No Joke, A Stroke
On October 26, 2014, my life changed in a way I truly never thought it would. I knew it COULD, but like many other carefree 44-year-olds, I thought I was immortal. I knew that I had health risks that made me susceptible to stroke; I also knew that I didn’t take care of myself the way I should.
But that is all said in hindsight while I type with one hand because my left hand has not fully regained movement or fine motor skills. I had a right-brain ischemic stroke, which affected the left side of my body. I never lost the ability to speak, and was walking within days in ICU. My arm mobility was good as far as being able to move it up and down, but my hand didn’t come back until December.
The cause of my stroke was largely due to just not taking care of myself. I have to take warfarin because I have a titanium heart valve and atrial fibrillation. Because of this medication, I need to have regular blood tests to monitor my blood’s clotting capability. I stopped monitoring mine because it was nearly impossible to work full time, be a single mom and get blood tests regularly.
The night of my stroke was the Sunday before Halloween, my very favorite holiday. I felt totally normal, maybe a little spacey. Maybe I was drooling a little, but I was able to walk and sort of talk, but my 13-year-old, Max, was worried and called 911. Lucky me, he recognized the signs of stroke from a commercial.
Within minutes, five EMTs were in my house to take me to the ER, though I was covered in glitter because I had been working on my mermaid costume. I must have looked and seemed crazy because the EMTs asked me if I had anti-psychotic meds and asked my kids if I was always like this — um, nope only when having a stroke. At the ER, tests confirmed that I was having an ischemic stroke, and they gave me a drug to break up the clot. I spent a week in the hospital and two weeks in inpatient rehab.
My life is definitely different now, but different doesn’t automatically equal terrible. I am left with the deficits in my left hand and some cognitive issues. When I told a close male friend that I am extremely forgetful, cannot multi-task and don’t have attention to detail, he told me he’s been like that his whole life!
Seven months after my stroke I went back to work part time as a receptionist for a property management company and was fired about three months later. I was punctual and pleasant, but that’s all I had to offer. Cognitively I wasn’t ready and had a very difficult time mastering a simple computer system. Next, I tried to work with children, but quickly learned I couldn’t keep up with them. Several months after getting fired from the receptionist job, and being denied Social Security Disability for not being disabled enough, I realized I needed to find a full-time job. I found one at a not-for-profit as a volunteer coordinator, recruiting, training and scheduling volunteers. I was allowed to create and implement policies and procedures that worked the best for me, which meant communicating almost solely through email, so I could have a paper trail and double check things.
I slowly made my way back to comedy, which I had tried eight months before my stroke. At first, I just stood on stage and read my jokes because my memory was so poor. Then I progressed to key prompts, and finally was able to deliver a 5- to 20-minute set without notes. Post-stroke, I opened for nationally touring comedians, won contests and performed in out-of-state festivals. I recently decided that stand-up comedy is exhausting and no longer fun. I don’t think that’s stroke related, but more related to the fact it’s something you have to do all the time to improve. I’ll always be proud of myself for accomplishing what I did, but I am no longer interested in performing.
Now at three years post-stroke I am still finding my way and learning my sometimes-painful limitations. I’m returning to school to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, which will give me more stability and room for career growth. At age 47, I’m looking at many years before retirement, might as well make more money and have clear career goals in the time I have left.
I was recently reminded of my limitations in a very painful way. Roller derby is something I always wanted to try, so when the local team had a recruitment day, I decided to try out. If anything, I figured it would be a fun workout. I felt like I was doing great then my affected left side gave out and I landed on the left side of my buttocks. After the fourth time, I realized I needed to just stay down and give it up. I knew I would have a bruised butt, though I had no idea I would develop a hematoma the size of a small watermelon and chip my elbow.
Max, the child who called 911, asked me not to do the roller derby thing because he had a feeling I would get hurt. Unfortunately, I can’t turn my stubborn streak off and on, I’m stubborn in all arenas of my life, and so are both of my children. Max is 16 now, Theo is 13. I try to be an example of someone who gives everything her all, I know now that sometimes HAS to mean knowing my limitations, otherwise, my life becomes a pain in the butt, metaphorically and literally.