I Love My New Boss
Survivor Pamela Obermeyer with husband Bert
As I approach the eighth anniversary of being in private practice, I think about how it all came about and how if I hadn’t had a massive hemorrhagic stroke, I might not have been so bold as to open my own business.
In January 2000, I arrived at the ER of Scottsdale Memorial Hospital with a ruptured disc bulging in my back. The pain was unbearable. My doctor admitted me and then left town for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. He arranged for his partner to monitor my treatment until his return. They treated my back with steroid shots, pain medication and bed rest. On Tuesday, the day my doctor returned, a nurse found me comatose. An artery had ruptured in my brain, likely because my blood pressure had risen to 200/100. The neurosurgeon performed a craniotomy to remove the massive blood clot that had formed after three days of bleeding in my brain.
"She may never walk or talk or function as she did before," the neurosurgeon told my husband Bert immediately after surgery.
Granted, I was in bad shape. After two weeks in intensive care I was totally paralyzed on my left side. I had left neglect, aphasia and visual field cuts in the left of both eyes. I was in the hospital and acute rehab for seven weeks with two more months of outpatient rehab. That was long enough to get a glimpse of what the rest of my life might look like. As a result I was determined not to be overwhelmed by my challenges.
In rehab I learned to walk and talk again, regained some of my vision and the ability to read. That was the painless part of my journey. The painful and challenging part lay ahead.
Five years earlier, at age 47, I had graduated with a master’s degree in social work. That accomplishment took 12 years because I was also raising three children at the time. That summer our 20-year-old daughter gave birth to our first granddaughter, Baylee.
With my social work degree, I was employed as a school counselor during the day and worked nights at a domestic violence shelter. In between I helped with the baby. It was a challenge to do that and keep up with Krista and Todd, our other two children, who were 15 and 10. Then the stress of being a single mom became so overwhelming for our daughter that she turned to drugs and left home. Bert and I took over raising the baby full time.
When I had my stroke Baylee was 4. Raising a 4-year-old at age 51 is not easy, but I assure you recovering from a stroke makes it harder.
Even though I was cognitively challenged, had shortterm memory problems and impaired vision, I was determined to return to work as a school counselor. I planned to do so at the beginning of August, just six months after my stroke. With my principal’s permission, I enrolled Baylee in the preschool program at my school so I could take her with me. Krista gladly helped out with the driving and child care. She practically raised Baylee.
I returned to work much too soon. My cognitive and processing skills were not strong enough. I knew what was needed, but I just couldn’t do it. I felt like I was climbing a mountain and each time I got a little farther up the mountain, it would cave in on top of me and I had to start over.
Then I began having seizures and was sent to the stroke center at Barrows Neurological Institute to get them under control. I went on disability. I made good progress in outpatient rehabilitation at Barrows. As long as I took medication, my seizures were controlled.
The hardest thing for me was losing my driver’s license because of the visual field cut. I hated having to depend on others to take me everywhere I went, and I couldn’t use public transportation. I worked at two counseling agencies, but the paperwork was too much. That’s when I realized I had to create my own workplace, that way I could make it fit my situation. If I couldn’t go to my clients, they would have to come to me.
With the support of Bert and Todd, I opened my own business with $500 and three clients in September 2007. I filed the paperwork, rented an office and contracted with two insurance companies. That was eight years ago, and now I have a successful private practice as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I work three days a week. Retired now, Bert drives me to the office and keeps the books. I hire someone to do the insurance billing. My life experience as a stroke survivor and middle-age parent has made me a better therapist. It has been almost 16 years since my stroke, and I would say I am 90 percent healed, except for my vision and my balance. I have a very supportive family that has helped me along the way.
What I have learned is that most people need education to understand that folks can recover from a stroke with the proper acute care, follow up, rehabilitation, family support and determination. I encourage stroke family members not to worry about what your survivors can’t do. Instead, encourage them to do as much as they can and celebrate that!