Surviving a Stroke: Returning to Life

https://www.onehopewinery.com/estate8

Hello Friends & Family,

I actually started writing this blog post a couple months back but didn’t enjoy how it was coming together so I started from scratch.  Not sure why but maybe because there was still tremendous uncertainty in the entire thing.  Well, there is surely less uncertainty now but I’ll save that for the end.  For those of you not following along at home, I had a stroke in November 2021.  It opened my eyes to the value of life we too often take for granted and how awesome the web of people around us are.   I’ve been journaling my experience on my blog (Surviving a Stroke, Surviving a Stroke: Recovery) primarily to help raise awareness of the risks of strokes, create empathy for the those working their way through recovery and the hope of maybe making folks aware enough to save a life.

  • In 2018, 1 in every 6 deaths from cardiovascular disease was due to stroke. 
  • Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. Every 4 minutes, someone dies of stroke.
  • Stroke-related costs in the United States came to nearly $46 billion between 2014 and 2015.  This total includes the cost of health care services, medicines to treat stroke, and missed days of work.
  • Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability. Stroke reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over.

[Reference: https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm]

It has now been  roughly 6 months since I was flying over my favorite Utah ski resorts in an Intermountain Life Flight to the Neuro ICO in Murray, Utah.  What’s the update? 

Finding My Joy 

Memento Mori is latin for “remember that you [have to] die’ and a saying that is supposed to remind us of the inevitability of death.   It is also a name of a gift shop outside of Disney World’s Haunted Mansion selling death oriented souvenirs. I kid you not.  I know what this phrase meant before but I didn’t digest it until recently.  There is a fragility to life that feels random.  The doctors have told me there was no good reason why I had a stroke and I’m super lucky to have come out basically unscathed.  It feels like it just happened. 

So, how have I internalized this?  I just need to live the best life I can live while I’m here.  We all need to find our joy.  That surely sounds weird but life is really awesome, we need to enjoy it while we can.  The little things that bother us are truly are just little things surrounded by awesome moments we’re too busy to enjoy.  Why are we so busy?  Who knows. Because we all have attention deficit disorder (ADD) and FOMO.  Enjoying the moment has never meant more to me.

A good great friend of mine sent me a text  that had me thinking.  He texted me about the Socioemotional Selectivity Theory and how I should read the book “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande

“Being Mortal” is an amazing book.  I highly recommend it.  It is a doctors journey working through the reality of death with his patients and ultimately with his father.   Gawande offers a balanced and thoughtful perspective.  In one chapter, he discusses the Socioemotional Selectivity Theory which is a life-span theory of motivation. The theory states that our perception of  our own mortality impacts what we are motivated to do.  When we are young,  we are invincible and invest in long term experiences and relationships.  But, as we grow old, we maximize positive emotional experiences and hone in on our friends that make us happy.  We become increasingly selective, investing greater resources in emotionally meaningful goals and activities.  Those that have life changing health issues early can experience an acceleration of this phenomenon.  I can absolutely relate —

  • I now value my life, my family and my friends with a deeper sense of appreciation  
  • I now value each life experience more deeply
  • I am more present in the moment
  • I now carry less stress for the little things that used to really bother me 
  • I now have less patience for bullshit and things that waste my time
  • I now smile and laugh more
  • I now give bigger hugs
  • I now have a desire to make a broader impact beyond just me   

That all sounds like metaphysical transformation crap but its all true. 

I’ll note that my path through my stroke pales in comparison to others. I joined several stroke support groups on Facebook and I was humbled.  Humbled by the journey of recovery people were going through.  I am grateful for my recovery and support I had throughout.  Folks would post things like “Strokes are worse than death.  Wish it had taken me.” and “My life died when I had my stroke”.  Absolutely no joke.  These are real people with real challenges.  I really want to help them all in some way. 

Work

I went back to work in January 2022 after the holidays.  I needed every minute of the time off but felt ready enough to get back into the flow.  It definitely felt a little weird getting back in my routine but I was back in the groove in no time. It was great to get back to my team and help them however I could.  But, there were many moments of reflection on the true meaning of work in the bigger picture. My wife diagnosed me as a workaholic a long time ago. I really enjoy work.  I care deeply about my team but realize there is so much more to life.   20+ years in Silicon Valley will skew you to think that work is everything.  It’s something for sure.  But its not everything. 

Here are some other observations I had about work —

  • Everything keeps going without you.  You might think you are the most important thing at work but folks figure things out. 
  • I needed to create a new leadership framework and style.  I wanted to take he opportunity to develop a new gear in my leadership style that would be good for me and my teams.  The same level of drive and motivation with less wear on me and more empowerment to my leaders.  This is still a work in progress but I’m getting there. 
  • Snoozing alerts is heaven. You actually don’t need to listen to every alert that comes at you and to be honest, its bad for your brain.

Working Out

I usually start my week Monday morning by going to 5:15am CrossFit at Park City Fit.  I try to go 3-4 times a week when its not ski season.   It was just something that I built into my routine many years ago and helps me start my week with structure and discipline.  I feel lethargic when I don’t go.  My doctors  cleared me to get back into the box but asked me to modify my workouts so that not to put pressure on my brain.  Well, I was modifying my workouts well before my stroke so there wasn’t anything to worry about there.  Haha.   

That first Monday back to work, I got up at 4:30am like I usually do.  Got dressed.  Made a cup of coffee.  Jumped into the car and I was off.  I turned on the music and the most perfect song came on, So Damn Lucky by the Dave Matthews Band.  Dave Matthews said at a show at Radio City Music Hall —

“This is a song about where you’re about to trip and fall and smash your face but everything slows down to the point where you comprehend you’re gonna get hurt but it’s not enough time to do anything about it. And this song is about how not to forget about counting your blessings.”

Consider this my soundtrack for this blog post. 

CrossFit has always been about community to me.  Great people.  Suffering together.  It was so great seeing familiar faces again.  I modified all the workouts that week significantly and it didn’t matter.  It felt so great to be getting back into my routine. 

MondayWednesdayFriday

Intervals For Time:
40 Dumbbell Snatch (50/35)
30 Box Jump (24/20)
150 Double Under
-8 min Cap
-Rest 2 min-
30 Box Jump (24/20)
40 Dumbbell Snatch (50/35)
150 Double Under
-8 min Cap
-Rest 2 min
150 Double Under
30 Box Jump (24/20)
40 Dumbbell Snatch (50/35)
-8 min Cap

For Time:
50 Clean & Jerk (185/125)
75 Toes to Bar
-Complete in any order you like to accomplish the work
Goal: Sub 20 min

CrossFit Open 13.4
AMRAP 7 min
3 Clean & Jerk (135/95)
3 Toes-to-bar
6 Clean & Jerk
6 Toes-to-bar
9 Clean & Jerk
9 Toes-to-bar
12 Clean & Jerk
12 Toes-to-bar
15 Clean & Jerk
15 Toes-to-bar
18 Clean & Jerk
18 Toes-to-bar…

Sport

Am I still skiing?  Hell yes.  The doctors cleared me for light skiing in January but asked that I keep it tame.  I’ve not been a high adrenaline, high risk skier anyway so that wasn’t going to be that hard.  I didn’t start skiing until I was 15 so a beginner compared to the winter sport talent in Park City, Utah.  I spend most of the winter at Park City Mountain, Deer Valley, Snowbird and Alta getting better at my turns, working the moguls and just getting better at the sport overall. I still love the steeps but I take them more carefully these days.  Next year, I’ll take on the challenge of backcountry skiing. There is nothing better than being outside and listening to the quiet of the snow.  

As I write this, the ski season is coming to an end, the tourists have left and we are entering the mud season. I’m looking forward to getting the mountain bikes out as soon as the ground dries up a bit. 

Looking ahead, my goal is finally start something that I’ve been wanting to do for years — Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.  I’m not going to let this “health setback” keep me down.

What is the final prognosis? 

My neurologist ran me through a bunch of test this past month to help answer why this happened to me.  She ordered a battery of blood tests along with full torso, chest and brain scans.  They required me to drink a bunch of this super tasty medical berry smoothie. This was a bit of nerve racking experience for me — what if they found something like cancer in one of these scans?  That is actually one of potential causes for a stroke.  Not sure I was mentally ready to hear that. These test took me hours.  I spent a full hour in a MRI tube listening to the Grateful Dead — alone with my thoughts and just looking into a mirror at my feet.   

The test results started to come in.  The good news is that almost all of the test came back clear and then there was this magical prognosis that came from my MRI —

IMPRESSION:
1.Patent dural venous sinuses without residual thrombus.
2.No acute intracranial hemorrhage.

The blood clot had fully healed and my brain was 100%.  Woo-hoo! 

The bad news, I’m pretty sure I’m never going to know why this happened to me.  This would normally really bother me but whatever, time to live life.   

How am I feeling?

I’m feeling 100%. I need to lose the “stroke 10 pounds’ as I like to call them.  I sort of started eating like crap because I said to myself, hell ya I’m going to eat some cake and ice cream tonight.  I almost died! 

The best news, I can blame my stroke for just about anything.

  • “Sorry, doctor said I can’t do the laundry. I had a stroke.”
  • “How could I possibly miss going to see my Yankees in the Bronx with my friends?  I had a stroke!”     
  • “Is it really our anniversary?  The stroke must have made me forget.”

(Kidding)

What is ahead? 

First and foremost, save the date October 29, 2022 is National Stroke Awareness Day.  I’ll be running a fundraiser on that day to benefit other stroke victims and remind folks strokes are real and every second counts.

Everything else —  I’m not sure yet.  I’m still digesting it all.  Stay tuned.

As always, thank you for reading and please let me know what you think.  And don’t forget to find your joy. 

Leadership team bio …

As with any startup, you never get the time to do the little things. I’ve been with Abaca Technology as their Director of Engineering for more than six months already and I just got a chance to write my bio for the leadership page. I think my focus has been in the right area because we’re making some serious progress. These are exciting times. If only I could talk about it more openly.

Renato J. Mascardo
Director of Engineering

Renato brings over a decade of experience leading engineering organizations with proven success inspiring large engineering teams to high levels of quality, productivity and innovation. Renato has extensive experience taking to market enterprise software, application lifecycle management, SaaS, commerce and mobile products. He has been involved with startups throughout his career and driving ideas to market.

Prior to joining Abaca, Renato was a senior engineering manager at Hewlett-Packard’s hyper growth software division (formerly Mercury Interactive). There he helped build two successful engineering teams and helped push the two products into Gartner’s magic quadrant. Before Hewlett-Packard, Renato was a technical leader for Borland Software where he architected and developed full application lifecycle management solutions for their biggest customers. Prior to joining Borland Software, Renato was a technical leader at Scient. There he was involved in building the first generation of large scale web applications including Sephora.com and Powerspring.com. Also, while at Scient he founded the mobile computing consulting practice while wireless technologies were still in its infancy and was one of the co-founding members of a product based company spin out.

Renato holds a B.A. degree in Computer Science from the University of Richmond in Richmond, VA.

“I Like to Build Things”

This past weekend I was playing golf with some random folks and one of them asked me what I did. I had to think about that for a moment because spewing out some random company doesn’t mean much to people. My response was “I Like to Build Things”.

  • Successful Software Companies
  • High Quality, Award Winning Software Products
  • Highly Productive Engineering Teams
  • Professional Support and Operations Teams
  • Customer Value
  • Happy Customers
  • Fun Places To Work
  • Careers

And what really gets me excited is building someone totally different, that someone has not done before.

I thought that was a bit of a unique way of answers the same old question.

Corporate verses Startup Experience

It’s been over five months since leaving HP and re-joining the ranks of the startups and it has been quite the shift in experiences. The startup experience is something that better fits my speed and style. They are such a great way to learn how to run a business. Also, get ready to get your hands dirty. My current position spans so many different responsibilities:

  • Director of Engineering — that’s what I was hired for
  • Senior Product Manager — actually not too much of a stretch from what I was hired for
  • Director of Support — added to my responsibilities after 6 weeks
  • Director of Operations — added to responsibilities after 8 weeks
  • Infrastructure Architect — What kind of production environment do I need to support the predicted growth?
  • Application Architect
  • Software Engineer — “I would rather be coding”
  • Support Engineer
  • QA Engineer
  • Webmaster — someone has to it and I would rather my engineers working on features
  • Technical Writer
  • Manager
  • And more …

There are folks that are more suited towards corporate environments and those that are more suited towards startup environments. For example, the leadership team at Mercury Interactive were all well suited towards startups and thats probably why many of those folk have since joined startups or started their own.

And then I think of my old boss at HP, that guy was built to work at HP and he’ll probably work there for the next 20 years. Nothing wrong with that.

I highly recommend startups to anyone that wants to make his mark on the world. And, is willing to incur some risk and comments like “You’re starting what? That will never work.”

HP stock tanks after I leave …

I can’t help but continue to track the HP stock even though I sold off all my vested options at its peak at the end of 2007. Note, my last day at HP was January 2nd and notice the instantaneous market reaction! Since then, the stock has tried but has not been able to recover.

The downside, I missed out on the ~1.4% yearly pay raise that many HP Software folks received or so I was told when I was inundated with IM’s about it . Please note that the average inflation for 2007 was 2.85%.

The irony is that my old boss called me a few weeks ago about poaching engineers (which by the way I do not do). Are you sure its me? My attitude has always been as an engineering manager is if you build a great place to work, people don’t want to leave.

But, its probably easier to find someone to blame. Touche!

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Moving on from HP Software

This month I put in my two weeks notice from Hewlett-Packard. Below is the original blog post when I decided to join Mercury Interactive (at the time). It’s amazing how the time goes by.

3/1/2004

Announcement: Sarah and I are excited to announce that we are moving to Bellevue, Washington just outside of Seattle. I have accepted an offer with Mercury Interactive in the J2EE Performance Management R&D product group. The work will directly work on the J2EE Deep Diagnostic tool involving development team management, Java systems programming (BCEL), Java performance tuning (Garbage collector and virtual machine optimization) and J2EE performance tuning. Mercury Interactive is the global leader in Business Technology Optimization (BTO).

Sarah (the most amazing wife ever) is willing to drop everything to support me in my career move and I can’t thank her enough for that. This was a very hard decision for Sarah and myself because of how fond we are of the Bay Area and the proximity of our friends and family. Hopefully, Sarah and I will be back in the bay area when we can actually afford a decent piece of real estate. Get ready to plan those trips up to visit! Meanwhile, let the next chapter of the Mascardo family begin! Stay tuned to Mascardo.com for more information!

As I contemplated this move, a few question came to mind. What have I been doing for the last 4 years?

  • Diagnostics Product Line
    • Relocated my family to Seattle, Washington
    • Went from manging two people to managing all day-to-day operations with the Diagnostics product (15 – 20 team members)
    • Doubled the capacity of the organization during my time with local and offshore resources
    • Managed release of the Mercury Profiler – Mercury’s 1st development focused tool
    • End-to-end responsibility for 8 releases (3 Major) including complete re-write of enterprise grade server
    • Managed re-architecture of Java Probe, .Net Probe, Diagnostics Server, user interface and persistence mechanism
    • Helped to reach Gartner “Magic Quadrant” market leadership for the Diagnostic Product
    • Managed integrations across Business Availability Center, Load Runner and Performance Center
    • Successfully initiated and implemented the Scrum methodology across the product
    • Initiated and managed Mercury relationship with the Java Community Process
  • Project and Portfolio Management Product Line
    • Relocated back to the Bay Area From Seattle by R&D VP to resolve major product and team issues with the Project and Portfolio Management product
    • Built the team from scratch to manage the software platform and operations (20 – 25 team members)
    • Responsible for building a development team in Shanghai, China (5 – 8 Team Members)
    • Worked with Product Management and Customers to define Strategy of PPM Platform
    • Responsible for international product roll out (Support for 8+ languages and language multi-tenancy) growing the international market from 5% to 40%
    • Responsible for cross product initiatives such as business intelligence solution, unified platform and integration infrastructure
    • Helped manage organization through Hewlett-Packard acquisition (formerly Mercury Interactive) and was first product released after acquisition
    • Helped to continue Gartner “Magic Quadrant” market leadership for the Project and Portfolio Management product
  • Highly involved in HP Environmental initiatives including contributing to HP’s involvement on the Green Grid consortium
  • Overall, had the opportunity to work with and manage some of the best in the industry

Why did I want to leave?

  • My HP employee number has the same number of digits than my social security number — HP is a gigantic company and that just doesn’t suit my style right now.
  • HP Software is a nimble organization surrounded by large company process — I spent most of my time at HP working against the processes in place. It will be interesting to see if HP Software can run like a software company and not like a hardware company
  • Lack of top down attention to the people — I had an HP/Mercury debrief session with other director’s and I asked the simple question of “As we acquire all of these software companies, what are doing to ease them into the culture and make sure we keep the best talent.” The response I got was in line with “If you don’t want to work here, then leave.” An unfortunate answer and against my general belief that managers need to fight for “A Players”.
  • Lack of HR support — I was told from my HR representative that her span of control is 1 to 3000.
  • Lack of innovation — I’m partly to blame for this because I was responsible for an engineering section, but I just found it harder to innovate with such a large organization. The environment and culture did not foster the proper elements to create meaningful innovation. Put it this way, its difficult to compare the innovation environment and culture at Google to HP Software.

Don’t get me wrong, HP Software is going like gang busters right now. It’s just not what I want right now.

So, what am I doing next?

I’ll save the answer to this for my next blog entry. It’s a related field but very different.

Will I stop censoring my blog?

Yes