Thursday, November 6, 2014

First Time

Every time I go to the airport here in Orlando I look for the Marriott sign on its hotel. It’s always there just to my right at the exit. The reason I do it is that’s where I spoke to stroke survivors for the very first time.

I had spoken one other time. It was at my station, WKMG, and Denise thought it would be a good idea for me to go there. Me? I was scared to death. See, I had gone through this huge thing in my life and I was busy, busy, busy with rehab. And scared, scared, scared that I would never be the same again. So Denise thought it would be a good idea to get me out of that routine and help me to jumpstart my recovery.

So I went.

My dear friend, Skip Valet, met me at the front of the station. Skip used to be News Director and is now the General Manager of WKMG and I always tell him, he’s the best person I ever worked for. True. He sees the whole field very, very, well.

When I got to the studio the entire station was there. They had a banner up, ‘Welcome Back Mark’ and then it was show time. I spoke to the people there and told them I was doing fine and that I would be back soon.

Courtesy Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel
Actually, even then, I didn’t know how severe my stroke had been and how long of a recovery lay ahead. Sometimes it’s better to be blissfully ignorant about something. If I knew then what I know now, we might be having a different conversation. But, just call me ignorant.
That day, that trip, is something that’s burned in my memory, and in a good way.

Let’s talk about the Marriott.

When I had my stroke, my emotions were raw and I cried for everything. Everything.  There’s an old joke about crying at card tricks, I would cry at the MENTION of card tricks.

It was the first time I met the person who was so instrumental in my post stroke life. Jim Baranski is the former CEO of National Stroke Association and helped me navigate this new world. A good man, a great friend. Jim and I have been on many adventures together. They were having a symposium at the hotel and they were gracious enough to let me speak.  I went to the podium and…cried through the whole thing. It was the first time I’d given a speech since my stroke, but being in front of people didn’t bother me. It was being kind of naked up there and speaking about something that had changed my life and the lives of everyone in there.When I looked out at the crowd, though, I was the preacher and they were the choir. Preaching to the choir...

From the podium I said a lot of things but the one thing I said is I would always be there for stroke victims. After I was through, Jim gently took me aside and told me, “we say stroke survivors.” I’d never heard that term before. From then on out I’ve always used the word survivors.

Learned something that day.

Jim Baranski 
Being with stroke survivors, for me? It’s like coming home.

That Marriott sign always reminds me of that.

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