Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This One Time, in Poughkeepsie, I Had Stroke

It occurred to me that one of purported topics of this blog is the stroke I suffered over three years ago.  I have not posted anything about my stroke, and I think that says a lot about how I'm dealing with it.  In other words, I sort of pretend that nothing is different, when in reality, everything is different.

It was a nice trip.

Although, it might have been...
a bit too much lifting...

Saturday, Feb. 21, 2009 at Bear Mountain
 So, let me finally recount in written form the first days of my stroke.  Three years ago, my family went on a mini-vacation to Poughkeepsie.  We swam in the hotel pool, hiked around Locust Grove, and had a dinner at the Culinary Institute of America, which was on my list of things to do before I die.  I had borrowed a friend's "baby backpack", and my daughter was carried primarily by me (except for the emergency descent from the mountaintop, but that's a story for another day).  I did feel some discomfort, but nothing out of the ordinary for someone carrying a 20 pound blob.  The last day of the trip, a Saturday, we visited Bear Mountain, and although we didn't hike, we wanted to see the small zoo and the merry-go-round, and the distances between them are long for emergent walkers like my 20-month old child, so I carried her on my shoulders for convenience's sake.

As soon as we got home, I remember sitting at the kitchen table when a headache came on all of a sudden, like the proverbial switch.  I had asked my husband for an aspirin, but he told me I was probably dehydrated.  That night, the headache hadn't subsided and I woke up and begged him for an aspirin, which did nothing.  The next morning, I remember my daughter wanting to do something with me that required jumping and the headache was so extreme that I couldn't.  And then, it happened. 

I was making dinner and all of a sudden I felt the urge to sit down.  The last thing I said was "whoa", and I sat in a chair.  My husband became immediately alarmed and was squatting next to me, trying to get me to say if I was okay, and I remember thinking that it was funny that I couldn't answer him.  I could see that he was very, very concerned, but it didn't register any reciprocal feeling in me at all.  I kept tipping off the chair, so he set me on the floor, and made many phone calls which I could hear and understand what he was saying, but, again, it ellicited no emotion from me.  When the paramedics came to the door, my little girl stood over me calling "Mommy, Mommy", and I thought that a mother would try to respond to her and comfort her, because she was obviously upset, but I remained blissfully unaffected.  My father-in-law entered the kitchen, and even though I knew he was there, I didn't bother to greet him.  I remember feeling strange when the paramedics had to take me down the three flights of stairs with great difficulty and thinking it was a huge production, but again, oh well.  Nothing bothered me.

I remember everything, but I reacted to nothing.  I liken it to death, or at least Hollywood movie death, where you can see what is happening, but you are strangely removed.  Only, in the movies, the dead people are still feeling emotions, where all I felt was peace.  And then, as soon as it had started, it was over.  The doctors had given me a tPA, and I was back among the living.  When I was told what had happened, I was bemused.  I really never understood what a stroke was or how it was experienced.  And because I was completely restored to my old self, I thought it was a bizarre and, in its own way, enjoyable experience.

I didn't understand why I couldn't leave the hospital since I was obviously completely cured.  I did not fall asleep that night until after 5 am; I was too scared.  I was alone and I didn't understand what had happened to me or why.  The next day, Monday, the doctors had still not gotten around to trying to determine any sort of cause for the stroke, and I was becoming impatient, because I wanted to go home to see my little girl.  While my husband was there, I felt nauseous, threw up, and it happened again.  I remember seeing the doctors outside the glass wall of my hospital room, and my husband, in his royal blue jacket, appearing and disappearing.  I remember the long ambulance drive and I somehow knew where we were going.  I knew we were on the Triborough Bridge, stuck in rush-hour traffic.  And my husband's look of fear and panic registered, since it was obviously caused by me, but I was no longer afraid.  I was unaffected by the traffic, the siren, the long, long wait for medical treatment, and the stress that plagued my husband.  When we finally made our destination, I was put into an MRI machine, still in my peaceful state. 

Feb. 28, 2009, I finally got to see my daughter after
six days in the hospital.  This picture still brings tears
to my eyes.
 This second time, there was no "coming to" moment.  I was in a haze for I don't know how long, and the only clear memory I have is the very strong neck and skull pain that I forced me to somehow ask the nurses for more medicine.  Perhaps the nurses just sensed that I would need more and asked me yes/no questions.  I remember the nurses coming in to "bathe" me, and inserting catheters for me to relieve myself, although I only sensed these activities.  The first time that I remember interacting was when a team of doctors would come in, it seemed like 5 times a day, and ask me the same questions over and over again.  "Who are you?  Where are you?  Who is the president?"  Barack Obama had just been inaugurated one month before, but luckily, I recalled this because Laura pronounced his name "Baba Babama".  That is not something that one forgets easily.  I remember many doctors coming in to insert a needle into my arm, and none of them being able to do it correctly.  I have no idea how many days this daze lasted. 
This picture shows how I felt that day that I was reunited
with her.

This second stroke was not like the first.  I was no longer my old self.  I could no longer do the things I'd once done.  I would say that the stroke cut my life into two pieces: there would be no mid-life crisis for me.  I went from young and healthy, to old and incapacitated overnight.  I couldn't recall words easily, I couldn't feed myself with my right hand, couldn't walk, couldn't write, couldn't type.  I wasn't even the same person I was before, since the brain was altered.  I would constantly ask my husband for reassurances that I hadn't changed, which he would never answer directly.  Thank God, I have recovered almost all my physical functions very quickly.  It was a long journey back from the second stroke, and three years later, I'm still not in the place where I started from.


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