By Janet R. Douglas
My stroke eliminated the 20-year age difference between Bruce and me, making me older than him in some ways. I was supposed to be pushing him around in a wheelchair at this stage of our lives. He is, after all, 94 years old.
We cope with dueling disabilities. As a result of his military service, Bruce is almost totally deaf and my voice, as a result of the stroke, is weak and quiet. This makes for some interesting miscommunication. At a distance, he cannot tell the difference between even a “yes” or a “no” so while we are grocery shopping I end up with miscellaneous unwanted drinks, snacks, and grocery items and am deprived of things I really need.
When we are in a public place and get separated, Bruce calls my name loudly, making me cringe. I respond as best I can, knowing that he will not hear me. He keeps on yelling my name until he sees me, by which time we have usually attracted a crowd of curious onlookers.
“Why do you keep yelling my name when you know you can’t hear my response?” I ask.
“Because then you know where I am and can track me down,” he responds with a beatific smile.
Our interchanges are often hilarious. As we were getting ready to go away for a weekend recently, I asked, “Can you get my suitcase?”
“Put your foot up on the bed,” came the immediate order.
“Why?” I asked, puzzled.
“So I can tie your shoelace,” he grumbled. “You know I don’t like bending down.”
Bruce wants more than anything to be helpful but we sometimes struggle with the concept of what “help” means. My definition of help is that he does exactly what I ask him to do and only when I ask him. His definition of help is sometimes tinged with overtones of “father knows best,” such as when he assumes he knows what I need and refuses to listen to my request for something different, using the excuse that he can’t hear what I am saying.
Bruce and I are, in many ways, a typical couple who have been married for 40 years, a mix of compassion born of passion, friendship, bickering, shared interests, patience and impatience, and great love.
There is one big difference—with our daughter Sandy, whose marriage broke up shortly after her son was born, we are raising a young boy. Joey, tall for his age, with dark brown curls and shining blue-gray eyes, is a merry, loving presence in our lives. We are expected to be ready to read stories, play ball, play hide and seek, and engage in endless tickle-fests at any time. The regular presence of our grandson makes it hard to get hung up on either old age or disability because he has a zero-tolerance policy for either.
I approached my stroke as an enemy to be fought and conquered. It did not work out that way. It took me many years to accept that I wasn’t going to achieve the 90 percent of prestroke function that I said I would settle for, much less the 100 percent that I really wanted, but what matters is that I became 100 percent of who I am now.
Janet R. Douglas lives in Illinois with her husband Bruce, who wrote our cover story in Fall 2018, at hhf.org/magazine. This is excerpted with permission from her book “A Wonderful Stroke of Luck: From Occupational Therapist to Patient and Beyond,” at amazon.com.