drop Ellen off at her work, then go on to meetings with clients.

In the meeting, at a nearby coffee shop, Mark’s cellphone buzzed. It’s Ellen’s manager. “You need to come and pick up your wife. Something is drastically wrong with her. She won’t let me call an ambulance.”

In a panic, Mark rushes in through the employees’ entrance of Ellen’s work. In the manager’s office, he finds Ellen slumped over and drooling out the corner of her mouth. Mark gets help to put Ellen in his car, then rushes her to the nearest hospital.

In the hospital’s Emergency Room, the staff goes about taking vitals and getting Ellen ready for a multitude of tests. Mark stands off to one side, trying to project some of his strength onto Ellen. Mark’s heart drops to his stomach at the sight of urine flowing from Ellen’s examination table and onto the floor.

Hours later, a doctor goes to Mark in a waiting area, “You wife has had several smaller strokes at some point. Today, she has had a much larger one.”

“What caused them? Will she get better?” Mark asks, looking at the doctor for hope.

“Her type of stroke is what we call a hemorrhagic stroke. Chronic high blood pressure and diabetes brought it on. In this type of stroke, the vessels in the brain leak and blood pools in certain areas. Right now, all we can do is work to bring down her blood pressure and blood sugar levels.”

“She is going to get better, isn’t she?”

The doctor attempted to be positive while telling Mark the facts. “With her type of stroke, she should experience some improvement with physical and drug therapies. It is rare we ever see someone with her type of stroke get back to what she was before. You will need to be prepared that she will most likely need some level of 24/7 care for the rest of her life.”

In the weeks and months that followed, the couple received support from their friends and family. Except for two supposed friends. They told Mark, “If he had been a better husband, Ellen would not have had the stroke.” These words of guilt only added to the weight Mark felt.

He battled to keep from going insane. Then one day, the pain and guilt finally got to Mark. He began to drown his pain with alcohol and drugs. The deeper he fell into his guilt, the more pain he felt.

With the help of his daughter, Mark rose above the despair. Ellen got transferred to a skilled nursing facility. Then Mark had to face a suppressed phobia. Mark felt from past experience that anyone he would visit at a hospital or other medical facility would soon die.

Ellen settled into a routine at a skilled nursing facility. It took Mark weeks of fighting within himself to visit Ellen. It took several months of help from their daughter before Mark got to a place where he could visit Ellen on his own, on a weekly basis.

Months turned into seasons. Seasons turned into years. Their daughter went off to college. Mark settled into his weekly visits with Ellen.

On one cool early autumn day, a friend stopped by to check on Mark. The friend saw Mark’s face drooping, and his speech slurred and hard to understand. He asked Mark. “Are you okay?”

Slowly and deliberately, Mark got out a few words. “I-I don’t feel so good. I-I’m feel weak. Take me get to the hospital.”

The friend rushed Mark to the local hospital. The ER doctors didn’t waste any time drawing his blood, running CAT and MRI scans, along with a multitude of neurological tests. Several doctors consulted with each other. They concluded Mark had what they called an Ischemia stroke. It was different than Ellen’s stroke in that with an Ischemia stroke, the blood clogs and blocks a small vein in the brain, thus preventing oxygen from getting to that portion of the brain.

Mark’s stroke was not as severe as Ellen’s, but it affected his left side and speech. His left arm and leg were noticeably weaker than the right. When Mark spoke, his speech came out more like Yoda from Star Wars. Mark found himself dealing with a set of emotions that he never imagined.

Mark stayed in the hospital after the ER visit.

Days later, Mark got transferred to a facility with the goal of helping him recover as much as possible. For the next two weeks, Mark went through a set of therapies with the goal of getting him self-sufficient at home.

The Occupational therapy took an hour a day helping Mark focus on relearning basic life skills. This included things like shaving, showering and brushing teeth.

The physical therapist worked with Mark on getting his brain talking to his muscles again. Since the stroke, Mark had trouble maintaining his balance walking and holding objects. The therapist worked with him for an hour each day.

The Speech therapist set with Mark listening to him talk and help him learn little tricks to improve his speaking clarity. Mark felt the hour with the speech therapist to be the most exhausting of the three therapies.

The day came when Mark went home. His body tried to tell him his daily routine was new, even though he had done those same things many other times, without thinking. Mark pressed on to get back as fast as he could. He still had to deal with tremors in his left arm and stuttering speech.

On his second day home, Mark went to see Ellen. Nobody had told Ellen about Mark’s stroke. The social worker didn’t tell Ellen because she felt the news would be too much of an emotional strain on her. Though Ellen had not regained the ability to speak, Mark could see in Ellen’s eyes her sadness over the news of his stroke.

While visiting Ellen, the staff at her facility encouraged Mark to keep working on his speech. They knew those Sunday visits would help both of them.

Every Sunday afternoon, you can see Mark pushing Ellen around the grounds in her wheelchair. If the weather is too cold or snowing, you will find the couple in Ellen’s room laughing while watching The Simpsons or King of the Hill.

Mark is thankful his stroke was not as traumatic as Ellen’s. He hasn’t fully recovered from his, but Mark has not given up on getting better for himself, for Ellen and their daughter.

Mark and Ellen were fortunate to have a group of supportive friends and family to help them. It made their difficult time more bearable.

We cannot change the past, but we can change the future of those around us, just by being aware of the B.E. F.A.S.T. acronym can help save someone from the traumatic effects of a stroke.


B: Balance–Is there a loss of balance or change in walking?

E: Eyes–Is there blurry vision in one or both eyes? Is there double vision?

F: Face–Is one side of the face drooping? Is the smile uneven?

A: Arms–Lift both arms; is one arm weak or drifting downwards? In one arm.


S: Speech–Is speech garbled? Is he or she having difficulty getting the words?

                      out or understanding you?

T: Time–Time to call 911