My Unforgettable Day
Her mother had a stroke when Kara was only 10 years old. It had an amazing impact on the rest of her life.
In July 1993 I was ten years old and my mom, Cora, was 51. I’m her only child, and we are very close. Back then, we were each other’s world. It was a hot summer, and the TV news covered the flooding going on just west of us. We lived out of town and I spent most days outside riding my motor scooter, climbing trees or swimming in our small pool. I was quite the tomboy, only coming inside to eat meals and then rushing back outside.
My friend Abby lived down the road, and we spent most summers back and forth at each other’s houses. This day was no different. Abby was over, and we were outside soaking up the sun. Mom said she was going to pick berries. There was a small patch along one of the fields by our house, and she would make pie or other tasty desserts with them. She donned her straw hat and out the door she went in her summer shirt with a cold cloth draped around her neck.
She came back about an hour later sweating and pale. She said, “Girls I’m not feeling real well. I’m going to get a drink and lay down to take a nap. Abby’s mom will need to come pick her up later.” “OK,” we said and were out again. My elderly grandmother also lived with us and kept an eye on us as we continued to play. Abby’s mom came to get her several hours later, and my mom still slept. This was strange, but I was ten and didn’t think about it for long.
It was early evening when Mom finally got up, but something was different. She said her arm felt funny, like it was tingling. She said her head hurt but she thought she had just overdone it outside in the sun. We were off to bed early that night, but when we awoke the next morning, something was definitely wrong. The whole right side of my mom’s face drooped and she could barely talk. Her right arm wasn’t just tingling, it was numb! She couldn’t even use it. I got on the phone and called my Aunt Judy who lived close by. She came to the house, helped Mom to the car and away they went to the hospital.
A feeling of fear settled in my stomach. The fear of the unknown is the worst fear of all. Was my mother okay? When would she be home? It seemed like days went by, but in a few hours my aunt called from the hospital to let us know that my mom was headed to St. Louis in an ambulance. She had had a stroke and needed special care at a bigger hospital.
Stroke? What did that mean? I was with my grandmother and told my aunt I was okay, but inside, I was shaken. St. Louis seemed so far away. My father had taken me there a couple times, and I knew it was big. All I wanted was to be with my mom in St. Louis, but my grandmother did not drive anymore.
A feeling of fear settled in my stomach. The fear of the unknown is the worst fear of all. Was my mother okay? When would she be home?
Mom was completely paralyzed on her right side. She was unable to communicate her basic needs to medical personnel or let them know if she had pain. When she arrived at the hospital in St. Louis, she was by herself, doctors and nurses talking to her rapidly, and Mom unable to say “yes” or “no.” She was at a teaching hospital with the best equipment and newest advances in technology related to stroke. Crowds of interns stood around staring at her. She said later that was the most uncomfortable feeling she had ever experienced.
Her body was now foreign to her. It was like a broken piece of machinery that she had no clue how to operate. In addition to her health issues, she was also worrying about her young child at home.
The next day, I woke up and tried to call my aunt, but the phone was out. Panic stricken, I cried. Pulling myself together, I hashed out a plan: I would ride my motor scooter to someone’s house and use their phone. I had never ridden on the road before. In fact, I remembered my father telling me that it was not licensed and the police would arrest me if I did. What choice did I have? I had to get to a phone, so off I went. No luck at the first two or three houses. My cousin Vivian lived down the road several miles. It didn’t seem far away in a car, so how bad could it be?
When I arrived, she was shocked and wondered where my mom was. I didn’t understand the problem. I explained what was going on, and we made several calls — to get the phone fixed, notify my dad who was out of town working and to check on my mom. I know why my family cringes at this now, but at the time it was what I felt I had to do.
My dad came home the next day, and we went to see Mom in St. Louis. Her speech returned in a few days. However, her coordination and ability to walk did not return as easily. My mother insisted to her doctors and nurses that she wanted to get back across the river to the Illinois side when they started her therapy. She would say, “Those bridges make me nervous and the flood waters are rising. I want to be on the same side of the Mississippi River as my little girl.”
For the next two months, I spent countless hours travelling with my dad or aunts to the hospital where she had physical, occupational and speech therapy. I was by her side every step of the way. I watched everything and soaked it in. Our lives had changed but we were all adjusting to the new roles. My mom was no longer taking care of me — I was taking care of her.
That single day in July forever changed the course of my mom’s life and my own. It shaped my life by introducing me to what my career would be.
When she came home, a home health agency followed her, and I continued to observe her recovery. She had more meds to take, including a shot for her diabetes instead of the pill she took before. A short year later, I would learn from those nurses how to fill my mother’s insulin syringes and keep her medicine list up to date.
My life was different than other kids, but I feel I still got to be a kid. I just had more responsibilities. I disliked what had happened to my mom, but it made us stronger people. It makes you realize what is important in life. It is also where I got my first taste of the medical profession. A friend once told me that I was nursing long before I became a professional nurse.
After graduating high school, I attended a class to become a certified nurse’s assistant and started working at the local hospital. I also enrolled in a local junior college to attend nursing school. Of course, my mom was there with me, supporting me every step of the way. She was also there at my pinning when I graduated with my associate’s degree in nursing.
Twenty years have passed since that fateful day. I have been a nurse for 11 years, ten as a Registered Nurse. I have two children of my own and know how important staying healthy is so that I may be in their lives for a long time.
In 2009, my mother had another stroke. This one was much larger, with more debilitating consequences. This time when she went to St. Louis, I went with her. I was with her every step of the way, directing her care and making sure she received the best of the best.
She was unable to regain her independence after the second stroke and is now in a nursing home. She is content there, and they continue exercises to maintain her strength. My children and I visit every week. Most importantly, my children still have their grandmother, and the smile on her face is more than worth the drive to visit.
That single day in July forever changed the course of my mom’s life and my own. It shaped my life by introducing me to what my career would be. Not everyone finds their calling at ten years old.
Stroke can have destructive effects, and as a family, we still struggle sometimes with the dark side, questioning why it happened to us. But we are resilient and keep pushing forward, staying strong. The dark side turns to light for those who continue to strive for the goodness in life! Just like the bright sun on a hot July day.
Editor’s Note: Just as we are going to press, we’ve learned that Cora has passed away. We thank Kara for her willingness to share her story and send our condolences to her family.