Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011, began pretty much like every other weekday that summer. I was working at the coolest flower shop in Northwest Arkansas, and was delivering flowers to the hospital gift shop in Rogers, Ark. After carrying the cardboard flat filled with vases of flowers into the shop, a wave of dizziness rolled through me. I took a deep breath and thought, "This will pass." But my whole body began to sweat, my knees buckled and my hands slid down the plastic handles of the flower cooler.
Crumpled on the floor, I called to the volunteers for help. I ended up flying toward the emergency room in a wheelchair. I don't remember the doctor, but I do remember looking up over the foot of my bed and seeing the concerned faces of my two almost-adult children.
Before I knew what was going on, I was being transferred to Springfield, Mo., the site of the nearest hospital with a neurosurgeon on staff. My kids' faces became more concerned. I tried to reassure them by saying, "If something bad happens I'll be OK. Don't worry." I wasn't sure what was happening, but I knew it was serious enough that I might die.
As I think back, it's really scary. I don't remember being afraid but I do remember the looks on my kids' faces and knowing they were afraid.
In Springfield, the neurosurgeon determined that I had suffered a ruptured aneurysm. They performed surgery through my femoral artery to repair the bleed. Complications resulted in a stroke, which further damaged my brain and left me partially paralyzed on my left side.
For me one of the strangest and most worrisome after-effects of stroke was a condition called left neglect: My left eye could see but my brain did not acknowledge the sight in the left portion of my vision. I called this blind spot "my Bermuda Triangle"—it was a place where things disappeared.
Several weeks after the stroke, my left neglect introduced itself during an inpatient speech-language treatment session. My speech-language pathologist presented me with a sheet of paper with scenarios written on it and quizzed me about how I would handle the described situations. I told him the sentences made no sense. He could tell I was not seeing any of the words on the left side of the paper because of left neglect. This was the first time I cried during speech treatment. It was not the last time but the most memorable. I was terrified that I would not be able to read again.
My SLP gave me a brightly colored strip of thick paper to use as a guideline as I read. He drew an arrow on it as my reminder to look far to the left. This simple kindergarten fix, plus his enthusiastic encouragement, worked wonderfully.
He did other little but highly effective things that addressed my left neglect. He asked my family to sit on my left side whenever they visited. My daughter came to visit daily and would crawl up on the left side of my bed to play solitaire with me on her computer. I had to look in all directions on the screen to play the game. By the time I left inpatient status, I was reading fairly well with the paper guide. The gift of an electronic reader from my family made a huge difference.
As an outpatient, I continue to work with an SLP on conquering my left neglect using computer and card games as tools. She also focuses on enhancing my memory as well as battling occasional bouts of impulsivity. Many of the computer games she assigns address multiple symptoms. Toward the end of my first year of outpatient treatment, we switched gears and began to emphasize regaining my writing skills. She began small, asking me to write short stories about pictures from magazines. These writing assignments tested my organizational skills and encouraged my imagination.
With the confidence I have gained from a year and a half of one-on-one speech-language treatment, plus hours upon hours of speech-related homework, I have resurrected my blog and shifted its focus from novel writing to journaling my experiences as a stroke survivor.