How a Trip to the Salon Caused Me a Stroke (and almost ruined my Year of Fun)
My 28th birthday brought me the most difficult year of my life. In those short twelve months, I suffered the loss of my grandmother and eleven months later I lost my father to kidney cancer. It was a devastating year of hospital stays, emotional stress, and extreme grief. I thought that I would never be able to go on and live a normal life and subsequently spent the rest of that year sad, knowing that my life would be forever changed. Besides my family, and a handful of friends who had suffered similar losses, no one could really understand what I was going through. I felt alone and thought that this would be my destiny- a life full of sadness. I was heartbroken.
On September 3rd, 2012, the day of my 29th birthday, I looked myself in the mirror and declared that the upcoming year would be my "Year of Fun." I vowed that in honor of my father, I would snap out of it, cherish my memories, and create a bucket list with my mom and sisters to go see things we've always wanted to see. We were going to head out on amazing adventures, visit places we'd only dreamed of, and to simply live life the way that it is intended to be lived-- with an open mind and a happy heart. After all, my dad wouldnt have it any other way.
Two months later, I was still on an emotional high, ready to take life by the reins and get back to living. It was just a few days before Thanksgiving and I wanted to start fresh and thought that getting a new haircut could be the first steps on my new journey. I went to my hairdresser that I had been going to for years. We chatted and I told her about my positive outlook on the upcoming year. This was going to be it- a brand new start, a new lease on life. Besides the deep conversation, it was a pretty standard day at the salon- a cut and some new blonde highlights to my dark hair. If this was going to be the Year of Fun, I thought why not test out the old saying. Hey, maybe blondes really do have more fun! My hairdresser cut my hair and sat me down in the sink for a rinse. After washing it, she asked if I would be up for a new conditioning treatment that they were trying out- a shea butter mask. I thought, "Why not?" This is all about new beginnings!" She proceeded to place the treatment on my hair and told me to wait just a few more minutes. After 10-15 mins, I began to get ansy lying there in the sink. I was uncomfortable but wasn't in any noticiable pain. It was a brief thought and shortly afterwards she came to retrieve me, bring me back to the chair, and finish my brand new 'do.
Later that evening, I rode the Metro North train up the Hudson to my hometown in Upstate NY. It's tradition in most small-towns, and mine is no exception, that on Thanksgiving Eve everyone goes out to the local bars to meet up with friends, some of whom you probably haven't seen since the year before. Luckily, that night I was surrounded by familiar faces all of whom I'd known since childhood, and all of whom complimented me on my brand new haircut. I felt a renewed sense of self. Having a glass of wine with my closest friends, laughing and reminiscing, I thought, "Wow, I'm off to a good start! This really is going to be a good year."
Thanksgiving was bittersweet. It was an emotional day, as are most holidays when you suffer the loss of a loved one, but my mom, sisters, and I managed to have a beautiful day. We ate too much, laughed too loud, and probably drank a bit too much wine. All-in-all it was a great day. We were on the road to recovery and I began to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
The next morning though, everything would change...
I woke up the following morning around 7am, which was out of the ordinary for me to wake without the assitance of my alarm clock (and several hits on the snooze button). I had a little cough that I was battling all week, but nothing that a little cough syrup couldn't handle. It was annoying, but I forced myself to fall back asleep and get a few more hours of rest. Two hours later I woke up again, feeling a bit groggy this time. Within five minutes of waking I let out a large cough while still lying down. My body jerked up and instantly I felt it- a sharp, stabbing pain right in the top of my head. As an accident prone person, I've had my share of tumbles and scrapes, but I had never felt anything like this before. I began to feel dizzy and fell off the couch. Then an extreme pang of nausea hit me and I knew that I had to make my way to the bathroom as I was about to be sick. I crawled on all fours and made my way to the bathroom in the next room. I held onto the toilet as the room spun around me, my head pain increasing by the minute. I started to foam from my mouth, and then my right side started to go numb. It was at that moment that I knew what was happening. I was having a stroke.
Panic ensued and I screamed for my mom who was outside doing some yard work. I struggled to get the words out but managed to get out a few simple syllables, "MOM! HELP!" I couldn't hold myself up any longer, so I laid face down in the carpet, drooling on myself trying to get out a few more pleading screams to my mom. I knew that she heard me but was frantically running around the house, trying to find where I was yelling from. Lying there, the seconds seemed like hours, and terrifying thoughts crossed my mind. I knew that I was having a stroke and could form clear enough thoughts to think that the worst would happen. I was going to be paralyzed, wouldnt be able to speak, and would be stuck in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I was only 29 years old, how was this happening to me? Especially after all that I had gone through, this was supposed to be my year of fun, damn it.
My mom made her way to me and I could see the fear in her eyes. She looked at me and asked me to smile, begged for me to speak, anything that I could do to let her know that I was consious. Looking back, I know that my mom also knew what was happening to me. She is a smart woman and her asking me to smile is one of the first steps in diagnosing a stroke. She bravely pulled herself together and quickly called 911 and then phoned my sisters who were all out of the house. One by one my sisters arrived, beating even the paramedics to the door. Having gone through so many ambulance calls with our father's sickness, I knew that they were devastated having to witnesses this and relive so many painful memories. Finally, the ambulace crew arrived and the proceeded to ask me questions. I was able to tell them what had happened although every word was difficult to say. As the minutes passed, my head pain grew, my nausea increased, and even worse my right arm began to go more numb.
We arrived at the hospital a few minutes later and I was rushed in as an emergency case. They gave me CAT scans, blood tests, and a few pills to eliviate my vomiting. I continued on with the same symptoms and my arm still hung there, lifeless and numb. The initial CAT scan showed up clear. They diasgnosed me with a virus and suggested that I go home, rest, and eat a diet of bananas, apples, and toast for the next few days. They said that my arm had probably just fallen asleep from lying on it and that the sensation should return shortly. We were so relieved! The same hospital staff that just one year ago had continuously given us bad news, was now letting us know that I was going to be OK. Things were turning up!
I went home and my mom set me up in a big comfy bed. She handed me a piece of toast (which I refused) and then a cotton swab with eye makeup remover on it. My right arm still felt limp but I willingly grabbed the cotton ball from her to clean off my eyes. Trust me, I was not a pretty sight. I tried bringing the cotton ball up to my eye, but could not seem to find it. I hit my ear, the top of my head, my shoulder, but my hand could not seem to find my eye. Again, I saw the look of fear in my mother's eyes. My father's kindey cancer had metastesized to his brain, and unfortunately, we were all too familiar with neurological problems. At that moment, I knew that something was very wrong with my brain and that no amount of bananas or sleep was going to fix this.
We immediately raced off to another hospital to get a second opinion and phoned my father's neurologist on the way. He understood our concern and told us to get to the hospital quickly and that he would meet us there shortly. Within just a few hours, it was confirmed, I had a cervical dissection, and had suffered a stroke. They immediately started me on a Heparin drip and moved me to the ICU unit to be monitored. Again, I thought, "How could this be happening to me? This doesn't happen to 29 year olds!"
I spent several weeks in ICU have my blood drawn hourly so that they could do dozens of tests. Everything was coming back normal. No familiy history of stroke, I lead a healthy lifestyle, what could have caused this? After ruling out all of the major causes, my neurologist began to think out of the box and ask me questions relating to my lifestyle in recent months. Had I taken any yoga classes, visited the chiropractor, painted ceilings? The list went on and on. Finally, he asked if I had been to the salon recently. I said, "Yes, as a matter of fact, just two days prior to the incident." He ran back to his collegues, one of whom had just heard of a case down in South Carolina- a young 29 year old healthy woman, who suffered a stroke after visiting the salon. They knew that they were on to something.
Although there is no way of proving it, the only logical conclusion that the doctors could arrive at was that having my neck back in that sink was what ultimately caused the stroke. I was eventually released from the hospital and spent the remaining months of my "Year of Fun" at physical therapy, having blood drawn, and taking pills. Because I was taking coumadin, a strong blood thinner, I had to watch my diet, elminate alcohol (no wine for six months!) and couldnt do most physical activities as the risk of bruising and internal bleeding could be life threatening. Again, I was in a depressed state and felt that things would never go back to normal. Would I just have to succumb to the fact that my life just wasn't going to turn out the way that I'd always dreamed it to be? I was beginning to think so. At 29, I had excepted the fact that I'd never be happy again.
It has now been 2 months since my 30th birthday, and besides some loss of feeling on my right side, I am healthy, and most importantly, happy. I've been through a lot but I am here and am alive and well. I realized that I cannot change the past but I will certainly not let it dictate my future. I will honor my father by being happy and living life vivaciously- just as he did. This past July, my family and I crossed off #1 on our bucket list and went to Costa Rica. We saw alligators, swam in the ocean, and even did a crazy zipline tour (after some serious convincing!).
I'm confident that the worst is behind us and know that we can tackle any obstacle that comes in our way. For now, it's all about living life to its fullest as we know too well that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. I'm thrilled to announce that we have already chosen #2 on our Bucket List- Italy! We are headed abroad next Summer and, without a doubt, we will eat way too much pasta, drink way too much wine, and most importantly, laugh way too loud. This isn't just going to be our Year of Fun- This is our new way of living. Ciao!