How I Found My Voice Again After a Stroke
My life seemed very simple. Exercise, drop kids off at school, go to work, pick kids up and come home. It wasn’t always easy, but I knew what to expect. There was a routine that made things comfortable. In 2012, I had been married for 11 years and had a 4-year-old boy and 5-year-old girl. I was a teacher and my life was going along steadily. I didn’t like change. I didn’t accept it well.
June 6, I was in for a drastic change. I did my normal daily schedule. Everything was the way it always was. After coming home with both children, I decided to let them play outside while I cleaned out my car. Sounded simple enough. As I sat in the front seat, I felt a wave of nausea. The nausea turned to a tingling and numbing sensation on my left side. The week prior, I had a terrible headache. It lasted about a week. I took Tylenol, thinking it would go away on its own. Little did I know I should have listened to my body.
Fast forward to the evening of June 6, and I was slumped over the steering wheel in my car, drenched with sweat. I couldn’t move my left arm or leg. I thought I was having a heart attack. All along, my kids were innocently playing in the front yard beside me. Luckily, my husband came home while I was experiencing all this, took one look at me, and decided we needed to go to the hospital. That ride to the hospital was the longest ride of my life. By the time I arrived, I couldn’t walk or talk. The nurses rushed me inside on a gurney while I looked back at my children, not knowing if I would see them again.
As the doctors and nurses started working on me, I had the strangest thoughts go through my head. “Did I put on a pair of underwear today with no holes?” “Did I shave when I took a shower today?” All this as strangers were cutting my clothes off me. I was foaming at the mouth and my body was posturing. I honestly felt like all my organs were shutting down and I was going to die. I was exhausted from what my body was doing to me and thought dying would be the easier thing to do. Suddenly, my thoughts turned to my husband and kids. How could I leave them? Right then, fighting seemed the only option. Then, all went dark.
The next thing I remember, I woke up in a hospital bed and several family members were crying over me. I didn’t understand what was going on. I tried to ask them, but I couldn’t talk because I had a breathing tube down my throat, choking me. I tried to move, but nothing would move. The only things that seemed to work were my brain and my eyes. I was locked inside my own body. I felt like a prisoner with no chance to escape. I was informed that I had had a stroke and doctors weren’t sure if I would be able to walk or talk again.
This was devastating. Communication was extremely important to me as a mother, wife and educator. How could I tell someone how I felt? That I was scared to death, screaming inside. I was mad at God for allowing this to happen to me. I was asking so many questions mentally: Why is this happening? What did I do to deserve this? What will happen to my marriage if I can’t tell my husband I love him? Will I never be able to hold my children again? All these questions and not a single answer. No one knew the mental turmoil I was going through.
As I was in the ICU for about a week, I watched everyone talk to each other as they sat in my room. There were jokes told that I couldn’t laugh at, conversations I couldn’t join, decisions made about my family that I had no part of. It was awful to see all this going on around me and all I could do was lay there and dwell on it. I couldn’t even write the words going through my head. I only could look at my husband and hope he felt the love I had for him. Would he leave me for another woman if I wasn’t going to be the kind of wife and mother he wanted?
After I stabilized, I was moved to a subacute hospital where therapy started. I wasn’t sure why since my outcome looked so bleak. Physical and occupational therapy were used to help me with movement. I expected a lot of work to be involved with this. Speech therapy would help me find my voice. I honestly thought this would be a piece of cake, since talking was what I did best. Boy was I wrong.
I thought I’d start off with simple sentences and be speaking regularly in a week or so. Instead, my therapist had me repeating the alphabet over and over again. Learning to say my husband and kids’ names. Sticking my tongue out. Learning to put my lips together to hum and say the word “Mommy.” Counting to 10. Simple things became part of my daily homework. Ironic that I got homework, since I was used to giving it.
After a month or so, I was able to have conversations again. They were short but so sweet. The first time my husband came to visit and saw I could talk, we talked for hours. My daughter was astonished when I could actually kiss her again, “Mommy, you kissed me!” A special time was when my family happened to be at the hospital as I was having a therapy session. Music was often used as part of my therapy. It was easier to sing than talk. I was singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” My kids and even my husband joined in. It was beautiful to my ears. I felt like I was part of my family again.
After about 3 months of acute and inpatient therapy, I beat the odds, walked out of the hospital and went home. I learned how to become a different kind of wife and mom. I can’t do a lot of the things I used to, but I can tell my husband I love him. I can ask my kids, “How was your day at school?” I can laugh and feel as if my family understands this new woman I have become. Is it easy? No way. Have there been changes? Yes, all of our lives have been changed. But I have a voice – I can share by speaking, writing, hugging and kissing. People know how I feel. And that makes me one happy gal.
Getty image by Kirsty Pargeter.