July 26 Resilience

It was July 26th 2012, the muggy summer air stagnated between the sky scraping buildings of New York City. Tourist season was in full swing. Like any other day, Gaynel was at work, but on this particular day, her phone was constantly ringing. She rushed home to find her apartment building in East Flatbush Brooklyn up in flames. Any tenants living in the building were relocated, but charged double the rent for subpar accommodations. To this day, the case is still in court and tenants like herself have not been compensated for their losses.  

Gaynel had just come back from a trip to England and was still enjoying the high of travel when the fire happened. She lost many of her belongings. Through the strength of her faith and a strong support system around her, she landed on her feet. She began living with a family friend who had recently lost her companion. The two got along well. Four years to that date, another life event would allow her to put everything once again into perspective.

On July 26, 2016, another beautiful summer day in New York City. Like always, the high humidity had one melting in as little as ten minutes into their commute.  Gaynel was now working with the fire department as an administrator. On that day, Gaynel went to the bathroom, but it would be two hours before someone noticed her absence from her desk.

A pregnant co-worker who, due to her state, would frequent the bathroom, noticed that someone was in the other stall for quite some time. Gaynel said that she felt she may be having a stroke. Her condition worsened to the point that she could not move or even speak. Co-workers busted down the bathroom stall and called the paramedics. They confirmed her suspicions: she was indeed having a stroke. Paramedics brought her to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and she remained there for over a month.

While hospitalized she received an outpouring of love from family, friends and coworkers who constantly called and came to visit.  Approximately four weeks after her stroke, she began rehabilitation. For some time, she was in a wheelchair and lost mobility in her right hand.  “It was my first time being rushed to the  hospital for an emergency,” but “I did not want that experience to overtake me,” Gaynel said. 

Therapy was extremely difficult for her in the beginning, but she always remembered that there were people in the world that got through much worse. She did not want the wheelchair to become her crutch, so she began practicing standing up and taking  exercise classes at the YMCA to further strengthen her mobility. 

That experience taught her strength and how important it is to keep a positive mindset. She adamantly pushed against having a mindset of hopelessness. 

Today, Gaynel continues her work as an administrator for the local fire department. In the next few years, she sees herself regaining full mobility in her hands to continue serving those less fortunate than she is.

Author Profile

Iris M. Crawford, is a poet and social justice advocate. Hailing from New York City, she is a first-generation Guyanese- American. Her journey has allowed her to empower communities through health care advocacy, education and environmental justice. In 2018, Iris was selected as a semi-finalist Fulbright Scholar for an English Teaching Assistantship in South Africa. She also just became a resident of the 2020 Shuffle Collective Literary Arts Residency where she will be working to strengthen her creative work, gain skills to continue growing professionally and build community. She earned her BA in Political Philosophy and African American Studies from Syracuse University.

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