I am … a Survivor.
My name is Tracy. I am a stroke survivor – but I shouldn’t be.
I had a whole body/brain stroke in 2013. Both sides were affected, not just one as we typically hear of. My stroke occured in the brain stem. The absolutely worst place to have a stroke. A bilateral vertebral artery dissection is rare because it damaged both arteries going into the brain. Rarer still that it happened at the brainstem. And, basically unheard of that I survived and thrived. The reactions oI get from doctors nurses & therapists I encounter is utter disbelief
The vertebral arteries run along each side of the neck and provide the blood supply to the upper spinal cord, brainstem and posterior part of the brain. When they both dissected one caused a blockage and the other caused a bleed.
The brainstem is the control tower of all our basic, taken-for-granted bodily functions of the central nervous system. Some are – breathing, swallowing, heart function even consciousness, balance, temperature regulation, sensory such as hot/cold, wet/dry, pain taste and alll the other ‘bodily functions’ you are thinking of.
I was ‘lucky’ the doctors took a chance on me. Many who have brainstem strokes don’t get much treatment. I got TPA and they placed a stent in the left artery – the right artery they watched heal itself! Amazing.
If I were truly ‘lucky’, I would not be telling this story. But, maybe my purpose is telling my story. I have become an expert in stroke, chronic illnesses, rehab, anatomy and surviving.
In the past six months, I have noticed myself slowly coming back to life. I am doing more than I ever believed ever possible. One of the most rewarding is that I made the commitment to become a volunteer at an Amita hospital two days a week which led to doing the same at an Advocate hospital, speaking with survivors and their families as a survivor. Not just another colored lab coat. Survivors always ask me ‘does the rehab’ work. My answer: only if you work the rehab!
I can be me. I can use all my ‘skills’. I can offer genuine hope. Most days when I leave my shift, I question who was helped more – me or the patients I visit.
Throughout the grieving, healing, surviving process I have learned to surround myself with strong, positive people. To be a survivor, I have become selfish and focus on me. It is hard to learn that – especially as a woman. As a mom and a wife I was the caregiver, now I need to learn to allow for help.
My advice to you: be with people who are givers not just takers. Accept help that is offered. And it’s ok to ask for it too. Take it day by day and step by step. Create a support team (actually, it forms itself). They will support and protect you throughout. And stop and smell the roses, flowers and even the weeds. They are all special.
Life is precious. Live it with love, grace, faith, hope, strength determination and happiness. You have been given a chance to live a life you don’t take for granted.