Stroke Connection

Stroke Connection

By Maria Garcia

I’m startled out of sleep from a lack of breath. My body begins to convulse as I start coughing and gasping for air. I know mom is there, and suddenly, there’s commotion all around. In an instant, everything goes black. I have a deep sense of peacefulness. Am I dead? BLISS. And in what seems like a millisecond and an eternity at the same time, I come to, with the realization that I’m lying on a hospital bed with that damn tube in my mouth again. NO, NO, NOOOO! This is really my life right now, or what’s left of it.

Shortly before that, everything was apparently going great for me. I’d spent the last two years living in beautiful Munich, Germany –  and was now back in the US, ready to finally begin my career. Yes, I had in fact been living in Europe the past couple of years, working as a waitress. But that just gave me another tool for my tool box. After all, I had majored in Finance in college, and since the Euro was based on the German Mark, my newfound German skills would certainly help. I interviewed with a big bank and things went fantastic. I landed the job, and was quickly set to move up the ladder. I got Series 7 licensed within four months and had my sights on becoming a stockbroker. I was young, hip, and not only worked hard, but I played equally as hard. Was I happy though? Not really, yet I didn’t know it at the time. All seemed to be going according to plan, until life thought otherwise about a month later.   

At merely 25 years of age, what I thought was a bout of food poisoning, turned out to be a massive stroke that left me all but dead. In all honesty, I would have much preferred death then, yet instead I was imprisoned in my own body; locked-in, unable to move or talk. To say I was suffering with extreme depression during that period is a gross understatement. It was a sort of manic depression though, as there were those weird moments I thought of myself as chosen… The opening paragraph is an excerpt from my book called Breaking into the Light.

As it turns out, my injury was an enormous infarct of the basilar artery and part of the cerebellum. I had suffered a brain stem stroke and all motor functions, including my speech, were completely knocked out. Although they told me at the hospital before admitting me that they believed I was having a stroke, I thought I’d be out of there in two weeks tops, since that word  stroke, was not in my vocabulary back then! Instead, I lived in that hospital for 43 days and two additional months at a rehab center.

Anyone who’s had a brain injury knows the uphill battle recovery can be. That was made crystal clear to me the day I was sitting in a wheelchair at the rehab center, handed a hairbrush in my right hand that I had begun moving, and told to comb my hair. That’s easy, I thought. Until I realized I couldn’t even get the brush near my head and I began sobbing uncontrollably at the mountain that undeniably lay ahead.

My biggest grief amongst a sea of griefs, was my speech. I had apraxia/dysarthria, and there was absolutely no bass behind my garbled speech. Think an intoxicated Marylin Monroe! I was barely intelligible in a quiet place and remember thinking how I would have gladly traded a paralyzed arm for normal speech. Today though, I realize the two are equally awful options. I guess it’s human though to long for what we don’t have. In addition to my severely impaired speech, I had to relearn how to eat, drink, walk, use the bathroom, handwriting… you name it. I often compare it to going through a second childhood, but with awareness this time around – of what I could no longer do and the immense sorrow that brought. I lived in a constant state of frustration. What a tremendous lesson in patience!

I actually lost all hope somewhere in the process. If it were not for my family, I’d have easily just thrown in the towel. My brother, for example, who understood the importance of early and constant movement was moving my limbs daily at the hospital already, when I couldn’t do it for myself. And once finally home, he came by daily  with an exercise regimen for me. I hated every second of it and thought, damn drill sergeant. But to my dismay, he was not the only drill sergeant in my life. I still remember how my mother would tie my feet to the pedals of a recumbent bike because I lacked the strength to keep them from sliding off… 

Where I’d previously thought of myself as a good natured person, depression was now my normal state. Finally after two or three intense years that included some unorthodox treatments, though, I was able to walk unaided and joined a gym. Despite the psychological work I’d been doing, it was only then that my life started to take a turn for the better. This is something I credit yoga for. What I didn’t know at the time is what a powerful mental exercise it is. That class, which I enrolled in simply because it was so low impact and adaptable, was the reason my depression started to lift, and I began to flow more with life instead of pushing so hard against it.

Life was now moving in a different way for me. I went back to school for a while. After that, I volunteered at a radio station in NYC. It was through that station that I was first introduced to self help/personal growth and have not looked back since. One of the biggest and most empowering lessons for me has been the following – where you cannot control outside circumstances, the one thing you do have control over is your perspective and how you choose to deal with the cards you’ve been handed, no matter how terrible. I stopped seeing myself as a victim of circumstance and began taking responsibility for the things going on in my everyday living. 

I consciously started to look after my own health, with a particular focus on diet, running the gamut of possible regimens. I went as far as becoming totally vegetarian for almost two years. And over time, I did make some slight improvements health-wise. Although I was a far cry from making a total recovery, all I had to do was look back at where I had been to be immensely grateful with the plateau I’d reached. I had made a miraculous recovery, where doctors plainly told my family I’d be in a vegetative state for good. 

At the beginning of 2020, I signed up to a three month nutrition program based on woman’s intuition. I say that because I believed I was healthy already. My idea was just to learn a bit more about the topic. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine anything beyond acquiring some new knowledge could or would happen. Nonetheless, I can now say I’ve gotten my life back… completely.

What used to sound like a hard to hear whisper, my voice has recovered much of its bass. My blood pressure is within normal range since forever, instead of the usual 90/60. My circulation dramatically improved, which alone is obvious by the fact that my nose doesn’t turn beet red anymore outdoors in the cold New Jersey winters, like it had done as far back as I remember. And my stamina and balance even improved to the point where I can actually hike again! I’ve since logged over three pages of additional benefits, and am only highlighting the ones that really stand out for me. What has been most impactful though, is that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. This experience has been so powerful for me, that I got certified and now coach this nutrition program, and am filled with a sense of purpose like never before. I’ve often asked myself though, where would I be today had I known this information when I first had the immense stroke in 2005? The journey has been long and I would absolutely not want to go through any of it again. Yet, I can genuinely say that I wouldn’t take a minute of it back, for it has made me the person I am today. And I love that person.

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