I am a mother of two wonderful young girls (8 and 5), a wife to an incredibly supportive husband, a daughter to the most amazing parents one could ask for, a friend of many, a passionate runner, an enthusiastic basketball player, an avid reader, a grad student, and now, a stroke survivor.
Wednesday, June 17th, 2015, a month and a half after my 33rd birthday my life changed. I was playing in the first round of playoffs in the local womens’ rec basketball league and I adrenaline invigorated my entire body. But, five minutes into the first quarter, the most intense headache I have ever experienced began at my forehead. As I ran down the court, the pain radiated over and back and enveloped my head and neck like a helmet, ten sizes too small. I knew something was wrong but was unsure of what was happening. I quickly began to become disoriented and couldn’t remember my position or where I was supposed to be. I took myself out of the game and sat on the bench as the pressure in my head increased and I became more and more sensitive to the gym lights. Less than five minutes and a phone call to my mom and stepdad (who are a nurse and P.A. respectively), the decision was made to take me to the hospital. Once outside the gym, I could hardly walk unassisted, my disorientation increased, and I began to cry hysterically because of the immense pain. Fortunately, the hospital was less than 10 minutes away.
Luckily, the wait at the ER was not long. The attending P.A. examined me while the nurse checked my vitals. At one point, he tipped my head back which caused excruciating pain. He made the life-saving decision to put me in a room immediately and arranged for a CT Scan. Once in the room, various pain medications were administered in hopes of relieving some of my aguish. At best, they only curbed it. During this time, I was continually asked if I had migraines. My answer was always, “Yes, but this is NOT a migraine. This is different.” I didn’t know then that my type of migraine increased my stroke risk by 2.5.
The CT was quick and the nurse suggested that my husband find someone to pick up my girls. If I had not survived, that was the last time that my little girls would have seen me...sitting in a hospital bed, crying, with my head in my hands.
The results came promptly and the supervising physician informed me that I had a bleed-in my brain. As soon as he uttered those words, the nurse began to cry and apologize to me. My ever-strong husband was also crying. Befuddled and dealing with pain, nausea, and the deliriousness brought on by pain meds, I looked from face to face and asked, “Am I going to die?” The answer-“Well, it is life threatening.”
I was transferred to Stanford via ambulance because the fogged had rolled in for the evening and was too dense for helicopter transport. 45 minutes later, I was in the Neurology ICU with various doctors, residents, fellows, and nurses surrounding me. My first neurological exam revealed that my right eye was not tracking properly and when I attempted to touch my nose with my eyes closed, my right hand almost poked out my eye. I was able to correctly answer all questions such as, “What year is it?” and “Who is the president?” but it was a challenge to conjure the answers and were not delivered with my usual wit and humor. I really had made it to Stanford just in time.
My visit to Stanford seemed short for the ordeal I had just been through but the various teams were able to get my bleeding under control. I was awoken every hour for a neurology exam and every two hours for Nimodipine, to prevent vasospasm that could cause further damage. After a clear CT Scan with contrast and angiogram, it was determined that I had survived a subarachnoid hemorrhagic stroke at the top of my brain stem. I had no aneurism, no AVM, and no risk factors.
It is now a little over a month since “the incident” and I am not yet back to normal in any way. I still suffer with daily headaches which I have recently been able to control with just acetaminophen and essential oils. I tire easily and have not yet been able to return to work. I am just regaining my confidence in the driver’s seat of my car but still deal with nausea associated with motion. I have frustrating memory loss and have difficulty in recalling words quickly which can be infuriating. Although my right eye does not wander and my right arm is completely functional, my hand eye coordination is well below it was before the stroke and requires daily concentration and work.
Patience has never been one of my virtues and this recovery process has been and I am sure will continue to be a challenge. However, based on various statistics I have gleaned from The National Stroke Association, The American Stroke Association, and various others, I am fortunate to be alive. Regardless of how my memory or body works, I am so grateful for every second I have with my family.
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