My Journey to Becoming "Normal" Again

Hello all,
I know it's been a long time since I've blogged, but here's why (I apologize In advance to all of my facebook followers who've heard about this already, and I'm sorry it's a little long):

I'm going to tell you my story. I'm hoping it might just save a life.  I'm also hoping it will maybe give you that nudge to do something you've always wanted to do. We only have one life, and it's too short to be filled with "what-if's"...

On June 1, 2014, I suffered a devastating Brain Stem stroke. I was in perfect health and had no risk factors. None. I simply turned my neck the wrong way one night in my sleep as I was preparing to go to sing in Italy again with Berklee Umbria. Unbeknownst to me, I had torn both vertebral arteries in my neck, likely during this twist of my neck and they naturally began to clot.  

And the clot travelled to my brain stem, causing a stroke. 

I was unable to move my entire on my left side from head to toe.  I lost my singing voice too. I couldn't sing a decent note at first. My brain apparently "forgot" how to do this. I spent most of my summer both in Massachusetts General Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, relearning to walk and use my arm and hand. I never made it to Italy of course. I tried to sing in Rehab, but it was a terrible howl.  The stroke also damaged my vestibular system, making me extremely dizzy 24/7. I also had double vision, wore a ridiculous homemade eye patch, couldn't swallow at first, and was dizzy in my sleep or every time I took a step. 

I've been home since July, and I went from being bedridden in the hospital, to a wheelchair, to a brace and cane, and now I use nothing. I'm walking with a very slight limp, have full use of my arm and most of my hand and fingers are back to "normal". I just have one stubborn finger that is kind of lazy, but I'm working on it.  My singing voice is back. Granted, it's very weak and I have a long road to go, but it's there and I am not howling.  It's all about reestablishing connections in the brain.  Making it remember the good 'ole days and how to walk, use my arm, hand, fingers....as well as plenty of other things.  

I've decided to share my story with the hope that it will save someone's life. Please don't ignore any strange symptoms. In my case, I thought my neck ache was only a muscle spasm. But in hindsight, it hurt pretty bad for a few days.  Having a stroke was not on my radar even remotely.

I'd also like to raise awareness that a stroke can happen to anyone of any age, and at any time regardless of whether you are in great health or not. I'm not advocating paranoia, but heck...if you've got strange symptoms just be aware and get them examined properly and timely.  And, be sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It's so important and frankly that's what I truly believe really helped to speed my recovery to the point it is at right now. People who survive a stroke are often left with an insurmountable recovery process, including months of therapy and rebuilding stamina, learning to do all the things most folks never even think about as well as dealing with monitoring health 24/7.  More importantly, stroke survivors are just like everyone else. We are not suddenly at a loss for intelligence...although some cannot speak or articulate words..their mind is otherwise not affected.

When I first left Rehab, I looked like an extra from the cast of The Golden Girls...I had my white sneakers and a fanny pack, a baseball hat, tons of loose fitting jogging style clothing, my walker, and a whole host of other accoutrements. I couldn't even dress myself, let alone jump back into my wardrobe. I had to wear clothes that could fit my chicken-wing arm comfortably as it was fixated in a bent position or my fingers clenched in an inward fist unnaturally. I would get looks in public...some folks clearly thought I had mental challenges, and made sure they kept their children away in public places. So, I bought several Stroke related t-shirts thinking I'd raise awareness while at the same inform people what was wrong and bypass the inquisitive stares.  It was very difficult. But now, I look like I did before the stroke...and without using walking aides it is practically impossible to tell I had a stroke.  I credit my amazing husband Mark and my Rehabiliation team for my months of constant brain retraining and therapy (that'll probably continue for several more months at least).  I go out in public and people don't stare at me. I blend in. I pick up items in a store like everyone else. My left arm and hand (except my stubborn index finger!) are back to where they were pre-stroke. It's the little things sometimes. I'm so very fortunate and grateful but I know it is not that way for everyone.   Some of the most amazing people I know are struggling to walk, speak, or even lift their arm or have invisible cognitive deficits from their stroke. They are dedicated, persevere, and refuse to give in.  They inspire me daily.  

I want to thank my family, friends, and fans for supporting me through this surreal and unimaginable time. I really appreciate it beyond words. I'm getting back in the game, baby.  You can achieve anything you dream of and have faith in yourself for you are stronger than you'd ever imagine. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope you enjoy the picture of my musician friend Rob and I, just practicing.:) 
 
Sincerely,        

 Valerie

 

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