Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Stroke

Warning: This post includes my blunt opinions about the current state of human sexuality in the United States. Frank language can be expected.

Sunday, August 19 of this year changed my life. While taking a leisurely walk around a pond with me, my wife suffered a stroke. We didn’t diagnose it as such on the spot. She had tingling in the left side of her face and arm, and she wanted to lean to the left when walking. She felt a little light-headed, too. I thought that maybe she was having an allergic reaction to something she ate for lunch, or was dehydrated and overheated. I had her sit down, drink some water, and tell me more about how she was feeling.

”Do you think we need to go to the hospital?” I asked.

”I don’t know.” she responded.

”Are you thinking it might be a stroke?”


We wasted no time in getting her on her feet and back to the car. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t driven in a city since 1999 in Cincinnati, and I was pretty panic-stricken even back then, so Heidi drove us both to the hospital. She was admitted into the ER quickly, and then into the hospital’s neurological services unit. We were there almost exactly 48 hours while she rested and hospital personnel did tests.

Heidi is young, only 41, and the idea that she had experienced a stroke left us dumbfounded. She is not overweight, does not smoke, gets regular exercise (at her job as a zookeeper; and keeping me in line at home), and has no other pre-existing conditions that are known to aggravate a stroke.

What had changed in the previous three months was that she had begun taking oral contraceptives. The blood work on Heidi is still pending as I write this, but nurses and doctors all concede that the birth control pills probably precipitated her stroke. The high estrogen levels in “The Pill” are firmly linked to not only an increased risk of stroke, but also breast cancer. Heidi was taking these drugs as much to alleviate heavy menstruation as to protect us from an unwanted and/or risky pregnancy.

One of the nurse practitioners that talked to us said that if it was up to her, no woman over forty years of age would be prescribed oral contraceptives. No woman who smokes should ever get birth control pills, regardless of her age. Yes, the warnings surrounding oral contraceptives are explicit, but chronically downplayed by both the pharmaceutical industry and the medical community. Why do women have the burden of birth control in the first place?

Here’s the thing. Our patriarchal society continues to assert that men have a right to sexual intercourse any time they want, on whatever terms they so desire, without taking any responsibility for the potential consequences. Gentlemen: Last time I checked, aside from potential allergy to latex, there were no side-effects to wearing a damn condom! Are you really willing to subject your loving partner to potentially lethal or life-altering damage for the sake of your carnal desires?

We need a fundamental cultural shift in the U.S. that demands men take responsibility for their actions, especially when it comes to sex. Lately, there seems to be movement in the opposite direction, seeking to rob women of the few options they have to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy, or even the opportunity to seek counsel, receive proper medical exams, and access to birth control in any form.

At least some of the roots of the problem can be traced to how we bring up our sons. The “rites” of manhood now seem to be “losing your virginity” and “getting a car,” not necessarily in that order. That sense of entitlement has got to go. It needs to be replaced with a reverence for women; and we must substitute selfishness with a code of sacrifice and toleration of deprivation. Native American rites of passage have much to teach us in this regard. Fasting, solitude, self-reflection, and testing one’s physical limits are at the core of what it means to be a man in those cultures.

Putting more women in places of power couldn’t hurt, either, provided that those women embrace the feminine qualities of compromise, empathy, compassion, and patience that seem to be missing from their male counterparts. Unfortunately, the feminist movement seems to be telling young women that to succeed in a man’s world one must act like a man. Nonsense.

I hope that I am not a lone voice in the wilderness here. Demanding accountability from men should not be simply a legal and liability issue. It cuts to the heart of who we are, or who we can become, as a society. Yes, we are animals, and subject to the same instinctual influences as any other creature; but, we also have the capability of understanding the consequences of our actions. Do we have the will to use that foresight?


  1. Dude, you had Heidi drive both of you to the hospital after you suspected a stroke!?! It changed your life? How about hers? I hope she's doing okay now.

    I visited several OB/GYNs before I found one that understood my researched concerns and didn't try to push hormonal contraceptives to alleviate the monthly mood swings and cramps so severe I would vomit and have days of diarrhea (copper IUD makes this worse). We really need more doctors focused on overall health, rather than being legalized drug dealers. I've found daily doses of calcium (600-1200 mg or more) helps tremendously on both counts, as well as giving in to my post-period iron cravings with red meat and lots of broccoli. Taking OTC pain relievers before the cramps set in helps, too.

    ObamaCare, which came into effect this summer, has helped curb the costs (in most cases, it's free now) for women's preventative health services. I actually don't know how the religious aspect of contraception coverage turned out after the controversy earlier this year (news these days does a poor job with follow-up), but it would definitely give me pause if I worked for an employer that didn't want to cover. Women need to speak up to be heard. As for Roe vs. Wade, it seems to be a misdirection every 4 years to keep people (mainly women?) focused on an issue that won't eventually decide the election. In this day and age, I doubt it will ever get overturned.

    Unless Heidi has a desire to birth a child, at age 41 and in a committed relationship, condoms are not the only option. One word to man up and follow your own words of wisdom: vasectomy.

    1. Katie: Heidi and I both appreciate you sharing your own experience and offering your opinions on this issue. I do take exception to the driving, though. I subsequently drove her to physical, occupational, and speech therapy appointments, but you are not inside my mind and have no idea how terrifying it was for me to get behind the wheel after so many years of not driving....As for our own birth control decisions, that is also a private matter. This essay was directed at our culture and population at large. Each of us must make our own reproductive decisions. We must be responsible, however, to our spouses and our species. Our planet cannot sustain more humans given our impact, but I will save discussions about population for another day. Thank you again for your input.