It will be 3 years this August 31. A massive hemorrhage left me paralyzed for 3 weeks, then slowly...I started coming back. I am now a volunteer at the same hospital where I spent much of my recovery.
SET ME DOWN SLOW AND CALL 911
There was nothing different about the morning of August 31, 2011 than any other morning except I decided to take a break from working out. My back was achy so it needed rest. Everything else was routine, including breakfast; 1 poached egg and 1 slice of toast lightly buttered along with a glass of O.J. After this it's off to work at a job I love and with people I adore. No pressure to speak of. The only stress I really had was not enough pay for the monthly bills. Now, mind you; 3 months prior my breakfast (when I ate a breakfast) consisted of a 4 egg cheese omelet with bacon and hash browns (courtesy of Large Marge's Coney Island) and don't hide the salt shaker.
Over the years I had lifted weights on and off with some sense of seriousness and at times had worked myself into pretty good shape by combining some cardio exercises, etc. But 2 packs of cigarettes per day would negate any advances I would have made to get myself healthy.
That past year I would gorge myself into 1 bag of Lays potato chips every two days, not to mention the donuts, Little Debbie's, ...well you get the picture. A few stress tests over the previous 6 years confirmed my heart was strong and no signs of blockages thus I was invincible and no need to worry about diet and health issues.
For 25 years I had worked in the transportation industry constantly stressing over getting the automotive assembly plants their freight on time before their assembly line would shut down. 12-14 hours per day overseeing drivers, dispatchers, clerks and supervisors was rather routine, but the money was good, however the stress was not.
On June 3, 2011 I threw down the gauntlet. I weighed in at 334lb. I started working out and changing my diet. Something had come over me and suddenly I was more motivated than I had ever been to stick with an exercise routine of cardio and lifting weights like I had never been before. I was literally amazing myself. By near the end of August I must have lost 20 lbs. but I didn't have a scale so I can't tell you for sure. I was getting up an hour early and working out nearly every day and really hitting the weights hard on the weekends. I was loving life again and really starting to feel good.
It was Wednesday, the last day of August and I had a corporate meeting to get ready for as soon as I got to the office. As earlier mentioned I skipped my workout to give my back a rest and started getting ready for work with my bathroom routine. I suddenly I realized I had no feeling in my right leg. I shimmied over to the sink and then realized I couldn't brace myself with my right arm so I braced with my left. I just stood there momentarily hoping that I was just imagining my dilemma. Seconds later I knew there was something seriously wrong when I could not put any pressure on my right leg. I called out to my wife who had decided to get up early for some reason. She came to the bathroom and when I explained the problem, she suggested she try helping me walk to the bedroom so I could lie down. At 334 lbs, I knew that wasn't going to happen. Rather than risk falling on her and killing her, we opted to just set me down slow and call 911.
Within a minute from Sharon calling 911 I could hear the siren off in the distance, as if they were waiting for her call. Minutes later they were rushing me into emergency. The CAT scan removed all doubt. A blood vessel had burst causing a hemorrhage on the left side of my brain. It was deemed a massive stroke. I never lost consciousness but I was sure drugged up because there are many things about day 1 that remain a blur.
I remember they didn't want to feed me because they wanted to do an MRI you don't even want to be in the same area code when I am denied food. It seemed like just a short amount of time that Sharon stayed with me but I know she was by my side the entire day, same with our daughter, my dad and my sister.
They finally took me down to Radiation for the MRI which meant I would be eating soon. It was time for Sharon and the rest to head on home it had been a very long day for them. Once back in my ICU room they brought in the food. It was some form of chicken and rice. OMG I DO remember that! I thought I was going to die on the spot. Those that were unlucky enough to be in the same area code I'm sure remember my name. I was not a happy camping man. Time for bed and it was then that I remembered I needed my CPAT machine which treats my sleep apnea.
The nurses called Respiratory and soon they were in my room trying to convince me to use one of their machines. No way! Air leaking everywhere and too noisy! I tried calling Sharon but there was no answer. Panic immediately set in. It's hard to describe the feeling but when a man becomes paralyzed and dependent on someone else, when you can't get ahold of that someone else it's a feeling that had come over me that I never want again.
I called my dad and he agreed to go over to my house, make sure Sharon was OK and have her bring up my machine. She arrived within the hour. I was so relieved that she was ok I became very emotional. I didn't want her to leave. She stayed the night in my room reclined in one of the chairs. The next day I felt terrible for being so selfish. I felt like I was only thinking of myself in asking her to stay. But she did and it's a tribute to her love for me, which will be pointed out throughout this story.
The following morning she told me she wanted to tell me something. When I had lost my job at my previous employer, she somehow felt like she had abandoned me. Nothing could have been more further from reality. While coming in through the main entrance of the hospital the next day, she picked up an ordinary rock from one of the gardens out front. But this rock was far from ordinary. She handed it to me and proclaimed that ever since we have been together, I have been her rock. Now the roles will be reversed and she will be my rock. This rock is still proudly displayed in my man-cave at home.
I had to learn to do anything and everything with my left hand, including eating. Sharon would come into my room in the mornings and find cheerios all over the floor. I had so much food lying on my chest she would be picking it off of me asking if I was saving some for later. Two tasks came to me the easiest in learning to incorporate my left hand; controlling the remote for the TV and pushing the call button to summons the nurses. When the grandkids first came to visit me which was the Sunday following the stroke I pointed out the call button attached to my hospital gown and commented that they got to get themselves one of them. When I push the button the nurses come-a-running with whatever I need. Reminiscent of when they spend the night at our house but only its grandma and grandpa doing all the running.
One week following the stroke and just after the staff had prepped me for their rehab center and a new room on the lower level, the insurance company spoke up and wanted me moved to another hospital for the rehab portion of my recovery. The move happened the following day.
Upon arrival we were introduced to the rehab staff. We gave them lots of smiles and shared our jokes and whit. Soon we were loved by a whole new group of nurses.
ALWAYS BE POSITIVE AND MAINTAIN A SENSE OF HUMOR
After only a few days Sharon and I had the love of all the nurses and aides. I was interviewed upon admittance to the hospital by Kaye, one of the nightshift nurses. This is SOP on all new patients. When she asked what my goals were regarding my stay my response was simple, to the point and directly from the heart: 1. HUG MY WIFE 2. WALK These goals were apparently relayed to several of the staff. Sharon and I quickly bonded with them all.
One evening one of the aides told me that it was school night. I was due for an EKG and asked if it would be okay if a group of school nurses could come in and observe her performing the EKG on me. The group came in and we were all introduced. The charm was flying thick. The nurse was describing the step-by-step process including taping the sensors to various areas of my skin. They were all very astute and paying close attention. After she did the reading she explained that the next step as the most uncomfortable for the patient and that is removing the sensors and tape from the skin. She showed them all the most painless way to do that and then asked one of the students if she would like to try. The agreeable student leaned over and began carefully removing the last sensor from my chest. Her eyes and concentration told me the absolute last thing she wanted to do to me was hurt me in any way. I couldn't resist. As she pulled the last portion of the tape from my chest I yelped, "ouch!" I'm sure there is still an imprint of her head in the ceiling tile of that hospital room. The aide and the rest of the class roared. I grabbed the student's arm and apologetically explained that I just couldn't resist.
After a stroke you realize you have a very long road of recovery ahead of you. They teach you to set very short term goals, be patient and gauge your day on the many successes and accomplishments. At first, just waking up is an accomplishment. Then, being able to feed yourself, albeit left-handed is one. Changing the channel with the remote is another.
One of the first nurses I met and spoke with when I was transferred to Garden City Hospital told me she had treated many stroke patients in her day. She told me to grab my flaccid right hand at the wrist and hold it up near my face. Just concentrate on moving my index finger. She warned that it won't happen right away but someday, eventually it will. Mary, my Occupational Therapist, taught me to provide a workout for my left arm by grabbing my right arm and raise it up and down several times to complete a set. Do at least 4 sets per day. She also gave me homework each night of other exercises. I was to flex each of my fingers on my right hand and flex my wrist using my left hand as "the coach".
Every night I would lie in my bed, usually watching the Tiger's game and doing my 'chores'. A couple of weeks after arriving GCH I was watching the game and concentrating on moving my index finger when low and behold, it moved! I got so excited I threw down my arm, picked up the phone and called Sharon. She was so happy she couldn't stop crying. After I called her I hit my call button and beckoned the nurse. She was new and I hadn't ever seen her before but I showed her anyway and we suddenly became best friends. She was very excited to see my finger move. Now I couldn't wait to show Mary but it was Saturday night and I wouldn't see her until Monday.
I hardly got any sleep at all that night. I was practicing moving my finger. A few hours later my other fingers began to move. By 3:00 am I was starting to squeeze my left hand with my right hand. It was all coming back. The nails of my right hand were actually digging into my left hand from the grip. I would be walking tomorrow!!!
I couldn't wait to see Sharon. The nurses were on shift change. The day-shift nurses were coming on duty. The first one to my room was the first one to feel my grip. Then, one-by-one they were coming in wanting to know what the surprise was that the other nurses and aides told them to ask me about. It was a morning of hugs and tears. I made them all promise not to tell Mary. Sharon came in earlier than normal that Sunday morning. She hugged and kissed me and then asked to see me move my finger. I had her grab my right hand instead and then I gave it a squeeze. She burst into tears...as did I. But later the disappointing reality set in that I wasn't going to be hugging her or walking anytime soon. But it was coming.
I spent 4 weeks at that hospital. Sharon and I became like family to all the staff at the rehab wing. Improvements were plentiful as long as I kept working at it. God provided me the love, strength and endurance to get through the daily therapy and my Wife and loving family and friends provided love, support and encouragement.
After my stay at Garden City Hospital, I was moved to a sub-acute rehab and assisted living facility where I stayed for another 6 weeks. Each day was filled with intense physical therapy, but it was worth it. I returned home on 11-11-11. I continued my therapy with 4 weeks of out-patient work. On 2-4-12 I returned to my desk job at the same trucking firm. My boss always kept my job 'untouchable' until I was able to return. My wife drove me back and forth. I love her so much. On 9-25-12 I began driving myself.
Today, I continue my rehabilitation but it is self-induced. I work out at a local gym about 4 times per week. I am an active member of the Garden City Hospital Stroke Group and I am now a volunteer every Tuesday evening at Garden City Hospital I help the staff any way I can but I also speak to stroke patients and try to give them encouragement. Everybody needs to know there is life after stroke. Effort equals results. I now weigh in at 250 due to a healthy and nutritious change in lifestyle. Give glory to God because he kept you on earth for a reason. Trust and follow him and he will reveal his plan for you along the way. Just be prepared for all the blessings a favor he will give you along the way.
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