But You Look So Normal
By now I am used to the odd looks people give me when I say that I’ve had a stroke.
Survivor and author Kara Ellsworth Russo
I am a stroke survivor and I look normal!
I had my first stroke at age 27 when I was undergoing a cerebral angiogram and the doctor went through an artery. I was misdiagnosed for three days and eventually learned that I lost my entire left cerebellum. As a nurse, I knew what happens when a stroke occurs, but what I learned as a survivor changed my life.
For a few months prior to the angiogram, I had been having severe headaches and vision loss. My doctor suspected I had vasculitis and needed the angiogram to prove it. I remember joking with the doctor and the staff when they were discussing the 1 percent chance of a stroke happening as a “side effect” from the angiogram. Be careful what you laugh about.
After the stroke, I had extreme dizziness, even when not moving. I felt like a chicken on a rotisserie. I couldn’t make sense of my symptoms and thought that I was going crazy. I was actually relieved to hear that I had had a stroke. I just figured I would do some rehabilitation and everything would return to normal. Even though I was told that I would not walk or work again, I knew I would prove the doctors wrong and walk to work one day.
What I didn’t realize is that stroke is a life-altering event. It affects me every day. I may no longer have the walker or foot brace, but trust me, on the inside there isn’t a day that goes by that I am not affected by my stroke.
I have learned how to embrace and live with the new me. I try to maintain a positive attitude daily.
By now I am used to the odd looks people give me when I say that I’ve had a stroke. I am not even mad. Well, of course I am but there is nothing I can do about it now. I have learned how to embrace and live with the new me. I try to maintain a positive attitude daily, but sometimes it is so overwhelming. I do my best and that is all I can ask of myself.
A good result from my stroke was meeting my husband in speech therapy. He was 20 when he had meningitis and encephalitis and was left paralyzed with the same “grim” future I was given. We instantly bonded and fell in love. We recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. We laugh and wonder if we would have met if it weren’t for our brain injuries.
We wrote a book, “But You Look So Normal…” about our brain injuries, how we have lived and conquered them every day, and how we fell in love. We have even included a section on how to deal with people with brain injuries. We’ve also created a website, butyoulooksonormal.com and we have joined the board of the Head Trauma Support Project.
We marvel at how well we recovered but worry about the future. How will our brain injuries affect us? There is no way to know, but we have each other, remain positive and take one day at a time!
Kara Ellsworth Russo, Survivor
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