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Coming Home After a Stroke: Fantasy vs. Reality

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After spending 12 weeks in a hospital and rehab facility, following my brain stem stroke, I had a lot of time to daydream about life once I got back home. “Home” was the first word I spoke once I was relearning to talk. There, I would find my husband and two children. I imagined sitting outside in my blue lawn chair and watch my kids play while my husband did yard work. I would dream about this every night when I went to sleep. I would never again complain about giving my kids baths, making dinner for my husband, and was actually looking forward to housework. I was so ready to get home and eat regular food. I was ready for “normal” life.

I wasn’t able to go to my home after I was released from inpatient rehab. My family was staying with my mother-in-law who helped with the kids while my husband went to work. It made sense, but it still hurt when I realized life was not immediately going back to the way it was. I was still on a walker and a PEG tube. I was very limited in what I could do. If the kids needed something, they’d go to dad or grandma. Not me, mom. That was hard to take in.

As more months went by, day therapy took up my time and I finally was walking better with a cane. This allowed me to help out more. But we were still far away from “normal.” My husband still had to help me shower in a shower chair. Grandma still cooked supper and packed my kids’ lunches. My husband went to work, but I didn’t feel like his wife. I was just something else he had to take care of.

Finally, my family and I decided it was time to go home. I was so excited! I could do what I wanted instead of having people watch my every move. Independence. Then my bubble burst. I had someone stay with me during the day for the first couple of months after we returned home. It was still someone else fixing supper, washing clothes, and helping the kids with homework. I grew frustrated. This was not the “normal” I wanted.

It felt like forever before I was allowed to stay home alone. The first day I did stay by myself, I had so much freedom, but I didn’t know what to do. I honestly was so tired; I slept most of the day. This became a pattern. Maybe I was mentally worn out or physically worn out from all the therapy, but I would sleep all day until my husband and the kids came home. It was a way to pass the time and not have to think. My husband would fix supper. He would make sure the kids had showers. He was tired from working all day. He was grumpy, snapped at others and I felt like it was because of all of the things he had to do for me. I fell into a depression. Again, not “normal.”

Springtime is a time of reawakening. The world wakes up from a deep sleep and turns into an active environment once again. I felt it. I was finally able to go outside and enjoy fresh air on my own. I could fix simple meals. Laundry was an all-day task, but I could manage. I was learning to accept the fact that “normal” would never be normal again. We had a new normal.

I slowly helped more around the house. I actually put on weight because I was eating regular food so much (which I’m still trying to lose). The kids came to me and asked for help with their homework. I wasn’t always able to help, but at least they asked. My husband seemed to accept this new normal routine as well, and we talked a lot more than we did before my stroke. About our dreams for the future, how this would affect our kids, how we were devoted to each other — more than ever.

It’ll be 10 years next June, a whole decade since my family has had to deal with this new life. I had the stroke, but it affected us all. I had so many dreams and ideas of how life would be once I returned home, and honestly, life has been nothing like I imagined. I’ve written two books about my strokes and several articles. I got a tattoo. My kids are thriving. My husband and I are best friends. I’m not saying life is easy. We’ve endured a lot since the stroke. But my life after stroke is nothing like I imagined it would be. It’s better.

Originally published: January 15, 2022
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