This past May Milwaukee resident Marion Warbleton had a mild stroke and her ten-minute bus ride turned into hours because she couldn’t remember where she was. Not one single person noticed and it wasn’t until a replacement bus driver boarded the bus that someone finally got help for Warbleton.
“After I got on the bus, I couldn’t remember what happened after that,” Marion told the local NBC news.
According to MCTS transportation spokeswoman Jacqueline Janz, Ms. Warbleton didn’t show any visible signs of distress on the busy bus route that would have alerted the driver, or the many other passengers, to request assistance. If she had a heart attack someone would have immediately called 911 but a stroke is silent – it’s a heart attack on your brain.
In August I wrote about having a TIA and how I chose to deal with the aftermath by myself. I do not suggest anyone handle things the way I did but today I realized why some do not believe I had a stroke. Standing in line for an estate sale I told the woman next to me that I had to sit down as I recently had a stroke. She looked at me curiously and said that I didn’t look like I had a stroke and that just ticked me off.
If I had broken my leg no one would have questioned why I needed to sit but because they can’t visually see my medical condition they just don’t understand. Since my stroke I can’t be trusted to use public transportation as everything is now in 3D and I have to think carefully about things I used to do at the drop of a hat. Loud noises frighten me to a panic level and frustration is at an all time high. I understand why Canada suspends your drivers license after a stroke, because if I have trouble getting from Point A to Point B I am a danger to anyone on the road.
I saw my friend Kevin Army (whose family has a history of strokes) two days ago and he said after 15 minutes he noticed me struggle to form sentences and there was slurring on certain letters.
I have the type of personality that should never have a stroke as I worry about everything. For someone to say I should change my 61 year behaviour is nuts because that is easier said than done. Most of the time when I am out in the world now it feels like everyone is on the other side of a clear plexiglass and I am looking in. I keep changing my avatar on Facebook just to make sure I am still here and reassure myself I don’t look any differently. Every few hours I say my full name over and over as I know if my tongue feels thick and I can’t pronounce my name I have had another TIA.
When I had the stroke I didn’t have a headache or any other documented stroke warnings; but I couldn’t say my name and typing with my right hand was out of the question. It took me 4 days to get my right hand to learn how to type again, my outgoing emails to friends were a mess and I posted old blogs for a few days. If I had lost my ability to speak and write I have no idea what I would have done, cursive writing is still a chore but that doesn’t bother me.
Last week at Fort Mason in San Francisco I watched two swimmers swim from the Aquatic Park to Crissy Field. They stopped at the pier and talked to me for 15 minutes about the joy of swimming in such a great body of water. One of the swimmers laughed and told me how free he felt and the coldness of the water made all his senses feel alive again. I stood there with tears in my eyes and wished I too could be in the bay swimming along with them. It’s one thing to have complete fear of water like I do, but some how it all outweighs the feeling I crave to feel alive again.
So each day I now look at their photos and dream of swimming in the San Francisco Bay. My mind keeps telling me that once I complete that swim, my fears and mental disablements will completely disappear. After a stroke you turn into a different person and behaviours and emotions change because the brain has been injured. Some days I am depressed, very angry and get frustrated attempting to blog as it’s more difficult. Each day feels like I am being sucked into a strong current much like I would encounter if I made that swim in the bay. Swimmers have to think their way out of turbulent waters and I do too with each word I type and say.
(Linda swimming in the bay by Sheila Smigel)
San Francisco swimmer Jeff Gunderson was quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle that when he gets into the water it’s a challenge, but he makes that swim mornings, evenings and sometime during his lunch break. Gunderson’s best advice are the words of San Francisco icon Walt Stack:
“Start slow, taper off.”
Those are hard words for someone like me to understand but I’m going to have to attempt that life skill if I’m going to get out of this never-ending current and feel alive again. After all you only live once, and some days I feel like I’m drowning.
Dedicated to Lisa Crandall who encouraged me to write this for everyone who had a stroke and those that just don’t get it.