When working to recover from a debilitating illness or any great medical challenge, such as a stroke or aneurysm, no one can predict the future. What will a given person’s recovery look like? What capacities will the survivor regain? Will life ever go back to “normal” again? The journey for each person is unique, and recovery is not simple or straightforward.
So I don’t want to oversimplify the path to recovery from a major stroke, an aneurysm, or any other such challenge. That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t share the wisdom with others that I learned on my own journey to healing and well-being after suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm and hemorrhagic stroke at age 61. Why? Because I was told by doctors that I would never walk again, much less live the full life I live today—but I managed to prove them wrong.
Here is some insight into how I made a recovery back to normal that physicians still marvel at today. My story is not a common one, and every outcome is different. But I offer this inside look at my own path to recovery to those battling a similarly debilitating condition in the hope that they will be able to follow it to some positive effect.
1. Believe, believe, believe in yourself—no matter what. After my aneurysm and stroke, the well-meaning doctors told me that I would never walk again, not to hurt me, but to set appropriate expectations. But to myself, I thought, “Bull. I will walk again” and I used this determination to help me deal with all of the setbacks and false starts I had as I commenced my journey to walk again and thereafter to make what is basically an almost full and complete recovery.
2. Take one day, one step, one movement at a time. After the aneurysm and stroke, I couldn’t move one whole side of my body and only had an extremely limited use of one hand and arm on the other side. So I started small on my mission toward walking. First, I moved my quasi-usable hand to reach out to a nightstand. Next I figured out how, though with incredible difficulty, to swing my legs over the side of the bed. I fell the first several times I tried to stand up or take a step, but every day I would try again, and little by little progress was made. Eventually, I had walked from my bed across the room. Sometime thereafter, I managed to make it down the stairs of my house.
3. Maintain a positive attitude in spite of it all, and avoid negative people. Because I had overcome so many challenges in my life, when I came out of a week-long coma that resulted from my aneurysm and stroke, I had the positive belief that I could overcome challenges again including this one, the greatest challenge of my life. I avoided negative people whenever possible (admittedly not always easy given my compromised condition), and I used negative attitudes that I did encounter to inspire me in some fashion. When my angelic doctors said things like, “You’ll never walk again”, I told myself that I had to work harder to prove them wrong. “I’m going to make it,” I thought. “I don’t know how, but I’m going to.”
4. Choose self-worth over self-pity. As Confucius said, “To be wronged is nothing unless you remember it.” Having a stroke and aneurysm was undoubtedly the greatest challenge of my life, but I did not let myself wallow in self-pity. If it would have helped, perhaps I would have. But I knew it wouldn’t. So I focused all of my energy on the idea that I would get better, somehow, and that I would, if blessed to recover in some fashion, go forth to serve others.
5. Create a vision for the future. There’s not a lot you can do after you’ve lost your ability to use your muscles, but to think, contemplate, and reflect on one’s life and mysteries of the universe and the hereafter. I thought, “If I am blessed enough to recover to any degree, I will do all I can to become a better person and to serve others.” It’s not that I’d been a bad person – quite the contrary in my opinion — but we all make mistakes in life and I’d certainly made my share. Yes, we all stumble along the pathway of life and I was no different. I used this vision for the future to give me the motivation to try to get out of bed, to heal myself (with the help of others) and to keep on living.
I cannot take full credit for my recovery—for that I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the truly amazing physicians who operated on me after the ruptured brain aneurysm; to my physical therapists; and to the Divine Spirit itself, who seems to not be finished with me yet. Nonetheless, I credit the previous five approaches with helping me on my journey toward healing and I hope they can be of use to others facing similar or equally daunting health challenges.
Former California Senator Omer Rains is the author of “Back to the Summit” (Morgan James, 2012, http://backtothesummit.com/). After a life-threatening stroke and aneurysm at age sixty-one, Senator Rains beat the medical odds to walk again and once again lead a life of service to others. Among other responsibilities, he currently serves as Chairman of the Board of READ Global.