Reality check - dont wait until its too late!

It was around 9 a.m. on election Tuesday in November when the phone rang at my house. I had just finished writing our 1998 REALITY annual edition earlier that morning. After a few hours of sleep, I was getting ready to leave for Hawaii for some much-needed R & R..

Michael B. Miller, DDS,

It was around 9 a.m. on election Tuesday in November when the phone rang at my house. I had just finished writing our 1998 REALITY annual edition earlier that morning. After a few hours of sleep, I was getting ready to leave for Hawaii for some much-needed R & R..

"Mike, it`s Steve," my younger brother matter-of-factly stated. Even though Steve and I are close, it was weird for him to call just to tell me to have a good trip. I knew some-thing was wrong.

"It`s dad - he`s had a stroke," Steve said. Wow, one minute I am looking forward to 10 days in paradise and the next minute, I`m wondering whether my father will ever speak or walk again.

Ingrid and I hurried to the airport, but instead of boarding a jumbo jet for Honolulu, we bought emergency tickets for Philadelphia. Up to this point, I had been extremely lucky in my life. I had never had a close relative or friend who had suffered a debilitating illness or disability. As we flew north, I was wondering just how bad it could be.

Upon arriving at the hospital in Somers Point, NJ, we went immediately to ICU. Since my residency over 20 years ago, I have not spent much time in hospitals. This small community facility was a far cry from the giant, medical-center hospitals in which I trained. The entry into ICU was a metal door actuated by pushing the type of button that gets you out of many secured buildings in this vandalous era.

As soon as the door opened, we quickly saw my mother standing in the doorway of my father`s room. No amount of self-talk could have prepared me for the sight of my once-vigorous father laying completely helpless in that hospital bed, his right side paralyzed and his speech reduced to an incomprehensible babble. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

The stroke came without warning. My father just had a physical and was pronounced as fit as a 75-year-old man can be. He was in his study around 8 in the morning, arranging some papers, while my mother prepared breakfast. As he reached for one item, which had fallen on the floor under his desk, he realized he had no feeling in his right hand. Not being able to move or talk, he could not even call my mother. After about 15 minutes, my mother went upstairs to see what was keeping my father from coming downstairs for breakfast. She found him slumped in his desk chair, saliva drooling down the right side of his mouth.

As I looked at my father, trying my best to keep the conversation going in a one-sided manner (he tried repeatedly to talk, but his inability to even utter one, coherent word caused him great frustration), I could not help but think what I would do if that were me in that bed. My ability to practice dentistry would be over, and even writing would be difficult at best. The clich? about not knowing what you have until it?s gone sure hit home that dreary Tuesday evening.

What about you? What would you do if you couldn?t practice anymore? What if you could not walk or talk? No matter how invulnerable you think you are, the suddenness of a car accident or, like my father, a stroke, could leave you a shadow of yourself. How would you handle it?

As of this writing (three months after the stroke), my father goes to an outpatient rehabilitation center. He can speak reasonably well (there?s still some slight slurring of words) and his mind seems clear and sharp, but he is still paralyzed on the right side. After an initial bout of self-pity (look what?s become of me), dad seems determined to walk again. My world, however, definitely has been changed forever. I no longer take my good health for granted. I have rededicated myself to eating better, exercising more regularly and telling my family, friends and co-workers how I appreciate their efforts on my behalf.

I hope this story touches a nerve for all of you. Remember ? we can?t realize our dreams without our health. As we move closer to a change in millenium, I urge you to rededicate yourself to being the best you can be. Count your blessings every day you wake up with all your abilities intact. Without warning, it could be different tomorrow.

Michael B. Miller, DDS, maintains a private practice emphasizing esthetics in Houston, Texas. He serves on the Editorial Board of Practical Periodontics and Aesthetic Dentistry, is a visiting faculty member of several universities and is the editor-in-chief of REALITY: The information source for esthetic dentistry.

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