How a furry friend helped me heal
By Stacy Quinn, Guest Blogger
Having a strong support system is important when you’re coping with the aftermath of a health crisis, especially the emotional ramifications. After my stroke, my appearance suggested I was just fine. But below the surface, I had stabbing eye and neck pain, blurry vision, a throbbing headache, an upset stomach and lots of anxiety. My scars were invisible, but to the outside world, I looked put together, composed and ready to get back to my life.
The truth is, I was struggling. My stroke had blindsided me and flipped my life upside down. In less than 24 hours, I went from holding a plank at the gym for 30 minutes to laying in a hospital bed thinking my head was going to explode. And having lived through the stroke, I knew my recovery was going to be a roller-coaster journey for both my body and my emotions. How was I going to get through this? Well, I got a “big” surprise.
Help is on the way
You learn a lot about your friends and family after a health crisis. Some people think that because you look fine, you don’t need any help. Others hold your hand so tight you don’t think they’ll ever let go. There are also people you haven’t spoken to for years who suddenly reappear and offer to clean your house. Support can even be more unexpected. For me, that support came from Mr. Big, a cat I rescued from a local animal shelter.
At the time, Mr. Big had been my furry BFF for almost seven years, and I thought I knew everything about him. He loved tuna primavera, drowning his catnip mice toys in his water bowl and stealing my eyeglasses off my bedside nightstand. But it took a health crisis for me to realize that Mr. Big had a special kind of healing magic.
Mr. Big might not have known exactly what I was going through, but he knew something was off. I can’t explain it, but he was at my side as soon as I came home from the hospital. He greeted me at the door with a screeching meow as if he was mad at me for being away from home for a few days. But then the loud meows quickly went soft and he brushed up against my weak legs.
A purr-fect dose of companionship
Next, Mr. Big followed me to the bathroom and stood by the door as I showered. His posture was tall his eyes were as wide as saucers. After I dried off and got into my PJs, he followed me into bed where he cuddled next to me and licked the traces of sticky goo on my skin that the bandages and heart monitors had left behind. When I woke up in the middle of the night terrified of having another stroke, Mr. Big was there spooning up against me with his head next to mine on the pillow. I was astounded by his empathy and how he didn’t leave my side for three days.
Mr. Big’s calming effect was just what the doctor ordered—literally. I was told to take it easy and manage the stress I was feeling after surviving the worst health crisis, and Mr. Big was the best prescription to help me heal. His presence also helped calm my fear of having another stroke. In weeks and months following my recovery, the bond between Mr. Big and I continued to grow and we’ve become inseparable. His companionship and calming nature have reduced my anxiety and calmed me when I feel stressed.
But this furry guy does more to brighten my day than lounge with me. In fact, he’s quite the prankster when we’re not hanging out, and his silly stunts never cease to amuse me. He’s constantly stealing things out of my bag and carrying them around the house in his mouth or opening and closing random doors throughout the house.
Mr. Big also makes sure I get to bed on time (getting enough ZZZs is important for our overall health). If it gets too late, he lets me know it’s time for sleep by running up and down the stairs meowing until I turn off the lights and slide under the covers. And then he’ll cuddle up next to me as we drift off to dreamland.
Five years after my stroke, Mr. Big remains a steadfast supportive presence in my life, especially on days when I have a pounding headache or when I let stress get the best of me. Without fail, he comes to my rescue and nestles in for the long haul.
Tell me how a pet has come to your rescue and share a photo. Who doesn’t love a cute pet photo?!
Stacy Quinn is an Ambassador for Go Red For Women and a AHA Northern New Jersey Board Member. You can follow her on twitter @Healthy4Good.
The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of The American Heart Association | American Stroke Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.
The American Heart Association’s blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.
Senior communications director for the American Heart Association in New Jersey, Lehigh Valley and Northeast PA. Dedicated to being a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives.