Make the most of every moment

On March 31 this year I suffered a stroke. I was in the hospital for three days and then sent home. There were no visible signs that I had changed. I could eat, I could walk, I could talk without difficulty. The only thing that was different was my brain. Part of it had been struck, and it showed up in my recollections, or rather in my inability to recollect all things. My memory was affected. I could not always remember people’s names and circumstances. I recognized them, I knew them, but I did not always know specifics about them.

Today it’s the fifth of November, more than seven months after my right arm told me that my left brain was on strike. It’s a beautiful day. The sun shines, the temperature hovers around 15 degrees above zero, I went for a 50-minute walk this morning, as I always do first thing after I get dressed and drink a glass of water spiced with apple-cider vinegar. My glass of life seems full too. But I do not notice much improvement in my memory. And writing an editorial takes a lot longer than it used to. I never know ahead of time whether I can successfully follow a certain thought along the path of conclusion.

Am I unhappy? No, I have a lot of good feelings about the sense of walking around on God’s earth and recognizing neighbours who greet me. But don’t ask me their name. I may think I know their name, but it could be that they have changed their name since March 31. Funny, how people don’t always appreciate the name their parents bestowed on them.

These days I am taking part in a three-hour, twice a week set of therapy workshops at the Hotel Dieu Shaver Hospital in St. Catharines. The program lasts seven weeks and consists of a mix of group exercises and education sessions as well as one-on-one meetings with a therapist who could be a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, social worker or speech therapist. Every day includes an educational talk on a topic like “Sugar, Salt and Diabetes,” “Cholesterol and Fat,” “Stress and Coping Strategies,” or “Balance, Falls and Home Safety.” Depending on your disability as well as ability, you can exercise on a stationary bike for 20 minutes, test your balance or exercise certain muscles, or learn a handicraft skill. Oh, by the way, I am building a thingamajigger for Alice, but don’t tell her.

Healthy rhythms
At this point I am more than half-way through the course. By the time you read this editorial I should be finished. The hope is that after the course, I will have learned new skills and practices. One of the instructors will set me up with a home program that will stimulate improvement or maintenance over a longer term beyond the program. The idea is that I will be able to create a healthy lifestyle and manage my challenges better. The purpose is to increase my independence and to help me achieve my best level of function (Can you tell that I am quoting a few lofty sentences from the course material?).

As I am following this course, I realize that even if I had not had a stroke, I would have benefitted from this program. Most of us realize that our ability to remember does not always improve with age. Most of us talk about “having a senior moment” from time to time, and after 75, we do not generally train our minds (or our bodies!) to stay alert. Even our “junior moments” are not always as productive as they could be. There are apparently ways to keep our minds sharp, but retirement has a way of minimizing the need to keep that grey stuff in our brain from being over-active. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest. . . . ”

As we age, it is important to keep a healthy balance between staying active and slowing down to allow our minds and bodies time to recover. But above all, it is important to find a rhythm that allows us to make the most of every moment the Lord parcels out to us. While we live, God wants us to fulfill our days as a time to be happy and do good.

  • Bert Witvoet is a former educator and editor of various magazines, including the Christian Courier, who lives with his wife, Alice, in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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