When your high-energy lifestyle comes crashing to a halt one morning by a stroke

We’ve all met women like Barbara. She’s the individual who never met a stranger. When she walks toward you, arm outstretched, you wonder if the appropriate response is a handshake. Or a hug.

IMG_4024Those are probably the traits that made her such a force to be reckoned with in her role as a high school educator, a motivational speaker, and an advocate for higher education.

But that high-energy lifestyle came to a crashing halt one morning, when she woke early, and stumbled on her way to the bathroom. Talking to herself, she noticed an odd sound – like she was “speaking inside a tin can.” Stumbling again, she made breakfast, took her blood pressure medicine, and got dressed. She then notified a neighbor she’d be driving herself to the hospital.

The neighbor insisted on driving Barbara. Good thing. A vigilant ER caregiver identified Barbara’s voice for the serious symptom it was. Grabbing one arm, she had an orderly grab the other, and they pulled her through to radiology.

A series of MRIs later, Barbara noticed an MD sitting with the techs. “I’ve had enough MRIs to know that was not normal.” But it was necessary, as those MRIs indicated Barbara had experienced three consecutive lacunar strokes.

The news was heartbreaking, and she cried, despite the doctor’s entreaties to stay calm. He was concerned her condition would deteriorate faster with her sobs. He was right. “I arrived at 8 a.m. all cute and put together,” says the feisty woman. “But by four, my entire left side was unrecognizable.”

That day began a 14-week odyssey of hospitalization, rehabilitation, and despair. Seven of those weeks were spent in Charleston, where Barbara had recently relocated. Despite an already strong social network, she was far away from family. And yet lacking the ability to talk, walk or otherwise care for herself, she needed round-the-clock care.

The hospital flew her home to Detroit for the second half of her care. She remembers grueling weeks of hospitalization and therapy. Training her brain – a brain that had earned a Masters Degree – to recognize an apple over an orange – was beyond challenging. And she recalls dark days, and at least three times when she looked skyward and said: “I give up Lord. I can’t do this anymore.”

But she applied her faith, and the same grit that had made her a warrior for high school kids, and resolved to recover. Months of grueling work ensued, and today, she is again the energetic dynamo she had long been.

“I’m very goal oriented,” said Barbara, who had always wanted to live in a house by the ocean. She’s achieving that goal, having recently married a man with a house on Edisto Island. And she’s recovered her gait, and most of her speech, some of which she says still sounds foreign to her.

Asked how she had been struck so hard by stroke, she recalls a meeting with a doctor who tried to uncover her underlying causes. She didn’t smoke, have sickle cell anemia, was not diabetic, and took her blood pressure medicine regularly.

Then he got to the final cause on the list: stress.

Bingo. Barbara recalled immediately a distressing conversation with a loved one just days before her strokes. She’d spent many hours crying and worrying after that event. “We believe that was a trigger for my strokes. Just holding in all that stress and pain.”

Indeed, she recalls, high stress had been a calling card for her life, for a long time. She’d managed the symptoms with blood pressure medicine and a will to keep moving on.

Now, thanks to her recovery, she has changed. She a
voids stressful situations and individuals.

She concludes: “I don’t go toe to toe with people any more. If someone upsets me, I just walk away. It isn’t worth losing myself over again.”

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