The timing was bad, though there is never a good time to have a stroke. I was lucky because I survived it. Some people are not so lucky for some do not survive. Unfortunately, many people are left with permanent disabilities. The severity of a stroke depends on three things; the location of the emboli, the size of the emboli, and how soon medical help is acquired.
So what are emboli? An emboli is the plural word for embolus, which may consist of a blood clot, a gas bubble, or a fat globule that causes blockage in a bloodstream. It’s also referred to as a vascular occlusion, which often affects the functioning of part of the body and when it is in the head most of us simply call it a stroke.
I don’t really remember the events that occurred right during my having my stroke. I don’t know how I ended up in the hospital. I can’t remember where I was when the stroke occurred. I do not know who helped me. I do know that I was in the emergency room and that they did a CT scan and that I was admitted to the hospital. At the time I was a student at Idaho State University working on my bachelor’s degree. I was also a single mother of four sons. My husband and I were separated then and my oldest son was in Alabama. So I had at home a sixteen year old, a ten year old and a six year old, and they are why I did not give up. Giving up was not a choice even though I was facing disabilities that were very discouraging.
What I remember most was waking up in a hospital bed and not being able to move my arm and leg. It is the most unnerving experience. I was fortunate for the inability to move my limbs did not stay permanent. Some individuals are not so lucky and their loss of functioning may be long lasting. They gave me a blood thinner in the ER and it was able to reverse some of the damage. By my third day in the hospital I was moving around. The physical therapist came and showed me some exercises I could do to gain more of my movement and strength back. A speech therapist worked with me and I was lined up with appointments to see them both a couple of times a week. So I was discharged to home.
Once I arrived home was when the effects of the stroke really seemed noticeable to me. In the hospital the thing that struck me the hardest was the loss of all the numbers I had in my head. You know, the kind of numbers that everyone has memorized to function in society. That first day I wanted to call my kids, my estranged husband, my mom and my siblings to let them know that I was ok. I couldn’t call any of them though for their phone numbers were not in my head. It was like if the hard drive of my brain had been wiped clean of numbers. I had my cell phone but had always prided myself in knowing everyone’s numbers and so I had never made a contact list. Cell phones were fairly new then. Once home I realized that there were other numbers I could not remember. Social Security numbers, passwords that had numbers, and birth dates. I found it frustrating.
This was the year I was doing my college algebra for my bachelor’s degree and I remember picking up my algebra book and trying to do my math assignment. I didn’t even know what one plus two was. This was devastating. I tried though and I went back to my classes only a week after having the stroke. The first test was so humiliating. I had a score of 17 out of 100. This was mid semester and I stayed with it and I used the tutors the math department provided, but my final score at the end of the semester was only 38. I had never been good at math, but this was deplorable. I have since relearned math.
Another side effect of my stroke was that my piano playing skills were lost. I had always been better with my right hand than my left, but after the stroke I couldn’t get my right hand to listen to what my brain was telling it to do. I loved playing the piano so I was persistent in getting my skills back, but I remember the first day coming home from the hospital and trying to play the piano. It didn’t go so well, actually it was horrible, so I sat at my piano with my face in my arms and cried my heart out. Today I can play the piano better than I did before my stroke. It has taken a lot of hard work, but I am pleased with myself.
One thing that was frustrating right at first was eating. I didn’t really experience much of my face drooping, but my tongue and throat were affected and when I ate something I would choke on it. This is where the speech therapist was able to help me a lot. She taught me how to turn my head to the side when I swallowed so I would not choke. Eventually I got so I did not need to do the side thing, but even to this day if I am not paying attention, or if I am eating in a hurry, I occasionally aspirate. It is a fact now that if I turn my head the wrong direction while swallowing I will aspirate every time.
A few weeks after having my stroke I took a driving test for people who have had strokes and I was able to pass it so that I legally could drive again. This test was provided by a nice man who worked with the hospital and the department of transportation.
So here it has been eleven years since I had my stroke and the main side effect that I am left with is that I cannot remember a name if someone tells me their name. It just is not there. This is called dysnomia. I have worked really hard at overcoming this one but it has stayed with me. What has helped the most is if I write the name down so I can see it, or if I can associate the person’s name with someone else with the same name. Even with these two tricks, names escape me. It’s really embarrassing when I am to introduce someone that I have known for many, many years and I do not know their name to make the introduction. I mean really, how can a person forget their own sister’s name? I can.
For many years following my stroke I walked with a limp. Today the limp is mostly gone. However, if I have been working really hard and am exhausted, I’ve noticed that my right foot will start to drag.
So in spite of all those added challenges in my life, five years following my stroke I did graduate from the university with a bachelor’s of science degree. The main thing that I can say to anyone who is experiencing the after effects of a stroke is to not give up. Though what used to be easy is now hard, you can do it.
No one is immune to having a stroke. Learn the warning signs of a stroke. The faster medical treatment is given the better the recovery will be.
· F – drooping face on one side
· A – Arms not even when lifted
· S – slurred or strange speech
· T – Time to act is now, call 9-1-1
More information can be found on the National Stroke association’s web page: http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=symp