It was after I had spent three months in hospitals when I was participating in an outpatient physical therapy program for stroke and cardiac rehab when I overheard the whispered comment. I am still trying to make sense of it 20 years later.
Vinnie was an older, Italian gentleman who was recovering from a severe stroke. His deficits were similar to mine. He had extreme spasticity in his affected arm, a drop foot which required a brace for walking, and bad muscle tone in his affected leg. Unlike me, his speech was slow and slurred. He had also lost his first language,Italian, after the stroke. His wife, Carmela, told me he used to speak to his relatives in Italy regularly but was now unable to speak his first language.
Through attending the rehab program steadily I became friendly with Carmela and Vinnie. I was 36 years old and recovering from a very bad stroke. I had a two year old son and a newborn baby at home. The stroke happened 8 weeks before I gave birth to the baby. The other patients in the program were all considerably older than me.
I was riding the stationary bicycle when I heard Carmela whisper to another patient, “What a shame, such a beautiful young girl to have a stroke.” They were all in agreement that it was somehow more tragic to have a disabling condition when we’re young and beautiful.
It is definitely true that I was shortchanged in my number of years I was able to enjoy having an able body compared to Vinnie and the other senior citizens in that group. I’m still not sure why it was somehow viewed as being worse because of my good looks.
Thank you for reading :)