I have been a registered nurse for 29 years. Twenty-two of those years, I spent working in critical care. I took care of many stroke patients, but never expected to be one myself. I have a master's degree in nursing and for seven years practiced as a nurse practitioner. On September 22, 2007, I awoke with what I thought was a sinus headache. Later in the day, I decided that it was a migraine headache. I stayed in bed all day. The next day, September 23, I awoke feeling well. I showered and dressed to go grocery shopping.
My elderly aunt, for whom I was caretaker, decided that she wanted to go outside for a walk. I decided to take her before leaving. While I was walking with my aunt, I tried to speak to her, but the words were garbled and slurred. With the next step that I took, I landed face down on the ground. My aunt didn't have presence of mind to call for help, but fortunately, my husband was outside and heard me yelling. He called 911. I insisted that I was fine and that he help me inside. I walked inside with his help.
By the time the ambulance crew arrived, my entire left side was paralyzed and my face was drawn. I could speak and was able to give the medics my health history and list of my medications, but my left arm and leg were paralyzed. The medics told my husband that I was having a stroke. He called my daughter who worked at the hospital. My daughter called my best friend, also a nurse, who started the ball rolling.
By the time I got to the ER, the three doctors for whom I worked and my personal doctor were there waiting for me. I was whisked off to CT. Then my employer, who is a radiologist, came out and told me I had a large clot in my right middle cerebral artery and we needed to try to thrombolyse (dissolve) it. I knew exactly what that meant and said, "Let's go NOW!" I was in the specials lab within 20 minutes of arriving in the ER. My doctors tried everything they safely could to dissolve the clot, but said that they were unsuccessful. Apparently, there was at least some reduction in the size of the clot because an hour after that procedure, I could move my left foot and even bend the left knee.
The next day, I had a severe headache and was taken back to CT. This time I was told the clot was smaller, but my brain was swelling and I might have to be put on the ventilator if the pressure got too high. At this point, my family was told that I would most likely not survive.
Fortunately, the pressure in my brain decreased, I did not require a ventilator and I did survive.
By the fourth day post stroke, I could put my left index finger tip and thumb together. By day five, I could take a few steps with assistance, and I was transferred to an excellent rehab center where I began intensive therapy right away. The main thing I remember about the time in rehab was being extremely emotional, tired and sleepy all of the time. After three and a half weeks in rehab, I could walk, feed myself and dress myself with assistance.
My sister and my children were right by my side this entire time as my assistants and supporters. My sister remained with me for the next three months and helped me continue my outpatient therapy. At home, she was like a drill sergeant. If I was awake, I had exercises to do. After three months, I was tested and released to go back to work. A month after I went back to work, my sister returned to her home and job in California 1000 miles from me. I was terrified to be on my own, but I did it!! I worked for 18 more months.
One year after my stroke, I had a seizure and was put on an anti-seizure medication. One of the side effects of the medication is hostility, and I definitely had that. My job was very stressful and my concentration was poor. With the combination of stress, emotional lability, medication side effects and frequent interruptions, I was irritable and short tempered. On Friday the 13th of March 2009, my employer told me that I was not handling stress well and let me go. My job was my identity and my life. It was a devastating blow since I had worked so hard to get back to where I was before the stroke. I did go ahead and retire, and then I sank into a major depression which almost ended my life.
Fortunately, with God's mercy, medication and good counseling, I came out of the dark depths and now have my life back. I am no longer hostile after a medication change, and I do not even try to work any longer. Many times I think I could, as I retained most of my medical knowledge, but I know that my reasoning, logic and judgment are not optimal; therefore, I could very possibly make bad decisions for my patients. My whole career was about healing people, not harming them. My judgment is good enough to know that I can't take chances with people's lives. So, I am trying to learn to enjoy retirement after 30 years in a high stress profession.
I am grateful to God for my many blessings. I was blessed to be in the right place at the right time and to have doctors who knew what to do. I walk and talk just fine now. Most people say that they cannot tell, when they meet me, that I have had a stroke. I still have a few cognitive issues; my memory is poor, I get confused and lost in large open places and my eye-hand coordination is not good, but I am much more fortunate than many. I still have down days when I grieve the loss of the old me, but I now realize I was always more than a nurse, and I still am.
I'm learning to love the new me, and I look at every new day as an opportunity to improve myself.