What are the Odds?
In 2007 I experienced a severe headache, then was startled to note that my arm was moving on it's own. My first thought was that I could be having a stroke. I knew what a stroke was from my work in rehabilitation as a speech-language pathologist.
In 1980 I graduated from Eastern Michigan University with my M.A. in Speech-Language Pathology. My first job started in the public schools, but it turned out to be a brief endeavor due to major cuts in our school that year. Next I found myself with several part time jobs in Speech Language Pathology for two hospitals and a home therapy program for the next 5 years. That lasted until my school district called me back. Over many years I've always found my job to be interesting and challenging, no matter the setting.
In 2007 I unexpectedly experienced a severe headache and a subsequent cerebral hemorrhage in the left parietal lobe of my brain. Oddly, it also made me recall a time during my hospital experience when I'd contemplated the odds for one working in rehabilitation to experience stroke and aphasia. Fortunately the value of speech therapy for aphasia recovery was core to my experience and training as as a SLP.
Following one week of confusion in the intensive care unit, I was finally admitted to the inpatient rehabilitation unit at Mercy Hospital in Muskegon Michigan. While there I asked my husband if I'd had a stroke? He confirmed my "self" diagnosis.
Next a volunteer stopped in to see if I'd like a magazine to read ? Ah ha! That would give me the opportunity to see if I could read. I peered into the magazine curiously. Yes. I saw words, but couldn't read or understand any of it. Next I told my husband I had "Aphasia" and it had impaired my ability to read. He later asked a nurse if that was true and she told him it sounded like I knew what I was talking about!
According the National Aphasia Association: "Aphasia is an acquired communication disorder that impairs a person's ability to process language but does not affect intelligence. Aphasia impairs the ability to speak and understand others and most people with aphasia experience difficulty reading and writing." (See NAA.org website).
Continued rehabilitation therapy little by little made me realize I also had significant word finding difficulties, also known as anomia. There was paralysis of the right side of my body ( known as hemiplegia), difficulty seeing in my right visual field (hemianopsia), inability to write legibly, attention difficulties and definite issues related to sequencing. In fact, the more I recovered the more I became aware of additional areas of deficit and the significance of each one. Fortunately I knew recovery could only be made through diligence, will power, and practice in the areas of speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. I still cried a lot though. Fortunately support and positive enthusiasm from loved ones and friends overflowed. Especially from my husband. He and my neurologist were the most positive about my recovery. I wasn't so sure at first.
I was dismissed home from rehabilitation after 6 weeks in the hospital. Home care and outpatient therapy followed. Later my physician referred me to the Mayo Clinic to further identify the cause of my stroke. Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia was the opinion. (See hht.org for further information about this medical condition).
I returned to work that fall and passed a driving test; though I really didn't start driving until April of the following year. Some mild spasticity in my leg/foot remain and word finding difficulties when I am extremely stressed.
Credit is attributed family, friends, rehabilitation personal - including speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists, as well as medical professionals. Self perseverance and practice played a crucial part in my recovery based on both professional and patient experience.
Some suggestions offered to anyone who has had experience with stroke. Don't give up. Take care of yourself. Try to keep routines in balance. Practice your therapy, but alternate from one therapy to another. If you can't read but want to, let someone read to you, but don't stop practicing. Listen to relaxing music when stressed. Rhythmic music for motivation and help with motor skills. Practice copying the alphabet or writing words if you need to. Communicate with others who have had had a stroke. They may need someone to encourage them too. Sometimes life experiences lead us in directions other than than expected, but can they still can end up positive. There are also stroke groups available in for continued support after dismissal from therapy. The National Aphasia Association (NAA.org) website has many resources to check on. The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (asha.org) can provide information about aphasia too. ASHA also certifies those of us who are speech-language pathologists.
Donna Budzenski, MA, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist
(Author of The Evergreen Outside My Window. Available through Amazon.com for Kindle or as a paperback book.