Right after turning 50, I began to feel short of breath when walking up stairs. I couldn’t seem to convince my doctors that my breathing problems were anything other than signs of stress. But months later I found myself in an ambulance, riding to a major trauma hospital for open-heart surgery. Four days later, I regained consciousness only to learn that a mid-surgery stroke had significantly impaired my vision.
That meant I could no longer do the very things that had defined me: work at my family’s mortgage company; drive my teenage daughter; even sing with my church choir, because I couldn’t read the music.
Ten years later, I’ve had big changes in my life. To be near public transportation, my husband and I moved to the edge of Washington, D.C. Now we take weekly trips downtown to do the tourist stuff we never used to make time for. And I’ve made many more friends because I have to ask for rides. I’ve taken vacations with high school girlfriends to see musicals in Chicago and traveled to New York to see a close friend sing with the Metropolitan Opera. Unable to work, I volunteered for activities I never thought I would: directing a 150-person Christmas pageant and leading sing-alongs at a local Alzheimer’s facility.
Now each year I celebrate my “second birthday” on the day I was given a chance to live differently. Fortunately, I wasn’t given a choice. If someone had told me that I could live past 50, but with only some of my vision and not be able to drive, I would have politely declined. Now I know better. What a stroke of luck.
The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Beverly Morrone Haller lives in Bethesda, Md.