This morning my step-father, or ‘Dad’ as he has always been, had a stroke.
When you get a call before you’re out of bed on a Saturday morning to say “Dad’s had a stroke”, you stop breathing, until your sister adds the words “small” to the sentence – “They think it’s a small one. Dad’s had a small stroke”.
We jumped up and hit the road.
That’s what we do in our family. We all just ‘get there’, so we can all just ‘be there’.
By the time we made it to Wollongong Hospital from Sydney, Mum had made the place her own, my brother and his family, and my sister and hers, were already there, and some were back for their second visit. Dad was wired up to a million machines in the Emergency Ward. Everything was pinging and little lines were bouncing up and down erratically.
For the next twelve hours, we all continued to “be there”. We broke the Emergency Ward rules by about 400%, probably more. They tried rationalising us down to two guests, or (very reluctantly) “three maximum”. We’d feign agreement, five or six of us would walk out, and then come back in ten minutes. Eventually, our way of “being there” was accepted. Eight people around one bed in an ED cubicle felt about right.
I think initially they thought dealing with a normal 83 year old man with a slightly dodgy heart, post a stroke. Now, as we drive away from the hospital, they’re much clearer on who they’re dealing with. THE most resilient man, and couple, on the planet.
When Dad arrived out of the ambulance at 7am, they had their first clue. He told them his slightly drooping mouth was the result of not ducking a left hook from Mum. By morning tea, with Mum’s help, he’d tried to cheat on the vision test (they have had friends who’ve done this stroke thing, and they so know that peripheral vision is the requirement for driving). By lunch, he was up to adjusting the bed, suggesting some design improvements, and kicking the “strength of legs” test to the kerb. By dinner, he ‘shuffled’ the loo, and ‘walked briskly’ back. He then sang a duet of Frank Sinatra’s “Something Stupid” with Mum. They’re due to sing that song together at Swingalalees, their local ukulele club on Tuesday, so no time like the present to practice.
Before we left (we may have been about to have been thrown out) he was singing “We are the Champions”, word perfect.
Now, I’m not underestimating the path ahead. I’m no doctor, but even I know neurological rehab, post stroke, is serious. I’ve no doubt, the next few weeks will be tough. On Dad. On Mum. On whatever poor physio is given this man as a patient.
But I also know that this man is up for it. He is, quite simply, the most resilient man on the planet. Or maybe, he’s one half of THE most resilient couple of the planet.
And I know this, because today is not the first time I’ve seen them go through something monumentally terrifying with laughter and even song.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Dad had lung cancer. He had a skin cancer from his lifelong passion for ocean swimming and surfing, (he still walks to the beach most mornings), that burrowed through his chest into his lung. He thought he had a cold – unusual as he never does – and turned out to be lung cancer and within a few days, they whip out half of his left lung. He buzzes from the Recovery Ward post this surgery. The nurse rushes to his side, assuming he wants (and needs) painkillers, but he actually wanted to talk to the physio. He was five hours after major surgery, and he wanted to get the recovery exercises started.
Within a few weeks he was back to walking and swimming and crafting beautiful handmade wooden instruments, like guitars, and even a harp, and playing, busking or going on tour with his Swingalalees band.
And that’s where I get my perspective, and my giggle, from. When I’m reading some business story of the resilience of some entrepreneur or another or some important businessperson. The amazing story of the time they had to change the marketing plan, or when their initial idea had to be tweaked. Or the time when their website went slower than ideal. When they wear out some shoe leather to do sales. When they sold their car for cash flow. All lovely stories, but ‘resilience’ they are not. They’re just quirky, and sometimes interesting, stories about business. Business is like that. It changes and ducks and weaves, and if you want to stay relevant, you duck and weave with it. It’s more like going for a walk, or a drive, and finding the planned route is blocked, so you come up with Plan B. Getting to Plan B or C or even D, fast, is a pretty fundamental business skill. Good to hear, but please don’t over-dramatise jumping over that nasty puddle. It was never going to drown you.
It’s the massive injuries or illnesses, that people battle through. Your heart stops, or you tackle breast cancer head on. You lose someone you love SO much, that you can barely breathe, and yet you still front up to life and go forward. You battle an overwhelming mental illness that means getting out of bed is wickedly hard. You nurse someone you love through a battle they lose, and still face the future and find ways to be happy and maybe even be there for someone else. Hanging on to life and wringing every last drop out of it, whatever it throws your way.
That stuff is proper resilience. Hanging on to life when your fingernails are ripped off, and your hands are bleeding, and three fingers are broken. And still you grip. Bloody determined not to let go.
That’s perspective as well.
Walking towards months of neurological physio and finding enough strength to sing “We are the Champions” as you go.
People ask me why I’m so optimistic all the time.
I used to try and think of reasons. Now, I just tell them, I simply don’t know another way, but that it has nothing to business. All the lessons I’ve had come from watching people I love wading through some serious shit and singing and hugging each other while they do.
And the final word goes out to my Mum tonight.
As we say to our girls, we’ll say to you tonight, Mum –
Keep singing xxx
Written with my heart pinned proudly to my sleeve, at 10pm, on Saturday 17 June 2017, as we left the hospital