On Thanksgiving Night (2014) about 8:00 p.m. Completely unexpected, and definitely unplanned, I had a dense and rather severe Ishemic Stroke
I am here to tell you of the power of prayer. We believe it was the faithful and heartfelt prayers of MANY that helped me to survive this stroke. Miracles do exist.
I was 47 years old and in my opinion...way too young to be having a stroke! Many people agree with me. I am way way too young. How did it happen?
The doctors are still trying to figure that out. They told me I was a complex, complicated patient in that my symptoms did not match what they usually see. Because my recovery was so quick, they originally believed it was a migraine cluster headache, that can mimic a stroke many times. They no longer believe that was the case. I have never had a migraine head-ache in my life and don't suffer from a lot of bad headaches. My original stroke symptoms were very severe but it wasn't until the first MRI came back that they saw that I did indeed have a dense severe Ishemic stroke.
The confusion for the doctors and for us is that I have zero risk factors that we know of yet. I have very low blood pressure, low cholesterol, I am not diabetic, do not smoke, and exercise fairly regularly.
Not quite a full week later, I am doing good for the most part. I can tell my brain is still healing and not 100% back to normal, but hoping I will make a full recovery.
It is very therapeutic for me to write what happened to me, and many people including family members are still asking questions of what my stroke was like. Since Thanksgiving, I have been reading other stroke stories, and I haven't found any stroke stories that were just like mine.
It still seems very surreal to me, as if I am writing this about someone else. Since having the stroke, I am just now beginning to realize it actually happened to me. Yet, I am still not in full acceptance. It still feels like a weird dream I had.
I am going into full detail as I tell this as you will see all the moments that my stroke could have hit, but didn't. Skim past the details if it is too long for you.
Thanksgiving Day (2014) was as normal as Thanksgiving Days can be. I started the morning running a 5K with my daughter Aubrey and sister-in-law Amber for a dear friend who was recovering from breast cancer. I am definitely not an avid runner, but I do run once or twice a week on the treadmill, and run about 2 5Ks a year. I probably exerted myself a little more than I should have, but after the race was over, I felt great and my recovery was really easy. What I am trying to say is, I have had harder 5Ks. We all kind of want to attribute the stroke to the 5K, but at this point that is not a cause for my stroke. The doctors said, I would have had my stroke during the race, during the exertion period if that was the cause, not later that night.
After the race we went home and prepared our portion of the Thanksgiving Dinner. About 1:00 pm, we went down to my in-laws house for the big feast. I remember eating normal serving sizes and not over-eating like I can do at Thanksgiving. After that we hung out, played games, and I was feeling a little weird from the run, just kind of exhausted. My lungs felt kind of stripped from the cold air we ran in and I had this deep urge, to just go to sleep. I tried sleeping sitting up on the couch, but I was super uncomfortable, and in pain. My whole body just felt uncomfortable. I kind of withdrew from the family activities, as I felt so worn out and so exhausted. I couldn't seem to recover from it. I remember telling my husband, I just need to sleep. Which I did. I went and found a quiet room in the house and layed on the floor and had a great cat-nap.
About 4:00pm, I had this weird desire to just go back home and take out my contacts and put my glasses on. I look at this as a little prep that was going on for what was about to happen later.
About 6:00 pm that night we went Black Friday shopping with some family members. I have been Black Friday shopping many times, and this was the one year I absolutely did not want to go. I just didn't care ! Out of tradition, kinda, we went. This is one of those annoying sales when one sale starts at 6:00pm , and the other at 8:00pm. At one point we were planning on staying for the 8:00pm sale, but the things we wanted were already taken by having to have a special ticket which we didn't have. Like I said earlier, we just weren't into it, and decided to just go home. (blessings and miracles!!)
We got home about 7:45 pm. As soon as I walk in the door at my in-laws house, my two youngest girls 9 and 11 years old wanted me to drive them home to get their pajamas so they could sleep over at Grandmas. Normally I would procrastinate since I just got home....but I thought...let's go now! So I drove 3 little girls to our house and was back home at the in-laws in 10 minutes.
As soon as I walked in the door this time, Amber, my oldest daughter started telling me the shirts she just barely bought at a Black Friday sale did not fit good and she wanted to return them. She planned on just going the next day, but I told her, no...go now! (I have no idea why I said that, in reality the next day would have been a much better idea to avoid the crowds. It turned out that her going shopping and returning at a crucial moment, was a part of my story) So she took her sister Rebekah to the store to return her shirts.
Everyone started eating left-overs and pie and we were getting ready for a improve skit game downstairs. I ate a little bit, then decided I would go to the bathroom. I took my tablet in there so I could read my emails. (TMI?)
The Stroke Hits
The entire family went downstairs to do skits, while I was upstairs in the bathroom. My stroke hit while I was in the bathroom. I remember standing up to button my pants, and then the next thing I remember is being in a different far away place mentally, and not remembering HOW to zip up my pants. I stood there, frozen physically, and mentally.... in a DAZE. I could not remember how to zip, and I was going in and out of sub-consciousness.
While I was going in and out of consciousness, I remember I had a goofy grin on my face. Now I know, that goofy grin was in reality my paralyzed right side of my face. I also could not get my ride side of my body to do anything it was supposed to do. Anything that it does automatically (zip...) no longer was responding. I think I eventually zipped my pants with my left hand, after a very long time of standing there zoning out.
I did not have any pain, I didnt' fall over and collapse, nor was I was aware I was having a stroke. I remember feeling dizzy, confused, some double-vision, couldn't talk, and my face drooping.
My stroke hit the left side of my brain, and so my whole right side was effected. I think my brain was trying to send messages for my right side, but it couldn't respond. .
After the momentous task of zipping my pants was over, I made my way to the bathroom door, (which is about 2 steps away) and once again was completely stuck in my subconscious state. I was far, far, far, away, and getting father every second. Everything was very foggy and not really there. It was like being in a deep deep sleep and someone is trying to wake you, and you just can't wake up, although your eyes are still open. I stood there trying to figure out how to open the bathroom door. I kept bumping the door knob but didn't' know how to turn the knob. I was in this place for a while, going in and out of awareness and kept coming back to the door knob. My left side of my brain was saying open the door, and my right side was completely not there.
My nephew (10 years old) came upstairs and was on the other side of the door as I was messing with the lock and the door knob. I don't know still, if I got myself out, or if I just loosened the lock enough and he was on the other side and pushed the door open. Somehow he was in the right place at the right time and helped me get out.
I miraculously made it out of the bathroom with a locked door. I was now sinking deeper and deeper into a place where I couldn't communicate with the outside world. I made my way to the front room couch. That was the last place I could go on my own during my stroke. I remember walking lopsided and loopy. I slumped down on a cushion, and I was completely unaware of really anything at all. No one knew I was there, and I just sat there, slumped over, going farther and farther into my stroke.
My new problem was that my tablet was on my lap I was trying to figure out how to get it off my lap and into my bag. This took an enormous amount of time and effort as I tried to lift it a few times, but my brain couldn't figure out how to get it off my lap. I tried lifting one corner-end of my tablet, and I just couldn't do it. I would look at the bag where I wanted it to go, look at my tablet, try to lift it, but couldn't get it off my lap. I then, officially, went into a far away foggy place where I could no longer connect with the outside world. I could sometimes hear, and see in a loopy foggy way, but I couldn't speak or move my body. All sounds and visuals were coming from the end of a tunnel, that came in and out of reality.
Sometime later....( maybe 5 minutes?) my daughters Amber and Rebekah came home from shopping. Amber saw me on the couch and in her bubbly personality says excitedly, "Hi MOM!!" She wanted to show me what she just bought at the store. I was vaguely aware of her sitting next to me. I felt like I should acknowledge her and respond, but I couldn't connect at all. I heard her say my name, and knew she was next to me, but I couldn't speak, move, or connect to her. She told me later how she could tell I was trying to tell her something, and a few times I tried to stand up, but couldn't. She also told me how I kept showing her my tablet, but she didn't know what I was trying to do. I don't remember any of this.
She tried a few times to talk to me, and when she figured out something was wrong with me, she told Rebekah to go get Dad and tell him that Mom is not responding. Beckah went downstairs, and in that time Amber noticed my face was drooping, and she knew I was not alright.
She then ran downstairs and said, " Dad! Mom is not OK! Her face is drooping and we keep trying to talk to her and she is not responding." This was a private conversation that no one else heard in the room. Than my husband, Richard, ran up the stairs and as soon as he saw me, he knew I was having a stroke. I vaguely remember him kneeling down in front of me. Pleading with me, he said, "Susan, Susan!" "You are having a stroke!" "I am going to take care of you!!" "We are taking you to the hospital!" Then he instructed Amber to go and get Kyle (future son-in-law). So Amber ran back to the stairs and yelled for Kyle and no one listened. They responded with, why are you yelling? Then Amber said, "My mom is not OK. I think she is having a stroke! " Then Kyle first, then all the uncles sprint up the stairs to get me into the car.
Richard and Kyle carried me out to the car. I have a very vague recollection of this. I was thinking how silly it was that they were fussing over me, I could vaguely sense the sheer panic and heavy seriousness of the moment. I was like a baby, not understanding why they were so concerned. I thought if I just stopped acting like this, they would know I was OK. I felt no pain whatsoever, and was not afraid of anything. The place of my sub-conscious I was in, was a peaceful, place of no worries. Kyle sat behind my seat in our suburban, holding on to my shoulders as I could not hold myself up, and my husband whipped around corners and down the 3 streets to the hospital. My sweet future son-in-law, told me during this, "Mom it is going to be OK. God knows that we still need you"
We get inside the hospital and they literally get me into a wheel chair and zoom me back into the ER room. I barely remember any of this. I was going in and out of consciousness. I have bits and pieces of seeing events, people, etc. I could sense the panic in everyone: my husband, son-in-law, mother-in-law, and all the doctors. I was literally just losing it....peacefully, but very fast.
I layed on the ER table, the doctors and nurses began ripping my shirt off as fast as they could and connecting things to my chest. They threw a hospital gown on me. Still had my pants on the whole time. After doing a few tests like, "grip my fingers, Susan!Susan!.. talk to me!!... they got me on a table and ran me down to get a CT scan." My daughter Aubrey said they went right past her, and I stared straight through her, not seeing her. She said I had a glazed look and just kept staring straight through everyone. I wasn't there even though my eyes were open, I wasn't really seeing anything.
Prayers going UP
While all of this was happening, my family began calling and texting everyone they thought should know. Social media was alive and well. Prayers began going up to heaven really fast. At home, at my in-laws house, they all knelt down and had a family prayers when they whisked me off the to ER. Richard called my parents, who in turn called my 6 brothers, who in turn called all of their children. Everyone stopped what they were doing and had a family prayers. Some of them who are in a different time zone had already gone to bed, woke up and joined the family prayers. One of my brothers was skyping with children, and they stopped the skpe and prayed. Amber texted her best friends at college and they stopped what they were doing and knelt and had prayer, and we are still hearing experiences like this of prayer from family, friends, acquaintances, and people who don't know me at all, but know members of my family. Thank-you to ALL of you. I believe it was the sincere heartfelt prayers that helped me to recover in a miraculous way.
Prayer is real!! God is real! He hears and answers our prayers!!!!
A lot of things happened in the ER that I am totally unaware of. For an hour and a half I was in this peaceful place in my subconscious where every once in a while I would get a glimpse of what was happening around me, but I had no power whatsoever to connect or speak. And, everything was in a far far away foggy place and not real. I think I moved my eyes from side to side, and maybe my head.
While I was unconscious or where ever I was, I had glimpses of my surroundings, but then would go quickly back to be unconscious state.
I remember once, coming to, and seeing my husband kneeling down next to my hospital bed stroking my hand and telling me I had the most beautiful hands he had ever seen. He turned to his mom who was standing in the corner of the room, and said, "Mom, don't you think she has the most beautiful hands you have ever seen!!
Another time I remember seeing him gripping his head in a desperate way, pacing the room, and crying into his hands. He was imagining the worst possible moment of his life come to fruition, and he was beside himself with desperate feelings he couldn't control.
Another time, I remember seeing my beautiful caring sister-in-law Amber sitting in the corner of my room in a chair. I saw her sitting there, then I was gone again.
These are glimpses I will never forget.
The place of my brain I was in as so peaceful, so free of worries, or cares, a part of me was completely fine staying there. I didn't know if I wanted to leave that state of mind.
I was somewhat aware that there was panic and worry in the room, but I had no connection to it whatsoever. It was like "oh that's too bad" in a really non-chalant, unfeeling way. It was not an out of body experience, but it was in a way too. I felt bad that they were suffering, but didn't feel I had anything to do with controlling it, nor did I feel responsible for it. This is NOT my personality at all. I am a people -pleaser to a fault, and don't like to see others hurt, embarrassed, or suffering and not try to help. It was kind of a nice vacation from that part of my life.
The Miracle happened at precisely the right moment
I was in this condition for an hour and a half. At this point, the doctors were ready to take it to the next level. They had medicine they were ready to inject into me, Salt Lake was ready to receive me, and the life-flight helicopter was ready to go. The doctors had the paperwork drawn up for it, and were ready to send me to Salt Lake.
Then I turned to my husband and wanted to talk, and then I was able to speak and ask him what was happening.
Richard shouted...."she talked! she talked!!" Then everyone rushed to my side of the bed. Although everything was very sluggish, I was talking and that made everyone extremely happy. The first thing I noticed was an IV in my right arm. I have zero memory of that being inserted. I talked to the doctor, my husband, mother-in-law, father-in-law, Amber, Aubrey, and Kyle. All one at a time as only two people could be in the room. I called my mom, called my daughters who were at home, and had this miraculous amazing turn around recovery. Everyone was thrilled to hear my voice.
I then was talking via satellite to a University of Utah Stroke specialist, or neurologist. She was asking me questions about what I had experienced and how I was feeling. Twice they had me read first grade words on a paper, and identify simple pictures, and tell them what was happening in each picture.
Our neurologist came next and began talking with me as he was trying to understand how I had a stroke and what might have caused it. During this conversation, I felt my right side of my face, mainly my mouth droop and I could not control it or stop it. This concerned everyone all over again, and I had another CT scan injecting different fluids in me to see other things.
I spent the rest of the night in the hospital in ICU and had an MRI scheduled the next morning. Richard slept by me on a fold-down chair, holding my hand all night. Sleeping in the ICU is an experience that neither me or my husband have ever experienced. (not a lot of quality sleep) They have an important job to do there, and I am grateful for all the care I received.
The MRI test results came back and confirmed I did have a dense Ischemic stroke. I have learned that WHERE a stroke hits determines the damage and disability. If our brain and all the veins were like a tree with all of its branches, my stroke hit in the tips of the branches. That made my recovery so much better than most. If it hits in the trunk or father down the tree, than the results are not as kind.
Thank-you all for your prayers and thoughts and concerns. I just pray that the doctors will find out what caused it. I have wonderful doctors who are trying to figure out why a person with no stroke risk factors, no family history of it, still had a stroke. I am recovering really well, and my only symptoms now that I am aware of, are dizziness and some memory lapses. I am positive I will have a complete recovery as my brain heals.
THANK-YOU ALL for your prayers!!! Even if they were just silent prayers of worry or concern from your heart. They were heard and I have been blessed because of it!!!
(9 months later)
I would say, at this point, I am 80-90% fully recovered, although the past 9 months have been a roller-coaster ride of healing and health issues. Why I had the stroke remains a mystery, as all my tests come back perfect. At this point the theory is possibly a blood clot that got loose during my run and traveled through my heart and up to my brain.
The hardest time came of my stroke recovery came 6 weeks later. I had acute exhaustion, developed shingles, and have had cognitive issues. But I am alive!! I survived !! I have recovered in a miraculous way from something that takes lives or leaves its victims unable to function normally. For the most part, life has gone on the same!
Acute exhaustion has been my biggest enemy! Most stroke survivors can relate to this one!! There is no medicine for it, no help for it, but time and rest. This type of exhaustion is nothing like being sleepy, tired, or had-a-hard day. You can't sleep it off. This is acute fatigue!! If I get stressed or over-do it, I am in bed for 3 days recovering. From January-May I worked in the 4th grade all day as a teachers instructional aide. It was a 30 hour a week job, that I loved, but about killed me having to go everyday. I do not know how I got through it all except I loved being there!
My short term memory became very unreliable! Every short term memory problem I already had from being myself, was now acute!! I would lose something, and there was no recalling or retracing my memories to find it again. That information was gone, and not coming back! I would leave the store, and have NO memory of where I parked, and no way of pulling up the memory of parking. I had to always rely on my kids to know where we parked. This aspect has greatly improved, but I have my moments still!
I have had cognitive issues with math. When going to the store (I always use cash) I could not count money. It completely overwhelmed my brain to count money. I would look in my wallet, and didn't know how to add the money up on the spot for the cashier. It overwhelmed me cognitively. I would just hand the cashier some money and she would always hand me back what I didnt' need. I was like a baby and small child in many ways cognitively!! In school where I worked with the 4th graders in a math group, I would always do the problems wrong. I would flip numbers. If we were multiplying 9 X 9, I would write down 18, instead of 81. And the kids would let me know I got it wrong!! The math part of my brain has healed and I am able to count money now and feel back to normal again.
I have been an automatic speller my whole life! I don't have to even think of how to spell things, my brain just does it!! Because of that I trust my spelling instincts, and if something is spelled wrong, I know it. One day while correcting spelling tests in the 4th grade, all the words were spelled wrong and funny to me. They were all words that ended in "le" like bottle, able, buckle, candle...In my brain these were all spelled wrong and pronounced " bottlee, ablee, bucklee, candlee...and the le should be switched. In fact I looked at those words, and it was as if someone had scrambled all the letters up. It didn't make sense at all. I went up to the teacher and told her the answer key was not right. She was pretty sure they were right and even looked it up for me....It was my brain, flipping and switching things. That has only happened one time with spelling, but as my brain has healed, I have had moments like this more times than I want to admit. That has almost one away completely since then.
I am so grateful to be alive and that this stroke did not take my life!! Every few weeks I hear stories of other stroke victims of my age, who did not survive, or who did not fair as well as I have. I am blessed and know that prayers were answered on my behalf!!
We found a cause for my stroke!
The doctors were finally able to find a cause for my stroke almost a year later! I would encourage anyone who has had a stroke for no apparent reason, like I did, to look into getting this procedure!! It is an echo-cardiogram with a bubble study test. I had two echo-cardiograms which only showed how strong my heart is with all four chambers functioning properly and with regular rhythmic beats. It is a pretty amazing organ...the heart! When I had the bubble study test done with the echo-cardiogram, it showed that I have a Patent Foramen Ovale
(PFO for short) or another term is Atrial Septum Defect. It is a hole in your heart that didn't close properly at birth. In is fairly common (25% of all births). I am close to 50 years old and I never knew I had this septum defect.
Closing the hole is fairly controversial. Does the procedure out weigh the risks involved? Does keeping a patient on blood thinner do the trick the same as closing the hole with a device? Does the fact that a patient has had a stroke at a young age (under 50) for no apparent reason (remember I had *low blood pressure*low cholesterol*don't smoke*don't drink*and exercise regularly*no family history of stroke) give reason to close the septum?
These are all questions the cardiologists and neurologists were trying to determine. They decided it wasn't worth the risk involved, and decided to keep me on blood thinners.
I have to say, I am thrilled with that decision. I know it is routine, but it was a procedure that involved my heart, so that is high risk in my opinion. I am happy to be done with this!!!!