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‘Stroke Bloke’ Dale Lamps looks to future with optimism after rehabilitation

Dottie and Dale Lamps share a laugh in front of their Grand Rapids home.

"My wife, Dottie, and I enjoy immersing ourselves in our home and in our life," Dale says.

"I enjoy doing yard work. If a job in the yard or around the house needs doing, and if I can possibly do it myself, I will do it," Dale says.

Dale continues to play classical piano, an interest he had long before his stroke: "I have enjoyed playing classical piano most of my life, and shortly before the stroke, I also took up violin."

"The question now is, what about the future? My main hobby is music. The simple plan is to continue working on piano and violin," Dale says.

Dale worked on the Dynavision board as part of his therapy in the Visual Impairment Program at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

Guest blog: Dale Lamps is a graduate of both Mary Free Bed’s Inpatient and Outpatient Stroke Programs

These are my thoughts on the future. The future doesn’t come from nowhere. The future has its anchor in the past …

My hemorrhagic stroke happened on Sept. 24, 2016. I had mowed the lawn that afternoon, and my wife and I had gone out for pizza.

That day was fairly representative of our lives. I enjoy doing yard work. If a job in the yard or around the house needs doing, and if I can possibly do it myself, I will do it. My wife, Dottie, and I enjoy immersing ourselves in our home and in our life. I have enjoyed playing classical piano most of my life, and shortly before the stroke, I also took up violin. (My piano playing sometimes sounds halfway decent, but the violin … not so much.)

It’s all about attitude

I grew up on an Illinois farm, where we raised cattle, chickens and hogs, and had a good-sized garden. Most of what we ate grew within a few hundred feet of where we ate it. I learned that a good attitude can make the sun shine in your life and that everything grows healthier and happier when the sun literally does shine.

Before I retired, I worked as an actuary. That means I’ve done a lot of work regarding things like what insurance is and what it takes to make it work for people, and what a pension is and what it takes to be able to retire. After I retired, I worked a few years teaching statistics at Grand Valley State University. The best thing about teaching was the students. Students are alive, they are challenging – they are the promise for tomorrow. I taught until my body started giving me warning signals to slow down a bit.

It was a Saturday night when the stroke hit. We had gone to bed. I had a sudden and very severe headache. I got up to take some Tylenol and was overcome with severe nausea. Almost immediately, I realized my legs and left arm had no strength. My left leg was almost completely paralyzed.

I spent three weeks in the hospital before moving to Mary Free Bed for rehabilitation. I spent about 3 1/2 weeks as an inpatient followed by about 16 weeks of outpatient therapy.

News spread quickly, and our children lost no time coming from Atlanta, Richmond, Minneapolis and Seattle. They are the most precious people in the world to us. They made it possible to hold ourselves together during that time.

Our son, Chris, was a valuable resource. He was paralyzed as a young man and spent many weeks in rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed. That was nearly 30 years ago. It was mainly because of Chris’ experience that we chose Mary Free Bed for my rehabilitation. Chris went on to get earn his MD from Vanderbilt University and is now a child/adolescent psychiatrist. He and his wife, Christine, have a family counseling practice in Richmond, Va.

Right from the start, my Mary Free Bed experience was a happy one. One of the first people to greet me was Ashley, a student of mine when I taught at GVSU. She had seen my name as an arriving patient and went out of her way to be there when the ambulance arrived. That was a special pleasure.

My legs were far too weak for me to walk, and I was anxious to get started. The first big effect Mary Free Bed had on me was to make it easy to smile. They made it easy to look forward to therapy with a positive attitude.

When I started physical therapy, I was introduced to Tim Spaulding. Tim was willing to invest his time and energy into me, and he was driving me to push myself in ways that were immediately beneficial. I could see he was an expert, and part of my job was to encourage him to pour more and more of his expertise into me.

IT WORKED. The efforts of all those therapies has brought back nearly all of the leg strength, coordination and balance lost to the stroke.

The most obvious loss was physical strength and coordination, as well as significant vision impairment and inability to drive a car. My outpatient therapy included the Visual Impairment Program, and I’ve learned to make adaptations and retrain my eyes.

A less obvious change is, now that I am disabled, the people around me naturally infer a sense of unreliability that I no longer can be trusted with anything that requires judgment, estimation or physical manipulation. Can I tighten a screw with a screwdriver? Can I make a judgment on the worth of a possible investment? It is difficult to accept that those around me who would have been confident in the past are now unsure of my competency or ability to adapt to my new limitations.

To be blunt, this is one of the most difficult and humiliating aspects of the stroke. The physical aspects are annoying and disruptive, but the social aspects can be humiliating … deeply and persistently humiliating.

Stroke jokes and games

While not ignoring the fact that a stroke and its consequences are very serious, we never forget how to have fun and to always sustain a sense of humor. So I call myself the “Stroke Bloke.” My grandkids join me in making a game of the things that happen to me due to my new peculiarities.

Because of my left visual field cut, we make a game of sneaking up on grandpa and getting right next to him without him realizing it. Originally I would pay a quarter if someone could do it. But that became too expensive. So I cut back on the amount, and now it earns a penny.

When we play ping-pong, the goal is to serve the ball so that grandpa can see it and maybe hit it back!

Passion for pensions and people

The question now is, what about the future? My main hobby is music. The simple plan is to continue working on piano and violin.

There is one additional passion that means a great deal to me, coming from my profession as an actuary, and that is people should have the means to retire after a lifetime of working hard. I continue to serve as a member of the board of a major pension plan here in Michigan. It is gratifying to know that, even as a stroke victim, I am still able to make a significant contribution to help make sure a lot of people will be able to retire someday. I will continue my involvement to support workers, hopefully for many years to come.

My stroke caused huge changes in the life I knew and, in fact, it nearly ended the life I had, but I really don’t care much to think about the past. It’s the future that matters.

Dale shared his story and the benefits of Mary Free Bed’s Visual Impairment Program with WZZM-TV. Watch it here.

4 Comments

Cheryl

So proud of you Dale. Always have been and my admiration continues to grow.

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Suzanne

So pleased to hear that you have had such a significant recovery. Prayers do work and I’ll continue to pray for you and your fabulous family.

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Bob Hamlet

Thanks for the great story on Dale & how he is dealing with effects of a stroke. Abour 4 yrs ago I suffered 2 minor strokes in the span of 7 months. I am a singer/song writer…I play the guitar. The second stroke effected my fine motor skills in my left hand. While in no way as serious as Dale’s by a long shot! It was very discouraging not to be able to play as before. But it was therapist who told me “pick up that guitar everyday and play!” She was so right in pointing me in that direction. As far as humor…my 3 grown sons & I joke about creating a sitcom called “Stroke Dad”.

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Diane Vander Maas

Hey Neighbor!
What a beautiful story of recovery. Perhaps you should consider writing as well. You are a word-crafter!
Diane Vander Maas

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