Saturday, March 9, 2013

Stroke Survivor? Victim? Sufferer? None of the above.

Within a week of having the first stroke, the nomenclature around it vexed me. "Stroke patient" worked while I was in hospital, but that was it, and the terms that replace it are rubbish.

I can't abide "stroke victim." The brain event I had didn't select me for victimisation, and I'm not now, nor have I ever been, a victim of any singularly malign force. I had the stroke because I was fat, lazy and have a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure that, coupled with my obesity and sedentary indolence made my head explode. No victimisation there.

Whenever I hear "stroke victim" I am reminded of a scene in the movie Addams Family Values, where Wednesday is trapped at summer camp and is enduring a swimming rescue lesson. She's shown on the end of a pier in a black Victorian bathing costume, next to her tween nemesis, the preppy, peppy, pretty bland and blond girl. The instructor asks for a volunteer to be the victim. The blond girl's hand shoots up and she squeals "me, me, me." The camera cuts to a close-up of Christina Ricci deadpanning "all your life."

The popular alternative is "stroke survivor." I reject this because it's tautological. I'm either a stroke survivor, or I'm dead, and if I were a corpse, you wouldn't be reading my writing. "Survivor" is way better than "victim" but it's  still rubbish, because it adds nothing to the conversation.

Until recently, I had settled on "stroke sufferer." There's certainly been some suffering involved; recovery isn't really that fun. The term is at least accurate, but a problem still obtains: the word "stroke." Having a stroke is significant, and it matters a lot when the underlying cause is strange and unusual. But seventeen months later, I find 'stroke' as a magic word troublesome. Sure, I will use it to my advantage whenever I can, because frankly, I need the help and consideration, but it implies that there is something particular and unusual about my condition, and I see that as more of a problem than a perquisite.

I'm not recovering from strokes, you see. They were what caused it, but what vexes me now is simply brain damage. Differentiating stroke from being shot in the head or getting your brain damage some other way serves only to make excuses for not recovering, and sod that.

So, I'm left without a snappy term, and default to "stroke sufferer" for the time being, until I  can think of a good way to encapsulate "ordinary guy recovering from brain damage."


  1. How do you feel about "stroke-affected"?

  2. Fine, Meg. Everything is preferable to "victim" which I dislike intensely. I'm coming to think, though, that the use of 'stroke' itself as a signifier in the medical world is a real problem. It tends to mask the real work of recovery which is quite possible, but not through a pill or a procedure, through hard work and the sort of long-term treatment that is rarely found in the Western medical tradition.

    All suggestions as are welcome as Meg's!

  3. I was also thinking to focus on the fact that you're just a guy who had episodes of trauma to the brain, and you've adjusted your lifestyle accordingly to get your health back on track. I can't think of a concise term, but the best I can come up with is "health conscious person with some current limitations".

  4. I'll stick with "Alexander."

  5. Greta - I'm thinking along those lines. The brain damage is a pretty clear factor.

    Anthony - that works!


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