Thursday, January 31, 2013

In Honor of American Heart Month

When I was twenty-four I had a stroke.  It was in the right side of my brain, so my left side was affected.  Initially, I was paralyzed, numb, barely able to speak, and blind in my left eye.  This brain accident has completely changed my life in good ways and bad.

One of the great outcomes of surviving a stroke is that it has given me a confidence that I can get through any set-back.  Sure, I get worried and upset but is it stroke bad?  If no, I will be able to handle it.  I also became my own best healthcare advocate.  I speak up when something doesn’t feel right and I never let a doctor downplay my pain or concerns.  I also found out how generous and caring my extended family can be.  I truly feel the support and love I received helped my recovery.

Of course the lingering deficits are a notch in the bad column.  But I can pass as a regular person so that makes any struggles bearable.  The feeling on my left side has not come completely back.  I can feel impact and pain (eventually) anything more is gone.  I have cut my left side without knowing it until I see a trail of blood.  I burned my left ring finger when I didn’t notice a drop of grease fell on it.  I have accidentally zipped up skin into a zipper and pinned my thumb in a dryer rack.  So, I have to be hyper vigilant about Lefty.  Also, my left shoulder is permanently out of socket due to my initial paralysis and muscles not pulling the joint back into place.  Difficulties in learning have gotten better but I still have problems with testing situations, hearing something and understanding, memory is spottier too.

Another negative is my brain structure has completely changed.  A change in structure means that brain chemistry is all screwed up so I’m on three types of medications; a SSRI, anticonvulsant, and ADD.  When I say brain structure is completely changed, I do mean to include the new neural pathways my brain has built but I am also talking about the hole in my brain.  Yup, whatever brain matter dies from lack of oxygen goes away.  Nothing heals back; the brain just builds a detour.

Get me in a MRI, you can definitely tell I had a traumatic brain injury.

My uncle had a stroke Oct. 31, 2012 on the same exact side of the brain with a clot in the same artery.  He is forty years older than when I had my stroke so his recovery has been a lot longer.  I’m glad I have been able to be a resource to my family about what to expect.  But there is also a bit of survivor’s guilt when I visit him and see his paralyzed left side.   His speech and cognition is a lot better than mine at the same point in recovery.  He is in his second rehab hospital and is scheduled to go home mid-February.  Now, all the emotions are catching up with him and I think that’s good.  But man it can be overwhelming!  Realizing what happened to you, how close you came to dying, and trying to strike a balance between hope and realism is so, so familiar…  I’m lucky to have had twelve years, medication, and really good therapy to share some perspective with him.

I have told him that with a near death experience, you suddenly realize you can die at any second.   It’s like a veil of denial is lifted while everyone else is going on about their oblivious way.  It takes a while to calm down the anxiety and awareness but eventually you get to join the oblivious ranks.  It's sad to say but it's nice to know someone else who gets it.

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