On June 27, 2006, my life was forever changed. I suffered a bilateral Vertebral Dissection; a Stroke. The clot split and moved through the right and left hemisphere of my brain and lodged in the brain stem. The clot caused damaged to the areas of the brain that control body functions such as movement, blood pressure, eye movements, swallowing and speech. Progress, if any, was far from certain.
For 3 weeks leading up to the actual stroke I was experiencing headaches, severe neck and shoulder pain. I was seen by my primary physician 3 times and a trip to the local emergency room, all of which I was quickly sent home with the no definitive diagnosis. As the days progressed the pain became debilitating.
I woke that morning with the worst headache of my life. I struggled to get up to take a drink and was unable to swallow. I took a few steps and found myself on the floor unable to move. I crawled to my cell phone and dialed 911. I was unable to communicate in any way with the EMT; their frustration grew as did mine. I tried desperately to get them to understand what was happening. Later I was told that my words were barely audible, slurred and incomprehensible. By the time we arrived to the emergency room I was vomiting a coffee ground substance, the right side of my face had drooped and it became clear that I was critically ill. The doctors and nurses frantically worked on my body, but did not speak to me. They turned their attention to my 15 year old daughter who was alone by my side and told her to call the family, “Your mother is not going to make it through the night.” I wanted desperately to comfort her. I tried to talk. I tried to move. I tried to scream. Nothing happened.
I was living a nightmare - totally awake and aware, yet trapped in my body. No one knew that I was still able to understand everything that was going on around me and yes, to feel pain. The doctors ordered an NG tube, IV's, and a catheter. All placed without communication to me, the patient. I was tossed around like a rag doll. I did understand two very important things: I was in serious trouble and I had to find a way to communicate with the outside world in order to survive.
My life was literally defined moment by moment. The love of family, friends and my faith is what has brought me through this experience. My daughter spent every day, all day at the hospital by my bedside, insisting that I could make progress from what seemed an impossible condition. She focused her time on keeping my spirits up; helping me reclaim my independence and helping me become closer to the Lord. When the day seemed unbearable she would climb into the bed and read the Bible to me. Her dear friend, now husband, would come to the hospital and play his guitar and worship to me. My twin brother and his family took on the monumental task of moving me from my home, taking care of my bills, setting up home care if/when I was discharged and ensuring that I had a family member by my side at all times. Other family members stayed with me through the night so I was not alone. I also had an angel by my side in the form of a Certified Nursing Assistant. Knowing that I was unable to move or communicate, she sat on the edge of my bed and shaved my legs. “I would go crazy with my legs like this and I know you must be too.” That simple act was enormously restorative to my spirit.
My progress started with baby steps. I focused on little goals and not the big picture. I asked God to give me the strength to get me through what I had to face each day. I could not allow myself to look back on what I'd lost or even worry about the future. Months later, my focus and determination paid off. I had recovered enough to leave the hospital and move in with my brother and his family; PEG tube in place; we were going home.
It can take years to recover ... and maybe even a lifetime. We will have to put forth extraordinary effort to do the simplest, most basic things. And, as most of us have to realize, we will have to compromise and adjust our expectations more than once. What once seemed so important and meaningful before has little or no relevance now. Life is elastic, just like our re-forming brain.
I would not give back my stroke, even if I could; even with my continued deficits and fading memory. Why? Because of the things I've learned, the people I've met and the way I now look at the world…. every day as a gift!