Walking Universal

Harry Potter experience,Universal Experience
The entrance to magic!

July 20th 2017, my family set out on our first “real vacation” after the stroke. I was apprehensive. I used to be in control charge of every detail of our vacations, down to packing up the car for the road trip. I dubbed myself the Tetris champion of luggage packing. I was able to cram luggage for 4 people, snacks and “other essentials” in the back of the Impala (may she RIP) and now the CR-V. It is not easy to not be in control charge anymore. The boys are older and they can pack their own luggage– so what if they only pack one pair of undies– and I instructed them on how to arrange the bags in the car trunk. My anxiety was still high. What if I get sick in the car? What I didn’t bring enough meds? What if ? what if? What if I just take a deep breath and just enjoyed myself?

elevators, crowds,
One of four very long & crowded escalators.

Saturday, July 22, 2017, my sister celebrated her birthday at Universal Studios Hollywood. She booked us for the VIP tour and boy it was posh! The day started with a delicious breakfast which we almost missed coz our GPS led us astray.  After inhaling yummy pastries (sorry no pics), we met with our guide. VIP perk #1 we get to jump the line on any ride we choose! Which  was very much appreciated. It was around 1,000 degrees and the park had about a million guests that day! Our first stop was the lower studio. I had forgotten that “lower studio” meant four super crowded, super long escalator rides down.  And we had to keep up with our fast moving tour group.  I love the rides at Universal, I love thrill rides in general. But this time I was apprehensive, I didn’t know how my broken brain will react to the jostling, shaking and speed of the rides. The boys were worried that I will have another stroke if I get on the rougher (fun) rides.  I got on  Jurassic Park since I know it was pretty mild and really wet which was a plus in the hot weather.  

The big dinos were out to say hello!
Jurassic ride, Universal Studios Hollywood
Whew !!! it was wet!
Harry Potter experience
I am pretty sure I was floating

The moment i have been waiting for finally arrived! We were at the Harry Potter Experience! I was so giddy, I swear I would have floated away if Armando wasn’t holding my hand. It.Was.Glorious!!! The snow on the roof tops, the shops and the owls! And of course Moaning Myrtle was in the bathroom being her old, irritable self. It was understandable that my son was nervous about my getting on the The Forbidden Journey ride. Our guide

Hogwarts castle, magic, Harry Potter
Hogwarts:The outside was great, but inside was enchanting!

described it as fast paced, rough and with lots of flashing lights (in my mind: FUN).  The ride was UH-MAY-ZING! I would love to get into detail, but it is something to be experienced.  Yes, I went twice.

I am proud of myself for keeping up with the tour group. I am proud of my mom for keeping up s well. It was definitely fast paced. I am sure the other folks in the group were a tad impatient with us.  My mom braved the Walking Dead attraction. Speaking of, how many people could say “I was bit! I was bit” while exiting the attraction and actually walk the part!

zombies,amc walking dead,scary
The Walking Dead Attraction

I knew that going on vacation will not be the same after the stroke. I will be slower, the kids will worry and for now, I will have limitations. But I am determined that I will not be held back. I was going to rent a wheelchair for the day. I am glad that I decided against it. This was a  challenge I overcame. The heat, the crowds, the noise and the pace of the tour were challenging. We had to keep up with a group of 6 able-bodied people. I more than once considered dropping out of the group, but I am glad I didn’t. We saw places at Universal Studios that are not open to the general public.   At the end of the day, I was wiped. I could not think straight,  my leg refused to move and I felt like i had no control of my body anymore.  I knew that the neurofatigue would be kicking my ass the coming days (and it did).

I am looking forward to more vacations and more adventures.   My disability might slow me down, but it will not limit me. I admit I tire easily, I am slower and it takes longer for me to recover.  I am not ready to stop. If I am too slow for some people,  they can move ahead of me and I will hobble my way to the adventure that awaits me.

Much Love,

Momma Berna

I like Being Told “You Look Good”

I read Facebook groups and blogs for disabilities, strokes & chronic illness. I see posts where a person gets sad or offended when someone tells them “ You look good”. I know there are times when I don’t feel good, I am in a lot of pain or I feel very sorry for myself.  The last thing I would want to hear is “you look good” or “you look great!”.  

In my opinion, when someone says those words they are not meant to be empty platitudes.  Sometimes, folks just do not know what to say.  And more than anything, it is usually said with love & genuine concern. 

I am grateful when someone tells me “You look good”.

I am grateful because it takes a lot of effort for me to get ready to go out. Taking a shower can be exhausting. It takes a lot of time and frustration to get myself look presentable. I am glad when someone notices my efforts. There are days when I am in a lot of pain, and it shows on my face. When someone tells me I look good it means that for that day, at that time I am pain-free.

I am grateful because I work hard on my rehabilitation. I work my ass off to teach my brain to get back to some semblance of my old self. When someone tell me “ You look good” means my efforts are getting noticed.

thankful, grateful, stroke survivor

And I am grateful because I have family and friends who support me, help me get through the tough times and are there to boost me up when I am at my lowest. I look good because I have their love and support to carry round.

I get it,  folks with  chronic pain or chronic illness the words “you look great” could sometimes be hard to hear. Pain is hidden and for most there is no end in sight. We may look good on the outside, but the fear of when the next brain fog, neuro fatigue or nerve pain will attack is always on our minds.

Despite the uncertainty, I choose to be grateful. I choose to see the good intention behind the words. I would like to think that when a person tells me that, he or she means it sincerely.  I choose to believe that good health shows in face and my person. I will say thank you to anyone who sees this and care enough to let me know. 

Have you found gratitude in an unusual place? Please share!

 

 

Much Love,

Momma Berna

 

 

I Didn’t Hit a Wall, I Straight Up Ran Head First Into It.

The Brazen Western Pacific race was my first ever 10k back in 2013.  I planned on making this year’s race as my first post stroke 10k. I trained, I was pumped and I was ready. I asked my son Vincent to run this race with me.

I had trained, I walked around the neighborhood, walking up the hill and even attempting runs around the city track. Tuesday before the race, I walked/run 4 miles and I still felt good afterwards.

So hopeful at the start line.
My favorite oldest son.

 I posted my flat runner on social media and admitted I was a bit nervous for the following day. I was excited to do this race with Vincent. My plan was to have him run the 10k, finish get his medal and then have him wait for me at the last mile. He said “No, I want to stay and walk with you”. He gave me a boost of confidence!  So we line up at the start, took the obligatory start line selfies and off we went! I decided to run intervals for this race. I did not use this method while training, but I figured it wasn’t going to make a lot of difference since while training, I run/walk anyway. I set my Garmin for a 2 min run 1 min walk. Vincent was goofing around (it’s nice to be at the back of the pack coz we had the trail to ourselves!) doing walking lunges during the walk phase on the intervals. Of course that didn’t last very long. Ha!

Cross Training?

We kept up with the 2:1 intervals. It was 9:30 and it was already getting warm!  I had lots of water in my pack so I wasn’t worried. Vincent & I were chatting and having a nice time. After the two mile mark, a very nice woman stopped me and told me how inspired she was to see me out there. She’s also had her share of health issues and she started crying, which of course set me off crying too!  She ran the 10k and was on her last mile. She told me “no matter how long it takes you to finish, the important thing is that you finish!” I had her words in my head for the rest of the race. I had to finish.

My son was very impressed with the kindness and encouragement of the runners. He asked me how I knew all these people, I told him I didn’t know them,  runners are just nice like that!

As we approach the turn around for  the 10k, my leg started spazzing out. When my affected left leg spasms, it will kick out uncontrollably.  I had to stop, stretch out a bit then continue. As with all Brazen races, the aid station was stocked with all kinds of goodies. Orange slices, candy, pretzels everything a runner needs to fuel up. I helped myself to some oranges hoping to get my energy level up again. We headed back. Vincent was getting very worried as I was  leaning onto him while walking. I was determined to finish. A few runners were stopping to ask if I needed pain relief, others asked if they could get a course monitor to get help. I really must be looking pretty bad. I urged Vincent to keep walking. I was slowing down, but I wanted to finish. We were at 4.20 mi! (yes, my kid thought it would be funny to take a pic of my Garmin at 4.20)

4:20, runner, distance
Somehow this is funny!

 I keep trying to convince him to continue we were so close!  Mind over matter right? Focus on the finish! One step at a time.  I had filled my mind with positive self talk (they didn’t work). I kept moving. I was willing my leg to move. I was literally talking  to my leg out loud “swing, land on heel, roll to toe.”  Since I was using my right to compensate for my left, I started having shooting pains going up my right leg.  Vincent was clearly worried. It was nearing 11:30 am and the sun was beating down on us. Many of the runners could tell I was in trouble. Vincent had already asked one of the returning runners to let people the next aid station know that we neeeded help (despite my protests).

At this point, the lines of communication between my leg and brain have completely stopped. My foot was rolling over at every step, my leg was frozen and i was completely hunched over to my right. As hard as it was, it was time to admit defeat.  A runner helped my son walk me to the bench. It was clear that walking was not happening. As we sat waiting for help to arrive, I was still contemplating the last mile. It was so close. I tried standing up, but Vincent held me back. I saw relief on Vincent’s face when the ranger’s truck finally pulled up and he had the a/c on at full blast.

As we were nearing the finish area I could hear Sam (the Brazen race coordinator)calling out the names of the finishers, the audience cheering and I could see the happy, triumphant faces of the runners. I was devastated. I had let myself down, my brain worked against me. I so wanted this to be a victory, not just for me but for other stroke survivors as well. I wanted my family & friends to be proud of me. I feel that I had let a lot of people down. The exhaustion that I felt from the race, did not measure up to the sadness, pain and disappointment I felt inside.

Now that a few days have passed since the race, I’ve had some time to think about what happened. Although I didn’t finish the race, I still tried my best. I am grateful to have a 19 year old son who still likes to hang out with his crazy momma. He and I got to witness the kindness of other runners who were willing to help and lend support when we were in need.

I have also received so many positive feedback and support from my family and friends. Am I still sad about this? Yes, I definitely am. I am also still experiencing pain in my hip and shoulder. My brain is still a bit foggy. Neuro fatigue takes a bit longer to recover from.

I am sad and disappointed. But I’m in no way stopping! I might lick my wounds for a few days, rest up the old noggin and come up with a better training plan. There will be another race, another 10k and I will come back!

Thank you, thank you to everyone who slowed down, stopped and offered encouragement, Advil, Bio-freeze and Gu. i know those few seconds mattered in terms of a PR.

I would like to give a special shout out to  my son Vincent for putting up with me. We had nice conversations and talked about anything under the sun.  He knew I wanted to finish the race, so he tried his best to give me emotional boosts and physical support. He was propping me up, urging me to keep walking. But it came to a point where he knew it was time to just stop. In his gut, he knew I could be in danger. I am grateful to him for looking out for me.

sons, family,love,stroke survivor mom
Vincent was my hero for the day.

 

 

Much love,

Momma Berna

P.S. I was able to connect with the runner I spoke with on the trail. Thank you social media! She is one brave, inspirational woman! This is her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lifeinthedayofarunner

 

 

 

 

My Broken Brain

 

What I had was a hemorrhagic stroke. A vein in my brain burst  which caused blood to leak . The blood then caused parts of my brain to be deprived of oxygen causing permanent damage.  I was told that my brain became so swollen that it had shifted from it’s original position. I did not know this at the time, but the doctors told Armando that if the swelling did not go down, they might have to open up my head (craniotomy) to relieve the pressure. They also told him, i might not survive that surgery.  Thankfully, that did not happen.  But I was still left with a broken brain. I have both physical and cognitive  damage from the stroke.

The brain fog is really tough to deal with. Imagine waking up one day and all the colors and sounds around you have taken a very dull edge.  If you are near sighted, please remove your glasses.  I know that you are now struggling with seeing things that are far away. You might be able to recognize objects, people or colors but you really have to strain or squint to know who or what they are.  Now put your glasses back on, everything is crisp and clear again! If you have perfect vision, well… We don’t like you.HA! Just kidding!!!  This blurry, dull version of the world is my new reality.  My brain now has a difficult time processing more than one sensory input at a time. If I am reading or watching something and someone starts talking to me, I would have to turn off the television or put down the Kindle for me to be able to understand what the other person is telling me. Sounds can either be too loud or too soft, my voice will sometimes be too loud or too soft.

The stroke also threw my emotions off balance. My emotional filter is gone.  I feel so bad for my family as anything they say or do could send me into a crying jag or a fit of anger. It was also hard for me to feel joy. That was devastating. There were so many things that I should have been happy for but I could not feel that light, joyful feeling in my heart. I often wonder, did the stroke damage my “happy” center?

I still have trouble using my left arm and hand. It is the same with my leg. There is a miscommunication between my brain and my muscles. I describe it this way “my brain speaks English, while my left side all of a sudden spoke Mandarin.” They could not understand each other. My physical therapist told me I should trademark that phrase. It is a simple but effective way to describe the damage that I have on the left side of my body (hemipharesis).

I work very hard to get back all that I can physically and mentally. I know I am making progress. For now, these are the things that I really struggle with:

  1. I have a short attention span.  If I am talking and I get interrupted, there is a chance that I will not be able to continue or remember what I am talking about.
  2.  I sometimes know what I want to say, but cannot immediately find the words.
  3. I may ask you for the same information more than once. My short term memory is finicky at best.  On the plus side, I am an excellent secret keeper.
  4.  I still get tired very easily. What’s a simple task for most people takes more energy for me.  Not only physically, but also mentally. I cannot walk and talk at the same time.  I will either trip, or lose track of our conversation.
  5. Loud noises and crowded places zaps my energy. This is getting better. I am thankful for that.
  6. My emotions are a mess. I get easily hurt by things that should not matter. I am getting better at this, I do not like that I had my family was walking on eggshells around me.
  7. Chronic nerve pain (neuropathy) is a constant struggle. I could be walking along all fine and dandy then the next minute BOOM, my foot would feel like it is being stabbed by a million hot, sharp pins and needles. My shoulder and thigh  are also affected by this pain,

On October 28th, it will be two years since I’ve had a stroke.  I believe I have made some incredible recoveries. However, I still have a very long way to go. So I keep on working, I keep on researching for new ways to improve,  new treatments available, and of course good old fashioned hard work. At the same time, I will live my life fully and love whole heartedly.

 

Much Love,

Momma Berna