Up until she retired, Linda Agerbak had a fascinating, adventurous career that most people would envy. For over thirty five years, Linda lived and worked abroad in many exciting and diverse places: the United Kingdom, West Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, France and Lebanon.
Among other things, she was a journalist, taught English classes and conflict resolution, worked at Oxford University Press, did research on conflict at an international aid agency and set up a mediation service in Wales. And, she did all these things while raising three children.
However, after thirty five-plus years of traveling the world, she was ready for a change. She returned to live in the US, got a certificate in Ornamental Horticulture and began work as a landscape gardener in California. She was able to concentrate on another role as well, that of grandmother to her seven grandchildren.
In July, 2013, Linda was visiting Boston to help her daughter with her new baby boy. Little did she know that, while there, her life would change forever. At that time, Boston was in the midst of a heat wave. Linda says she must have become dehydrated after taking the baby for his morning walk, because she began to pant. To cool off, she took a shower then lay down to rest.
By the next morning, Linda felt a bit improved, so she decided to chat with her daughter on the front porch. They were in the middle of talking when, all of a sudden, Linda couldn’t speak. Luckily, her son was there so that he could rush Linda to Mt. Auburn Hospital, an acute care facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Within thirty minutes, she was under the care of a neurologist, who determined that she had an ischemic stroke on the right side of her brain. Her left side was now paralyzed and she couldn’t speak properly.
Linda’s recovery and rehabilitation period was fairly lengthy. She stayed at Mt. Auburn for one week, until she was stable. She began two and one half years of rehabilitation that included four weeks at New England Rehab Hospital, in Woburn, Mass., a month at Meadowgreen Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in nearby Waltham, four weeks of at-home therapy, using visiting therapists, and, finally, two years of therapy as an out-patient, back at New England Rehab Hospital.
During that time, she received standard physical, occupational, balance and speech therapies. But, she also had Botox® injections, and used a Saebo Stretch® and a Saebo Reach®, plus ValuTrode® Neuro-stimulation electrodes, all on her left hand, and all of which had minimal effect.
From a psychological standpoint, for the first months after her event, it was hard for Linda to see that her stroke was more than just a “bump in the road.” In the end, she finally accepted that this was a permanent, life-changing event. But her “new normal” doesn’t come without a hitch.
She says that on the inside, she feels “whole.” But, because her fingers remain paralyzed on her left hand, she still has speech difficulties and she walks with a pronounced limp, Linda feels that people view her as a “cripple.” She’s finally able to get around without a wheelchair, and she’s able to walk around the house without a cane, but these mobility successes haven’t diminished her feeling that people continue to perceive her as “damaged.”
Linda says that her stroke made her see other things differently. Since she feels she could die at any moment, she’s become very aware of unfinished business, so she made a special effort to make peace with her difficult older sister, which provided her with a sense of closure.
But, it isn’t all bad. Linda knows that her “positives” outweigh her “negatives.” She says she’s grateful to be alive, and to be able to think and feel. She can’t begin to emphasize enough how her family, friends and therapists contributed to her getting her life back. In particular, her husband of fifty-one years, along with her three children, provided ongoing help and encouragement to get Linda back on her feet. She also credits her friends and members of her Quaker Meeting group with aiding in her recovery.
It’s been three years since her stroke, and now, Linda fills her days with activities that enhance the quality of her life. She takes courses at her local Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, paints with watercolors, and helps out at her Quaker Meeting. She keeps physically active by going to the gym three times a week, and takes a walk on the other days.
Gardening still plays a part in Linda’s life: she tends two window box planters. She’s convinced that physical labor and vocational skills, such as gardening and carpentry, are an essential part of life, and that even a simple window box can help one stay connected to the earth.
And, like many stroke survivors, Linda has an on-going post-stroke goal. Hers is to be able to swing her arms when she walks. She still has to move her arms intentionally, but would like this process to become automatic.
Three years out from her stroke, Linda has had adequate time to digest what happened to her, and to refine her philosophy on life and the recovery process. She points out that the brain is very “plastic”, so the sky’s the limit in stroke recovery. She advises stroke survivors to keep moving, to not be too proud to accept help and to learn from others, and to stay connected to the important people in their lives. Last of all, she suggests that survivors read the book “After a Stroke: 300 Tips for Making Life Easier,” by Cleo Hutton, which she feels provided her with many useful strategies.
Linda would like to network with other stroke survivors. Anyone who wishes to contact her can do so via the Stroke Network. Her userid is: lagerbak
Editor’s Note: Read The Stroke Network review of 300 Tips