Strokes Survival & Recoveries
I survived 3 strokes. I had a TIA (date unknown), a clot in my right hemi (May 19, 2007) and a bleed in my left hemi (Sept 16, 2008). Recovery is my lifelong project.
I got lazy. I let myself become a fat guy who didn't exercise & stayed that way for too many years. I refer to my former self as "Porker Pat" not to berate myself, but partly tongue-in-cheek & also because it describes the way I was due to my bad choices. I peaked at 247 lbs at 5'6" tall. I'm now a fit 141 lbs & I now refer to myself as the Iron Gimp, again tongue-in-cheek, not to berate myself.
The TIA is evident on my scans from the clot that happened on May 19, 2007. I woke that day not feeling up to par so I took a couple of aspirin. As the day progressed I started thinking I could be coming down with flu or something. I had to play a big band gig that evening & went because I had gigged many times feeling worse.
The first set went well but after the break I couldn't get back on stage. No visible symptoms had manifested themselves yet; I just felt bad all over. After the gig (I had thankfully carpooled with friends) we were driving home when suddenly my left side felt numb and very weak with little control. Upon arriving home we took my blood pressure. It was a whopping 244/140-something! It took 3 people to load me into the car to get to the ER. They saw me immediately, did an MRI & CT then admitted me. They transferred me to the hospital's rehab unit after two days and started intense therapy. I was also diagnosed as a diabetic, but with no blockages or heart issues according to the ekg & echocardiogram - yet. 3 weeks later I was discharged & I was back to work in August. This had been my wakeup call; I had embarked on a journey to better health through my food intake, exercise & weight loss.
I was doing well with my health when Sept 16, 2008 rolled around. By this time I had done much in the way of studying stroke, its symptoms and causes. I got up to shower & while I was in the bathroom I started drooling, which was odd. I reached for a tissue but found it impossible to close my fingers. I knew instantly I had another stroke. I hollered, "Help, I just had another stroke, call an ambulance!" My sister called them and I was enroute to the ER once again.
I have a vague recollection of losing consciousness on the way and thinking, "So this is it." My memory of the next 3 weeks is made up solely of what folks have told me. Loss of weeks of one's life is a tad disconcerting to say the least. Friends & family called and visited but I have no idea what we talked about. I had lost my ability to speak, to swallow without choking, no use of my right side at all and limited use of my left side.
The hospital sent me to their rehab unit to start therapy. Once again this stoke was trying to end my life, this time from malnutrition. I couldn't swallow without choking and lost any desire to try to eat. The result was that I was weakening fast. They did a modified barium swallow test and the results were grim. They installed a PEG (feeding) tube in me on Oct 1, 2008.
As I regained my strength I was able to do therapy better and my recovery started to make some real progress. Thanks to my fantastic speech therapist who worked me like a dog I was able to stop the PEG tube feeding within two weeks. I was discharged to a skilled nursing/rehab facility on Oct 20, 2008 in a wheelchair where I would spend the next 5 months & 11 days.
The first week at the rehab facility was pure hell as I adjusted to my new surroundings. I hadn't been prepared for it; there were mostly elderly folks, most of them with Alzheimer's & Parkinson's. There were diabetic amputees who would rather have their bodies hacked to pieces rather than change their lifestyles; there were some heart & stroke patients as well.
I was fully expected to be wheelchair bound & in assisted living for the rest of my days. Fortunately I drew much strength & focus from the other patients. That was exactly how I did not want to be! My first session in physical therapy I voiced my goal - to walk out fully unassisted on my discharge day. My therapist didn't answer, he just gave me the most skeptical look he could muster & that merely served to strengthen my resolve even more.
Therapy ended for me there in my 2nd month. I was out of my wheelchair & for the most part using my walker. I worked with all the therapists there and when they realized I wasn't blowing smoke with my determination they worked me harder & harder. The harder they worked me, the more determined & focused I became.
After therapy "graduated" me I was made an "independent resident", meaning I had the run of the facility & freedom to use the gym as much as I wanted as long as therapists were around. They were still a little surprised to see me working out twice a day, every day. I was discharged on March 31, 2009. That day I did exactly what I had set out to do - I walked out fully unassisted under my own power. Those were the most significant 8 steps of my life.
My post-discharge therapy ended in Aug, 2009. I started doing intense strength training based on the super-slow method in Jan 2010 and still do it now. I still walk with a cane for the most part. The wheelchair & walker are both retired. Late last year I had an afib episode for which I now take a med to control it. I have no cholesterol issues or blockages but my pre-strokes high blood pressure caused an extremely small leak in my aortic valve & a very slight thickening of my heart muscle. I'm in no immediate danger.
The cause of my last stroke was labile hypertension, where the blood pressure peaks for no apparent reason and doesn't last very long. That's why the vessel popped. I conquered diabetes & reflux via my healthy lifestyle. My A1C hovers from 4.9-5.3 and my dailies seldom reach 100. Fasting glucose is 77-84. BP runs from 95/65 to 110/70. Physically I am doing great. I still suffer bouts of Emotional Lability though I no longer need meds for it. I still have issues with low concentration levels. I still have lots of difficulty with math/scientific/technical things & learning. I was very good academically, pre-bleed. Now it can take 40 or more reads for those things to sink in. My post-stroke voice, though understandable most times, can be difficult to understand when I'm tired. At least my ability to use the written word effectively is intact for the most part.
Today I weighed in at a trim 141.2 lbs. I'm doing 180 lbs. on the pull-down, 105 lbs. on my back, 150 rowing, 150 on the chest press, 240 on the leg press, and 140 on the hip extension.
All of the above are the reasons I am the Iron Gimp. I'll most likely never run or jog again due to equilibrium issues but the way I see it, I am nothing short of a walking, talking miracle even with my daily struggles & cognitive difficulties. Things could be SO much worse for me. This is why I will Never Give Up, why I owe it to my fellow survivors to continue on this path, why I feel a need to share my story with normal folks who have not suffered strokes.