At the age of 34, I experienced a stroke. It was January 21, 2009 and I had the day off work and was excited to be watching the Presidential inauguration on TV. I was on the phone with my husband when I started having difficulty. I was trying to pick up a pen from my desk and just couldn’t make my hand work. Suddenly my speech became strange and slurred. I remember saying "I can't find my words" and becoming increasingly agitated. Luckily my husband David recognized that something was terribly wrong…that I wasn’t just “stressed out”!
Dave thought that I might be having a heart attack because of the symptom with my arm. He told me that he was going to hang up and call 911, and he instructed me to open the garage door so that in case I lost consciousness the EMS could get into the house. When the paramedics arrived, I could hear them pounding on the door. I dragged myself up the steps but had trouble walking and fumbled for what seemed like hours with the lock on the door. The door flew open and several paramedics were in my face. I could understand everything that they were saying to me but could not answer their questions. I felt frustrated and filled with panic like I was trapped in my own body. The ambulance ride seemed to last forever, the sirens screaming in my ears. I was disoriented and sleepy, barely able to keep my eyes open.
Upon my arrival at Mercy Hospital, I was officially diagnosed through at CT scan that showed my blood clot. I was fortunate to receive tPA, the clot-busting drug, within 15 minutes of my critical window expiring and I was blessed to have minimal damage from the stroke. I am grateful to my husband’s quick-thinking, the skilled EMS team, doctors and nurses who saved my life…for not dismissing my diagnosis because of my age.
The week after I was released from the hospital, I had dozed off in bed while watching television. When I woke up around midnight, I reached to turn off my reading lamp and realized that I couldn’t move my arm. I nudged my husband and he checked me for the F.A.S.T signs of stroke. My face was drooping on one side so he immediately took me to the hospital. The doctors said that it was a transient ischemic attack (also known as a TIA or mini stroke). I was not in any high risk group for stroke and doctors cannot establish what caused my initial blot clot or the second episode. I had recently given birth to my daughter and had a clean bill of health. My family history is spotty at best but my neurologist suspects that my birth control and history of being a migraineur might be linked but no one can know for sure. It is frustrating not having a clear explanation of why the stroke/TIA happened. My doctor took me off oral contraceptives and my migraine medication as precautions.
Since my stroke I now have difficulty handling multiple tasks simultaneously. I also have some memory and concentration issues especially with patterns and calculations. I have some minor aphasia which is more pronounced when I am tired or overwhelmed. For the first 2 weeks of my recovery, I experienced severe migraine attacks almost everyday which was unbearable. The migraines still occur less frequently but I have been able to manage them with a regime of supplements and watching my triggers. I do have other manageable post-stroke symptoms including sensitivity to flourescent lighting, and anything with a strobing effect. I find high pitched or loud noises especially mechanical noises difficult to bear and have to wear ear plugs often when working or attending any loud event. I find it hard to do any aerobic or any inverted exercises as it feels like my head might explode. When I am at rest, I frequently experience a tingling in my head and face…it was difficult to get used to this feeling at first as it made me worry about the onset of another stroke. I know that I am very fortunate not to have suffered any major physical limitations like paralysis or loss of vision. I am so grateful to be able to function successfully on most days.
Volunteering for the American Heart Association and other organizations has helped me to regain my confidence. Although I do fear having another stroke and know that I may never fully go back to where I was prior to the stroke, I also live every day with a renewed sense of purpose. My stroke fundamentally changed my priorities to be more focused on the present and what really matters in my life. The experience brought me closer to my husband, friends and family members. Experiencing the stroke changed me in the sense that I now realize that this life is momentary…to not take it for granted. My confidence in my abilities has wavered but I have also gained a greater sense of who I am. To my beautiful children I have pledged to find time for some fun in each day and to not wait for a “someday” to do special things together. I am so very grateful and fortunate to be alive, active and able to work and enjoy my life.