My Stroke Survival Story at Age 4
I was a very happy 4-year-old when my mom noticed something was wrong. One minute I would be playing outside, and the next minute I would be immobile. This happened 2 or 3 times before anything was done. She thought it was just fatigue. By the time I got to the hospital, it was too late to reverse the stroke, and being it was 1989, there were very little advancements in detection. And who would've thought this would happen to a 4-year-old.
My stroke happened on the left side of my brain, affecting the right side of my body. To anyone else, I look completely normal, except my right hand was affected the most. My hand comes to rest in a clenched fist, and to this day I have to consciously think about stretching it out.
I found myself spending a total of 12 weeks in the hospital, having to learn how to walk and talk again, and do simple tasks that others take for granted, like grabbing for something. My first recollection of being in the hospital was getting out of my bed with a limp, and my right hand was close to my chest in a clenched fist; I was showing the doctor what I wanted to wear that day. During my 12 weeks in the hospital, I went through intense physical therapy. The doctors tried to get me into speech therapy as well, but according to my mom, I fought tooth and nail to get out of it. I was fortunate enough that all my speech hadn't developed yet as a 4-year-old, so I was able to completely re-learn that on my own.
After being discharged from the hospital, my right leg was in a brace in hopes that I would walk straight (heel to toe). As a result from my stroke, I would roll my right foot to the outside when I would walk. That never changed. Growing up, I would go to therapy on a weekly basis, where we would work on my range of motion, and try to fine-tune my ability to grab small objects. In addition, I had a "therapy box" at home which consisted of stress balls, medical rubber bands, and putty. I would also do an exercise where I would try and touch each of my fingers to my thumb. I found that to be the hardest. I did this for a half hour each night, and I remember it being a struggle. I would also have bi-annual doctor's appointments with my original doctor to assess my progress. There was a point when I was in Junior High that my doctor determined I had hit a plateau in my recovery, and she discontinued my appointments.
Shortly after my therapy sessions and doctor's appointments ended, I was enrolled in piano lessons to continue therapy on my right hand. I remember resisting it at first, and then I eased into it and ended up liking it. My mom wanted me to continue therapy, but in a practical setting.
When going through school, I realized that the comprehension area in my brain was greatly affected. For example, I did not understand story problems AT ALL in math class. I would work on them at night and my mom would help me with them. She said she felt like she was talking to a brick wall sometimes. But all of the sudden, a light-bulb would go on, and I understood it clearly. Funny how that worked. Through parts of Junior and Senior High School, I was a member of the basketball, volleyball, and soccer team. There wasn't really much I couldn't do at that point, and if I was struggling, I would find my own way to do it. The only thing I can't do, and don't think I will ever be able to do, is type with two hands. When I was in typing class in school, the teacher would put paper over our hands so we could practice typing without looking. So, to try and hide the fact that I couldn't do it, I would memorize where most of the keys were and hit them with my left hand, while still keeping my right hand under the paper. Clever, huh? I also will never be able to put my right hand straight out in the air, normally (like if you were swearing in at a court hearing). That will never happen.
I choose not to tell most people about my stroke, because I know it will never affect my relationship with them. I don't want people to look at me differently, or be more careful around me. And if it ever came up, I would just tell them. I remember telling one of my close friends in college about it, and we had been friends for 3 years before I told her. She never noticed it before that.
As I've grown into an adult, I've noticed myself becoming more self-conscious about my right hand. That has worked both for, and against me. It has made me realize there are a lot more things I can do with my hand, like opening a refrigerator. I now can open it with my right hand, and take out the milk with my left, all in one motion. Previously, I would open the fridge with my left hand, get the milk out with my left hand, set the milk on the counter, and then close the fridge with my left hand. It just never dawned on me to do it any other way. Talk about a time-saver! It has also worked against me, because now I am so worried about what my hand will look like in pictures, or what it looks like to other people when I give someone a clenched-fist hug. It is always on my mind. My right side also has a mind of its own. A lot of times my brain doesn't register where I am in my surroundings, so I find myself running into the right side of a doorway from time to time. I chuckle at myself when that happens.
I cannot thank my family for being such a huge support system for my when I was growing up. I can't imagine how difficult it was to watch me struggle at such a young age, and as I was growing up. My husband has also been an integral part in my journey. He helps me stretch out my fingers on a regular basis, and being my hand likes to rest in a fist, it actually tires him out trying to get them to stay in an outward position. I live a pretty normal life, and don't consider myself having a disability. I just have unique abilities.