I am … a Survivor.
I’m writing this story following a 30-minute walk and 20-minute elliptical session at the gym. Today also marks the three-month anniversary since I was told I had a blood clot in the central artery of my brain. On May 17, 2016, roughly eight weeks after my 29th birthday, I suffered a stroke.
Before having a stroke, I worked out 3-4 times a week, ate relatively healthy, and only drank during social occasions. Strokes: apparently they don’t just happen to old people. While my story is intended to promote awareness, it’s also meant to create hope for victims and to inspire the appreciation of life and love.
Prior to May 17, 2016, the most frightening night of my life, I had worked 12 hour shifts, 3 days in a row. Because of my demanding work schedule as a Social Worker, it was not unusual for me to be tired. However, on this particular day, I was exhausted. It was my day off and I spent it sleeping for 14 hours straight.
Before the EMS arrived, the last thing I remember was, taking a shower, alone in my apartment. It was during this shower that I blacked out. My head throbbed, my legs turned to jello, I fell to the floor and the water poured down on me. I grabbed the soap holder to pull myself up only to fall down again. Unable to hold my own weight, my legs felt like slinkys. My body felt lifeless. I was holding onto a hand. It felt like a lady’s hand, comforting, the same sensation of running your fingers through sand. I was holding on tight, hoping it would help me up. Then I realized it was my own hand, which I could no longer feel.
Completely numb, I managed to get my weightless body out of the shower and crawled to my bedroom. Here, in my bedroom, I would later find bruises all over my body, likely from the trek from the bathroom which took all my might. I made it safely into my bed, where I held on tightly to a pillow having no idea what was going on, still believing I was just sooooooo tired. That’s when my boyfriend, Jonny, who I now refer to as my angel, came home.
“Stef, what have you been doing?”
“This whole time?”
“Yes I’m just so tired.”
“Stef what’s wrong?”
“Nothing I promise”
“Did u take anything?”
“No, I just have a headache.”
Jonny gave me a Tylenol but it got stuck to my lip as half my face was paralyzed.
“Stef, are you sure you didn’t take anything?”
“No Jon, I’m just really really tired.”
“Come on Stef”
“But Jon, I can’t…. “
That’s when he called my sister. She said I was probably dehydrated and suggested he get me pedialyte. Jonny put me on the phone with while he ran out. I had to pee when speaking with my sister. I went to the bathroom and managed to sit but immediately dropped my phone and fell off the toilet onto the floor. “Stef are u there?”
Jonny came home and there I was, lying on the floor. My left hand was completely numb. He picked me up, carried me to bed and said we were going to urgent care. I said “I’m fine, I promise” unable to speak a word more. After further discussion with my sister, Jonny called 911.
The last thing we would have guessed was that I was having a stroke. All I know is that I was a shell of myself, paralyzed and helpless.
When EMS came to our apartment I heard “29-years old, facial droop, left sided weakness. You know what this is right? Squeeze my hand Stefanie”. I tried as hard as I could. I couldn’t squeeze. My hand and fingers wouldn’t move.
When we arrived at the hospital I was told about a drug called TPA. There is a mere 3-hour window during which the drug is effective. Luckily, I arrived at the hospital within the 3-hour window.
Prior to being given the medicine, “Stefanie lift your arm, life your leg”. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t move at all. Then, as soon as the medication was administered, “Stefanie lift your arm, life your leg”. Poof. Viola. I moved. It was a miracle. I did it. It was a miracle. That’s when I saw my mom and heard my dad’s voice. Having them there let me know everything would be okay.
I spent the next 5 days in the ICU. I couldn’t shower or go to the bathroom. I needed oxygen to breathe, had iv’s in my arm to keep my hydrated and was given tons of medications. Test after test, poke after poke, painful minute after painful minute, I didn’t think I was going to make it. My body was failing but my mind was sharp as ever- I knew I had to hold on. I wanted to feel the mist of the ocean spray across my face. Smell flowers that had just bloomed. At that moment, I wondered how and why trivial things ever bothered me. There is so much more to life and nothing as important as life itself. I survived.
Life is precious. It’s short. When you fight so hard to hold on, you realize it is truly a gift. I am so happy to be alive. Suffering from a stroke was the hardest battle I have ever fought. And I won. Thanks to the unconditional love and support I received during this process, I knew I wasn’t alone. I also knew there were others who came before me and survived. I am honored to have overcome this challenge so others can look at my story and find hope. I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor. You can’t give in to limitations. You need to fight. Looking back, I view my stroke as a blessing in disguise.