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LESSONS FROM A STROKE:
Storytelling as Healing Process

posted Monday, 19 March 2007
by Vera Oye Yaa-Anna

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In my native land Liberia, we refer to God as "the old man upstairs." My Christian faith in a benevolent deity has nurtured me in my work as a storyteller. I believed I was destined to come to the United States and tell my stories. But never was this sense of destiny and nurture more tested and affirmed than when I suffered a major stroke.
There was nothing unusual about the start of that Los Angeles morning in March 1996. I woke up tired, as usual. A tightness at the back of my neck reminded me that I had a doctor's appointment, but I shifted my focus instead to a Palaver Hut production scheduled for month's end. In my excitement, I hurried to my office in Century City to address invitations for the event, forgetting the appointment. But as I began addressing the first envelope, my penmanship faltered, running all over the invitation. I knew something was wrong.
The desk phone rang, sounding strangely distant. I picked up the receiver to hear my good friend Judy. Alarmed by my strange voice, she rushed to my office, finding me unconscious. She called 911 and I was transported to a quality hospital just across the street. (We later called it a "stroke of luck.")
I woke up three days later in a sterile room. Confused and dazed, I finally realized I was in a hospital room, but had no clue why. I had an impulse to dress and return to work, Where, I wondered, were my clothes?
As I began to disconnect my medical tubes, a nurse came into the room and began yelling at me to stop. I could not understand what she was saying. Another nurse arrived, and the two stood there, gawking as I tried to get out of the bed. My right leg would not move; my right hand seemed stuck to my shoulder. As I struggled, my right leg slid off the sheets.
"Can't you see?" one of the nurses exclaimed. "You are crippled!"
"No I'm not!" I meant to protest, but the words twisted in my lips. I made one last feeble attempt to get out the bed. Something was terribly wrong, I knew. I desperately wanted and needed my mother...

In my African culture we take responsibility for our own healing, empowering the self through stories, as well as through singing, dancing, laughing and creative movement. We often joke that we are our own psychiatrists and therapists.
Our elders also use stories and parables to teach and heal. Children are told the story of their spirit early on, which helps them to develop self-esteem. According to my family folklore, I was given a "warrior spirit," never to be defeated. This instilled in me a confidence that I would heal.
I found victory in achieving small tasks. I refused to hold my injured hand like it was a helpless baby. I believed I could retrain my muscles through repetitive movements. After each session with my physical therapist, I would return to my room and practice until I began to sweat...story continues

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