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Reflections on Opening Day and the Mini Stroke that Didn't Stop Me

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I made it to opening day! Five long years of hard work and stressing myself beyond my limits all came together on one marvelous day. Everyone was there – locals, the Chamber of Commerce, my family who travelled from back east, harbor officials, old friends who trekked from Los Angeles and even the handful of new people I’ve managed to meet since moving to Ventura. How amazing that I was having a life event for which everyone gathered. I built something from scratch and people showed up to appreciate it. It doesn’t happen often in one’s life. It was thrilling, it was exhilarating and I cherished it. However, I was also a mess – unforgivingly exhausted, had lost my voice and, in the days prior, I had a mini stroke. I made it, but I was feeling so tired and worn down as I looked at all the vibrant faces that showed up.

I guess this is entrepreneurship, I thought to myself while in the MRI machine at VCMC.  The doctors were scratching their heads trying to figure out why someone otherwise healthy would have a stroke at my age. “Extreme stress,” I kept suggesting. Stress isn’t a risk factor for stroke they kept saying. It just goes to show how far medical science has come. They would eventually conclude that the mini stroke was caused by a hole between my left and right atria which I was apparently born with. Then, reluctantly, some would admit that this may have only revealed itself now because of a stress-induced blood clot. It couldn’t have been a coincidence, I was at a stress level I had never experienced before trying to get the store to opening.  What price entrepreneurship? It hadn’t killed me and I was planning on letting it. I was too close.

I was lucky. The mini stroke had only lasted a half hour before passing and other than a little lingering numbness in my right arm and lack of sleep from nights spent in the hospital, I was fine. What would not be fine was if it kept me from opening. If this whole project would be worth having a stroke over, I needed to be released from the hospital so I could get to that finish line. It was the only thing I cared about because I could, and would, come back and deal with my health later. I was supposed to meet the food reporter for hometown newspaper the VC Star that day and this was an opportunity I absolutely couldn’t miss. Without mentioning I was in a hospital bed, I was thankfully able to move our meeting from noon to 5 pm. I told every medical professional that I had to be released by 2 pm – no negotiations. They laughed and let me know that release is a long rolling process with a lot of doctors needing to sign off. Okay, I said, but I’m going to be gone by 2 pm. I told one person why and she said oh, have the reporter come here. What? TO THE HOSPITAL? What was she thinking? Even if the reporter was willing to interview me in the hospital, this was something I needed to conceal. It’s a chocolate business. If the reporter finds out I’m in the hospital, she’ll think I have diabetes (I don’t) and high blood pressure (it’s low) and high cholesterol (also low) and that now I’ve come to bring those things to the people of Ventura. I can’t have that be the story!!! I'm not Paula Dean. Especially when chocolate is healthy and I eat it in moderation and these problems are not related to diet. These fears may have been a bit irrational but still I couldn’t bear to delay the story or have her not see the beautiful store I built. Wouldn’t you know those doctors had me out by 2 and that wonderful story was printed on my opening day with photos of me smiling through my extreme sleep deprivation.  

“Omg, but you look so young,” one of my first employees had said three years ago after learning I was older than she thought.  “How do you do it,” she asked.  I refuse to start aging until my life is going well,“ I said. Well, my life is finally going well. On that glorious morning, I gave my opening day speech with what was left of my voice and cut that RIBBON! I made it but I had aged tremendously in the process. It all caught up to me. This is the price of entrepreneurship and I’ll pay it. If aging starts now, this is how and where I want to do it. I’m finally in the right place.

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