April 18th 2012 started like any other Wednesday, I woke up at 9ish and lounged around my apt until I had to get ready for work at 1230pm. I am the night assignment editor for CBS News in Philadelphia, 31 years old and relatively healthy.
Going through my normal routine I set my phone up to play some music while I got ready. Todays choice? Elton Johns greatest hits. Starting with "Levon" and just letting it play I am singing along as one of my favorites starts..
As "Tiny Dancer" starts I smile and start to sing along much like the popular scene from "Almost Famous". Singing loudly and out of key I belt out the chorus "HOLD ME CLOSER TINY DANCER" no doubt annoying my cat as the off pitch melody echoes through my tiny one bedroom apt just outside of center city Philadelphia,PA.... Then it happened, as Elton was singing about his blue jean baby without any warning and with the force of what I can only imagine a gun shot feels like I collapsed. Knowing this isn't a normal headache I somehow am able to get to my feet and step out of the shower. Still not aware of what is happening, but knowing it isn't good I try to take a step to get to my phone, I collapse again as the paralysis has set in on my entire right side.
Struggling to slide around my small bathroom and get to my phone I am able to reach my left hand up to grab the phone, "tiny dancer" still going as I struggle to focus on my pass code, I couldn't understand why it wasn't working, but I knew I needed to get the EMTS on the phone, using the phones emergency call feature I get 911 on the phone and just keep repeating my address... The call is dropped.... Using all of the focus I have left I call 911 back and explain to the operator "I think I am having a stroke, and I need help.. "Ok sir, you are doing great we are on the way" I think is what the operator told me. Then the call is lost again...
In this moment I am very aware that it may be my last moments on earth, Elton John is still singing but has moved on to "Rocket Man" and then it hit me... I'm soaking wet, completely naked, and listening to Elton John... This is going to be one hell of a story for the EMTS. I have since called this scenario the perfect storm of awkward..
Not knowing how much time has passed, but knowing Elton is still singing the paramadics arrive and make their way into my small second floor apt and manage to get me to the emeregency room. This is the last thing I remember of the month of April.
It was explained to me that I had an AVM burst on the left side of my brain causing an active bleed, sending massive amounts of blood into my brain. I couldn't understand why this happened to me as I am young and try to stay in shape. I was told I was born with this malformation and having never had headaches or any other symptoms it took everyone by surprise.
I started the rehab process 2 1/2 weeks after the stroke and after an angeogram, and a round of paste shot into the effected area of my brain.
As rehab started I still had very little movement in my right side, but I did my therapy everyday and in my room every day on my own hoping one day it will all come back.
I don't know when it happened, or how it happened but the next thing I knew May is ending and my arm is working! I can write, feed myself and even shave (VERY SLOWLY). Still doing inpatient rehab I am working harder than I ever have before, I am scheduled to do an "outing" with my recreational therapist and physical therapist, to get me used to doing everyday things in "the real world." That days activity was scheduling a cab pickup and telling the driver how to get where I am going. I decide I want to go to the Philadelphia Art Museum, as we get to the Art Museum I am standing at the bottom of the massive stairs made forever famous by Sylvester Stallone in ROCKY, I look at my physical therapist and make a decision. I'm going to climb these stairs today.
With a can in one hand and my physical therapist on my arm I start the trek up the most famous steps in Philadelphia. As tourists run past me humming the the theme song from the movie I push forward one step at a time, tired and wanting to quit I channel the spirit of the fictional boxer from South Philly and keep slowly climbing the stairs, before I knew it I am at the top and my physical therapist and I stand in the spot where Rocky Balboa stood as I look down on the city of brotherly love; the reality of the situation hits me like a ton of brinks....2 months ago I was hours away from dying and was paralyzed...I just walked up the art museum steps! However a bigger problem has arrived... How the hell am I going to get down???? Looking at my therapist we made the long slow walk down the stairs.. We made it back down and went back to the Rehab center feeling like Rocky at the end of part 2 when he defeats Apollo Creed to become the champ.
I have since been released from inpatient rehab, but still do the art museum steps at least once a week and it is getting easier and faster! My arm is almost back to 100% and I am working hard to get my foot back, it is a process, but I am taking it one day at a time.