When I was 35, I was driving down the road one day, talking to a friend on the phone (On my headset of course). I began to experience a tingling on the left side of my face. The tingling turned into numbness and I told my friend what was happening. My friend told me to hang up the phone and go to the hospital immediately. My friend informed me that I was likely having a stroke.
I did as my friend said and went to St. Vincent’s Hospital on Riverside Ave. in Jacksonville, Florida. By the time I reached the hospital, my left arm had also began to feel kind of heavy and I was developing a serious headache. When I checked into the emergency room, the nurses did not take me seriously. After all, I was only 35 and had no insurance.
The staff took me to triage and although they observed an abnormal heartbeat, my temperature and blood pressure was within normal scopes and at the moment I did not have any debilitating symptoms such as nausea, slurred speech or dementia-although I was getting very angry at their lackadaisical attitude toward me.
An abnormal heartbeat can cause blood clots in the heart that travel to the brain and cause blockage that can then become either an Ischemic attack or an Ischemic stroke.
While in triage, it was a technician, not a nurse, not a doctor, but a technician who diagnosed me with a pinched nerve and sent me back out into the waiting room where I sat for over two hours before finally giving up and leaving the hospital, untreated. There are medications that can completely reverse the effects of a stroke, but they must be given within three hours of the stroke in order to be effective. Otherwise, precious brain cells die and your condition could become irreversible, or at minimum, more difficult to recover from.
I later went to a private doctor who confirmed that I did in fact have a stroke and he put me on the 81 mg aspirin regimen as a preventative measure for the blood clots that cause Ischemic strokes-a serious and even sometimes fatal health condition that can leave its victims partially or completely incapacitated. Recently, I have developed some unrelated digestive issues that impede my ability to tolerate aspirin (and a serious allergy to caffeine), so we will see what I need to do to prevent the clotting because the side effects of stronger meds can sometimes be as bad or even worse than the condition they are designed to prevent.
In the grand scheme of things-Thanks G-d! I was very lucky to have had mini-strokes instead of the big one but, once you have this health condition, you will never be completely out of the water as they say. It is a pretty safe bet that people who have Transient Ischemic Attacks, or mini-strokes, will eventually have the one that does them in. So much for the comfort in knowing…
Later, as a result of my stroke, I began to experience subtle things that seemed rather weird. My left eye drifts off to the left side once in a while and at other times it crosses up toward my nose. I have mostly recovered from this but it still happens once in a while. Ironically, I accidentally discovered that the Meclazine (an antihistamine) I take for a different condition seems to help with the lazy eye as well. I find that odd. I can still feel my eye trying to cross up but it just doesn’t. There are other symptoms and side effects of this health condition that I will not list here.
The most frustrating things I began to experience as a result of my stroke were not health related but cognitive related:
My Math skills diminished. I could literally look at a problem as simple as 2 + 3 and sit there with no idea what the answer was. Before my stroke I could do quadratic equations in my head without even using any paper. Then, in an instant, a 6 year-old had better Math skills than me. I have regained most of my basic Math functions but unfortunately, the only college class I have ever failed (after taking it three times so far)-you guessed it…Math, and even more unfortunately, I need to pass that class to be eligible to take other classes such as Chemistry and Sciences in order to graduate.
My speech did not seem to be any more slurred than usual (as a Deaf Hard of Hearing person, I have never had perfect pronunciation of the Queens English-although, due to my fascination with philology and etymology, I have always had pretty good usage), for the most part-although there were times when my friend seemed to think I was slurring more than usual and she would force me to repeat what I had said and when I pronounced it more cleanly the second time, I could tell that she was concerned about my health and afraid that I was having another stroke.
Perhaps the strangest thing in my experience with the stroke was misplaced word associations. For example, I would look at a dog, recognize the animal as a dog, know it was a dog and understand that it was a dog-but the word for “Dog” suddenly became replaced with the word “Buzzard.” To make this worse, I did not realize that I was doing this, because to me, “Buzzard” was the word for dog, or whatever word I associated with an object at the time. If someone else used the word “Dog,” I understood what they were saying–but when I tried to recall the word for dog, it came out as “Buzzard.” The thing that made this more difficult for me was other people’s response to my condition. I was not any less intelligent on the inside. I knew that a dog was a dog. I recognized as a dog as a dog. I understood that dogs walk on all fours, bark and lick you on the face, so it wasn’t like I actually thought a dog was a buzzard but the word for dog became buzzard. Other people’s responses really stressed me out and when I became stressed, my symptoms became much worse.
You can recover from a stroke–it just depends on a lot of variables, especially time and effort:
Staying focused (without becoming obsessive) and not taking yourself too seriously is perhaps the key to recovery for these symptoms. The more stressed out you become, the worse the symptoms become–so I just catch myself and move on. Fortunately, I have become my own favorite person to laugh at and have learned that it takes the power away from others to admit my own flaws before they catch one and pounce. If you happen to notice a stroke victim doing something strange, I would say that the best thing to do is absolutely nothing (unless of course it is something that is going to hurt themselves or someone else). The worst thing you can do is to make a big deal about it, even if you are only stressing them about going to rehab, “See, you really are not well! I’ve told you that you are not going to get better unless you go to rehab!”
Helping others who have had a stroke can be a frustrating balancing act:
The other person’s stroke is not about you, so don’t make it about you. That whole “I told you so” thing makes it completely about you and not about them. All that is going to do is stress them out, make the symptoms worse, disrupt what could be a really good relationship between the two of you by causing hard feelings and make them more resistant than ever about going to rehab. Your attitude and approach can make a world of difference, both good and bad, for the other person. You need to just back up and take a confident, easy going attitude and deal with it maturely. Yes, you are needed but you are needed to be helpful–if you cannot be helpful, then you are not needed–period, because you are only going to impede the progress of recovery.
The victim is likely not going to thank you, so if you are doing it for thanks or appreciation–find someone else who can do it without expecting anything in return. This person has had a stroke. It is too late to care whether it was because of fatty foods or high blood pressure (which you may have been a causative factor in yourself by trying to control them–stress causes high blood pressure you know…). The best thing to do is to back off, help them get back up when they fall down, ask them to repeat themselves when they misspeak, ask them what they are doing if they are trying to boil a bag of cat food thinking it is green beans and most importantly–don’t snatch things out of their hands like they are children or make a big deal out of it because, that is only going to stress them out more and impede the progress. If you love them, you will accept that this is a new part of their reality–period.
You cannot do their recovery for them:
The person who experiences a stroke must be allowed to tie their own shoe strings, even if the knot is not perfect. They must be allowed to tear open packages and figure out how to screw the tops off of bottles–even if it means that they will spill the Cornflakes all over the floor and get drenched with the bottled water. This is the only way that they will strengthen their muscles and re-configure their brain to become more coordinated.
You are not helping them when they misspeak and you talk over them to explain things to other people. Cognitive thoughts are pathways wired into their brains. The connections to some of these pathways have been severed and the only way to build new wiring is to allow them to think, speak and do things for themselves. You are not helping them when you tell others that they had a stroke and then the other person begins treating them like a child. You are actually hurting them when you tie their shoes for them because the longer it takes them to start doing things for themselves, the more difficult it will be to re-wire their brains and regain muscular coordination. This may seem mean, but it is absolutely necessary to the best recovery the stroke victim can possibly have. Your job is to know and accept that they may make a full recovery, an ok recovery or a very slight improvement. This is just a part of their new reality. They need to accept it and work diligently toward regaining as much cognitive function and muscular coordination as possible. Acceptance is already tough enough for the victim and it will be even tougher if you refuse to accept it too.
Your job is to simply be there in case they fall down or get confused and attempt to do something dangerous–and simply making an error is not a dangerous thing. It is ok to help them into the bathtub. It is not ok to put them into the bathtub with no work on their part. Your most important job is to become familiar enough with their new behavior and speech patterns to notice whether they are having another stroke and if so, to call 911 immediately–because in any stroke experience, time is the most important thing. Many people have multiple strokes. Once they have a stroke, there is a constant threat of a recurrence.
After my stroke experience, I began getting lost sometimes. Once, I walked around a Wal-Mart parking lot for over two hours with a basket full of items searching for my vehicle. When I have been somewhere a thousand times and know the place like the back of my hand, I sometimes have no idea how to get to where I am going, even though I know where I am at. Thanks G-d for GPS because I have not fully recovered from this stroke related experience. Short term memory has definitely become an issue for me since my stroke experience.
I still have trouble swallowing sometimes and sometimes even choke on my own saliva-but all of these symptoms seem to come and go- and again, I am extremely lucky, thanks G-d! This involuntary muscle condition in my throat also affects my speech sometimes when I am talking. Words that would ordinarily be produced in a relaxed throat get hung up in a tensed contracted throat.Sometimes my left knee still buckles up under me and I fall flat on my face and at other times my left hand becomes so weak that I cannot even grasp the top of a bottle strong enough to unscrew it–but these symptoms come and go. Unfortunately, they come and go unexpectedly, especially the falling. The weakness in my left hand (which is sometimes accompanied by numbness) can last for minutes or several days.
Diagnosing Deaf people who have experienced a stroke can be difficult for hearing people:
One of the problems with diagnosing a stroke in Deaf people is the facial tingling and numbness. Deaf people, because of the nerves that travel from the ear to the face, very often experience facial tingling and even numbness-and, on one side of the face rather than on both sides. Deaf people very often experience vertigo and/or dizziness because the balance centers are located in the middle ear. Oral Deaf people often have a slurred accent to their speech. So, while diagnosing a stroke in a Deaf person can be difficult because of related common health symptoms-Deaf people do not have loss of muscle coordination in the throat or on one side of their body, nor do they have the loss of cognitive function as a result of the Deafhood experience. When this happens to a Deaf person you must assume that it is a stroke and seek medical attention as soon as possible because if you simply assume that it is the Deafhood experience and you are wrong-you have just debilitated or even killed someone you love.
The best way to recover from a stroke is exercise, repetition and practice:
You need to start this routine as soon as you possibly can. The problem is that the stroke experience can have a devastating impact on your emotional state. The most common of these are Depression and Anger although mine seemed to induce a form of looped thinking aka Obsession. Although I usually no longer experience dwelling on a given issue or thing obsessively, I do still feel compelled to commit repetitive behavior sometimes. The tricky part is that first you have to become aware that you are doing it and then you have to be determined to change the thinking when you catch yourself doing it.
The problem with looped thinking is that it is kind of fun if it is about something that you really like to experience. Inevitably though, the looped thinking goes way south and snowballs into anger, anxiety or even depression and that is a dangerous health condition–especially if it is compounded by obsession. Stroke victims who become Depressed either as a physical result of the damage caused to the brain, or because the stroke experience really is a depressing thing-often would rather die than to battle their way to recovery. A sense of hopelessness is the very nature of Depression, but this could be devastating to a stoke victim and cause them to never gain the motivation to recover. The anger drives loved ones away because they do not understand that the stroke experience has damaged the victim’s brain and simply think that the person has become a jerk who is taking it out on everyone else-when nothing could be farther from the truth.
As for me, sometimes I still get brain farts, I get lost sometimes even if I know where I am at-I simply do not recognize the place (and it really annoys me when people treat me like an idiot because of it, when the truth be known, I have forgotten more than these people will ever know…). I sometimes lose common words for common concepts (glass, jar, television…) and have to describe the object to someone and ask what the word for it is. I have yet to be able to leave the house to run an errand without having to come back in at least five times to get something I forgot to take the first time (ummmm, like the car keys, wallet, sunglasses or a variety of things that everyone takes everywhere they go, every time they go…).
I have lost some of the movement in my face, though it is hardly noticeable, and I have this really cute crooked smile now–battle scars that I lived to tell about I suppose…
For more information on strokes, the stroke experience, recovery and related health conditions check out these websites:
Mayo Clinic, What to expect when you recover from a stroke
WebMD, Transient Ischemic Attacks
Medline Plus, Recovering After a Stroke