Updated: Nov 2
“When life puts you in tough situations don’t say WHY ME, say TRY ME!” -Anonymous
THE FIRST DAYS
The section “My Story” explains the precursor to the emergency room visit - the stroke event itself on September 17, 2015.
After reaching the 911 operator, the ambulance transported me to Flagstaff Medical Center. I was transferred to a semi-private room, after being tested via teleconferencing by a neurologist at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix to determine whether I needed the Plasminogen Activator (tPA) injection or not (I didn’t).
*These are blood thinners used to reduce brain clots caused by ischemic strokes. I spent one week there.
Thinking I would then go home after being discharged from the hospital, I was shocked to learn that once released I had to go to St. Luke’s Rehab in Phoenix for an unspecified length of time. “WHAT!”, I questioned perplexed?!
I was at St. Luke’s Acute Rehab for 3 weeks.
I finally went home one month post-stroke and it was glorious! I really missed everything about being home, especially my cat (see below), who had a “transition period” because I smelled of a hospital and my voice had changed to a lower pitch due to the damage to my diaphragm. She eventually came around!
I don’t remember much during that first week in the Flagstaff hospital, other than feeling “drugged”. I was now on prescription drugs that I’d never needed to take in the past; stunned with the inability to sit up by myself anywhere, much less sit in a chair in the room (which I never actually sat in).
Each time a friend visited or called, I burst into tears. I was so touched! I remember a dear friend driving all the way from Denver as soon as she heard I’d had a stroke! I was so touched! I think she drove all night!
The biggest set of tears occurred when my best friend (from the first day of first grade), Concetta Beck, called! Oh my, I was a wreck, but it was so good to hear from her!
I recall more friends wanting to visit, but I didn’t want to see anyone, as I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable in my current state, where I couldn’t focus very well. To add to the list, I didn’t recognize my new body; my speech was slurred with a drooping lip; and just felt awful!
Vanity, perhaps? I don’t know.
I just kept wondering….
What caused this?
How can I prevent this from happening again?
What will my life be like now?
How will I ever recover?
No one could provide any answers. There were none.
I also remember being in shock, which presented itself as a” foggy brain” feeling, with confusion, and extreme fatigue.
The fuzzy days turned into fuzzy weeks. Back in Munds Park near Flagstaff, AZ, (where we own a cabin and I had my stroke and where we live during the summer months), Jane packed up the entire cabin prematurely, since we normally left to spend the winter in Tempe at the end of October, with the help of our dear friend and neighbor, Sara. One week post-stroke, I was admitted to St. Luke’s Acute Rehab in Phoenix, AZ.
At some point in my recuperation there, I began writing a series of “updates” to our friends and relatives to answer their questions and simply let them know I was still alive, kicking, and on the mend! My wonderful friend, Linda Heyman, wrote the first ones while I dictated them from my bed! It was quite a sight!
My food was chopped up in the beginning due to the damage to my throat’s swallowing ability, which occurs with stroke survivors immediately post-stroke. It’s called dysphagia. The good news was, I’d lost my appetite within hours of my stroke! The food prep people were phenomenal at asking about and preparing a favorite dish for patients, as long as it was on the “approved list.”
Friends and Family Support During the First Weeks
Friends and relatives called, sent cards and videos, visited. Five of my eight nieces wanted to fly down from Austin to help, but they have their own busy schedules and children to attend to so I didn’t want to disrupt their lives.
Instead, one of my two brothers, Greg, flew down from Austin, TX to help. Greg sat with me in my room for days while I tried to make sense of it all. He attended my therapy sessions, and ended up with the thrilling duty of sleeping in a twin bed next to me when I got home to help me to the restroom at night to ensure I didn’t fall, (as Jane was exhausted from that duty and deserved a break). I was up a LOT, so I know he didn’t get much sleep, poor guy! I wore a Transfer Gait Belt every day and night for the purpose of being held by Jane or Greg to ensure I didn’t fall.
Our circle of friends were amazing with their constant love and support! Cheryl, Linda H., Chris & Leslie, Sara & Robin, and Kim & Nancy were steady visitors the entire time! Rochelle, our friend and hairdresser, even surprised us one night and washed my hair and performed a healing session on me.
What a blessing those visits were - the highlight of my days! I will never forget the caring and humorous times we shared!
The most endearing event that occurred at St. Luke’s was the surprise visit of my psychotherapist and friend, Kathleen Todd, who drove all the way from Tucson where she was celebrating her birthday with her three sons! Wow! What a lovely surprise that was!
Jane’s boss, Terry Richart and his wife Becky visited; as well as my friends, Kathleen Todd, Jim Bodine and many others. I truly thank each and every one of them.
A Few Weeks Later
I was released to return home to our home in Tempe. After the head nurse wheeled me to the car and literally pushed me into the passenger seat (because I was too weak to stand up) we were on our way home! Although my cat, Keegan, (she’s Irish too) didn’t want anything to do with me due to my hospital smell and my lowered voice, I was so thrilled to be home!
Thankfully, eventually, Keegan jumped on my lap and I knew all was well and I was home for good! From that day on until today, she leads the way to the various rooms in the house, just in case I get lost, I guess! Sweet she is!
The weeks turned into months as I attended therapy at SWAN 3-5 times a week, visited with my team of doctors, visited with friends, and gradually transitioned into my “new body/new life.”
First Few Months
As the months progressed, I recall these things…
Wearing my gait belt 24/7, even while sleeping in case I needed to use the restroom during the night (which I did - many times!)
Due to the frequent bathroom visits, we hired a service whereby a female home healthcare attendant sits in a chair in the bedroom, stays awake and walks me to the toilet each time I needed to use it. We used a company called Legacy Home Care in Mesa, AZ, but there are many others. This agency didn’t provide medically-trained attendants, but we didn’t need that. Others companies do.
During my first months at SWAN in Phoenix, I was unable to attend full-week sessions due to my fatigue, balance instability and weakness. I attended two sessions per day, 2-3 times per week.
When I became stronger and improved my stability, I attended sessions five days per week from 9:30am-2:30pm. I improved in many areas, especially the PT area since our legs have much larger muscles than our upper body muscles.
Due to that progress, I was able to go from an AFO (Assistive Foot Orthosis) using a hemi-walker, to a Bioness L300 using a cane within 60 days. The number of steps I could walk increased to 750 from 4 steps!
Due to my disequilibrium, I’ve fallen 13 times over these 4 years, the unlucky 13th was the only time I injured myself. I broke my left collarbone. Thank goodness it was my left, and not my right! I was very lucky to only have bruised myself 12 of those times! Most of my falls were during the first two years post-stroke.
*FYI, falls are the #1 cause of injury and death amongst stroke survivors.
So do your best to be safe out there and work on your balance in therapy.
From the day of my stroke, my appetite decreased dramatically and remained that way during the first year, causing me to reduce my weight by 25 pounds. Truly, I needed to decrease my weight, but that’s not how I planned to do it!
I was now able to brush my teeth standing up; make my morning shake all by myself; shower standing up versus sitting on a shower chair (chaperoned, of course); wash and brush my hair; and shave my legs.
A Huge Thanks To...
And last, but certainly not least, enormous gratitude is bestowed on Jane for her unfailing and unlimited support, encouragement and love!
All of these things were an incredible process that I completed with much support and persistence. Consistency is key and being easy on yourself - you’ve been through a traumatic event and the process of healing is slow and steady.
Next week, learn all about how it takes A Village To Recover from your stroke - and maybe a few tips to help you even more through this process! My wish is for this site and information to help you recover and live again in the most efficient and healthy ways possible!
Thank you and have a wonderful day,