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Betsy V.

July 22, 2015

I am ... A Survivor

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.



I had the same thing happen to me in May, I am having a hard time dealing with anxiety and depression which I won't medicate because antideprssants seem to up the risk for hemorrages. How ar you dealing with the fear?

Actually, I am having a difficult time with anxiety. I stress about headaches and then worry that my stress will contribute to another stroke. Also, my previous anxieties have been seemingly magnified.

Sounds very much like my stroke.  I had been very active that day, working at our church's 100 year celebration.  Went to dinner that evening with 2 friends from church.  Came home and got in the bathtub and the excrutiating headache hit me.  I had to have my husband help me out of the tub as the pain was debilitating.  I was getting over a cold so I assumed that now a sinus infection or something was hittting me.  I stayed home the next day, vomiting every few minutes and with excrutiating pain.  That evening when my husband came home, he saw how bad I was and called my doctor.  He wasn't available so we called our friend who is also a doctor and he said to get to the emergency room.  They immediately did the CT and soon, 3 doctors in white coats came in and told me they needed to talk to me about the blood in my brain.  I was sent to ICU and stayed in the hospital for 5 days.  I had no deficits the whole time, but any movement started the pain and vomiting all over again.  I kept having severe headaches with no relief so my neurosurgeon did a spinal tap to check for hydrocephalus.  The pressure was more than 4 times what it should be.  He drained the fluid which relieved the pain short-term, but a week later, I had to have a shunt inserted.  I'm doing great now, no headaches and no deficits.  I had none of the risks for stroke, no high blood pressure, no diabetes, no smoking, no drinking, no illegal drugs etc so my doctors think it was a freak bleed and that it will probably never happen again.

i to am a stroke survivor, I had one on 7/6/15 my first day at my new job. I live in fear because I don't know why really, they say it is my blood is to thick something about the proteins. My body is back to normal but my head always feels weird. I don't know if it is real or aniexty. I start a new job on this Friday very nervous but I need to start living again. I wish you all the luck from the bottom of my heart. When people say you survived I think I wish it was a different club.

yes, the same thing happened to me in 2009. I also had a bleed that lasted nearly 6 hrs and almost died, I didn'y have the headache, though, the only outward clue was that I began slurring some of my words at a meeting I was in. so even without the headache if someone has any symptoms it could be a stroke.  I was alot;like you, active and athletic not quite as young but only in my fifties. Now 5 years out I am able to drive and play golf again, but the rehab was tough and frustrating often but all I can say is that with time some things do come back. I am still forgetful my short term memory is really bad. my fine motor skills on my left hand are better but not 100% yet, everyone thought I was going to die, doctors my friends, even my therapists didny think I would recover much but I was determined to prove them all wrong. Having my golden retriever by my side when the exercises were the most frustrating helped alot, whatever you can find for inspiration is helpful, for everyone it is likely going to different. I was sleepy, too for the first 2 years at least and had to take naps, but my doctors said let yourself take a nap when you have to. your brain has been thru a crisis. I hated naps before but I did give in to them sometimes and it did help.These are some of things that helped me, and a strong faith I wish the best for you as a survivor now, stick withyour rehab and God bless.

Thank you for your words of encouragement. I'm not quite six months out and just finished my last semester of graduate school. I wasn't certain if that was going to happen. I have days where I am totally wiped out and am incredibly tired. My personality is such that I expect everything to be back to normal because I want it to but my brain is not bending to my will as I would like. I also still struggle with memory issues. I hope that these things get better with time...

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