On the morning of January 14th, my husband set off for work as usual, but came home quickly, complaining of visual distortion in his left eye. After the kids were off to school, I took Rich to a clinic where he was told it was probably an ocular migraine. He rested comfortably throughout the day, getting up now and then, looking and talking normally. Then at around 9 o’clock, as he was lying in bed waiting to say goodnight to our kids, he suddenly groaned and started rocking as if he’d lost control of half his body. He couldn’t tell me what was wrong but I knew it was a stroke. I allowed myself about 30 seconds of denial and called 911.
Though he was quickly rushed to the hospital, the period for early intervention (many strokes are reversible within the first four hours) had already passed. The damage to the left hemisphere of his brain was serious, resulting in paralysis of his right side, speech aphasia and general disorientation. When asked the year, he answered “1942”. He couldn’t say my name, though he correctly identified through yes-or-no questions that I was his wife and not his sister. When I said “I love you”, he did manage to say “love too.”
After a barrage of tests, the cause of his stroke was identified as a tear in the left carotid artery. Carotid dissection can occur with a neck injury but sometimes, as in my husband’s case, the cause is unknown. It is responsible for less than 5% of all strokes but causes about 25% of strokes in younger patients. It explains how a 48 year old man who doesn’t smoke, exercises regularly and whose cholesterol and blood pressure are all within healthy limits could suffer a stroke. The good news is that the risk of further complications is low and that Rich’s age and general good health add up to a better than average prognosis for recovery.
Once he was stable, Rich was moved to an acute rehab unit and a few weeks later to a sub-acute rehab center, where he is continuing to receive physical, occupational and speech therapy. He doesn’t feel much below the knee yet, but he can walk with a cane, with slight assistance from a physical therapist. He has been gradually regaining feeling in his arm, though he has little control yet. His mind gets clearer all the time. He understands most of what is said to him and can express his needs with a combination of words and gestures. He’s starting to try to converse, though sometimes his attempts leave us both frustrated and caught between laughter and tears. But we persevere.
The other book was given to me by my cousin soon after she learned about Rich’s stroke. It’s MY STROKE OF INSIGHT, by Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained brain scientist who suffered a massive stroke at 37 and recovered to write about the experience. It is a quick read, engrossing and very hopeful. Taylor was able to do some work within the year after her stroke but also continued to improve for eight years, by which time she was also playing guitar, making stained glass art and water skiing. She believes that challenging herself both mentally and physically aided her complete recovery. I think that’s key. Rich and I will keep aiming for 100%.
I’d just like to add that MY STROKE OF INSIGHT is fascinating to anyone interested in learning more about the differences between right and left brain thinking and developing what Taylor calls a “balanced brain” approach to life.
Thanks to all of you who expressed sympathy when Diane first posted about my absence from the blog. I’m spending a lot of time at the rehab center and even when Rich comes home, it will probably be a while before I can get back to regular writing or blogging. Please know I miss you all, am very grateful for all your kind wishes, and I’ll stop by whenever I can.