Today, I was inspired to share my personal story. Usually, I share health stories about my children because my kids have disabilities and we learned a long time ago that what we eat and what we supplement them with helps them. But what happened to me in 1999 changed my life.
That year, I had a stroke that almost killed me but if I had not had that stroke, I might have died when my babies were born.
At the time, Chris and I had been married only 6 months. I was going to night school and working full time. On Monday nights, I had chemistry, which I hated, and a teacher who showed up to class drunk half the time.
That night, I was running an errand and my legs felt weird. I came home and decided to skip class. It was a long commute from my Queens apartment to the college in upper Manhattan. When the sun went down, I went to bed to rest and study. Suddenly, my eyes rolled up into my head and I could feel my throat closing up. I screamed out my husband’s name just before I blacked out.
The next time I was conscious, I found myself in the lobby of my apartment building in my pajamas on a stretcher. All I could think was, “I’m in the lobby in my pajamas? Why??”
There was an attractive EMT screaming my name right tin my face. I said, “Yea?” He asked, “How many fingers am I holding up?” I remember thinking that was a weird thing to ask. So I answered him and looked at my husband.
His face was so white it was green and his hair was stuck to his head with sweat. Looking at him was so traumatizing that I had to turn back to the cute EMT and his colleagues as they loaded me onto the ambulance.
At this point, I didn’t know that I had 20 minutes of “missing time.” I didn’t find out what happened to me during that time for months. After my eyes rolled up into my head, I had a full-fledged seizure. My husband had fortunately heard my scream and came in the room to find my arms and legs flailing. He tried to help me while he called the ambulance. When the medical team arrived, my higher functioning brain abilities had turned off, and I reverted to “monkey brain.” I was too scared to let the technicians put me on the stretcher. I couldn’t talk properly and I have no memory of that period of time to this day.
At the hospital that night, they took a CAT scan and spinal tap but found nothing wrong. They assumed I had done drugs (I didn’t) and were not careful with my care. They sent me home after a few days and told me to get an MRI in 2 weeks.
I stayed home from work that week. The following Saturday night, I went to bed with a blistering headache. My husband gave me a strong over the counter headache medication before I went to sleep – the worst thing you can do when you have an undiagnosed stroke.
When I woke up on Sunday my headache was much worse – so much so I couldn’t pick up my head or keep down food. My husband brought me to the only local doctor’s office that was open that Sunday. Shortly after the doctor came in, I threw up all over my favorite jeans! I was in so much pain I didn’t care. They calmed me down, cleaned me up and sat me up – and I threw up again. By that point, I couldn’t hold my head up without being sick!
They told me that I needed to be admitted to a hospital right away. My Dad drove and brought me to the wrong hospital – which was a blessing. We ended up at a famous teaching hospital in Long Island. They ran every test in the world as they checked me into the ICU. Soon after I was told, “You had a stroke and we need to treat you for it.”
It was a serious one, consisting of both a bleed and a block. Usually they are one or the other. The first hospital should have never sent me home without an MRI. In that week, the stroke got worse and I could have died.
This is the point where my life changed. The next morning, I woke up and looked out the window onto a nasty winter day. I noticed an ugly dead tree next to the window. Then I turned to the other way…and discovered I was in a room full of unconscious people.
The hospital was alive and active, with staff serving breakfast. Those patients weren’t just “sleeping in,” they were unconscious.
I was the only conscious person in the entire ICU ward.
That was when the veil dropped about how precious life is and how little time we have. No one else that I saw woke up during my two days in ICU, and then I was transferred to another room. After a few weeks’ stay and several months of therapy, I made a full recovery.
“Don’t stress over anything.” So said my physical therapist, Ron, and I agreed.
But he went on. “You’re not understanding me. We don’t know why you had your stroke, so we need to make sure you don’t stress. What I mean is, if you’re going to bathroom, don’t even push. I mean it, you can’t stress, even a little.”
As I healed, life resumed but differently. There was an awareness that had not been there before. I eventually went back to work, but I remembered what Ron said. I had to slow down. I had to learn to get up earlier to go to work and keep calm about all the little things in life…and stop “pushing.” I had to let life lead me where to go and pursue my dreams, not a lucrative career or a boring degree.
What I’ll never forget is what my neurologist said shortly after that.\, and I’ve never heard a doctor say this word, before or after: “Your survival with no repercussions or long term damage is a miracle.”
I’m able to write this to you today because a miracle took place all those years ago. And I know the reason.
For many years, I wondered why this happened to me. A few years later, I was pregnant with my first child and my OB was obsessed with finding the cause of my stroke. She did, quickly, allowing her to safely manage my pregnancy. When I was 7 months pregnant, I asked her why I couldn’t find any information this condition and pregnancy.
She told me it was because it was usually discovered too late…after a mom had a stroke around delivery and didn’t make it.
In other words, having the stroke years before protected me when it was time to bring my daughter into this world. Amelia and I both might not exist if I had not had that terrible stroke back in 1999.
Bad things happen and we always ask “Why me?” But I believe that everything has a purpose, just like my life – and my daughter’s life – does.
One year after the stroke, my husband and I drove up to Vermont to ski. We stopped to eat and I went to the bathroom to wash up. I was suddenly overcome with how blessed I was to be alive, living, breathing, using my senses in this wonderful world.
It’s no small thing that you are living and breathing right now. Have you said, “thank you” for the breath in your lungs today?
We don’t remember that all the time but when you’ve come that close to death, you can’t forget. And when you are that close, have you asked why? You just might find there is a reason.
Learn more about the signs of a stroke: