My 31st Birthday Present
December 14, 2005 was my 31st birthday. I wasn't expecting much for thirty-one. I was looking forward to breakfast in bed or cake and ice cream. What I got was much different.
From Thanksgiving until my birthday I had a horrible case of asthmatic bronchitis. This landed me in the hospital for over a week. So, when I awoke at 3:00 a.m. on December 14th not feeling well, it was no surprise. It was a surprise that the left side of my body felt numb and tingly and it also felt like a load of bricks had just been dropped onto that left side. With my husband, Troy, of six and a half years beside me and our 22-month-old son in the room next door, I decided to get up to have a glass of juice. I just knew the feeling would soon pass. It didn't.
As I made my way to the kitchen, my left foot was oddly dragging the ground. I reached for the refrigerator door but could not make my left arm grab the handle. All the while, I keep thinking about my left arm and the symptoms of a heart attack. But, the weak leg didn't make sense. I could still move but it was like the signal in my brain was not firing to tell my left hand or leg where to move. So, being the brilliant young woman that I am (please note the sarcasm in my voice), I eventually fell back asleep. Something inside me told me to wake my family at 3 a.m. But, the responsible Mom in me did not want to alarm my sleeping husband or child. I was VERY fortunate that I awoke again at 5 a.m. I had a gnawing feeling that it was more than just my arm and leg going to sleep. The numbness wasn't going away and this was serious. Something was very wrong. I just didn't understand the symptoms and the medications I had been taking made me feel miserable and confused. My conversation with my wonderful husband went something like this:
'Troy?' I said.
'Huh' was his grumbling response.
'I think we have a problem.'
'I don't know.' 'I can't really feel the left side of my body.'
'WHAT?' was his surprised answer.
From here I explained the odd feeling and he told me to call my doctor. I did and then headed to the emergency room upon her confirming advice. Our son, Drew, went to daycare and Troy and I went to the ER.
Upon a rapid admission, they sent me for an MRI. I explained that I was sure it had to be a weird reaction to all the medication I've been taking for my lungs. He kindly listened to my reasoning then explained that was highly unlikely and that we would talk after the test. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is never much fun. But, this one seemed to last for days. If you've ever had one, you know you must remain very still during the scan. The MRI scanner is a long tube surrounded by a giant magnet. Needless to say, it was my first, and I was very nervous. This MRI was scanning my head and neck for answers to an odd sensation in my left side. I'm no doctor, but that did not sound good to me. During my time in the MRI there were four words that I repeated over and over. I do not know where they came from but they were the only words that I could think of and they kept me calm. That scan lasted over an hour and I simply repeated, 'Jesus, give me peace' the entire time. I believe that God led me to this prayer that day. I was scared when I went in and I was scared when I came out of the MRI. But, after asking Jesus to give me peace in my heart, he did just that. I was at peace. I was at peace that everything would turn out the way it was intended.
After the MRI, the doctors came in with the news that I had a mass at the base of my brain. This was not what you expect to hear on your birthday and certainly not the present I was hoping for. Remember, it was supposed to be cake and candles and gifts and wishes. For some reason, it appeared I was getting a tumor for my birthday.
It is important for me to share that when I was twenty-three years old, I had malignant melanoma. Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer that if not removed or treated is very deadly. My doctors knew of my cancer history and were prepared for the fact that it had returned.
My first ambulance ride was uneventful. It was amazing how many questions I got from the many different medical personnel who assisted me in my journey. Once arriving at St. Thomas, the questions did not stop. However, these were life and death questions. Serious things like, 'Do you have a living will?' These questions are standard for any hospital stay. In this scenario, they take on an entire new meaning. Troy and I discussed my living will. We talked about cremation or burial. We talked about our son and his future. All the while, I knew in my heart we had to discuss these things so that my entire family would be at peace if things did not improve soon.
Within minutes of arriving at St. Thomas, I met multiple specialists. They were leaning toward brain surgery as they expected a tumor. They kept telling me that I was young and had no known risk factors for having had a stroke, my heart looked fine on all the tests. My neurologist came in and explained that I would meet one of the best in neurosurgery very soon. The plan was to take my MRI scans to the Tumor Board the next morning to make sure that surgery was the right course of action.
The tumor board returned with the conclusion that it was most likely a tumor, it didn't look like your 'typical stroke'. We planned for surgery the next morning. One funny side not, they usually only shave the portion of your head that is being operated on. I did not want half a head of hair and asked for the entire head to be shaved. I literally had to ask three times and even remind the surgeon as they rolled me into the operating room. But, they finally took me seriously and I got my wish.
Friday morning we got set to go and it seemed forever before they came to get me. Family and friends entertained me while we waited. It was a long wait. But, they came and Troy and I went down to the OR. The anesthesiologists were wonderful and talked and joked for quite a while before they got started. They even let Troy come in so he could see me one last time before heading back. That is about the last I remember...
I'm told the good news came while I was in recovery. The doctors told Troy and my Dad they were shocked to find no cancer. And, even better...no tumor. The suspicous area was almost just mush. It was not a tumor at all. But, they are baffled. Several of them felt confident my cancer had returned and couldn't believe that no tumor was found.
After many doctors, tests and inquiries to discover if there were any ongoing problems, it was confirmed that I did indeed have a stroke that was most likely caused by a clot on the brain. I underwent many more tests before the doctors concluded that the clot was likely due to the combinations of medications I had been on for the week's prior.
Now it was time to get well and work to regain the strength on my left side. By this time, the holidays had arrived. So, our family celebrated Christmas in my rehab room at Skyline Medical Center. We did not focus on gifts, we just spent time together as a family. It was a great reminder that Christmas is not about gifts. It is about the time we have together and the celebration of the people we love in our lives.
My week in rehab was tough. It was an around the clock effort to make my left arm function again, clarify my speech, learn to walk, shower and dress myself again. But, what a victory to accomplish that in a weeks time after all I had been through.
The New Year brought in the good news that I got to go home. Once we got home I limped to the couch and looked at our Christmas tree. It was the perfect tree and I hadn't gotten to enjoy it this year. We put it up days before my stroke. I just sat and cried and realized just how thankful I was for my life and my family. I'd really not shown much emotion up to this point of my journey. I had the peace and knew God would guide us. But, what a relief it was to be home again.
Little did I know, this journey was only the beginning for me. Jesus gave me the peace to get through a near death experience. It is now six years later and I am training for my first Sprint Triathlon on April 1, 2012. It will be my way of celebrating my recovery and coming full circle in body, mind and spirit.
I realize that the journey of life will have other bumps on the road, but now at least I know the signs of stroke and I learned that stroke does not discriminate. I feel more confident now than ever before that if I pay attention to my body and help those around me do the same, we can face whatever God puts in our path. He does not give us more than we can handle. Plus, for my thirty-first birthday, Jesus gave me peace.