There’s not much I remember of Monday, March 26th, but it’s a day I will never forget.
In the late afternoon while at work in my studio, I suddenly and inexplicably began to feel light-headed. My legs became weak like rubber, unable to support the body they held up. Then I blacked out for who knows how long. It felt like minutes, but it could have been for hours. When I regained consciousness, I found myself on the floor, painfully twisted like a pretzel, gasping for air. I tried to get up on both knees but couldn’t. It was as if my brain’s messages didn’t reach my muscles. I’d never experienced anything like it in my life.
The phone rang several times. My arms reached to the desk above, hoping to grab it. No matter how hard I tried to lift myself up, I had no strength to do it. It was infuriating and terrifying at the same time. After a while a text message came in, and I desperately wanted to answer it. I grabbed my desk chair, hoping to climb up on it, but it rolled away from me.
Something told me that whatever was happening to me, was serious, and I needed to contact the outside world without delay. Then I remembered that I could simply ask Siri to call my wife by shouting instructions at my iPhone. But when I attempted to form words, I noticed something very alarming. My tongue felt swollen and useless. My slurred speech sounded like a drunken sailor. What the heck was going on?
While I was lying on the floor, I noticed that my breathing had become very shallow. I had no idea for how long I had been down. The lightheadedness got worse by the minute, and suddenly it dawned upon me that I was using up all the oxygen in my seven by seven, hermetically sealed, and unventilated voice-over studio. I clearly needed help, but who could possibly rescue me?
My wife was at a borough council meeting that night, and she wasn’t scheduled to come home early. Screaming to alert the neighbors was pointless, since I was in a solid soundproofed space I had designed myself. I remember trying to open the heavy studio door, which under normal circumstances takes a lot of strength. An industrial metal door closer keeps it firmly shut, and to make matters worse, my unresponsive body was leaning against it.
I felt trapped, and it quickly dawned upon me that if no one came to liberate me, I would soon use up all the oxygen, and suffocate in my own studio.
At borough council, my wife was concerned that I didn’t show up for the meeting I’d said I would attend, and that I did not answer my phone. A few weeks earlier she had found me face down on the kitchen floor after I had thrown out my back and was unable to move. Six hours later an ambulance crew had to pick me up off the floor and take me to the nearest hospital. With that in mind she called our friends who lived nearby and had a house key, asking them to check in on me. Since this was a council meeting, the police and fire chiefs were present, and they promised to send a few guys over for a welfare check.
Knowing that crying out for help would be futile, I began to bang a loud SOS on the walls of my recording space in the hopes somebody would hear me. It took all the strength I had, but suddenly and miraculously, the back door opened, and I heard voices. Neighbors Scott and Danny had arrived, but they had no idea what had happened and where to find me. In one final attempt I pounded the loudest SOS on the studio door and it worked. My friends came running down to the basement where my studio is located.
At first they couldn’t open the door because I was lying against it, so I had to roll myself away from it. As the fresh air was flowing in once the door opened, I took the deepest breath I had ever taken in my life. I remember Danny, who is a trained nurse, bending over me, saying: “The left side of his face is drooping and he’s unresponsive. He might have a stroke!” At that point police officers and firemen came in, ready to get me out of my miserable situation.
What happened next, I don’t remember very well. They got me out of the house and to the nearest hospital to stabilize me, and find out what was going on. A quick scan confirmed that I had indeed suffered a stroke caused by a blood clot in the right side of my brain. To avoid further brain damage and possible paralyzation, it was imperative to get me to a stroke center as quickly as possible. That’s when the medevac team was contacted.
A helicopter landed on the helipad at a nearby high school, and within minutes I was airlifted in a cacophony of engine rumble and intense vibration. At the stroke center a specialized team was anxiously awaiting my arrival, ready to physically remove the blood clot using a procedure called mechanical thrombectomy. Doctors threaded a catheter through an artery in my groin up to the blocked vessel in the brain. A stent opened and grabbed the clot, allowing doctors to then remove the stent with the trapped clot.
Get this. During the operation I actually woke up out of my sedation, and I felt the stent going in, grabbing something inside my head. As I stared at my smiling surgeon’s face, there was a moment of sharp pain, followed by intense relief as I drifted away. The next thing I remember is waking up in the ICU, being welcomed back into the world by my wife. For the next two weeks, I would be attached to a network of tubes leading to beeping equipment measuring any type of vital sign.
I was weak, I was dizzy, but I was alive. Thank goodness I was alive!
What happened next was even more miraculous. As soon as I shared my hospitalization on Facebook, hundreds of people started reaching out to me. Every day I received encouraging, heartwarming messages from all over the world from friends, colleagues, and family members. Some mornings, the nurses caught me using WhatsApp to talk to my sister in the Netherlands, Facebook Messenger to connect with a colleague in Spain, and email to let a client know I couldn’t narrate a script just yet.
While new medications were slowly stabilizing my situation, I want to tell you that there’s nothing like the positive power of kind, caring people healing what was broken. I felt strengthened, supported, uplifted, and energized. Soon I would be walking the hospital halls in my yellow slipper clogs to the amusement of staff members. I began climbing stairs, regaining my balance, and finding my bearings. Paul Stefano, Trish Basanyi, Uncle Roy Yokelson, and Mike Harrison came to visit, bringing good cheer and yummy treats.
Friends started cooking for my wife who spent most of her time by my side, keeping track of all the information and advice from neurologists, cardiologists, and other health care experts involved in my treatment. She was the one I leaned on, literally and figuratively, and I count my lucky stars to have her love in my life.
So, how am I feeling now, a little over two weeks after I had my stroke?
Right now, the biggest challenge to my recovery is… me. I want to get back on my feet as soon as possible, doing all the things I’m so used to doing, even though I might not have the energy and coordination to do them. I have to learn to pace myself and say no. I also have to come to terms with how I handle stress caused by pressure I put on myself, and pressure from others. But based on what has happened, people are surprised to see me in such good shape. I attribute that to two things. The day after my operation the doctor told me: “It’s important to keep a positive outlook.“ He’s absolutely right. I truly know that being negative is a luxury I can’t afford.
The second thing is the importance of having a support system. That’s precisely where you came in, and I am so grateful for that. To you, it might have seemed like a few kind words on social media, or a card with an encouraging message. To me, it made all the difference, and I can’t thank you enough for that!
The consequence is that you’ll be stuck with snarky, lucky me for a while, using this blog to dish out my weekly commentary on the wonderful world of voice-overs and life as a freelancer.
Are you sure you can handle that?
I know I can, because I’m Still Here, and I’m not going anywhere!
Paul Payton says
Omigod, Paul – I had no idea! I haven’t been on Facebook, and Uncle Roy nor anyone else told me of your predicament. But as always, your positive attitude comes through and makes your travail sound more like an adventure, although it’s one adventure I hope not to have! May that positive attitude carry you through to rapid and complete healing and carry you back to full strength soon. In the meanwhile, we who read your blog regularly can handle epistles being spaced a bit farther apart for a while.
Please give my best to Pam; you are a lucky man to have someone like her as your life partner! (I know you are, because I’ve got me one like that, too!!!)
Peace, love, friendship and healing,
Monique Bagwell says
Even through your struggles you bring hope to others Paul ? That was a truly terrifying situation to be in…As I read it I envisioned it like a movie before my eyes and I was holding my breath along with you! No words can truly express how grateful I am that you ARE STILL HERE.?
Heather Costa says
What a truly terrifying ordeal. I am so glad that you’re okay!! Continuing to send love and healing wishes. xoxo
Welcome back to us, Paul! It definitely wasn’t your time and I’m so happy we get to enjoy you more. I guess we need to take it easy, us, freelancers… sending all my love to your wonderful wife who took such a great, unconditionally care of you. Here u around, dear voice!
Laurel Thomas says
Nothing but love and well wishes to you, my friend. I am just catching up to this and no idea! Of course you would write the most eloquent story about it. 😉 Best wishes and healing vibes to you.
Basil Sands says
Wow Paul, such a frightening yet amazing experience. May God bless you and keep you, and give you strength!
Helen Lloyd says
Goodness Paul … thank goodness your neighbours found you. Having a stroke is one thing, but the idea of suffocating in your own booth is too dreadful to contemplate. What an extraordinarily frightening experience – so glad to see you back on track. take it easy and be gentle with yourself. Hugs from the UK.
So VERY glad you’re alright and recovering, Paul. Take the time you need for you. I know it’s hard. We’re all taught not to be selfish, right? 😉 In this case? Be selfish. 😉 Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery! It sounds like you’re doing really well and that’s great to hear. Sending lots of hugs your way from the “wilds of Canada”. 😉
Welcome back! So glad you were able to get help in time and have such a miraculous recovery. Keep up the positive energy and enjoy Spring…finally
Randye Kaye says
Paul. Wow. They’d never believe this if it was an episode of some medical show. Happy healing , my friend!
Mike Reagan says
Only the best thoughts for you Sir. Thank you for the update and more thankful that you are doing well.
Lee Jagow says
Praying for your rapid and complete recovery,
So happy to be able to read your “here’s what happened” post! Your a strong, positive and pot-stiring force we need 😉 Sending loving, healing vibes!
what a story! Wow! Glad you’re on the mend and taking it easy at home. I remember being in an emergency situation years ago…(more conscious than you) and after my health and the health of my unborn baby, my next concern was … insurance. I hope and trust you had things in order so as to relieve some of that financial stress. My hubby was in insurance for a while, and he’s even taken out medi-vac insurance, for the express situation you described for air lifting, which often is not covered under a typical policy. Just keep that positive attitude going. It can do wonders, which you’ve already experienced.
Paul Garner says
Only two weeks later! Amazing, Paul. How wonderful that people are responding so warmly, and so many! We’ll be keeping you in our prayers, Paul.
Mel Allen (@TheRealVoiceMel) says
Paul, glad to hear that you’re recovering. Also wondering how on Earth I missed this. Sending positive energy your way. Hope you spend your time getting well writing more!
Chuck Davis says
Wow, Paul. Of all things that you’ve written that was, without a doubt, the most compelling and powerful. So happy to hear that you’re on your way back. The world is a better place with your voice in it.
Maria Makis says
I am so very happy to see that you are doing so well Paul. Take care and continue to get better and stronger!
Genevieve Baer says
Wow. I am so very sorry you (and your family) had to go through this but so glad you’re ok! Be gentle with yourself and best wishes for a full and speedy recovery. -Genevieve
Ken Cowan says
Welcome back, hope you had a nice trip. Interesting choice of words… “I truly know that being negative is a luxury
Steve Krumlauf says
Wow! Who knew? Thank God, Paul, you are a survivor! (Must be those Dutch roots.) Thank God for good neighbors like Scott and Danny who stepped up to the plate just at the right time. I’m amazed that you were able to stay awake through the whole thing and able to recall all of that. Praying for a full and speedy recovery, Paul, and that there will be no permanent impact on your voice and career! We in the VO community love you man!
Shireen S Shahawy says
I missed the news on social media. I know we don’t know each other, but I am a loyal reader — and wish you all the best for a speedy recovery. Sending positive thoughts from Portland, Maine!
Bruce Kramer says
A harrowing story, but one with an outcome both to be desired and appropriate, given the positive energy that you provide to your colleagues and the world. Best wishes for your continued recovery!
John Kissinger says
Wow, Paul. What a harrowing ordeal! A true wonder that you’ve allowed yourself to recall the painful details and document it for all of us. And more wonderful that you’ve cultivated such friends to come to your rescue — and not a moment too soon! So glad to hear that you’re on the mend and still with us. Our industry wouldn’t be the same without your presence. Sending positive vibes for a speedy recovery!
Brad Hyland says
What a gripping story.
Thanks for sharing everything…and thanks for still be around!
Power of positive thing….
Well, your story has just given me a jolt of that positivity.
Wishing you herculean strength as you recover and find the new normal.
katie leigh says
Paul, all this must have happened when I took a facebook break. I am so happy to hear of your miraculous and wonderful recovery. I am sharing your story with my brother who is fighting cancer.
TROY W. HUDSON says
What a terrible experience but so glad you are recovering and still with us! I am a fellow VOA and I could picture your ordeal quite vividly!
I am praying for a full and quick recovery and that you will be back to not only a normal life but one better than before. In Jesus’ name I call you blessed, healed and whole!
Troy W. Hudson
Oh my goodness! I’m so glad you’re ok!!!!! Keep smiling, keep shining! 🙂 All the best to you!
Thanks for sharing…. what a scary experience… so happy you found your way to the other side of it… be well…
T Diaz says
Wishing you a smooth and speedy–well, in light of the situation and your reflections on pacing yourself, let me rephrase that–wishing you a smooth and perfectly paced recovery, Paul!
Rick Lance says
Oh, Jesus, Paul! I didn’t know about this! So glad to know that you came through ok and are getting stronger. It sure pays to have accessible good neighbors. And great first responders nearby. Man… I know your attitude toward everything is so robust and positive that you’ll be back at your work and play soon! Keep Rockin’! Rick
Joleene Derks says
Oh my goodness! May you feel all of the warmth, love, support and positive wishes wrapping around you.
Breathe, heal and be good to yourself,
Paula Faye Leinweber says
Paul, so VERY glad to hear you are up and around again and on the road to recovery. Thank you for sharing your scary ordeal with us, and thank you ever so much for your positive outlook. A great encouragement! Keep smiling and keep those snarky thoughts coming!!! 🙂
Joe Van Riper says
I am stunned! I had no idea you’d had such a scare. Thank God help got to you in time, Now you’ve re-booted your life and are rising back to your rightful place in our industry. You’re already there in our hearts. Isn’t it amazing how a sudden reminder of our mortality completely rearranges our priorities?
Liz de Nesnera says
He’s baaaaaaaaack! 🙂 Yay! (((((HUGS)))))
Dearest Paul, thank you for sharing your experience. I’m always inspired by your wisdom, brilliant snark, and positive outlook. Sending you so much love and light for continued healing. Rock onward, dear one!!
Claire Dodin says
Oh my goodness, what a terrifying ordeal! I’m so glad you’re better.
Jeff Gelder says
Thanks for sharing your experience Paul! The power of friends, family and community is truly the most healing thing. I wish you a speedy recovery and welcome you back with open arms. 🙂
Debra Stamp says
Have enjoyed your writing for quite a while, Paul, and am happy (and utterly amazed) that you’re back at it with gusto so soon after your ordeal. Thank you for giving it the effort, for sharing your experience, and for openly expressing your thoughts. Obviously you still have lots more to do on this earth! Heal well. God Bless
Paul…grateful for your recovery!! Stay strong my friend!!
Jill Goldman says
Paul, I didn’t know what had happened until reading this blog just now, but I’m very glad to hear you pulled through and are recovering so well. Do continue to take good care of yourself and allow time for recovery. Don’t rush yourself. Sending positive thoughts and energy your way, Jill
Liz Drury says
So glad to hear that you are on the mend Paul. Take it easy and don’t rush to take stuff on – it can wait!
Wat een avontuur, Paul! Van harte een heel goed verder herstel gewenst!
Sandy Weiner says
We are so glad that you are feeling better. Continue to heal and be good to yourself.
I needed to read this article, Paul! I wasn’t having a very good day, dealing with a physical setback of my own. Reading your words made me step back and re-evaluate what I was thinking and feeling. The positive mindset reference reminded me of how important it is to maintain that, no matter what the setback. You’ve been through far worse than I have and I have to remind myself of that and what I CAN do, physically. My best wishes for your full recovery and a huge THANKS for helping to get me back on the center line again, moving forward on my own path to recovery. God Bless.
Amy Weis says
So glad that you’re doing so much better — what an ordeal! We love your clever insight and appreciate your taking the time to write about your medical ‘adventure’. Wishing you the very best-
Keith Copeland says
WOW! I’m praying for a very speedy recovery for you, Paul.
Paul Rousse says
So glad to hear you’re doing okay now. I’m sure you’ll be back at it quite soon. Wishing you all the best!
thanks for writing this…and heal quickly!
Paul Boucher, Bilingual Voice Actor says
Thank goodness you’re OK. The isolation we work in just hit home in a terrifying new way. You are indeed VERY fortunate to have such speedy care once you were found – those first minutes of response and care can make all the difference. You are *most* welcome back. I wish you a speedy and FULL recovery. Snark on! Thanks for sharing your story.
Paul I wish you only the best on your recovery. The voice over world IS your family and you have always been straight and honest, shooting from the hip, and always directly to the truth. (Whether we want to hear it or not). Looking forward to your next blog.
Glad you’re making a recovery. All the best!!
Mark Weitzman says
Paul, Wishing you a fast recovery! Take care!
Francesco Ventura says
I’m hooked on your witty posts. So get in shape soon! Greetings from Italy!
Christian Rosselli says
This sounds really scary but glad you are making a speedy recovery, Paul! All the best wishes! – Christian
Liz Aiello says
So happy you are well! I know exactly what you are going through on two fronts. I am an R.N.-and worked in a rehab hospital- many of my patients were stroke survivors. 2 years ago I had a benign memingioma removed from the right side of my brain and when they took it out, they surgeon hit a motor center and the left side of my body went down, I ended up in the same rehab hospital that I worked in. It was a long process of coming back. All is well now and I am so grateful! Keep the positive attitude going and you will heal faster. Wish you the best!
Lee Ann Howlett says
I’m so glad that you pulled through this, Paul! What a scary situation — to have this happen in your booth. Best wishes for a full recovery!
Glenn Howard says
Loved reading your blog post today, Paul. So glad you decided to stick around for the second act! Sending you lots of good healing vibes and well wishes from that funny place up north where Spring is just a suggestion. Rest-up, buddy.
Martin Victor says
I just heard about this today, Paul. I know what you went through – I’ve been on a slab in ICU also. Glad you pulled through it. Staying positive is definitely your best ally. I wish you well, and look forward to your blogging efforts again. Take care.
All the Best,
Small Steps says
Wishing you a speedy recovery.
You are blessed to have such a loving wife.
Howard Ellison says
Such a moving story, Paul! Vividly told. And how very brave you are. If there’s ever an upside to the shocks in our lives it’s when they bring forward the love of others – family, colleagues, carers. Something to rejoice in, every day.
All best wishes for your continued recovery.
Paul Strikwerda says
I wish I could thank all of you personally for your thoughtful support, good wishes, and warm words of encouragement, but that would mean ignoring my doctor’s advice to get enough rest and heal up.
A stroke happens in a matter of minutes, but recovering from it is a lengthy process. There are doctor’s visits, therapy sessions, and trips to the gym to regain strength. This may mean that I might not be as active on social media, or that my blog posts will be more spread out instead of weekly. I will have to play it by ear, depending on how I feel.
Thank you in advance for your understanding. I dodged a big bullet, and every day I feel grateful to be alive and surrounded by so many caring friend and colleagues.
That means the world to me!
Paul Payton says
Don’t stress over getting back to regular blogging. There’s enough collective wisdom on your website to last us all for at least a couple of years or more! We’ll be ready for you when you’re ready for us!
Paul – I am so grateful there’s a happy ending to such a terrifying experience! The entire VO community relies on your thoughtful insights. Sending good juju for a full recovery!
Boet Schouwink says
Having dragged all the panels of my booth up the stairs, and realising how awefully heavy 18 of those bolted together must be, I’ve had nightmares of the floor caving in while recording and then slamming through 2 more floors before landing in the basement, and the door being jammed. AND my wife being away for the weekend…But having a stroke in my own soundproof booth and waking up like you did? Never thought of that one before. Gosh Paul, this chills me to the bone…Hope your recovery is as miraculous as your narrow escape!!
What a terrifying experience!
As an avid reader of your blog I ( as everyone else here) am so so grateful you are on the mend.
Thank God for your wife’s quick thinking and your friends and the first responders.
Keep getting stronger! Be as snarky as you like:). We all need you!
David Bateson says
Dear Paul. we don’t each other but many people know you, or at least, feel like they know you, thanks to all your wonderful insights about our business you share on your blog. Good heavens, that was close. I wish you a speedy recovery and hope you get back in the saddle as soon as possible. A positive attitude really helps, as was mentioned to you. All the best – and please… avoid stress at all costs.
Jyl Woolfolk says
Amazing story! Positivity and support are critical indeed. Wishing you a continued smooth and speedy recovery! God Bless!
Glad you’re OK Paul.
Memo Sauceda says
Our prayers are with you and your family.
Get well at the right pace!
Christi Bowen says
Thank you for sharing your experience but I’m so sorry you had to go through that. Much love to you and your family. Prayers for your continued healing and recovery.
James Kilkenny says
I am glad you’re still here with us! Blessings and a steady recovery to you.
P.S. Nice sabots…
Leslie Diamond says
So glad to know you are recovering, Paul! Continued healing prayers sent your way!
Michelle Falzon says
Hey Paul! What a scary story but with a great ending. I’m so glad you’re okay. I always look forward to your blogs and I look forward to many more to come!
Alexia kombou says
Wow! What a story!
Wishing you a very speedy recovery Paul.
Get well soon!
Moe Rock says
So glad to hear you are doing well and on the mend! Hazah for positive thoughts!! Please let me know if I can help in any way… I’m close. 🙂 Love to you and Pamela!
Drita Protopapa says
SO happy to read you are well and recovering and getting back to the business of being you!
Lynda Kluck says
Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Paul. I can’t imagine how scary that must have been. I wish you strength and optimism as your healing continues. The body is an incredible thing and has an amazing capacity for healing – far beyond what the medical community understands. Looking forward to hearing from you soon and wish you a speedy recovery.
Stephen Knight says
I missed this post before, but I’m so glad that I caught up with it.
Paul, your courage sharing and describing, in-depth, your thoughts, feelings, and other experiences during your stroke and following are extraordinary. Thank you for sharing. This could very well be your most important post.
If it hasn’t been said: If by your writing about this you save one life, help one person through this most difficult experience and time of their lives, it has made your living priceless!
I don’t doubt that friends, colleagues and simply readers of your blog, came immediately to your support as you are one hell of a human being and have shown it week after week in taking the time to support and enrich others’.
Thank you, Paul. Be well and speedy recovery.
Paul Strikwerda says
Ironically, the best recoveries may very well be the slow recoveries. I wanted to be back to perfect health too quickly, and learned to accept that it takes time to heal the brain. If my writing is helping one person in some way, it’s been worth doing. Thanks for your good wishes!