In October of 2011, I had a stroke – thankfully, for me, I had read Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, “Stroke of Insight”, years before. I encourage everyone to read Stroke of Insight. Though it landed in my hands from a friend who liked the positive spiritual message contained within the pages, it turned out to be a wonderful ‘how to recover from a stroke’ guide for me.
I’ve also recommended it to those whose loved one has had a stroke – there is so much caregivers can do to aide in the recovery.
In short, if you get a chance, Read It!
The day of my stroke, I awoke not feeling well. I had started a new waitress job and was rather frazzled at the intensity of some of the days when I worked the place by myself. I kept thinking, “I’m not up for this”, but continued on, sure that this previous skills set would come back and I would be back in the swing of things in no time.
As I had that day off, I puttered around, resisting getting ready to go run errands and attend a job interview at a place where I wouldn’t need to work the entire dining room during lunch hour by myself. As I drove towards town, I realized it was taking forever to get there and a couple of times, looked down and realized I was only traveling 25 mph. Since I was on back country roads, there weren’t any arses in sports cars to honk and yell at me – alerting me to my errors. Nope, the only other traffic was a tractor that was traveling slower than I…
While standing in the bank, I felt such a tingle in my neck and then the world seemed covered in pink stardust. I thought about sharing this with the teller by making some joke about Barbie town, but decided maybe I’d better head over to the clinic and get myself checked out.
I drove 3 blocks to the clinic – or what I thought was the clinic. I ended up driving through the parking lot of the beauty salon located just south of the clinic a few times before I finally got my act together.
Walking in the door, I approached the counter, held out my insurance card and asked them if they took that particular brand…
The front desk clerk looked at me oddly and promptly ushered me back to a room. I felt bad, because the waiting room was full of people and I didn’t have an appointment.
A nurse quickly arrived and wanted to hook up something to my heart… I was very cold and felt like I was going to be sick. She showed me to the bathroom and I proceeded to do…nothing….
I started back to my room, only to find that I was lost. (this is a small town clinic – maybe 10 rooms, tops, stretched along two hallways …this should have been a clue…)
Nice nurse comes and finds me wandering around. I start to joke about my silliness, but stop cold when I realize that I can’t talk. I can stutter better than Porky Pig, but I can’t talk normally…
Things started to move fast then – my right arm began to spasm and flail – – they kept asking me who to call and all I could get out was, “Flower.”
My mom’s name is Rose.
Fortunately, being in a small town, one of them knew who she was and went to call her. Flight for Life was put on standby. Ambulance crew appears and because my right arm was flailing so badly, three medical personages held me down while they drove a railroad spike into my arm…sorry, I mean while they started the IV.
(Once you’ve overcome your fear of needles to do acupuncture, you don’t lightly return to the land of real needles.)
I was being loaded into the ambulance when my mom and son arrived. My son looked so scared. I kept trying to make them understand that they needed to let him near me. They finally got it and I carefully, oh-so-careful-not-to-stutter, said clearly, “I love you – it will be okay.”
I thank the heavens for the gift of those few clear words when they were needed so badly.
In the ambulance I grew very weary and closed my eyes. I felt so light and peaceful. I was so certain loved ones who had passed before me would soon arrive to greet me. It felt good to know there was nothing left to do, nothing left to say. Just rest and peace. I’m certain to this day the only thing that kept me from dying at that moment was the ambulance crews insistence that I talk to them – – guess they were Porky Pig fans…
Once I arrived at the hospital, cat scans and various other tests were done to ascertain what kind of stroke I was having. I do not have a clear memory of these other than one test included some kind of additive that made me feel like I was on fire and promptly made me sick.
I was given a shot of clot-buster (t-pa) just 3 minutes shy of the 3 hour window.
Spent the night in ICU, one day in a regular room and then was sent home to start my life over.
The first morning after the danger seemed past, a nurse came and wanted me to perform different tests. One was to touch the heel of my left foot to my right ankle and then slide the heel up my right leg to my knee.
Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.
Then she wanted me to do it with my right foot – I could place my right heel on my left ankle but it would move no further. I concentrated…I strained…. I could feel the muscles in my right leg burning with the exertion, but on my left ankle, my right foot stayed.
She frowned and wrote something on her little clipboard.
I got scared.
That night, when all was quiet and I lay in bed wondering what the hell I was going to do – I remembered all the things Jill Bolte Taylor’s mom had made her do during her recovery and how long it took for somethings to come back – starting with puzzles designed for the 2-3 age group and being able to perform basic math some 9 years later. But most of all, I remembered her saying:
“Given time, the brain will form new pathways around the damaged area. Practice and try until the new path is made.”
I took a deep breath and calmed down. Closing my eyes, laying flat on my back with my legs down, I envisioned my right heel moving from my left ankle to my left knee. Over and over, I pictured myself doing this simple task.
Then I tried it.
I made it two inches up from my ankle.
I went to sleep dreaming of foots, ankles and knees.
The next morning, I tried, visualized, tried again – and by noon, when the ‘what can you do’ nurse showed up, I was ready – – she gazed intently as I performed the task and smiled my brightest smile. Then asked me what I’d done. I told her and she congratulated me.
Over the months since, I’ve done many things to regain skills – Usually fun things…
My voice had no tone, pitch or syntax flow – I sounded like a very early AI telephone operator and it was horrible. But I discovered that if I sang or whispered, my speech flowed like it always had.
Even when my voice had improved, I would still lag or lisp terribly when I got overtired. If I tried to slow down to pronounce a word correctly, I would start stuttering. Opting for tone, pitch and syntax over perfect enunciation, I spent many months moving from 80’s robot voice to Elmer Fudd, extraordinaire.
After nearly a year, people who didn’t know me would ask, “Where are you from? I love your accent!”
If I had kept my mouth shut, I could have been an exotic foreigner instead of an ill American….
I played solitaire on the computer, to get my right hand back into shape. When I could point and click without error, I moved to doing crossword puzzles online. Then I started doing the free brain games at various sites. It took me 3 months to get to the point where I could play online Jeopardy and get the right answer clicked before time ran out. It was a good six months before I could type without either missing letters on the right hand side of the keyboard or having 3 m’s where only one was supposed to be.
This was very frustrating for Miss-types-103-wpm me…
As soon as I mastered one thing, I searched for something else.
When my eyesight started to improve, I began to read again. When I was strong enough, I took back over cooking supper and household duties. I tried to write time and again. At some point, the words started to flow again, though only a few sentences before I was tired out from the effort.
From the very beginning, a good friend called every Wednesday and we would debate current events until I was too tired to or my voice deteriorated to the level of gibberish – first conversation was 5 minutes. But as the weeks went by, I inched my way up to 20 minutes, then an hour.
While my physical limitations continue to hamper the daily life I envision each morning when I awake, I’m happy with my gains in the mental area. Although I still struggle with homonyms in my writing. Faithful readers will tell you how very often I type “too” when it should have been “to” and vice-versa.
Since, sense – write, right – whose, who’s – No matter how many times I proofread, it seems these little guys squeak through to publication more often than I’d like-
Thank you for your kindness in getting what I meant, even when I type it wrong.
It has not always been an easy path – and I’m still only half-way there. I’m very grateful for the gains I’ve made – it could have been so very much worse.
So here’s the short and sweet list for those who’ve had a stroke:
- You can rebuild neural pathways.
- Patience – new highways are not built in a day.
P.S – I sent Dr. Jill an email, thanking her. I promptly got a reply email from her assistant and two days later, a very kind and encouraging email from her. She’s Aces!