Surviving a Stroke & Regaining Strength

When you're 17, you have more things to worry about than your health. Most of the time, your mind is focused on finishing your senior year of high school or choosing a college before deadline. But what would you say if I told you that wasn't my reality? Allow me to tell you about my experience as a stroke survivor. 

Throughout life, I was a pretty active child. I was in ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading, and even worked with my high school's women's Lacrosse team. On top of that, I worked at a local retailer, a place that was like my second home. But you see, all of that changed on February 10th, 2010 - something happened that I didn't see coming. 

It was a typical day at work and I finished closed the store around 9:30pm. Nothing new. Things were fine when my dad picked me up, even until I got home and hopped on the phone. It was an ordinary night, working on my 'Senior Project,' and going over my paper with a friend via phone. But all of a sudden, my vision blurred and my body went numb. I screamed for my parents, no one really knowing what I was yelling for since my door was shut. I yelled "MEDIC" and that's when my dad knew something was wrong. 

After checking my pupils and taking my pulse, my dad saw nothing wrong. I told him I couldn't see or feel my body, so he went to help me stand up. I fell. He yelled for my mom and that's when they realized I was suffering from a stroke. I was rushed to the hospital around the corner where we lived. The staff in the ER was of no help at all, whatsoever, until my mother appeared in the room. All I remember hearing was "They better not take that girl first. We've been here for almost three hours." Quite frankly, I didn't give a damn at that moment and just began sobbing. What's a 17 year old to do when she's completely helpless? Well, according to the doctor who screened me that night, I was "making everything up." It wasn't until I yelled for him to "Leave me the F*** alone and call Dr. Brian," that things got worse. To escalate the bar just a little, the hospital staff recognized my mom and put names together - my father worked in that hospital. Which, really shouldn't matter, but in the military, it's all about who you know and what your role is. But let's flash forward a few hours (I think). 

I was sent for CT scans at least twice, neither time with contrast. The doctor and nurse who were tending me obviously didn't want to deal with me, and complained that I moved too much. (Well MF, I couldn't feel my body, so 'Sorry, not sorry." It wasn't until maybe 5am or 6am the next morning (February 11th), that they finally called the on-call pediatrician (yes, because I was still a minor). This woman, I believe her name was Dr. Brown, let's just say I owe her my life. After flipping on the ER and helping my parents begin file claims, I was rushed into an MRI with contrast. The result was a bleed. On the lower right brainstem, I was suffering my a severe bleed, causing havoc within my body. I had loss sense of feeling, vision, and had slurred speech. After notifying my parents, I was rushed to the Children's Hospital of Atlanta (CHOA) and was seen by the neurologist, neurosurgeon, and had at least 50 viles of blood taken, within the first four hours. After a series of tests, my parents were informed that I would be hospitalized for at least six (6) months. I thought my life was over and had never prayed so much in my life, that my mother tells me I had request for a priest to read my last rights. Do I sound dramatic? To you, yes, but this was my reality.

Over a course of 2-3 weeks and a series of tests for Lupus, MS, Vasculitis, and every other disease in the book, I was cleared. I was informed that I had indeed, suffered a stroke, but that for people like me, it will more than likely never happen again. However, I also learned that I carry Sickle Cell trait, and that I probably had a flair that couldn't be detected. Unfortunately, they had no real way of analyzing that since the bleed stopped, but it's something I keep on my mind, even more at 22.

Thankfully, I was admitted into rehab and was able to begin learning how to me 'Tamara' again. I had to teach myself how to walk, balance myself, lift things on my own, and speak. I had missed several days of school, but attempted to work on my academics through the hospital's tutoring center. My high school principal and her husband, as well as several of my teachers and other members of the administration, had to work with the school board to allow me to graduate and was able to make accommodations for my return. Thankfully, my teachers were so comforting and worked with me on every step of the way. What I can also say, is that I learned who my TRUE friends were. People I didn't talk to for four years, all of a sudden cared. Did I thank them? Yes, but I don't consider them my friends. I was on the verge of my death while in the hospital and only ONE classmate stayed by my side; She also had access to each of my social and email accounts, and this person is still my friend today. 

When prom approached, it came rather quickly. I had planned on having a dress customized for me, but that obviously didn't happen. It totally sucks that I had to settle for a dress from Macy's that, I'm sure more than half of Columbus, Georgia, wore, but the memories were totally worth it. I was accompanied by my best guy friend, Paul (also the son of Dr. Brian). I can never thank Paul enough for his encouragement and understanding that night, and making prom perfect. 

Soon enough, graduation was upon us. My high school had a strict policy for the ceremony and I was a little terrified. If we couldn't cut our corners correctly or made CHS look unorganized, diploma - poof! So, I tried my hardest, with the help of my best friend, to walk as straight and clean as I could. Thankfully, I was able to walk across the stage (remember, I still had no feeling in more than half of my body) and made it down, safe. 

After graduation, I found out my father received orders to move. Coincidently, his report date was the same as my college move-in. On opposite sides of the country. And no adjustments. So there I was, packing my room with things I needed for college. I chose Pace University, where I studied Communications. The first year was tough, especially since I didn't know what was going on with my health. I had a wonderful case worker at school and a lovely staff that helped me make sure all of my accommodations were met, academically and residentially. Things were great, that was until December 2010. 

I had been given medication to assist with my migraine, body aches, and other "necessary" drugs. I remember being at the grocery store with my mom during winter break, and telling her I felt dizzy. She sent me to the car and I didn't even realize that she had gotten in the car and taken me home. This had happened once at school that Fall, but I didn't say anything. The medication was causing me to become dizzy and delusional. With my father and doctor's permission, I lowered the dose of medication, eventually pulling off of it completely. After that, things were great. 

In the summer of 2012, I ventured off to the Czech Republic. It was absolutely beautiful and I didn't want to leave. To my surprise, my roommates were not what I expected, so the girl I went abroad with and I pretty much stayed a pair throughout the trip. But one night after coming back from a trip to Croatia, I had apparently gotten into a fight with one of the girls (turns out no one cared for her anyway, and that the 19 year olds were more mature than this 23 year old, YALE student). Whatever. And it was 'whatever' until I woke up the next morning. I couldn't remember a thing. Like seriously - I didn't remember any of the conversation. I only knew what happened from the Facebook and Pinger messages I was sending to my mom and my friend. But because I couldn't take the risk, I admitted myself into a local university hospital. Again, I had suffered a slight spasm (not a bleed), which they labeled as a seizure. That's just perfect, right? Imagine calling your mom at 7am PST in the U.S. to tell her you're in the hospital again. Luckily, they only kept me for a week and I was on my way home with seizure medication and aspirin. 

After coming home from Europe, I went to my physical and was seen by the neurologist as well. There was nothing they could do because the Czech Republic wouldn't release my records, so everything had become precautionary. Unfortunately, that fall semester I had a similar incident. Whatever had happened that evening, well, let's just say it took me about two days to piece the puzzle together. Again, I went to the doctor and there was nothing they could do. 

In the spring of 2013, I tried to get reacquainted with myself. I started to become active on campus again and tried living my life as a normal 20 year old. That April, I met my boyfriend and he is literally the most amazing person I've ever met. He learned of the various incidents over the last three years (at that time), and was completely understanding. Till this day, he makes sure all of my medication is taken (when prescribed) and makes sure I get to all of my appointments. If that's not love, I don't know what is. 

But flashing forward to now, or rather the fall of 2014. I went to a different set of doctors after changing my insurance. After several blood tests, CT and MRI scans, and so much more, I can proudly say that I am a stroke survivor. Though I still have slight vision loss and have little feeling on the left side of my body, I feel stronger than ever before. I have a great roommate, fabulous friends, and a wonderful boyfriend who make sure I'm okay when I'm home. But I also have a huge family that makes sure I'm feeling my best and that I don't over exert myself lifting (that's what my boyfriend is for!). Not everyone can say they suffered a stroke or have a support system to aid them through life afterwards. It truly takes a strong person to keep it moving, but if you're not strong, why even bother? Strength isn't just physical, it's a mental and emotional state. If you think, "Oh, she's too strong and doesn't need my help," you're wrong, because at the end of the day, strength changes. Emotions adjust and life depends on whether or not you can stay motivated. Don't think that suffering a stroke, or any life threatening event, makes you less of a person - it only makes you stronger.