Saturday, October 3, 2009

So, what's the deal with this stroke thing?

I am sure each stroke is different for each person. I am sure my experience for example, is not the same as someone in their 70's who goes through the same thing. And I'm definitely sure that I was lucky to already have been in the stroke ward of a damn good hospital when this happened to me.

That being said, the first day or two after 'allegedly' having my stroke, I didn't feel too different. I was kept on my heparine to thin my blood to keep things from getting any worse, J came to see me as often as they would allow, I waited for my sister and later my mom and aunt to drive all the way from Manitoba to see me, and I basically rested a lot to help with the horrible headache I still had.

Has anyone read the Terry Goodking novel Chainfire? Basically this spell is cast that makes a girl lose all memories of herself, and any idea of who she is or the people in her life is completely erased. I thought of this book in the first few days after my stroke and I felt like I knew just how that girl felt. Slowly, like a fire burning everything in my brain away, starting with the bigger things like sight and reading, and little trails of fire burning the little details like how to understand words with more than one syllable and even J's name disappeared from my mind. It was a process that I could just feel happening. There were a few details that I wanted to hold close to me and not forget, like my brother's birthday on Dec. 16, that by repeating to myself every hour or so I was able to keep it from getting burned away. One night when J was saying goodnight, I told him I think I am going to forget you tomorrow. Sure enough, the next day he came and I of course knew who he was but could not pronounce his name. We usually call eachother Honey or Hon though, and that stayed.

My sister arrived and I remembered her name. Actually I used her name in place of other peoples' names and also inserted her name randomly into every sentence I spoke. So I told her later, that she should feel special because she was my most favorite person that week.

My mom, aunt and brother arrived shortly after my sister. At that point I couldn't speak much at all, but I remember when my Aunt gave me a hug one night I smelled her perfume and sounded out the name of it: Ex-cla-ma-tion! She has always worn that since I was little, and the smell really stood out in my damaged mind. Some cousins living nearby also came to visit but at the time I was in too poor condition to really speak to them or remember the visits. I did a lot of sleeping whenever there was a gap between visitors.

My brother's birthday was coming up and he decided to go back to Manitoba to celebrate his 18th with his friends there. He thought I would be upset but I understood. I was actually happier that he didn't have to come in and see me sick, but he had a little bit of fun while the rest of us stood vigil. The morning of the 16th the nurse came and asked me what date it was, and (I could not say two-digit numbers) I told her One - Eight. She looked at my mom and aunt and they understood, it was the 16th but it was my brother's 18th birthday. That was one of those things I had told myself NOT to forget when I was losing everything else. He phoned me later that day and I (tried to) said Happy Birthday! I know that even now he still feels bad for not being with me, but I say to him, I would rather know that he was out being happy on his 18th than being miserable in a hospital room with his sick big sis. I am glad he went back and had a good time, the next day he called me and told me all about how he went to the strippers for the first time and his first stripper was a midget! (Or little person!) So we both had a good laugh about that.

So about a week after my stroke I had forgotten how to speak, read, write, and my sight was horrible because of all the pressure the clot was putting on my eyes. The right side of my body and the left side of my face were also completely numb, which was a really odd feeling. My right hand gave me a lot of trouble, have you heard of the movie Idle Hands? Well my hand would grab onto anything within reach and hold on tight, and I had no control over it whatsoever. It liked to reach across my body and grab the left rail of my cot while I was sleeping, and I'd wake up and basically be holding myself down on my cot and have to use my left hand to pry the right fingers open to let go. It got very annoying and frustrating, but is kind of funny to think back on now!

A side note: months later I read in a magazine (for seniors no less) that losing your thoughts like I did, your speech and writing skills is called Aphasia. So now I have a name for what happened to me. It usually happens when your stroke affects the left side of your brain and therefore the right side of your body.

It took about another week for everything to start coming back. In the time in between, although I couldn't really understand anything, I 'told' myself that I did not want to forget just what it feels like to be completely wiped clean of any memory or thought. J would sit with me and try to get me to say his name: Jason. I'd get out the J part, then get lost. Jay-den. Jay-ben. Jay-yen. Like I said, anything with multiple syllables was overwhelming to me. At least he was patient!

J brought me some magazines to read, or at least practice on. I had too much trouble at first, the cover read Fat To Fit and I just could not sound out a single word. But later with him there I asked him what each letter sounded like. Fffff-ahhh-ttttt. I tried that one word for about a week before I could finally say it, and then I felt so proud! Finally I was able to read the little paragraphs inside, you know an inch of text with about 50 words, and with him there to sound out the hard ones I could finally read again. Part of the problem was of course my eyesight which actually took until about June or July to come back though.

The big breakthrough came when one morning I decided to try to write in a journal someone had brought me, and I wrote three pages about the plane ride and peeing on the floor. It was sloppy with bad spelling but I did it. J came in and saw me sitting there writing, and he was so surprised and happy that I was doing this even on my own! One step to getting better!

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