The Stroke Artist: A Tale of Survival, Painting, and Urology

Often we tend to think of "patients" and "providers." While sometime we may accuse medical teams of forgetting that their patients are whole human beings and not just a wrist band and chart in a hospital bed, it works the other way, too. We sometimes forget that our doctors are more than white coats adjusting out medications and asking who the president is -- again.

But doctors are, in fact, human. And they can create art. And they can have strokes.

Dr. Bevan Choate, MD, was a surgeon and urologist just enter the heart (or kidney) of his career. One morning, everything changed. He shares his story of the past 18 month in this episode.

(If you don't see the audio player below, visit http://Strokecast.com/Bevan to listen.)


Who is Dr. Bevan Choate, MD?

A gray scale headshot of Dr. Bevan Choate from the neck up. His face fills the frame.

Bevan was bornin 1985 in San Angelo, TX.  What do you do when you are born in San Angelo, TX? You grow up on a horse. As Bevan says:

"I grew up in a cattle ranching family.  Cowboying since I could ride a horse but perhaps due to the Waylon and Willie song, they didn’t want me to grow up to be a cowboy. So, I was given all the odd and less glamorous jobs.


I realized about midway through undergrad that I wanted to be a doctor.  I was always a science geek at heart, and figured medicine to be a pure and noble application of science.

I excelled in medical school and completed my five-year Urology residency in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico Hospital.  It was the roughest five years of my entire life.  Being a sleepless subordinate for almost two thousand days is a tough pill to swallow.  Nonetheless, I persevered and began practicing Urology in Albuquerque.  It was my calling.  I love it.  I love my patients and some of them even love me.  I did quite a bit of oncologic surgery and got good at robotic surgery using the Da Vinci robot. "

Things changed for Bevan on December 3, 2020. That's when a left vertebral artery dissection threw a clot that lodged in the left part of his cerebellar and proceeded to kill millions of valuable brain cells.

The dissection has no "attributable etiology." That's how doctors write a shoulder shrug emoji. No one knows why it happened. Bevan just got lucky.

The surgeons who were not Bevan got to work. His procedures included a ventricular shunt, a craniectomy, and a left cerebellar strokectomy (surgical excision of infarcted brain tissue post-stroke with preservation of skull integrity, distinguishing it from decompressive hemicraniectomy).

As Bevan says, "Yep, I have about 80-85% of a brain.  Not playing with a full deck"

Following this adventure, Bevan contended with:

  • Acute Deficits
    • Double vision
    • Visual impairment
    • Vertigo
    • Left-sided ataxia
    • Loss of left fine motor function
    • Inability to walk or balance
  • Chronic Deficits
    • Loss of left fine motor function
    • Balance issues
    • Right sided stroke neuropathy
    • Left-sided ataxia

Since then, he's accomplished some impressive things, not the least of which are living and walking. He's also become a published author and a professional artist.

He's also still practicing medicine and seeing patients. The laser may need to wait a little while though.

It's been quite the year and a half.

Typing around a Stroke

People approach their stroke recovery in different ways. Bevan and Michael Schutt both launched their writing projects to learn to type with their affected side again.

My approach to typing was the opposite. Instead of forcing my left hand to the keyboard, I wanted to get faster more quickly. I taught myself to type more quickly with one hand. I'm currently at about 34 wpm (average for two-handed typists is about 44 wpm).

Has that slowed my recovery? Maybe. Recovery is a delicate balance of accepting a disability and fighting that disability. Too far in one direction is not great for living the best life possible for many folks.

Of course, every stroke is different. I can admire the approach others took without feeling mine was wrong. Especially since my fingers are still (slowly) coming back.

And if they don't, that's fine, too.

Why write?

Bevan started writing his book to collect anecdotes. It's so easy to forget the details of an event with time, especially if we don't realize at the moment how important they might be. The very acting of writing or typing them out gives them a stronger hold in our memory. Every time we read them again, we can reinforce that hold they have. We can extract more incite from them.

You don't have to write a book, though. When I was in the hospital, I tried to post at least one anecdote from the day every day to Facebook. Part of that was to keep people informed of my status. Part was my compulsion to entertain folks and make sure they got value from check in on me (that's something I should probably unpack at some point). Part of it was to chronicle what I was going through for future reference.

In Bevan's case, doing that led to "The Stroke Artist."* It's his memoir of his stroke experience as a doctor who returns to the art he enjoyed, then made it a second profession. The varied paths stroke take us on never cease to amaze.

You can find Bevan's book on Amazon here. *

So write down your stories. Maybe it's just a collection of random anecdotes and paragraphs without a plan. Maybe it's all jumbled in time. If you can physically write, record video or audio. Or take pictures. Or tell your stories to someone else.

The stories we tell connect us with the world across the ages, going both backwards and forwards in time.

As the 11th Doctor said, "We're all stories in the end."

Bevan's Art

Bevan started creating art just to create art. That's probably the best reason to do it.

When I started blogging in 2006, it was because I realized I hadn't written anything that wasn't an email or a PowerPoint slide in years and I needed to write for the sake of writing. Of course, that set me on the path to where I am today, but that's not really the point I'm trying to make here.

Bevan returned to art after stroke and before long, he was selling art online. You can browse his work and even make a purchase at his website. You can find that here.

n abstract palette knife painting by Stroke Artist Dr Bevan Choate named Studlagilhttps://artrepreneur.com/showroom/q3GhqiFsYA2jL75iy

The relationship between stroke and art is fascinating. It gets into the physical changes in the brain brought on by stroke, the lifestyle changes we are forced to make, and the shift in our own priorities and world view after stroke. Bevan and I talked about some of that in our conversation. If you found that discussion interesting, I'd also encourage you to listen to my conversation with Seattle artist and survivor Seth Ian Scheer from 2019.

Stroke Strides Support Group

The Stroke Strides support group is a virtual group, based at Multicare Good Samaritan Hospital in Western Washington. They are looking for survivors who would like to speak to their group individually or as part of a panel. If you are looking for channels to share your story, this is a nice one. The last time I did it the group was fairly small, which means it's great if you want to get started speaking to other groups.

They are starting up their next series of talks in July 2022, and I'll be part of that. If you'd like to join as well, reach out to Kristin Olson (ktolson@multicare.org) for more details.

Hack of the Week

Big goals can be inspiring, but they can also be hard to achieve. To really kick start your recovery, set small, simple goals. Work towards small improvements. Those small goals and habits over time add up to big things. That's how you ultimately achieve success.

Bevan's hack align nicely with my regular mantra: Don't get best…get better.


Where do we go from here?

Here is the latest episode of The Strokecast

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