What It's Like To Have a Stroke

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Post-Stroke Erin

My mom, Susie, was at my bedside when I fully regained consciousness in the ICU. In fact, she had never left it. Post-stroke Erin came to rely on her and her superhuman efforts to help me heal. I had lost the use of my left side and, with it, the ability to walk. My vision was so blurry it was almost useless. I had real difficulty speaking. I couldn't think straight; everything was disjointed, jumbled, a mess.

I was transferred to a step-down unit from the ICU, then released three days later. I wasn't anywhere close to being able to care for myself, so I went to my parents' house. I left the hospital only 11 days after my stroke -- barely able to move under my own steam but walking nonetheless. Then I began months of intensive rehab. Let me tell you, it was hard.

I worked with a physical therapist and an occupational therapist three to four hours at a time, most days of the week, to regain full use of my left side, relearn how to balance while walking, rebuild strength, and renew my memory. My mom was there through it all, shuttling me back and forth to rehab and medical appointments and caring for me around the clock. I honestly can't imagine what people would do, how they could recover from a stroke, if they didn't have support like that. Mom, I can't thank you adequately or ever repay you for all you've done. I love you so much.

Just over four months later I went back to work. Do you know how lucky that makes me? So many people have devastating lifelong deficits after a stroke like mine; the fact that I don't is Ripley's Believe It Or Not-level amazing and has changed me to my core. I'm constantly finding new things now to be grateful for -- life itself most of all. And that gratitude has uncovered reserves of tolerance and patience and kindness I didn't know I had.

I am so much better, but I still continue to discover things I can't do as well as before. I close my eyes to rest them a lot and my right eye is still a bit blurry. I struggle with waves of exhaustion. My short-term memory needs lengthening. I sometimes stop in the middle of a sentence, just when . . . Sorry, couldn't resist that little joke. My train of thought still goes off the rails every once in a while.

My proudest moment was when, two months into recovery, my ability to make puns came back. Because, you see, there was this man who lived in a mushroom-shaped house and I said, "Boy, I bet he's a really fun guy." (Fungi? Get it?) My family didn't laugh either. C'mon, that was funny. It may seem trivial, but that's the kind of thing that reassures you that your brain still works.

I've also worked hard on changing the things that led to my stroke. I take a beta-blocker to control the unmanaged hypertension that I now know caused the blood vessel in my brain to burst. I didn't know I had high blood pressure before; I certainly didn't feel any symptoms. I've quit smoking, something made easier by being unconscious for weeks and in rehab for months. You don't tend to want a cig so much after your brain just blew up. Yet it astonishes me to find myself still craving one sometimes, even though I was just a social smoker. Nicotine is such a crazy addictive drug. I've lost most of the extra weight I was carrying (although I don't recommend this kind of weight-loss program -- it's a bitch of a way to lose 26 pounds).

My biggest challenge is changing the way I eat. I'm not, nor have I ever been, a big fan of the vegetable. I am, though, a big fan of cheesecake, bacon, and pork chops. I run a cooking school, remember? I'm trying hard to work healthier foods into my diet, but it's an ongoing process. It helps that I've had the biggest kick in my fat pants -- I nearly lost my life.

Every day I still park in the same lot at work, even if I get there early enough for a primo space. Every day I walk by the spot where someone found me crumpled on the pavement and called 911. And every day I say to that spot, "There's no way you're going to beat me. Not today."

Continued on page 3:  A Few Words From Erin's Doctor


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