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. 

Completed San Francisco 1/2 Marathon Today!

This morning I completed the San Francisco 1/2 Marathon — I did the second half and it was my first.  What an amazing experience!  Here are things I gleamed from the experience:

  • Finding the right sneakers is critical!
  • Spandex is essential for long runs
  • Don’t just drink water if you plan to run more than 2 hours
  • Hills are your friend
  • Find someone or a team to train with — it will make the experience more enjoyable
  • Fat people can run too 🙂

Now,  I can work on my golf game since I won’t be training for another event, but maybe I need to be thinking about another event!  🙂

No Turning Back

Well, there is no turning back now.  I’m all signed up for the  2nd half of the San Francisco Half Marathon on July 26th.   Let’s be clear here — I’ve lived a fairly sedentary lifestyle and getting this out of shape body to run 13.1 miles (21,097.5 meters) is big deal!  Here are a few things I’ve learned with my training thus far …

  • Spandex is key
  • Stretching is key
  • Snacking along the way helps alot
  • Never run on an empty stomach
  • Hit the bathroom before a long run

I’ll let you know how the rest of my training goes.  Good luck to me — I’ll need it!

Starting a new adventure …

Alas, I’ve decided to move on from Abaca Technology and start a new adventure.  It was a very difficult choice for me to leave but it was the right thing  for me and my family to do.  I have the utmost respect for the leadership team and the engineering team that I helped to re-build.  They are in great position to execute on their engineering goals moving forward.  And, what a ride is was!

  • Recruited by seasoned silicon valley entrepreneur Steve Kirsch and reported directly to CEO
  • Grew the customer base from 10,000 to protecting hundreds of millions of email boxes worldwide
  • Started with two resources and later became responsible for ~50% of the overall company within constrained start-up environment
  • Rebuilt engineering team from scratch after previous leadership meltdown
  • Managed highly regarded 24/7 support organization
  • Built 24/7 operations organization managing production IT and customer facing infrastructure
  • Owned road map and engineering of all product lines
  • Responsible for engineering deliveries resulting in key company wins
    • Produced first external product effectiveness review [press release]
    • Successfully deployed first 3000 user appliance [press release]
    • Successfully attained official VMWare certification [press release]
    • Successfully deployed first 12 million user customer [press release]
    • Successfully deployed large scale trial leading to a deal of hundreds of millions users worldwide [press release]

I’m very happy with the traction we were able to gain during my time there despite the start-up conditions.

So, what’s my next thing? Same type of thing — building something new. Stay tuned ….