I'm a multiple stroke survivor: one TIA, or mini-stroke, one clot in the right hemisphere of my brain, and one hemorrhagic stroke in my left hemisphere. And there were three causes for the three strokes: Me, Myself, and I.
For many years (more than 2 decades) I let myself gain weight until I reached my peak of 247 pounds in 2007 — a significant amount of weight on my 5-foot-five-inch frame. On May 19, 2007, I woke up not feeling up to par, so I took some aspirin. Throughout the day and evening I continued to feel worse, like I was coming down with the flu. I had a music gig that evening, but many times in the past I had played under the same circumstances with no problem, so I brushed it off. After the break, I was unable to get back on stage.
On my way home after the show, the first identifiable symptom showed up in my left side. I knew immediately what it was. When I got home, I tested my blood pressure: it was 244/120-something. We piled into the car and went to the ER right away. They did a CT and admitted me. I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Three weeks later I was discharged, walking with a cane and using a walker as needed. I got a head start with better health habits in the hospital, which I took home with me, along with the commitment to change my lifestyle permanently.
Fast forward to September 16, 2008, at 6 a.m. I went to take a shower but never made it. I was standing outside the shower when I started drooling, then I reached for a tissue and was unable to close my fingers around it. I knew exactly what it was and called out for help. The ambulance got me to the ER within 15 minutes of the onset of this stroke. Five weeks later I was discharged to a skilled nursing facility/rehab center in a wheelchair. I was told that I wasn't expected to walk again.
UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS OF STROKE
I had lost my ability to talk, swallow, walk and even to sit up on my own. I had to relearn everything in the hospital's rehab unit. They installed a feeding tube because I was losing weight fast from lack of nutrition. I wasn't even able to swallow purée.
The skilled nursing facility was an especially tough environment for me, and the first week I really had trouble acclimating to it. As I watched the staff, it became apparent that it really was a rehab center and that I would have to take the initiative and spearhead my own recovery. Five months and 11 days after being admitted, I was discharged. I told my first physical therapist that , when I was discharged, I planned on walking out, preferably unassisted but with a cane or walker if necessary. He just looked at me, clearly not convinced. On March 31, 2009, I did what I’d set out to do: I walked out, completely unassisted. Those were the most significant eight steps of my life.
SIGNS OF STROKE: WHAT TO LOOK FOR, WHAT TO DO
I started intense strength training in January, 2010, and I more than doubled my strength in the first 10 months. I'm in the best health of my life thanks to my permanent lifestyle changes. I'm active, strong, and everything works physically, although I'm slow at everything and still using my cane. I still have cognitive problems with math, scientific, and technical things. I still have bad days, but they don't rule my life. I now weigh 145 pounds with 18 percent body fat. I've beaten back diabetes and no longer have reflux. I’m off my medicine, and I no longer require insulin; my daily glucose readings seldom go over 95, and my fasting glucose stays between 76 and 84. My blood pressure at rest hovers between 90/65 and 100/70 with my pulse reading 50 to 60, though I will most likely be on blood pressure meds for the rest of my life.
While there is much more to my story, this is it in a nutshell, and my recovery is ongoing … a life-long project. I realize my limitations, but I work on them every day without fail, even on bad days. I believe it's better to do something … anything … than nothing at all.