Journey of Change
I had a massive stroke in 2002. I and/or my family was told multiple times that i would not live the night and they were almost right as I 'coded' more than once that night. The next day the doctors said well 'he will never sit up in bed, much less walk again... WRONG! With the support of family and friends and the hard physical therapy I received in my 4 month stay in the hospital, I walk and function pretty normal with some disability due to a hemi-paresis 'left side weakness'. I fight neuropothy and pretty low stamina, but I AM HERE & FUNCTIONING.. I was given a NEW BEGINNING.
The next biggest new beginning is from when I finally found the LOVE OF MY LIFE after 51 years. I reconnected with an old schoolmate. Rhonda Northcutt, Spears and after working through multiple 'speedbumps, WE have both started a NEW BEGINNING, starting with a wedding later this year...... The last NEW BEGINNING is of a financial nature. I am starting a NEW BEGINNING financially, which will be a challenge when you live on a fixed disability income, know what though? I AM a SURVIVOR and will get through this too!
HOW IT ALL STARTED on March 7, 2002 I headed out to pick up Sarah from school as it was my day to spend with her. She lived about 60-90 minutes away. I was nearly to Hampstead when I noticed I was running over the centerline orange cones, one after another and was confused why. I had an incredible thirst and decided to stop at a 7-11 for a coke. While there I had difficulty getting out of the car. My left hand didn't have any coordination. After a passerby helped me out of the car, someone called 911. The police and an ambulance responded. I was laying on the ground by now. I heard Holly, a paramedic and someone I knew. As they helped me into the ambulance I said " I've had a stroke, right ?". They said it appeared so. I kept shouting "someone has to pick up Sarah!" finally Holly said she had called my ex-wife & Sarah's mom to go get her from school. The next thing I remember is being in the ER with all sorts of folks around me. One doctor told me that I likely would not live through the night. Holly insisted they medivac me to University of Maryland's shock trauma unit in Baltimore. The next thing I remember is......... First thing I remember after being medevac'd to Shock Trauma was being pushed down the hall in a hospital bed. I saw my mom standing in the hall. She came by the bed to see me and I told her.. "mama don't let me die!" She told me I would be fine through her tears. Next I remember being real cold as a guy was shaving the hair from a large spot on the right side of my skull. Being worried how my "great" hair would look afterwards, I begged him to just go ahead and shave it all off rather than look "goofy". He told me he was only allowed to shave the area designated by the nuero-surgeon. The next thing I remember is waking up with a TREMENDOUS headache and thick bandages wrapped around my head. I next remember a doctor explaining that I had suffered a massive hemmoragic stroke on the right side of my brain. He cut out a large piece of my skull in order to relieve the pressure on my brain from the bleeding and subsequent swelling. He explained that as soon as the swelling went down enough, I would return to surgery in order for them to put the cut out piece from my skull back in place. Through all of this I was paralyzed completely on my left side. (R side of brain controls L side of body).
After a couple days they explained I would never walk again and likely would be bedridden for the rest of my life. I immediately shook my head NO and my mom told the doctor "you don't know my son! He WILL walk again and take his daughter for a walk at the park." The doctor said he'd buy us a steak if I was ever able to walk again. After being in the bed a week, I was ready to get the devil out of there! I kept trying to get out of bed because I planned to sneak out and take the train home. Finally, in order to teach me that I was unable to walk, they stood me up next to my bed and I screamed in agony as my atrophied muscles and damaged nerve endings tried to work. At that point I realized this would be a long-term obstacle, but I was determined I would WIN!.
.... by now, I was faced with the toughest fight in my life. The stroke had taken away the use of the left side of my body. Just imagine half of your body not working and how that would affect you. I suffered from extreme "left side neglect" as well which means my brain couldn't recognize ANYTHING on my left side including people or objects to my left. This caused everyone to approach me from my right or be ignored. One of the more terrifying moments was when my nurse held my left hand up in front of me to challenge my brain to recognize it. I started sobbing hysterically (which is a normal reaction I'm told) as if it were a monster as a child. This "shock" paid off though as I started to slowly recognize my left side body parts, although the neglect for objects remained and still does to a lesser degree.
One of the most humiliating parts of recovery is the necessity to wear adult diapers because the nerve endings killed by the stroke included those that tell you when you need to go to the bathroom. I hated it but it was necessary. There's not much more humbling to a 42 year old man than to be rolled around as a nurse's aide changed your diaper like a baby. You have to remember my mind was not affected at all. My cognitive ability, logical reasoning, overall intelligence remained the same and yet here my body was being treated like an infant.
The scariest moments post surgery were the two times I "coded" (heart stopped beating) and I became a "code blue"! I stopped breathing as well until they put a "trache" in my windpipe, I still carry that scar. Fortunately they reacted fast and revived me.
Another scary time was when my feeding tube site became extremely infected (oozing green) and I had a temp off of the charts and they rushed me into an ice bath!....I ended up at one time or another with a life threatening infection like MERSA 5 times during my two month stay in Shock Trauma. I was finally transfered to a full inpatient rehab facility called Kernan......
Being transfered to Kernan after two long months of medical recovery in Shock Trauma was just what I needed. I had heard for years about the acclaimed physical rehab success rate here. My first day, the PTs greeted me in my room and promptly put me in a wheelchair and rolled me to the gym. After spending 6 hours a day doing a variety of exercises on my legs and upper body I was asked.. "What are your goals?" I had a simple answer.... WALK WALK WALK. So I spent two more months in the hospital going through TOUGH physical work that any Marine drill instructor would be proud of. I made the mistake only once of saying "I can't" because my PT (physical therapist) promptly yelled "do 10 more now"!" This tough approach was a trademark of Kernan and is a cornerstone of their success. As tough as the regimen was, the PTs & OTs (occupational therapists) executed their jobs with compassion and empathy without being too "soft".
By the time I left Kernan I was abled to walk short distances with a quad cane and had regained some use/mobility of my left arm. I was told I had a strong case of hemiparesis which is weakness on one side....
My next phase of recovery would take place at home, that place I had not seen since that fateful day of my stroke 4 months prior when I set out to pick my little girl up from school..........