When singer-songwriter Linda Saslove was lying on a stretcher in an operating room at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, awaiting post-stroke surgery, a nurse asked her if she wanted to listen to music.
Saslove was surprised when the nurse suggested they listen to Joni Mitchell and Carole King. The two of them ended up singing along to “River,” by Mitchell, and “You’ve Got A Friend,” by King.
Saslove was influenced by the folk and pop music of the 1960s and inspired by artists like Mitchell and King, so the nurse’s choice of music was an auspicious coincidence.
For Saslove’s successful surgery, a carotid endarterectomy, a surgeon created an incision in her neck and went directly into her right carotid artery to remove fatty deposits known as plaque. The procedure reduced her risk of having another stroke.
Saslove, who’s in her 60s, had a stroke last May. Strokes are caused when blood flow to the brain is disrupted by a blockage. In Saslove’s case, the blockage was caused by a buildup of plaque inside the wall of the artery.
Saslove learned she was having a stroke when she saw her doctor and told him about the tingling in her left hand, which she’d experienced for about a week. He said he thought she was having a stroke and told her to go to emergency immediately. During a stroke, the brain ages rapidly without treatment, which is why there is such urgency in stroke care.
After being admitted to hospital, Saslove had MRI and CT scans. “They showed I had a double stroke,” she said. A week later, she was in surgery. From the hospital, she was admitted to St. John’s Rehab, where she had daily physio and occupational therapy sessions for six weeks, followed by two months of therapy as an outpatient.
Saslove said she got emotional when she listened to her 2018 album, Everything, with one of her therapists. “I hadn’t heard it for a long time,” she said. “To listen to my album again, because I’d been through so much – it was such a journey – and then to share my CD, it just reminded me, yes, I can do something.”
She said the lyrics of the title track, “Everything,” a love song, were relevant to her recovery. “You thought you lost everything and then you realize, no, everything is still there. It’s just a matter of getting back to it again,” she said.
Recently, she sang harmonies on Glen Hornblast’s new album and performed with Kat Goldman and Brian Gladstone. The stroke hasn’t affected her ability to play guitar, she said. A self-taught guitarist, Saslove accompanies herself on a Gibson B-25 acoustic guitar.
She will be putting on a benefit for the Heart and Stroke Foundation at the Free Times Cafe in Toronto on Dec. 7. It’s called Stroke of Luck, because she feels lucky to be alive. “It could have been a lot worse,” Saslove said. “I’m still weak, but I am getting better all the time.”
She credits everyone she came in contact with when she was in hospital – nurses, doctors, personal support workers – with helping her get better. The Stroke of Luck benefit is her way of paying them back. “Everyone seemed to really care,” she said.
Many of the musicians who visited Saslove while she was in hospital will perform at the benefit. They include Kat Goldman, Glen Hornblast, Brian Gladstone, Neil Chapman, Fergus Hambleton, David McLachlan, Michael Bar, Steve Raiken, Lynn Harrison, Laura Fernandez, Harpin Norm Lucien, David Storey and Julie Long.