Meet Dave, a friend of mine I went to college with. Last year I heard Dave had a stroke too. I'm so glad he is recovering nicely and also to have another person to talk to about recovery. Below is his story.
It was five months ago – October 24, 2011 – that I had a stroke about six weeks before my 31st birthday.
I had just been offered a job in Richmond after a couple years of piecing together freelance work and a variety of part time jobs after finishing grad school. I’d finally got a job! I’d asked my mother to come along for a few days of apartment hunting. I didn’t feel well and had been getting sick the morning we left, but I get butterflies when I get anxious, so I thought it was just a result of being nervous. I knew something wasn’t quite right, so I asked my mum to take the first leg of driving out of Boston. As we continued to drive, I continued to get sick, but being a bit overly persistent, I insisted we go on. I started feeling a tingling sensation on my right side. We finally stopped, at my mother’s insistence, at a motel off of I-684 in Westchester County, thinking that I had a flu and that I’d sleep it off and we’d get up and press on.
I took a long nap and when I woke up, I clearly wasn’t right. The tingling on my right side had increased and my speech had become slurred. I tried to walk, but I fell, and got back into bed, only to try to get up again and fall in the space between the bed and the wall. We decided it was time to call an ambulance.
I was taken to Northern Westchester Hospital. In the ER, they couldn’t figure out was wrong with me. One doctor even wanted to send me home, despite my inability to move or speak clearly. Aside from being overweight, everything checked out: blood sugar, blood pressure, heart. They couldn’t find anything in the CT Scan. I appeared to be healthy, they said.
|with friend Brynne on a|
recent trip to the West Coast
I needed an MRI to get to the bottom of things, so they moved me to the much larger Westchester Medical Center. The MRI revealed a small ischemic stroke. And I tested positive for syphilis. That was as much a shocker as the stroke. I’d never had any symptoms. And is this the 18th or 19th Century? (George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Franz Schubert all had syphilis; thankfully it is cured with a two week course of antibiotics today, rather than arsenic or mercury, which is likely what killed Napoleon and Schubert.) A seriously nasty bacteria whatever the case – and a cause of stroke (and plenty of other terrible symptoms – think of the infamous Tuskegee experiment, one of the lowest points in the history of Western medicine.) It’s prevalent enough even now, but curable with antibiotics.
I don’t remember when it was that I was finally able to get out of bed. At first, I was so weak that they needed a lift to get me into a chair – sitting in the chair was pretty torturous at first when I was too weak shift my body weight. Eventually, I was able to stand with a walker and get myself to the chair. Then to the end of the room. Then to the nurses’ station. Then a bit farther. It was slow going, but it was good to get out of bed.
In a way it was good that I had to have the course of antibiotics before leaving the hospital, as it gave me access to physical therapy and occupational therapy that I wouldn’t have been able to receive otherwise. I didn’t have insurance. Despite trying everything imaginable to get a hospital in New York or Boston to take me on for PT (and the social worker at Westchester Medical Center was ace), we couldn’t get it to work out with Mass Health.
I continued to walk a little bit farther each day and a few weeks after the stroke I graduated to a cane. By the time I left the hospital, I was doing laps around the neurology ward several times a day.
I’m really grateful to all the doctors and nurses and residents and staff at the hospital. I can’t remember everyone’s name, but there were some amazingly helpful and encouraging people: Dr. Marks and Dr. Birdi, resident Alexandra, the social worker Jeanne, and nurses Kathy, Alyama, Joan, Kwaku, Ailish and so many more.
And my grad school friend Sara came up from the Bronx and my Aunt Rita from Baltimore and my parents were back and forth and back and forth from Boston.
I drove back to Boston with my mom, just in time for Thanksgiving with the family. There was plenty to be thankful for – not least of which was a home cooked Thanksgiving dinner.
I moved to Richmond at the beginning of December anyway. I found my apartment over the Internet (and the local connection of my friend Alex) while I was still in the hospital. Mum had been laid off from her job earlier in the year, so she decided to come stay with me to help me out. My job takes me all over Virginia, and since I still have tingling on my right side, I haven’t been able to drive with the foot pedals.
At first I was pretty weak and it took me forever to walk anywhere, but that has been improving. I ditched the cane soon after coming to Richmond and have gradually been able to pick up the pace. I’m even walking to and from work some days, just over a mile from my apartment. And I’m pretty much back up to normal pace. I feel like I’m getting stronger and getting well.
I still get very tired – really, really tired. And discouraged when I get tired. I’m used to a pretty busy and briskly paced life and I can’t keep it up like I’d like to. Sometimes I worry that I’m not keeping apace, but perhaps it’s a sign to slow down a bit. Not being able to use my body has made me all that much more aware of it and of its limitations, but there’s no question it’s getting stronger and healing everyday. I just keep pushing myself as much as I can.
Mum is leaving next weekend after I have hand controls installed on my car. She and I have spent a lot of time together over the last five months and I’m incredibly grateful for that. We’ve even managed to have a lot of fun.
The story continues. And I get stronger and healthier. I’m grateful to see the adventure unfold.
Thank you so much for sharing your story, Dave. You are incredibly brave! Here's to continued small miracles of recovery!