That time when my brain took an Unauthorized Coffee Break

A man sits confused suffering from the beginning symptoms of a stroke

A Stroke is no Joke, and neither is this Post

I have become a cautionary tale. Every 40 seconds, someone suffers a stroke in America. To put this into grave perspective, every 40 seconds someone commits suicide in America. We talk a lot about suicide prevention, but have you ever considered stroke prevention? My instant came Labor Day morning, 2023, after cooking breakfast for my family. I was (by far) the least likely candidate for a stroke’s calamity.

Listen to a summary of this article on the Mark R. Clifford Podcast

In retrospect, within seconds, the left side of my brain was betraying me. A blood clot was robbing every cherished memory. It was as if an Alzheimer’s bomb had burst between my ears. Stroke possessed me with trouble seeing, speaking, and dizziness. I am a Marine Corps veteran and recently retired police sergeant. Married with three children. My daughter is getting married in a couple months. I was thriving as a writer, I wrapped up my first podcast season and was a guest on several others. I ran daily, pushed myself through high-intensity workouts regularly, and a devout practitioner of yoga and meditation. I survived several major natural disasters, the streets, managed skin cancer for 20 years… Now, without notice, all my adventures and people I’d met along my journey were vanishing like smoke in a typhoon. I was a master communicator, who was now left fighting to remember my wife and kids’ names. 

“… I laughed. “I can’t believe I just had a fucking stroke.”

That time when my brain took an Unauthorized Coffee Break 1
Artist’s recreation of the author’s wife delivering him to the Emergency Room

Because of my police training, I knew the signs of stroke. I was in a critical race against time. My wife (MY HERO) rushed us to Emergency. Upon arrival, medical professionals confirmed my dire condition. Kaiser’s stroke protocols swung into action—Their team of professionals made a Marine Corps amphibious landing look slow. Quick thinking, decisive action, and a dose of modern medicine soon sent me on the road to a promising recovery.

The dust was settling. Beth and I sat quietly in the ICU. The story arc of our love affair that began on a blind date November 10th, 1989 at a Marine Corps Ball breaches like a Blue Whale near an uncharted island. So much life lived, and to be lived. I’d found that there is a compassion within us that is revealed when we lose the use of our life and limb. Our eyes meet. With the giddy disbelief of Mount Pinatubo erupting around me, or a tragedy on the street, I laughed. “I can’t believe I had a fucking stroke.” Laughter was always our greatest medicine.

My stroke shocked everybody. It became the proverbial stone tossed in a placid pond. In the end, my wife was my amazing advocate, God is great, more people love me than I ever knew, and I am so touched by the care I received.

Stroke Warning Signs

  • Sudden one-sided weakness, numbness, or paralysis
  • Sudden trouble seeing
  • Sudden problem speaking or understanding
  • Sudden Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Sudden severe headache with no clear cause
  • Consult your Doctor for additional risk factors
That time when my brain took an Unauthorized Coffee Break 2

Resilience has always been my superpower. One in six people will have a stroke. Please share this with people you love. Awareness matters.

Battle In My Mind

In the realm where shadows creep,
A story of strength and courage seeps.
Of a battle fought within my mind,
Where a stroke strikes, cruel and unkind.

A sudden storm, a tempest’s wrath,
A force that left an aftermath.
Through veins it wove its wicked tale,
Leaving scars upon a life’s fragile trail.

With every breath, a fight within,
To reclaim what stroke intends to dim.
Hope takes flight,
Each step forward reclaims my light.

Friends and family lend their grace,
Supporting, loving, in every space.
Together we build a bridge of care,
A network strong, beyond compare.

With resilience, I push ahead,
Breaking barriers, dispelling dread.
Each milestone reached, a victory won,
A testament to what can be done.

Oh, stroke, you may have left a scar,
But you can’t extinguish my soul’s bright star.
For within this survivor’s heart,
Resides a spirit that won’t depart.

So let these words be a tribute, true,
For we who’ve faced this battle’s view.
May strength and healing be our guide,
As we journey on, side by sid
e.

-Mark R. Clifford, Sept 2023

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