Stroke of Insight


Sometimes guidance just appears. No warning. It happened to me at the end of a three-day Leadership Transformation Workshop in Minnesota, in the last five minutes on a Friday to be precise. I got up to go to the table in back where I had my journal and almost fell over. My left leg felt like it had gone completely asleep. I was helped back, sat, and realized it wasn’t asleep. It just wasn’t connected any more. I had had a stroke!

Stroke2024Thirty minutes later after a drive to a nearby emergency room I was in a CAT scan and found that I had a half inch long hemorrhagic bleed (stroke) on the surface of my right, central cortex, near my left side motor controls. I could feel the skin on my leg. I could move it with my big muscles, but I was not in control of it. Needless to say, I was on my back at 30 degrees angle the next two days, awakened every hour for a complete check on my cognition, eye movements, hands, leg lifts—all through the night.

I’m happy to say that this was a “small” stroke. I was released Sunday at noon and flew back to San Francisco, with referrals from the neurologists there and complete records. A second CAT Scan and an MRI did not detect anything else. No cancer. No clots. No aneurisms. No progression. And they saw I could make it around with a walker already, which they provided from my trip home.

They didn’t measure my psyche, of course. That is outside the purview of most modern medicine. Although staff at Health East’s University Hospital ICU, where I was sent, by ambulance, after the initial scan in ER, was uniformly comforting and caring, they were not “measuring” the larger impact. The therapist was more focused on the exercises I should do repeatedly. They did keep asking me my name, date of birth, and if I remembered why I was in the hospital.

I’ve lived my life gifted with immense curiosity and this experience has me fascinated. If I were massively crippled, I’d probably feel differently, but I just came in from a slow walk around my neighborhood two weeks later and am feeling pretty good. But my mind is whirling. What does it mean to have a stroke?

  1. I now know that merely saying this word shakes people up. It covers so much and is so common, that everyone has some connection. It is a big deal. Our staff at The Grove and my kids think it is a big deal. So does Gisela, my partner and wife. No flying or driving until I get cleared by the neurologist I meet with tomorrow. Everyone at the University Hospital said that this isn’t a repeating kind of thing, especially with a person with normal blood pressure and no hypertension.
  2. I also know that my body knows how to heal. My brother, John, who has practiced reflexology, muscle testing, and applied kinesiology for as long as I’ve been facilitating, came over and completely checked me out. He was amazed at my progress, aided by a lot by moving around like a Tai Chi practitioner. I figured my right leg knows how to move. Teach the left. Rock back and forth. John agreed and encouraged my movements. I also kept imagining I was in Avatar hooking up to one of the flying dragons. My leg’s nerve endings reaching up. My brain coming down. Both eventually reconnecting.
  3. I have discovered that there are many many tinier muscles that bring stability to a leg, and it isn’t so clear how to reconnect them. Why does my left leg seem to snap back instead of just bending back? I feel like I’m on some kind of plateau in recovery. The leg feels weaker, although I didn’t hurt it in any way. Maybe the neurologist at Kaiser, who I see for the first tomorrow, will have some ideas.
  4. I know that situations like this have cascading effects, and this is no exception. In my case my ability to hear high frequencies has been declining and is now gone. My hearing aids compensate, but not enough to hear the soft, mumbled words of a person with a high-pitched voice. In an echoey room or sketchy zoom connection I miss key words. This isn’t acceptable if your job is to record what people say visually (and accurately). The room in Minnesota was a real struggle in that regard. I’ve been concerned for a while, but it took the stroke for me to say “enough.” Gisela agreed it was truly time for me to stop facilitating meetings and that she and The Grove team could take over the remaining work on our books. Fortunately, since she has become CEO of The Grove the team is growing again and are managing beautifully. Our clients have been wonderfully accepting.
  5. So, I not only had a real physical stroke, small though it may be, I have retired from a kind of work that I’ve done for 52 years, if you count my doing the first Group Graphics workshop at Coro in 1972. That is like having a professional stroke. And I am now experiencing truly liminal space. The “recovery pattern” is not clear. All kinds of things are possible. For the first time in years and years I don’t have to carry the responsibility for payroll. I don’t have to schedule my life around big meetings. But my psyche is busy trying to re-establish itself just like my leg. “You could start a You Tube channel.” “You could write a new book (it’s already mostly written).” “You could work on that novel you discovered you wrote in 2006 (and wasn’t bad).” You could conduct Vision Labs at your own home.” “What about executive coaching?”
  6. The biggest insight is that I need to take some time to experience myself in a completely new way. I’m suspecting that much of my adult life I’ve been guided by programming that is very deep and has a lot to do with how that little baby back in Two Rock initially encountered the world, and what I thought would work to keep my parents in touch with me, and what was okay and not okay regarding being myself. Ooops. You mean I learned to repress things to please my parents? But what things? And was getting attention for being an amazing artist and craftsperson what I really wanted, or a substitute for something else, like nurturing love? It’s helped that during this recovery time I’ve had time to continue reading Gabor Mates’ The Myth of the Normal. (If you want to understand the stress of our times it is a must read.)

I’m posting this piece in my blog because I think those of you who really care about awareness and facilitation and helping people get through life would appreciate knowing what a colleague like me is going through at a true turning point. I suspect I will look back on this event and this time as a gift, even if it just appeared out of the blue.

  • Avatar
    Marilyn Veltrop
    May 16, 2024 Reply

    Dear David, I just discovered this post buried in my inbox from a very busy time. Wow… I’m touched by the depth of your reflections, and I’m so relieved that you’re recovering so well from your stroke. Bill and I are sorry to miss seeing you at your birthday party and the June SSG gathering . Holding you in healing prayers with much love, Marilyn

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    Andrew Swaffield
    April 10, 2024 Reply

    I love that you have written this David. It is so helpful, so honest and so very human. I am reflecting back on our ten mile walk around the sacred mountain Arunachala in January and transmitting that energy to your Cortex as it ploughs new furrows in its miraculous plasticity. Having also retired recently I am sharing this liminal space with you and appreciate knowing there are fellow travellers here! Om Arunachala Swarya Namaha

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    Robert Smith
    April 10, 2024 Reply

    Dear David, I wish you a most speedy recovery.

    From my experiences with you I feel I have seen a master at work and hope that you can bring your transformational insights to your own psyche.

    Best wishes Robert

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    Stefan Fischer
    April 10, 2024 Reply

    Dear David,
    wow … why did I read your post this time and not put it in my “read later” area? Who knows… Anyway, I wish you two the best on your way to recovery. Partners also suffer, often deeply hidden under the hood because they don’t want to put some extra weight on your shoulders and heart. Own experience, of course… and I was the one who was knocked out.
    Your reflection is outstanding. Your brain’s thinking and feeling parts do not seem to be affected. The rest will hopefully recover soon.
    Stay blessed, both of you,

  • Avatar
    Barbara Waugh
    April 9, 2024 Reply

    Love you dear heart. Please keep these precious breadcrumbs coming for all Life’s pathwalkers…including me…and you.

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    Amy Lenzo
    April 8, 2024 Reply

    I love the recognition that there are psychological effects of a stroke that are as important as the physical impact. And all this comes at such a pivotal time in your life. There is so much packed into this situation – in particular the compulsion to “retire” in some important ways so there is room for some of the other things seeking to come forward. I can’t wait to hear how this evolves for you. Knowing you, I am sure that you will continue to listen to your inner voice for guidance and that it will steer you in the exact right direction.

  • Avatar
    Félix Palomino
    April 8, 2024 Reply

    Estimado David. eres el culpable de lo que me ocupa el cerebro 25 horas diarias. Te deseo una pronta recuperación maestro de maestros.

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    Ronita Johnson
    April 8, 2024 Reply

    Dear David, I am so moved and touched by your sharing . I love the questions you are asking yourself, the questions that the little boy may have wanted to ask of himself long ago. Witnessing your response to this new way to express yourself in the world will no doubt be an incredible experience. Mostly however, John and I are grateful that you are doing so well and recovering. Given your light in this world, no doubt whatever is next will be thoughtful, reflective and filled with the emergence of diamonds!

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    Marc Tscheuschner
    April 8, 2024 Reply

    Dear David, glad to hear that you are well recovering. And thank you for sharing these thoughts, which are very inspiring for me. All the best for you – and I am curious to learn what your future plans look like!

  • Avatar
    Barbara Schultz
    April 7, 2024 Reply

    Dearest David….Your capacity for deep insight even as you face this challenge, and your dedication to bringing both curiosity and the light of consciousness into this life adventure too, as you have always done…offer such great inspiration to others learning how to be “elders” while walking an uncertain path to our next portal. Thank you! May you be blessed with a full recovery…even as it fuels your ever-evolving creative insight. Barbara

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