Dr. William (Mr. Bill) Jolley was a teacher by profession. Over his long career, he climbed the ladder of academia, assuming roles of increasing responsibility as a public school teacher, assistant principal, high school principal and, finally, director of a charter school program.
But, in 2003, Mr. Bill was involuntarily retired by a hemorrhagic stroke that hit the left side of his brain. With the help of his ex-wife, Gretchen, his family, friends and his beloved pet Chihuahua, Bill re-tooled his post-stroke world into a satisfying “life-part-2”.
Bill’s story begins in July, 2002. Back then, he was 44 years old and weighed 460 lbs., so he underwent gastric bypass surgery to kick-start a serious weight reduction program. One year later, Bill had additional surgery, to reduce a huge amount of loose skin around his midsection (a side-effect of weight loss). Three days after that, on July 24, 2003, Bill experienced his stroke.
Bill doesn’t remember the stroke or its aftermath. He was at Covenant Hospital, in Lubbock, Texas, for one week, then in rehab at Covenant Medical Center for three months. Afterwards, he was discharged to the care of Gretchen, who took him in for a year, until he was able to fend for himself. Bill maintains a close relationship with Gretchen since their divorce, saying she’s the best friend he’ll ever have. His family also encouraged him to get a companion pet, so Bill got a six-week-old Chihuahua puppy, named Sasha, who is still with him to this day. Bill’s support team was now complete.
Immediately post-stroke, Bill was paralyzed on the right, mentally incapacitated, and aphasic. But, once things settled and he entered rehabilitation, Bill mounted a massive recovery effort. Within three months, he could transfer himself from bed to the restroom without assistance, though he still used a wheelchair. This milestone was a real life changer, Bill’s greatest achievement since his stroke.
For two years, Bill continued out-patient therapy, three times a week, at Lubbock Neurological Center, then on-and-off treatment, for eight more years, at Lubbock’s South Plains Rehab center. Over that time, he explored many different remedies:
Physical, speech, balance and life-skills therapies
Botox® injections for spasticity on the right side
Water therapy, which he still does, using special flotation devices
Bioness® and similar devices, to stimulate function in his right arm and leg. Bill even worked as a “therapy model” for Bioness® Corp. and other companies, demonstrating therapeutic devices to patients and therapists
Dragon® NaturallySpeaking speech software, which he still uses
Computer games to boost analytical skills
A couple years post-stroke, Bill searched for things to make his life more useful. He decided being one-armed, with a paralyzed right hand, wasn’t going to slow him down.He took on every home repair project he could, using only his left side. Over time, he accumulated numerous custom-designed tools for a left-handed, one-armed individual. He ended up with so many he converted his garage into a workshop to store them all. Bill also owns a variety of landscaping equipment that he uses to maintain his lawn, as well as Gretchen’s and others’. He enjoys the yard work and feels it’s therapeutic.
Returning to work as a school administrator wasn’t an option, so Bill set his sights on other interests, and addressed goals that were put on the “backburner.” He completed his dissertation for a Doctorate of School Administration, which was postponed years before (though he knew he’d never use it), and rekindled a previous interest in photography. He especially enjoys capturing images of some very unusual subjects: tombstones.
Over the last few years, Bill’s been to approximately 100 small cemeteries throughout Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas, where he’s tried to take photos of every tombstone, in every cemetery he’s visited. His latest excursion was to Texas County, Oklahoma, where he and Gretchen explored nearly 25 different cemeteries. Bill even wrote two books about some of the graveyards he’s surveyed.
Two years ago, Bill also began attending an aphasia support group run by Texas Tech University. They helped him regain some mental capacity, which he feels has been the most-overlooked part of his recovery program. The staff also helped Bill to significantly reduce the effects of pseudo-bulbar affect (PBA), where he will laugh for no reason, or at inappropriate times.
Looking back, Bill feels that his stroke changed who he is in some interesting ways. He was always very left-brained and analytical, but post-stroke he was rendered almost totally right-brained. That should have been an asset when he decided to take up painting, but Bill only produced three or so works, which he gave away to family, before putting his artistic aspirations aside.
However, despite his brain’s left hemisphere being impaired, Bill can still play chess, even
though he’s been reduced from “rated player” to “novice.” He plays nearly every day (via the internet) with Dr. John Gribbin, the noted physicist who lives in England. To Bill, winning or losing is no longer important, but rather, it’s the interaction and fellowship that matter.
Eleven years removed from his stroke, Bill feels he’s still carving out a “new normal”. But, he’d like to give hope to other stroke survivors as they navigate their own long, difficult journeys. He’s had more than a decade to think about it, and to consolidate his experience into the following advice:
Decide what’s truly important in your life, and follow that with as much passion as you can muster
If you set your mind to it, there is nothing you cannot do, even if you’ve had a massive stroke
You may not be able to do some things you used to love doing, but take full advantage of what you still can do
Don’t be concerned about things you can’t control
Tough things are sometimes difficult, and occasionally counterproductive, never give up on the challenge
Above all else, enjoy whatever you do
Bill can be contacted via the Stroke Network. His user ID is: MrBill
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