A Survivor’s Insights on Her Journey Back

I was swimming laps at the Y, just a few days before Christmas, when I suffered a stroke.

I’ve always loved to swim, and I had a musical solution for keeping track of my laps. For each lap, I mentally sang music that told me where I was in the count. Beethoven’s Seventh, for example, meant I was on lap seven. Each time I made it to the 10th lap or a lap that was a multiple of 10, I’d run through an operatic grand finale. Because I knew how many laps I had completed, I knew how long my swim had been.

This time was different. When I finished and glanced at the lap clock on the wall, I saw I had taken 12 minutes longer than my count suggested. I was surprised, but I didn’t dwell on it too much since I occasionally lost count when I was enjoying my mental music so much that I forgot to change the tune when I started another lap.

I got out of the pool and headed to the locker room. On the way, I passed a lifeguard. Something about him seemed wrong, but I didn’t stop to figure it out. By the time I found my gym bag, my routine was spinning out of control. I called my doctor, but her office was closed for the holiday. I continued to feel more and more confused, and I couldn’t come up with a plan. It never occurred to me to call 911. Instead, I called my friend Sarah. I tried to explain what was happening to me, but all I could say was that I was having trouble.

When she arrived, she helped me find my car. But by then I was having trouble seeing and couldn’t drive. Sarah called her eye doctor, whom she knew well enough to ask for help. She took me to his office, but by then I couldn’t even answer his questions. He must have recognized my stroke symptoms and told Sarah to get me to a hospital immediately. The last thing I remember is arriving at the emergency room.

 Survivor Barbara Silverstein at home in Bryn Mawr

Survivor Barbara Silverstein at home in Bryn Mawr

After that, I recall doctors, nurses and food trays coming and going. One of my first recollections was a simple vision test: How many fingers was I holding up? I couldn’t tell. If the doctor tried to explain what was happening, I probably couldn’t understand what he meant. But luckily a couple days later I woke up to discover that my vision was mostly restored. And I was gradually able to have a conversation. That was just the beginning, though.

After eight days in the hospital, I was discharged, laden with prescriptions, doctor appointments, and scheduled visits with home health therapists. Two therapists visited me once or twice a week, while the third, a physical therapist, visited me only once, having determined I was able to get around my house safely. The two who continued gave me advice, tested me and assigned homework. Within six or eight weeks of their initial visits, I was headed for outpatient therapy.

One therapist concentrated on my vision using a sophisticated set of instruments that could project various puzzles on a screen for me to react to. I remember my elation when she said she was confident I would be cleared to drive again by my ophthalmologist. The other therapist focused on my cognitive skills, which were more compromised than I had realized. She provided a variety of exercises to sharpen them. She also introduced me to a mobile app called Constant Therapy. The app featured personalized tasks designed to improve everything from reading comprehension to math skills, and it also included verbal, visual and auditory memory-building exercises. Constant Therapy clearly helped me. Best of all, when I completed my outpatient therapy I was able to subscribe to the program and continue using it at home.

As I got better, I was eager to get back to my piano. But my first attempt was a disaster. My fingers fumbled over the keys, unable to coordinate with each other. I stopped, stared at the keyboard and wondered how I could function without playing music. The next day I thought about the challenges I had already faced and how far I had come, thanks to hard work with my therapists and my Constant Therapy workouts. My eyesight was back, and my memory was growing sharper. I reminded myself what every therapist had said to me: We all make mistakes. Forgive yourself and move on! With patience and time, my piano skills returned, which led the way to success with other things I love, like reading.

I still falter occasionally. One morning I poured coffee into my dogs’ morning meal. Not long ago, I would have cursed myself out. Now I can laugh at myself. Which brings me to my first insight for stroke survivors: Keep your sense of humor! You’ll need it. The second insight: If family and friends want to help, welcome them. You’ll need the help at first, and they sincerely want to help you get better. The third insight: Expect to be worried at the outset. As time passes, the worry will subside. We need nine months to enter this world as newborns; elephants take nearly two years. Think of this journey as the birth of an elephant on its way to a life of power, intelligence and majesty.

By Barbara Silverstein | Survivor
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

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Stroke Rehabilitation

Making the Best Decisions at Discharge After Stroke

The type of rehabilitation and support systems a survivor receives at discharge can strongly influence health outcomes and recovery. In this, the first part of a two-part series on stroke rehab, we offer guidance for the decision-making process required when it’s time to leave the hospital.

What to Expect from Outpatient Rehab

After stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type of rehabilitation. Outpatient therapy may consist of Several types of therapy. Whether a patient is referred to inpatient or outpatient therapy depends on the level of medical care required.

What to Expect in Stroke Rehab

Following a stroke, about two-thirds of survivors receive some type rehabilitation. In this second of our two-part series, we want to alleviate some of the mystery, fear and anxiety around the inpatient rehab part of the stroke recovery journey.
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AHA-ASA Resources

The Support Network

When faced with challenges recovering from heart disease or stroke, it’s important to have emotional support. That is why we created a network to connect patients and loved ones with others during their journey.

Caregiver Guide to Stroke

The Caregiver Guide to Stroke is meant to help caregivers better navigate the recovery process and the financial and social implications of a stroke.

Stroke Support Group Finder

To find a group near you, simply enter your ZIP code and a mile radius. If your initial search does not pull up any groups, try

Tips for Daily Living Library

This volunteer-powered library gathers tips and ideas from stroke survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals all over the country who’ve created or discovered adaptive and often innovative ways to get things done!

Stroke Family Warmline

The Warmline connects stroke survivors and their families with an ASA team member who can provide support, helpful information or just a listening ear.

Let's Talk About Stroke Patient Information Sheets

Let's Talk About Stroke is a series of downloadable patient information sheets, created by the American Stroke Association, that presents information in a question-and-answer format that's brief, easy to follow and easy to read.

Request Free Stroke Information Packets

Fill out this online form to request free information about a variety of post-stroke topics.
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Stroke & Parts of the Brain

When Stroke Affects the Occipital Lobe

Our occipital lobe, the smallest of the four lobes of the cerebral cortex, controls how we visually interpret our world.

When Stroke Affects the Cerebellum

The cerebellum contains 80 percent of our neurons. Its job seems to be to make things better. We talked with neuroscientist Jeremy Schmahmann about how stroke affects the “little brain.”

When Stroke Affects the Parietal Lobe

The parietal lobe helps us make sense of sensory information, like where our bodies and body parts are in space, our sense of touch, and the part of our vision that deals with the location of objects.

When Stroke Affects the Frontal Lobe

Of the four lobes that make up the cerebral cortex, the frontal lobe is the largest. It plays a huge role in many of the functions that make us human — memory, language, movement, judgment, abstract thinking.

When Stroke Affects the Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has several functions, mainly involved with memory, perception and language.

When Stroke Affects the Brain Stem

The brain stem serves as a bridge in the nervous system. It sits at the top of the spinal column in the center of the brain. When a stroke happens there, it can cause a few different deficits and, in the most severe cases, can lead to locked-in syndrome.

When Stroke Affects the Thalamus

The thalamus can be thought of as a "relay station," receiving signals from the brain’s outer regions (cerebral cortex), interpreting them, then sending them to other areas of the brain to complete their job.
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Helping Others Understand

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Support Showcase

Our new department highlighting the good work being done by stroke support groups from around the nation. If you are part of a successful support group we should consider featuring, let us know!