I no longer have a beard.
The reason I no longer have a beard is because I had to shave it for surgery.
The reason for the surgery was because I experienced what is officially called a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) but is better - and more terrifyingly - known as a ``little'' stroke.
This was not exactly the way I expected to spend my retirement.
It all started at 4 a.m. on a Saturday. I awoke and tried to move my right arm but had no control over it. The limb felt as if it were asleep. I really wasn't too concerned until I tried to get up to go to the bathroom. That's when I discovered that my right leg was also affected.
I still didn't get alarmed, figuring it was the result of how I was positioned in the bed.
After some time passed and the situation stayed the same, it finally dawned on me: Oh, my God, I think I'm having a stroke!
I was at a complete loss as to what to do. I figured I should call someone, but who? After all it was 4 a.m. (I now know that I should have gotten emergency treatment, but somehow that didn't really seem to be an option at the time. I didn't want to bother anyone if it didn't turn out to be serious.)
I began to get a bit panicky but forced myself to calm down. I made repeated attempts to move and walk normally, but there definitely was a partial paralysis that wasn't going away. I could get around in a shuffling manner, but it was a lot like that mummy in the old horror movies.
Not knowing what else to do and afraid to go back to bed, I staggered into the living room, plopped into the recliner, turned on the television, and fretted about my situation.
I couldn't drive myself anywhere. I couldn't even get up or down the stairs. Well, I suppose I could get down the stairs, but it certainly would be painful and sure to produce a lot of bruises.
Ridiculous as this sounds, I had always felt that I could live with death. But it never ever occurred to me that I might have to spend the rest of my life with impaired health. Who would take care of me? What was I going to do? I might need a lot of personal care. I began to think of some unmarried women I knew and wondered how they might react to a marriage proposal at 4 a.m.
Even in my addled state I figured this probably wasn't the most ideal of proposals: ``Hi, this is Tom. How would you like to get married ... and maybe take care of me the rest of my life?''
While I glumly pondered my future, I noticed that I was gaining a bit more control over both arm and leg. Awash with cautious optimism, I waited, and a few minutes later had even more movement. Within three hours, I had full control of all my limbs. It was if it never happened. The relief was overwhelming. Whew. It really was nothing after all.
At least that's what I thought until I called my doctor and was immediately ordered to undergo some tests.
That's when it was discovered that my left carotid artery was 98 percent plugged, and if the condition wasn't taken care of promptly, the odds of my having a ``big'' stroke were great indeed.
There really wasn't any choice. I was to undergo an operation.
And I was flat-out terrified. This was my first real brush with mortality and I didn't like it at all. And it concerned a lot more than the loss of my beard.
I'll have more about this in the next installment. (P.S. I lived through it.)
Tom Ensign's column will appear the first and third Wednesdays of each month.