The Story of
(or "How I went from playing basketball one day to being in a wheelchair four days later!")
At the hospital, they informed me that I had a "TIA" (Transient Ischemic Attack) or "mini-stroke." They did an EKG on me and determined it was NOT a heart attack. Their main concern, however, seemed to be my high blood pressure. They kept me there for several hours trying various medications to lower it. Once they succeeded, I was discharged. (To this day, I have no idea why they did that!!) I actually walked (normally) out of the hospital, and Sherry drove me home. I foolishly thought I was going to be OK. I was wrong!
I went to bed that night and had ANOTHER STROKE (this one more serious.) I went to get out of bed around 3:00 AM and dropped to the floor. Sherry tried, but couldn't get me up off the floor. She finally managed to get me up, dressed, into the car, and drove me back to the hospital. Because neither Sherry nor I knew exactly when the stroke had occurred, the doctors couldn't try injecting "TPA" a "clot-busting" drug which must be administered within 2-3 hours of the onset of the stroke. It was too late for me. The damage had already been done.
They notified my doctor, who came over to the hospital, and said "I'm sending you to Strong Memorial Hospital (in Rochester)." They have "stroke specialists" there. So, I was put in an ambulance and brought to Strong Hospital. While there, they did a CT scan, an MRI, as well as an ultrasound scan of my arteries. They found that my right carotid artery was 100% blocked. That meant that no blood was getting through to certain portions of the right side of my brain, causing the paralysis on the left side of my body. To this day, my carotid remains blocked. I'm often asked, "Aren't they going to remove the clot?" The answer is "No." Why not? Two reasons. (1) I've been told that the operation could cause more problems than it might solve. New blood clots could be triggered which could cause another stroke, or even a heart attack. (2) Once brain cells die, they don't "come back to life" even if blood flow is restored. It's too late. So, what happens now? The doctors said that there are plenty of other blood vessels which are successfully carrying blood to my brain. My job now, is to work hard to train other brain cells to take over the functions that the dead cells used to perform. That's what all the physical therapy and exercise is for.
Once the hospital determined that, other than the stroke, I had no other serious medical conditions, I was eligible to be transferred to their "rehab unit" where they put me right to work on my recovery. (Studies have shown that the sooner you can get stroke victims started in rehab, the faster they'll recover. That's what I wanted!)
They were great in rehab. Every day, I had a full schedule of "occupational therapy" (working on regaining the use of my left arm and hand to do "daily activities") and physical therapy (to get me back walking normally again). It was hard work, but I enjoyed it, knowing that it was all necessary in order to hasten my recovery. When I wasn't directly involved in OT and PT, I would do little exercises in my room, working on my left arm and leg. Sherry would help me, too (for example, she would bring in small bags of ordinary household items and would challenge me to identify them by feel, etc.).
In addition to all the therapy, I spent a lot of time trying to keep my mind occupied (crossword puzzles, email, etc.). Because I was concerned that my mind wasn't working quite as well as it used to, I even asked to be tested by a psychologist. They did this, and said they found no serious shortcomings. (Whew! I was really concerned about that.)
The doctors (and therapists) agreed that I made excellent progress, so I pushed them to let me go home as soon as possible.
I was finally discharged on Sept. 30th (2-1/2 weeks after my stroke). It was great to get home! (In fact, I even taught my graduate class that same night! [Sherry went with me to make sure I was OK.]. I taught the class, but I was exhausted by the time I got home.)
Within the next couple of days, I met with my own doctor. I pushed hard for him to let me go back to work. Reluctantly, he agreed (and gave me permission to drive, as well.) This made Sherry very nervous, but she's getting used to it, now. I do OK... as long as everyone on the road around me "does what they're supposed to do." I'm still a little afraid of what's going to happen when some idiot pulls a boneheaded move and cuts in front of me!
Next, I had to convince the school district's doctor that I was well enough to go back to work! I passed their physical, and returned back to work on October 12th (exactly one month after my stroke).
My doctor instructed me to "stick with familiar surroundings and activities" at work in order to rebuild my confidence (which has suffered a serious blow). I've been trying to do that. The people I work with have been very helpful in that regard. They "protect" me, repeat things for me, etc. They're great. There's no way I could have made it back without their help and encouragement. My mind isn't quite as "quick" as it was before, but it's getting better every day. (In doing more research about strokes, I found out that stroke victims often experience difficulty in "sequencing/planning activities" and in "multi-tasking" (which I regularly did). I still have difficulty doing those things today, (which upsets me, since a major part of my job involves doing just those things!).
It's now Nov. 28 (2004), and I've been back to work for over a month now. I still go to physical therapy 1-2 times a week. We're working on making my walk look more "normal." (It's getting there.)
We had a wonderful Thanksgiving at our house a few days ago. Sherry cooked a huge turkey with all the fixings. We were blessed to have my son, Brendan, daughter, Meghan, daughter-in-law, Kelly, and our precious grandson Ethan, spend the day with us. I have SO much to be thankful for. Considering what could have happened, I'm just happy to be here at all to spend time with my family. I know it might sound trite, but I found out that life truly is SO precious!
I'm hoping to get through this ordeal, and expect to be back to 100% (and back on the golf course) by this Spring.
Dec 11, 2004: For the past several weeks, my physical therapist has actually been trying to make me RUN. It's been hilarious! The first time we tried, I fell over. (Good thing I was running on a mat!) This past Tuesday (Dec. 7), though something interesting happened. Amy had me try running again, and you know what? It actually felt good, almost like a "real" run. It was still awkward as hell, but for the first time, it felt like there was a possibility that I might just RUN again! Not only that, but this past Thursday (Dec. 9), I not only ran (such as it was), but Amy had me (ready for this?) dribble a basketball! No kidding! Again, awkward, but hey, I was dribbling a basketball. Afterwards, Amy asked me to sit down and talk with her. Before today, my "goal" was simply (?) to be able to play GOLF again by the Spring. Amy said, we're going to set a new (more aggressive) goal for you. We're going to have you back playing basketball in three months! needless to say, I'm pretty excited. I never thought I'd play basketball ever again. I had all but given up. I would have been happy just to play GOLF again. Now, I don't feel that way any more. I'm convinced that I WILL play basketball again! I'm working out and pushing myself harder than ever.
Dec. 15, 2004: One of the major causes of my stroke was high cholesterol (250+). In the 3 months since the stroke (Sept 12), I've been on a LOW-fat (hell, it's almost a NO-fat) diet. Well, I met with my doctor tonight to go over the results of last week's blood tests. Guess what? GOOD NEWS! My total cholesterol level is now down to (ready for this?)152!! Not only that, my HDL (the "good" stuff) went up from 43 to 47, and my LDL (the "bad" stuff) went down from 163 to 87!!
I'm not sure, however, how much of that drop is due to the Lipitor I'm taking, and how much is due to the change in my diet. Either way, I can't tell you how RELIEVED I am. I'm more motivated than ever to stay on this damn diet (even though the general rule seems to be: "If it tastes good, don't eat it!") <g>
Jan. 2, 2005: I now have a "mini-gym" in my basement (stationary bicycle, mini-trampoline, and a treadmill). I exercise every day. I try to walk a mile every day (not always all at once). and do some trampoline bouncing (to break down the "muscle tone" (tightness) in my left foot/ankle area). My walk gets more and more "normal" every day. I'm also building up my endurance.
Jan. 6, 2004: Well, even though my recovery has been going pretty well, sometimes you get good news and sometimes it's not so good. In an effort to find out why my blood pressure remains a little high, my doctor sent me to a kidney specialist. He did an abdominal ultrasound scan. Sure enough, my left kidney's artery is 60% blocked (for pretty much the same reason that cause my stroke.. high cholesterol and placque build-up). (http://www.healthatoz.com/healthatoz/Atoz/ency/renal_artery_stenosis.jsp). (As it turns out, "renal artery stenosis" is a very common cause of continued high blood pressure that does not respond to traditional medications.) I'm probably going to have to go in for an arteriogram (scan with a dye injection) to find out for sure. I may need to have an operation (angioplasty and/or have a "renal stent" implanted in the artery to open it up again (http://www.shands.org/health/information/article/001273.htm).
But that's not ALL the abdominal scan found. It seems I ALSO have an "abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA)" (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000162.htm). There is a 3 cm. "bulge" in my lower aorta. My own doctor says that normally nothing is done about that until the bulge reaches FIVE cm. The kidney specialist will give me more information when I meet with him next week. (From everything I've read on the Internet, early diagnosis is a good thing. Treatment can be either (1) inserting a "stent" to keep the aorta open or (2) applying a fabric "patch" to strengthen the weakened aorta wall.)
This damn stroke and all its complications have really thrown me for a loop. It started out as a "simple stroke" (if there IS such a thing) from which I was CONVINCED that I would recover, but lately, I get depressed because I feel like I'm just "falling apart." (And to think, just a few short months ago, I was running around like a madman playing basketball. How quickly things can change. So, hey, appreciate all the things that you CAN do while you can still DO them!)
Feb. 1, 2004: Physical therapy has pretty much ended. There aren't any more "new" things that they can give me to do. It's now up to ME to follow though with all the exercises they gave me, and hope that TIME will allow the healing to take place.
Feb. 8, 2004: Well, I'm going into the hospital all day on Monday (Feb. 14th-Happy Valentine's day, huh?) for my angiogram. The Doc's going to take a look, and if it will work, he might try a "balloon angioplasty" to open up the artery. If he can't do that, he might insert a "stent" in an attempt to keep the artery open. We'll see.
Feb. 14, 2005: Had my renal angiogram today. He DID do a balloon angioplasty to open up the kidney artery. He said things went well. He decided NOT to put a stent in. (That may still be necessary if the balloon doesn't lower my blood pressure.)
March 25, 2005: Well, my blood pressure is significantly lower. It's now in the 110/75 range. A definite improvement. Well, at least SOME things are looking better, huh? Not only that, but I met with my doctor a week or so ago to discuss some blood tests I had done. Guess what? My cholesterol is even LOWER! It's now down to an amazing 142!! (My HDL is a little low, so I want to work to get that back up again.) All in all, I'm pretty pleased with the way things are going. I am a little frustrated with how l-o-n-g it's taking for my leg to get back to normal. I honestly thought I'd be there by now, but it's still very "inflexible." Now that the weather is getting better, I'm trying to go for more walks. That helps. (I even try to do a little running, but it's a very awkward run. I've got some work to do.) I signed up to work out at a cardiac rehab center near here. I plan on going there once a week for an hour or two, and really push myself (under THEIR watchful eyes, of course).
April 30, 2005: Well, I finally did it. I accomplished what has been one of my main motivations throughout this ordeal... I actually went GOLFING!! (During the vacation week, April 17th.) 18 holes, three times in one week! It wasn't pretty. (My swing is "all arms." No distance. I can't bend my left leg. I can't follow through because I can't put any weight on my left leg.) But hey, it felt great to just be able to get out there and hit a ball. I haven't been able to break 100 yet. (A far cry from the 9-hole "37" I shot right before my stroke. But hopefully, things will improve with time and practice.) I hope to get out more as the weather gets better.
Sherry and I are headed for Florida soon (May 3-9). We're visiting a retirement community down there called "The Villages (http://www.thevillages.com). I hope to play golf a few times during that week. (I'm nervous about playing with total strangers who aren't familiar with what I'm going through.) But, we'll have a good time down there in the warm weather. Pictures soon.
November 26, 2005: Well, it's been a while since I've posted an update. (I guess that's a good thing, huh?) I managed to pass my ONE-YEAR "anniversary" (Sept. 14th) without anything serious happening. The day WAS a little traumatic for me. (Brought back memories of one of the worst days of my life!) I just couldn't work that day, so I spent the day with Sherry, trying to keep my anxiety level low. (She's good at that.)
I played a LOT of golf this summer. It wasn't pretty, but hey, at least I got out there and hit the ball, right! <g> I also managed to drive to Conn. and then on to MAINE for our vacation this year. It was a long trip, but we made frequent stops so I could stretch my legs (and walk our new dog, Chester).
It looks like I'll be RETIRING at the end of this school year. It's been a good run. (Hey, I started teaching in the year the first Super Bowl was played, 1967.)
My cholesterol numbers are still looking good! I'm still on a very low-fat diet. Here's a chart showing how things have gone:
Finally, here's my "standard sermon" that I now "preach" to anyone who will listen:
Like many of us, before my stroke, I thought I was "bulletproof." I mean, I was not overweight, I played a lot of basketball every week, running around with (and keeping up with) a bunch of 20-year-olds, and I golfed a lot (always walking, never in a cart). In general, considering my age, "only" 59) I felt pretty good about my health situation.
Unfortunately, I also had been battlinghigh blood pressure AND high cholesterol (two of the biggest risk factors for stroke) for a couple of years. My doctor didn't seem too worried about that, though. (In fact, we never even discussed "stroke." (I wasn't even sure what a "stroke" was... even as I was having one!) He did have me on medication for the high blood pressure, but nothing for the high cholesterol. He seemed to believe in the philosophy that, even though my total cholesterol number was high (approx. 250), the "ratio" of "good to bad" cholesterol was OK. In doing research since my stroke, I have found out that this is a somewhat outdated view (see http://atoz.iqhealth.com/Atoz/Cholesterol/choresults.html under "ratio"). The latest research is showing that the most important thing with cholesterol is to do whatever it takes to lower the "bad" (low-density) cholesterol number. (It can't be too low.) I wish that he had put me on a cholesterol-lowering medication (like Lipitor, which I'm taking now). You would not believe the number of doctors I met in the hospital that take Lipitor every day (just like a daily aspirin). Hey, if they think it's a good idea, that says something, right? (General guidelines: Total cholesterol should be less than 200, LDL less than 100, and HDL 35 or greater).
Finally, I've become somewhat of an "evangelist" for one more thing. I'm telling everyone that will listen to tell their doctor to give them a "carotid artery ultrasound scan." It's cheap, quick, and non-invasive. (You can get more info here: http://www.strokecenter.org/pat/diagnosis/ultrasound.htm). This scan will tell you whether there's any build-up of "placque" due to cholesterol in your arteries. (In my case, my carotid artery was loaded with placque. In fact, my stroke was caused by a piece of placque that broke loose and completely clogged my carotid artery (the main source of blood for the brain). (It's still plugged, to this day!)
Had someone told me about these simple scans, I probably would never have even had this stroke (because they would have put me on a blood thinner as soon as they saw that the placque in my artery was building up).
Sorry if this sounds like "preaching," but hopefully, if you follow my advice, what happened to me will not happen toyou!!
If you want to email me, use this address: JerryTaylr@aol.com
To visit my complete website, click here: http://www.jerrytaylor.net/
visits since January 2005