Acceptance, stillness and love after a major medical condition
“ T o the point when my brain cells screamed for oxygen that day, I had considered myself a relatively strong and healthy person, with no known health issues. I was always the last to catch most viruses going around. I routinely did annual medical checkups and I was a healthy eater,” were the words that sucked me into the book, and life, of Hilary Wehby, opening up with an endearing vulnerability, authenticity, and wit in her book My New Normal: Reflections of a Stroke Survivor.
It is a story of a driven, feisty, fun, Jamaican all-woman – corporate go-getter, lifelong learner, family woman, grounded like a sturdy tree on a lattice of tightly knit roots connecting through warm relationships with folks from all walks of life.
These traits buoyed her through the catastrophic stroke that altered her life forever. It is through these traits that she found purpose in her experience, starting the Stroke Support Foundation to assist stroke survivors.
WHO ARE YOU OUTSIDE OF WORK?
When Mrs Wehby wrote: “I learned for sure that we really are not indispensable … . [O]ur desk will be occupied the next day,” it made me wonder how many of us are truly connected to ourselves. Do we have a sense of purpose that is not restricted by whether we are employed or where we are employed?
How many of us are “continually engaged with powering … through one thing or the other … the long lists of things-to-do, tackling some previously undone task, responding to emails as soon as I woke up in the mornings, receiving and placing numerous calls, meetings, deadlines … just busy, busy, at home, at work, at play, busy all the time,” and that is where it stops? Are we nurturing ourselves spiritually, and honing our resilience through positive thinking and mindfulness?
Health is not just being free of disease, but a state of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being. And it goes even further. Especially for someone who had been otherwise well prior, the stigma associated with having a disability or becoming differently abled is perhaps amplified, suggesting that mindfulness and resilience for renewing balance are also important aspects of well-being.
Of the many important lessons to be garnered from this book, the one that resonated the most for me was that of acceptance. Acceptance does not equate to defeat or resignation, but a coming to terms with the present, with the now – a new state of being, a new normal. It is an important milestone in the process of healing, through a tussle with blame, through testing of faith, a commitment to live purposefully, ushering in stillness, calm, and hope through gratitude.
WHAT IS HEALTHCARE WITHOUT COMPASSION?
My New Normal: Reflections of a Stroke Survivor may be a story of experiencing and surviving a stroke, well-researched, inspiring, and told through the voice of a down-to-earth Jamaican woman, with wit and self-effacing humour, but it could well apply to any life-changing medical condition. The effort, resources, and multifaceted teams required to make recovery to as best a state of self-sufficiency as possible are immense, even with the indomitable will and socio-economic status of a Mrs Wehby.
The daunting challenge and frustration we feel when caring for Jamaicans living in poverty unable to find food or shelter, on the one hand, and worn out in their willpower necessary for adhering to medications and lifestyle changes and clinic appointments, may tempt us into thinking that we are ‘babying’ our patients. But, like Mrs Wehby reminds us throughout her book, through comforting scripture verses and inspiring quotes and anecdotes: What is healthcare without compassion, without love? Love is kind, supportive and forgiving.
Until now, I had not fully appreciated the role of an occupational therapist – facilitating one’s discovery of innate skills, talents, resilience and adaptability, for readjusting and re-becoming, and finding a new balance, maintaining one’s dignity, not just physically, but in the mind, where it perhaps matters most.
This book, a short and easy read, was a real blessing for me. I lost my grandmother to a massive stroke when I was in grade nine in high school. This book will raise awareness about stroke, and empower families, caregivers, and healthcare providers to give the support and love these patients need.