Steve Strommer: The Next Chapter

Every May, we recognize National Stroke Month. It’s a time for us to raise awareness about the impact of stroke not just on the individual, but on the family. This month, two people shared share their stroke story from two very different perspectives: survivor and partner. Each week this month, we heard from Steve, a stroke survivor, and his partner Tracy. They recounted their experiences at different stages of the recovery process, and provide a perspective that only someone who has been there before can.

Previously, Steve told us about the night it all began, his first few days at Magee and how he got back on his feet. In his final post, he shares what he is doing now and what his hopes are for the future.

As the time to be discharged from Magee Rehab Hospital neared, several things motivated me. Most of all was having the thought of surgery. I want my skull back. I want to lose this annoying helmet, who is now my constant companion.  I was always trying to figure out where it is and if I am wearing it. Having to pick it up and put it on. Take it off for comfort’s sake. Wear it for safety’s sake.  I was also motivated by the idea of going home — but home would now be with Tracy, her teenage daughters and our little dog Ruby. Tracy’s house is a ranch, one floor living and this was ideal for my recovery.

Ruby smiling at Steve coming home

Ruby smiling at Steve coming home

The day arrives for me to go home. Karissa drives me to Tracy’s house, and as we approached the door, we can hear Ruby squealing with excitement from the other side. We opened the door and there she is, the little princess, her whole body shaking with happiness and smiling at me. Yes, Ruby smiles, and she smiles at me. I immediately go to the bedroom and lay down. Ruby jumps up on the bed and cuddles close to me.  What a great feeling this is — the bed is so comfortable and Ruby is so loving.

Finally, I am home and start to do the things that I had spent much time working on at Magee.  Everyday tasks, such as dressing myself, were commonly hit or miss activities with my therapist Brian. I have a problem with sequencing, and he worked so hard with me.  I used to joke with him that I was going to just start to wear tunic style fashions and pullovers, something simple but didn’t have sleeves. And it wasn’t long before I would be reminded of it. One morning, Tracy ask me if I was ready to go.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Are you sure?” she said.


“Are you REALLY sure?”

I nodded.

“Okay, so you want to wear your boxers on the outside of your pants?”

I looked down and sure enough, I had put my boxers over top of my pants. We laughed and we laughed hard. And we laughed often. Moments like this aside, it bothered me a great deal that I was not able to help out with the daily chores like I used to. That is not to say that I didn’t try. I would load the dishwasher and it was so frustrating, I would find myself yelling at my left hand to move — just move, damn it!  Tracy would be encouraging and say, “It’s okay, we are getting there.”

Then one day, the nurse calls and gives us the date surgery has been scheduled for my cranioplasty. It just happens to be on Tracy’s birthday. I asked her if it is okay. She answers, “What better birthday gift could I ask for?”

Steve and Riverfront team Patricia, Joann & Masako

Steve and Riverfront team Patricia, Joann & Masako

It was so empowering to not have the helmet any longer distracting me and complicating life. The hospital stay was much, much better much quicker than I had anticipated. While there was much pain involved, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as when they removed it. But quite possibly the single most inspiring moment of my hospital stay was after the procedure. The caseworker came in my room and told Tracy and me that I was accepted into Magee’s Riverfront Day Rehab program. We literally hugged her and gave each other high fives. We were so excited that something we had waited so long for was finally going to come to fruition – and, honestly, I couldn’t wait to get started.

New people to meet, new activities, learning new skills to practice. I have met so many people that have taught me so many different things, so many different skills and methodologies, and ways of looking at things in different perspectives. All this has kept me together.

Now is finally the time to enjoy the simple things in life — home-cooked meals, spending time with my kids and my grandson, playing with Ruby and helping train the new pup. I am looking forward to going out to dinner with Tracy and enjoying exotic foods.  Life is starting to shape up. Now, what I really need to do is get more adept at using the camera, that’s what one of my goals to work on at Riverfront.

It has been a long journey, and not an easy one. It has tested me in ways that I never imagined. Shown me things about friendship shown me things about myself and things about others. Despite the obvious un-pleasantries (to put it mildly), all of these have been invaluable lessons and I feel blessed to have experienced them.

I can see my future, and I believe there is a way back. And I’m getting there.


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