May has always been a special month for my family…spring is in full swing, my husband’s birthday falls in May and of course so does Mother’s Day. But this year [and last year] May has taking on new meaning for us as it is designated as Stroke Awareness Month.
And we are very aware about stroke. Now.
On July 29th of 2006, my husband and I, along with my sister who was visiting from California, were all headed from our farm in Morrill, Maine to my eldest brother’s home in New Hampshire to celebrate his 70th birthday. It was a surprise party for him and for the first time in a long time, my siblings and I were going to be together to party and have a good time. We arrived on time and I got out of our car to greet everyone, feeling so happy to see us all together. My sister-in-law, Bev walked up to me and started talking …I could hear her, but I couldn't make out a word that she was saying. I didn’t feel right, but was busy looking around at everybody when I realized I couldn't see my right hand or arm and I couldn’t figure out where they were…and I was still trying to understand Bev. She sounded like a slow broken record and her words were all jumbled to me. I looked around for my husband, Les and when I saw him I asked, “Where’s my arm? And he said “By your side? What’s the matter?” Then I guess everyone saw something was wrong with me. I remember them helping me into the shade of a huge tree on the grounds and helping to lay me down on the ground. I looked up at everyone…I didn’t know what was happening. I couldn’t really talk and tell them what I felt and a sea of faces looked down on me. But through it all a strange feeling of calm and peacefulness filled my being and I knew it would be all right. I was suffering a stroke. I missed my brother’s 70th.
To make a long story short…I was rushed to a hospital in N.H. and then was transported by ambulance to Portland, Maine, and admitted into Maine Medical Center. This was done in order that I should be closer to my family and doctors.
Tests were started.. The left side of my brain had been ‘attacked’ when the blood flow was interrupted or stopped due to a blood clot. A significant part of my left temporal lobe was affected and this left me with right-sided paralysis and Aphasia. Aphasia is a condition where language problems make it difficult to talk the way I used to and makes writing very difficult for me. Something that was so important to me in my life [I have worked as a newspaper reporter and fashion editor in the past…and wrote poetry] ....was now something that was so difficult. My understanding and comprehension of speech were unimpaired, but speech itself became hard as my speech related muscles wouldn’t cooperate and my brain could not find the words to say what I wanted to.
But what was more important to me, as I lay on the hospital bed with my family around me…could I draw??? I managed to get the nurse to understand what I wanted…. a pencil and paper. She brought them and everyone looked on as I sketched an eye, a horse head……….okay… I could live with the limitations I had a this point. I could draw, and this would mean I could paint. Life was good!!!
In the week that passed in between hospital tests, MRI’s and blood work, I sketched some, slept a lot, but I knew I needed to get home, to our quiet farm where I would be alone with my husband, see my Corgi and our horses, see and smell our gardens and get down to the business of getting better…. to getting ‘Kathi’ back!
This year and half that has passed has been difficult. Our horses became my therapy, as I brushed them while walking with a cane my hand and arm gained strength. I cleaned stalls needing the muck fork to help stand up with. Throwing hay and lifting shaving bags became my upper body strengthen exercises. I had a speech therapist come and work with me in our home, who helped me start to get over some the Aphasia problems…and an occupational therapist to help me get my hand coordination back.
And I painted…and drew and I slept. I slept a lot. I still sleep during the day needing naps to replenish my energy.
I started a blog after my therapist suggested that I do it as an exercise to recapture my language skills. Each and every blog entry has my recovery in it. Metaphorically each of my paintings tells of my struggles and my victories...most in the form of equine art.
But through it all I knew that my attitude about what I was going through was more important to me that what had happened to me. My recovery depended on my attitude. I cannot control what happens to me in life..but I can control my attitude. And that is my life mantra now……….’if it’s gonna be..it’s up to me.’
And I have also been blessed with a wonderful husband who has been beside me through it all. Les has been the wind beneath my wings.
So in a nutshell….that is my story. Why I blog.. and the road leading up to the beginning of my blog. That is my story and I am sticking with it.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
About 700,000 Americans each year suffer a new or recurrent stroke. That means, on average, a stroke occurs every 45 seconds.
Stroke kills more than 150,000 people a year. That's about 1 of every 16 deaths. It's the No. 3 cause of death behind diseases of the heart and cancer.
On average, every 3 to 4 minutes someone dies of stroke.
Of every 5 deaths from stroke, 2 occur in men and 3 in women.
The 2004 stroke death rates per 100,000 population for specific groups were 48.1 for white males, 47.4 for white females 73.9 for black males and 64.9 for black females.
Americans will pay about $62.7 billion in 2007 for stroke-related medical costs and disability.
Any or all of the following:
Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
Sudden, severe headaches with no known cause
*Source: AHA statistics 2004