I am … a Survivor.
My name is Dan M. My stroke survival story begins a few months after I turned 50, on the evening of Monday, June 2, 2014.
I had called into work that morning after not feeling well and restless the most of the weekend and night before. I consequently spent most of the day in bed thinking I had the flu or possibly a summer cold. After taking an afternoon nap, I hopped out of bed but felt a little dizzy as I walked to the bathroom to take a shower. I shrugged it off to just being a little groggy from my afternoon nap. While taking my shower, I tried to use my left arm to reach up to the shower head but watched it flopped back down to my side without any feeling in my hand or arm. Feeling more confused than worried, I stepped out of the shower and stared at my face in the bathroom mirror wondering what was happening to me. I didn’t recognize the drooping face staring blankly back at me. As I leaned in to get a closer look, my left leg suddenly lost all feeling and I collapsed to floor.
My first thought was that I was having a heart attack alone in my house, even though I had no chest pains. I was scared and confused from still not fully understanding what was happening. I realized I needed to get into the bedroom and call 911 from my cell phone, but struggled tremendously because, by now, I could not use my left leg or arm to move on the floor. Somehow I dragged my failing body over 30 feet to locate our house phone. The operator heard my muffled voice asking for help but since I had paralysis in my face all 911 dispatch could hear was mumbled words. Thankfully they could do reverse 911 and locate my address. About 5-10 minutes after I dialed 911, I heard EMT’s coming thru my front door announcing their arrival. They located me lying collapsed on my bedroom floor and quickly realized I had a stroke. They immediately took my blood pressure and saw that it was dangerously over 200 and whisked me out of my house on a stretcher into the ambulance.
At the hospital a CAT scan revealed that I was hemorrhaging into my brain and action was taking to lower my blood pressure. They were very close to performing emergency surgery on my skull to relieve the swelling. But thankfully, the swelling and blood pressure went down overnight.The next few days consisted of 24 hour monitoring vitals in intensive care, further CAT scans, and worried visits from my family and friends. By the fourth day after my stroke I was out of enough danger where the attention was now turned to my recovery.
My initial recovery assessment by doctors and therapists was bleak. Speaking was extremely difficult and I still couldn’t move my left arm or left leg at all. I spent a month in a rehabilitation hospital for physical, occupational and speech therapy.. Even though my body did not want to cooperate fully with my thoughts at first, I focused on remaining positive and celebrated any little accomplishments each day. With the non-stop encouragement from my family, friends and caring hospital staff I slowly started to regain feeling and movement in my paralyzed arm and leg. Two weeks after my stroke I was able to stand with the aid of a walker and take a few steps. Each day brought new hope for further recovery as I worked harder than the day before during my therapy exercises. Finally, 31 days after my stroke, I left the hospital slowly pushing a walker inch by inch and went home.
After my hospital release I continued with home and outpatient physical therapy visits. I also spent most of that summer fighting severe depression from the abrupt change in my life. I felt like a part of me died and couldn’t come back. With the help of counseling and medication I was able to cope with my new life and started setting goals to motivate me towards resuming a normal life again. I learned to drive again at 5 months after my stroke and rode my bicycle again at 6 months. I was finally able to go back to work full time after being out for 8 months. My eating habits also have changed for the better. Before my stroke I weighed 298 libs. However, me being 6’5” tall, you never would have known I weighed close to 300 lbs., but my body sure did. Nowadays, my food portion sizes are smaller, I avoid eating any high sodium or spicy foods and I rarely go back for seconds. So far.I’ve lost almost 60 lbs and hope to lose another 20 more lbs and eventually be down to my cardiologist’s suggested weight of 225 lbs.
A year and a half later, I realize now that recovery is a long process. It takes time. It takes patience; It takes everything you’ve got.
When something bad happens, I believe you have three choices to make: You can either let it define you, let it destroy you or let it strengthen you. As a result, I don’t dwell anymore on who I used to be. I now only focus on who I can be.