I wasn’t quite obese, but I could stand to lose a couple of pounds. I’m almost six feet tall, and before the stroke I had gotten up to nearly 300 pounds.
I had a false sense of security about my size and what I ate. My thinking was, “Bad things happen to other people; they don’t happen to me.” So basically, I ate whatever I wanted. Eating a whole pizza was no big deal, and I always had dessert. When I lived in Manhattan, I’d grab whatever menu and order takeout without thinking. I went to the gym and jogged now and then, but only in fits and starts. Nothing consistent.
When you were having the stroke, what did it feel like?
When the plane started its descent, I suddenly found I couldn’t talk. I tried to move, to reposition myself in my seat to get more comfortable, but my muscles wouldn’t respond. It was as if I was paralyzed, and it was a terrifying realization. I closed my eyes and hoped I was having a bad dream, but when I opened them, I saw it was no dream. I was right there in my seat, confused and disoriented and unable to move or even communicate. I was there and not there all at once.
What’s been the hardest part of your rehabilitation?
Coming back after a stroke is all very hard. When it first happened, I had no idea how bad it was. I thought I’d wake up from this and everything would be the same. If I had known what bad shape I was in and what it would take to come back, I would’ve been even more scared.
Right after my stroke, it was very difficult to be so dependent on other people. It was also hard when inside, in your mind, you feel like you can do everything. I would try and do things, but my body wouldn’t respond. It was a struggle to learn to speak again. My voice is coming around, but in the beginning, I talked very slowly and sounded like Betty Boop on helium!
How did you get through it?
I’m blessed with a good disposition. I’m not a kind of woe-is-me, depressive person. That was never my mind-set. My parents taught me that when there’s an obstacle, don’t go around it; go through it. I treated rehab like work, right down to the uniform—shorts and a T-shirt every day. I also have had a lot of support, particularly my wife, Denise, who’s my main caregiver. My motto really is slow and steady wins the race. In rehab from a stroke, it has to be.
How has your lifestyle changed?