Sunday, July 17, 2011

One Stroky’s Journey: Missing days

I am told that technically, following my April 22, 2011, stroke, I was in ICU for five days. I stayed two additional days because no other spots were available in the hospital or in any of the rehab facilities appropriate for my condition. Even though I was in the same spot for a week, my only memories specifically attached to ICU are five people and a meal.

Time had no meaning for me during those missing days. I remember visitors but it wasn’t until weeks later that, with help, I learned which of those visits occurred in the emergency room, which in ICU and which in rehab.

But my six ICU memories are vivid in their impact on my outlook. Here they are:

My first memory involved a female nurse or tech and my second a male. They each gave me two helpful gifts. First, their guidance pointed the way to some bit of control over my own body, something I could do for myself, even though I could not be alone while doing it. Secondly, they laid a foundation of hope that contributed to my enthusiasm for and determination in rehab.

Memory #1. The room was in shadows. My nurse was helping me to the bedside potty. She introduced me to the 3P strategy for pottying: Push up from my sitting position on the bed with my unaffected right leg, pivot on my right foot and plop on the potty (my words, her strategy).

Memory #2. My male nurse taught me how to overcome the challenge of getting into bed with a left side that didn’t work. His tip was to start from a sitting position on the bed, hook my unaffected right foot behind my left foot and roll my right and left legs up on to the bed. For me, that meant I sort of rolled onto my back while flipping my legs up on the bed like some deranged turtle.

Once I entered rehab, the philosophy was to relearn to use your parts affected by the stroke, rather than compensate for deficiencies by creative use of your still functioning parts. Before I encountered my therapists, however, I was a source of amusement to a young tech who was helping me get settled. He helped me transfer from wheelchair to sitting on the bed.

It had been a tiring shuttle ride to another hospital in a different city, and I was ready for a rest in that bed. I hooked my foot and did the deranged turtle move.

“Did you see that?” the tech asked a nurse. Evidently there are very few deranged turtles among stroke survivors. After a nap and then a meal, when I returned for another rest, he told my nurse he wanted to be on hand. “I want to see her get in bed again! For awhile he called me spaghetti woman. Not long, though, because therapists wanted me to focus on maneuvering the affected leg into bed without the right leg’s help. It was a struggle, but by the time I was discharged, I could do it. Spaghetti woman was no more.

And I enjoyed the “spaghetti woman” label as well as how the therapists teased one another and the patients. I figured, Hey, if I was going to be a helpless invalid they wouldn’t tease me so hard. The banter and laughter were among the healing facets of the rehab center.

Memory #3. My first evaluation by a speech therapist must have been while I was in ICU, because I can remember more than once waking up early, 2 or 3 a.m. in ICU and sitting up in bed doing the exercises the speech therapist had given me. When I couldn’t go back to sleep, I would meticulously follow the directions: Grin big then stick my tongue out as far as I could. Repeat 10 times 2xdaily. There were other exercises. But the one above led to my #4 memory.

Memory #4. I was busy doing the grin and tongue exercise when a nurse came in laughing. She told me a guy was standing by her desk, and asked what he had done to make that lady (me) mad at him. He said, “She keeps sticking her tongue out at me.” The nurse explained that I had had a stroke and I was doing my speech therapy exercises. I think that was my first major laughing fit post-stroke. And, yes, it was great medicine.

Memory #5 was the first food post-stroke that I remember and the only food I remember eating in ICU. It was bowtie pasta and fresh-tasting snowpeas in some sort of garlic sauce. It hit my tastebuds with bursts of flavor. Other than the headache I experienced in the ER or ICU or both, it was my strongest sensory experience of that early hospital stay.

Memory #6. Somebody asked if I needed anything. It was one of those mornings I woke up early. I guess I had already exhausted the speech exercises as entertainment. I said, “Yes, would y’all have a Bible around?" Someone reappeared shortly with a red Gideon Bible.

I had been reading in Proverbs in my annual read through of the Bible. The first words that I absorbed that morning in ICU were Proverbs 3:23.

Then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble.

Wow! What a verse for a non-mobile stroke survivor! It made me laugh. I absorbed none of the context of the surrounding verses that morning. But what I did absorb was that God knew and provided just what I needed for reassurance right at that particular moment.


  1. Your story is so amazing, I think you should write a book of hope for stroke victims. It would have courage, humor, and hope. And I don't know of any stroke recovery books.

  2. Wow, what great memories! I really enjoyed reading them. Isn't it odd how the memories are so random after a major medical event?

    I'm glad you've kept your sense of humor intact through this. Some don't, but your path will be less bumpy if you can laugh.

    You're an inspiration, my friend!

  3. Thanks Lynilu!
    And Ginny,I didn't know of any stroke recovery books either before this. I guess it is like when you encounter a new word and then start seeing it everywhere. I have read one book that was interesting and inspiring. I started another that I just can't get into. I think the difference is that the one that helped was written by a woman who had a hemorrhagic stroke, the same category as mine although much worse in some ways.

  4. Wow. The verse the Lord gave you that day is just amazing.

    You are woman full of determination, grace, and humor. That is a wonderful combination. It was very interesting to read about your memories. I'm sure it must be insightful to those who care for stroke victims to know of the things that "stuck" in your memory.

  5. I agree with Ginny. Your humor is just wonderful and encouraging for anyone going through what you are. Please think book.

  6. i agree with ginny, this is amazing and a story of hope for others. i am going to send it to my friend who has a family member in the hospital from a stroke right now, day five i think. it will give hope. so glad you had all the wonderful people to help you, compassion in triple spades from your care givers.
    you were blessed and this post is a blessing.

  7. I, too, am thinking "you should write a book!" I admire your determination and attitude very much.

  8. Linda, you need to put these posts together in a book. I can just imagine how much hope it would give to others.

  9. Wow, you sure brought back some memories. The first thing I did when I had the stoke was dial my husband's number with my right hand. Of course, he could not understand a thing I said.

    The next thing I remember was the ride in the ambulance. The technician hovering over me scolded the driver for turning on the siren. I remember him saying "You're killing me back here," and wondering what he meant. Odd, to be the one cars moved for.

    The potty, tongue and other exercises came in waves of awareness. Being totally incapacitated on the left side was so odd.

    I never doubted I would get the use of my left side back. I don't know why I was so optomistic. However, I have always believed that in times of trouble God would lift me up lest I dash my foot against a rock. Don't know where that comes from, but I do know sometimes God works through others.

    I don't have many memories of the hospital except the speech therapist was from Russia, and she said "From Russia with Love" to me. Another memory towards the end of my stay occurred when the orderly helped me bathe and we discussed water because her husband worked for the local water board and I was taking too long too shower. Dianne

  10. I appreciate how you have handled the challenges everyday.
    Like others have said your journal will make a wonderful recovery book. Do it!
    Love your stories about your excercises and the 3 p"s.
    That scripture brought tears to my eyes. Isn't the Lord wonderful? He meets us right where we are.