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Jim F.

June 22, 2016

I am ... A Survivor

I had just completed a fencing competition, taking 10th place out of 50, which was decent.  I had recently earned an "A" rating, and was in the best shape of my life.  Non-smoker, didn't drink or smoke, I didn't even drink caffeine.  Earlier in the week, I had what they called an 'angry nerve bundle', which caused a lot of pain in the back of my head, so they gave me a nerve block.  By the time of the competition, it was completely forgotten.  I went home, exhausted, and laid down on the floor to play with my dogs.  The small one, Shiloh, jumped on my chest and started licking my face.  I turned my head to the right to avoid getting licked, and felt a crunch in the back of my neck.  There was a pause, then my head exploded in pain.  It took every bit of my strength to get this 9-pound dog off my chest and turn over.  After holding my head for a few minutes, I crawled upstairs to get some Tylenol.  I couldn't make it back down the stairs, my wife found me and helped me down.  By this time, I was dizzy, and got vertigo whenever I opened my eyes.  The symptoms seemed to get worse, so we made the decision to go to the nearby hospital.  My wife drove me, and we arrived at the hospital about 7 minutes later.  By then, I could not walk at all, she got a wheelchair for me and wheeled me into the ER.

They admitted me immediately, and ran all kinds of tests...given my age and my otherwise good health, they didn't even think stroke.  They did a CT Scan, took 16 vials of blood, and, after four painful tries, did a spinal tap to get some fluid.  They later did an MRI, but saw no evidence of stroke; they saw what they determined to be a very old bleed, but nothing recent. 

After five days, it was time to leave the hospital.  They wanted me to go to a rehab hospital; I wanted to go home.  I was terrified of going into a facility, having no idea of what would happen, fearing I would never get out, and would be forgotten there.  My mother and wife discussed what they would have to do to have me cared for at home.  When I heard how much they would have to rearrange their lives, I broke down a little, realizing how selfish I was being, and agreed to go into the facility.  It was definitely the right decision, for everyone.

The facility was fantastic.  The staff was great, I had lots of visitors...my wife even brought the dogs once!  I started getting better, relearning to walk, figuring out how to eat without choking, how to refocus my eyes to see without getting dizzy.  After ten days, I was in the middle of a physical rehab session, when I was pulled out.  The insurance company determined that I had been there too long, and wouldn't pay for any more time.  In fact, they wanted to charge me for the previous two days, but my doctors pushed back, saying they should have said something when they wanted me out, not two days later.  They won that battle, but it seemed I was losing the war.  My wife & mother had to leave work mid-day, pick me up and buy all kinds of equipment on the spot.  Things like a wheelchair, walker, four-point cane, and some toilet supports had to be packed in a car and set up.  Thankfully, a friend was nearby, and able to help get me up the steps and into my home.  My wife had to be my caregiver, which must have been a tricky job, because I was a stubborn patient.  I had no desire to stay on the couch forever, so from day 1 I would get up and move around on my own as much as possible.  This made her nervous, but also helped me to recover.

Six months after the stroke, my disability allowance ran out, so I returned to work...only to be laid off three weeks later.  I was able to work some more on recovery, and was soon discharged from out-patient physical and occupational therapy, and began the job search process as a stroke survivor.  Things got hard, but I was alive, independent, fairly well recovered and was even able to return as a fencing instructor.  Seven years later, I still take pride in being able to teach so many kids fencing, and being able to demonstrate even the most demanding actions.  The future is always uncertain, but I always come back to the fact that if I can survive a stroke, I can survive pretty much anything.

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