I am … a Survivor.
Pain. That was the only warning sign, pain in my neck that just kept getting worse. Looking back, I can’t even remember when it started now; maybe October of 2016…maybe September, regardless it lasted into 2017. What’s funny (if you could call it that) is knowing what I know now, I realize I likely suffered a transient ischemic attack (TIA) just after Christmas before my major one in January…maybe if I had been more aware of the signs I could have avoided the major stroke I suffered from in January. But I was only 32; the thought of a stroke didn’t even cross my mind. Then it happened the night of January 19, 2017.
My wife and I were getting ready for bed, it was probably about 9:30 and the pain was at its worse; until something in my neck just…broke. Then it didn’t hurt any more, but I didn’t feel right either. I went to take a drink of water, but it that didn’t feel right either; my speech sounded off to me as well. I told my wife that I thought she should call an ambulance and my dad, so that he could watch our daughter, as I was all but certain I’d be going to the hospital.
By the time I ended up at the ER I seemed fine; my speech still sounded a little off, but my BP was fine and I was lucid and alert. The only thing detectably wrong with me was my total dysphagia, and even that wasn’t all that apparent. It was while in the ER that I aspirated on some water and contracted pneumonia, ultimately though I was admitted.
It took a couple days before I finally had a diagnosis; I had had a brain stem stroke due to an arterial tear in the left side of my neck. I had lost all ability to swallow, had my proprioception completely thrown off and contracted quite a doozy of an infection. At one point my wife asked me why I wasn’t crying; honestly, I didn’t have the energy or inclination to do so. My thought process was to come up fighting, not wallow in self-pity. After a 5 day hospital stay, a surgery for g-tube insertion and a heavy round of antibiotics I was able to return home, I remember two things: the climb up the stairs to our apartment left me exhausted and our family dog was quite happy to see me.
After that I began 4 months of intensive therapy: speech, PT and OT. While attending that I was unable to work which made it difficult on my family financially; with time I recovered back to as close to where I was before the stroke as could be though. While I was in recovery, my position at my place of employment was filled and upon my return I discovered my pay would be cut in half and I’d get to spend less time with my family, which ultimately led me to seek employment elsewhere once I was able return to work. This for me, was particularly hard for me to swallow (pardon the pun) as I’d been with the company for 7 years. Along the road to recovery we also had to move as we couldn’t afford to live at our current apartment any longer on only one income.
As for lasting effects, there are a few. An evident droop in my left eye, an almost total loss of temperature sensation and a persistent nerve tingling sensation on my right side, and persistent difficulty swallowing all seem to be sticking around; not to mention the sleep apnea which I didn’t have before.
All in all, I know I’m extremely lucky. The outcome for me could have been much worse and I could still be on the mends, as it were. To recover as quickly as I did is all but unheard of according to my therapists and my neurologist said looking at me now you’d never know I had a stroke. My one piece of advice would be, trust your gut. You know your body better than anyone, and you know when something isn’t right, so stick to your guns even if your doctor says your fine. The anxiety and fear of another occurrence will likely be with me for the rest of my life and any neck pain triggers quite a bit of anxiety; I’ll also be on an aspirin regiment for the rest of my life as well. But I’m still here…I’m not sure how to end this so I’ll close by I saying that positive attitude and a stubborn demeanor works wonders when going through therapeutic recoveries, at least it did for me.