Aftershocks

Earthquakes happen suddenly, with no warning and if strong enough, leaves massive destruction at its wake. Then the aftershocks follow. Little tremblers that are just as nerve wracking as they could be signaling another big one.

I use this analogy because this is how I felt after the stroke. I get anxious whenever I get a headache or a tingling in my hands or feet. Afterall, the stroke literally caused a shift in my brain.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder  (PTSD) has always been attributed to veteran soldiers returning from the harrowing experiences of war, survivors of tragedies such as accidents, personal assaults and natural disasters. What most don’t realize is that there are stroke survivors who also suffer from PTSD.

PTSD is a psychological disorder characterized by depression, anxiety, flashbacks and/or nightmares.  This study indicated that 1 in 4 stroke survivors suffer from PTSD and yet, it is not a well researched field. Stroke survivors often have huge physical recoveries to tackle, their emotional health is often put on the back burner.

When I was discharged from the rehab hospital, my family was given resources to help me recover physically. Appointments and referrals were set up for physical, speech and occupational therapy. Medical pros had to check my home to see if it was accessible to me. My family was even “trained” to help me transfer in and out of my wheelchair. They were given information on how to keep me physically safe. I  do not recall if my family was ever warned of the psychological toll specially PTSD.

FAST, stroke survivor, stroke, stroke prevention
Act FAST for stroke treatment

The stroke was caused by a blood vessel that burst which flooded my brain with blood killing precious brain cells. This according to the pros, was a direct result of high blood pressure. Armando and I became vigilant about checking my blood pressure.  If it was a bit high, I start panicking- which resulted in my pressure going higher. It was an ugly cycle. Every headache was surely a sign of another stroke. I would do the FAST (face, arm, speech, time to call 911) evaluation, but would be very upset because I cannot move my left arm, the left side of my face was numb and so was my leg. It was aggravating. I took a couple of ambulance rides to the ER only to be sent home embarrassed and upset. And inadvertently scaring my boys.

I read somewhere that lifting weights could cause strokes. I immediately emailed my neurologist, my primary care physician and  my physical therapist my concern. I was working with a trainer and weight training. They all told me to chill the fuck out (okay, in a very medically polite way) Mind you, I wasn’t lifting anything over 10 lbs. I could not even hold a 5 lb dumbell with my left hand. Ha!

After three years, I have managed to calm down. I still fear that a headache (which I don’t get often thank God!) is signaling another stroke.  I have a nagging fear that I will have another stroke and that one will leave me in a vegetative state. These little aftershocks haunt me in my dreams too. I relive the moment I had the stroke and I wake up screaming. Will I ever be able to NOT think about another stroke? I doubt it.  This is a reality I now live with.

However, I will not allow these aftershocks to stop me in my tracks. I take many precautions so that a stroke will not get me again. I eat healthy, exercise and avoid stress (yeah, that one is not happening).

For anyone reading who is a stroke survivor, please know that the fear of having “another one “ is not irrational. The anxiety is very real. Our fear is valid. Know that you are not alone.

Much Love, 

Momma Berna

Low Heels, High Expectations

I love shoes. I would switch between sexy heels and sweaty running shoes.  Nowadays, I live in Tom’s canvas shoes and since it’s winter, I get to wear boots with the fur (enjoy that earworm. You’re welcome 🙂 )

My husband and I were invited to a birthday party. I wanted to get all dressed up. I ordered myself a form fitting dress and feeling brave, I picked up a pair of not so high heeled sandals. I practiced walking around the house and I did fairly well. I was able to keep my balance and my left foot felt strong.

The day of the party came. I got my hair and face done, squeezed myself into my dress and strapped on my shoes. As an afterthought, I had my husband bring a pair of my trusty canvas shoes.

We got lucky and found a parking spot about a block away from the restaurant and club where the party was happening. By lucky, I mean we had to drive around downtown for an hour where every parking structure and over priced lots were full.

 Walking on the sidewalk  is a whole different ball game than walking around the house. I was very, very wobbly.  I was grabbing on to my husband’s arm as if my life depended on it. It did. I was trying to walk gracefully, but it was not happening.

As we walked in the restaurant, a few people were staring. Looking at my feet, looking at me and shaking their heads. Since I really do not have any visible damage from the stroke, wobbling the way I did and having a death grip on my husband made it seem like I was drunk. I knew people were looking and judging. I kept walking knowing I have good friends, good food and good champagne waiting.

I headed to the bathroom after dinner, my foot at this point was done.  Walking really poorly, I managed to roll my ankle and I heard a slight pop. Panic set in and I was leaning on my husband not wanting to put weight on my foot. That was when two young women walked out of the bathroom.  They stared, whispered and giggled. I was visibly upset thinking that I had sprained/broken my ankle. Armando led me to one of the chairs in the lobby and the two young women were standing by the elevator still giggling, phones out. I’ve had enough. I told them loudly “I am not drunk” (which on hindsight made me sound like a real drunk).  I was about to tear them a new one, but my husband stepped in and diffused the situation. I was in pain and I was scared that I had broken my already weak ankle that I have been working so hard to get stronger. I was upset that there are people who would laugh at another’s suffering.

What happened to kindness, empathy or sympathy? Was I expecting too much? I was obviously in pain and was distraught and the young ladies quite possibly were sharing my situation on their social media. When have people become desensitized to another’s pain that instead of offering comfort, they offer social media fodder. The amount of “likes” and responses validates the poor behavior. I got over the judging looks and whispered remarks, heck I know I looked drunk and wobbly. What bothered me is that there are people out there who callously would laugh about someone else’s pain. Finding validation for bad behavior will only encourage those young ladies to find their next “victim”.  There were many opportunities for someone to show kindness that evening.  A kind word or a sympathetic smile would have been sufficient.  

laughter, expectations, party
Still Standing

Thankful that I brought my reliable Tom’s and my foot was not broken, I was still able to hobble and I still looked hot (or a hot mess)  at the party. It was AH-MAY-ZING!!! The music was heavily 90’s and the dancing was fun. Drinks were flowing and the company great. Lots of laughs and shenanigans ensued. One of the advantages of having a crappy short term memory is that I temporarily forgot about the ugliness at the restaurant and I enjoyed the party!  My husband and I had a much needed night out. 

Hope the New Year brings you joy, love and kindness!

Much Love, 

Momma Berna

high expectations, low heel,
The Aftermath
Bad Shoes
The evil heel!

Thank You and Thankful for You

Thanksgiving week is over, I hope that everyone enjoyed platefuls of turkey and stuffing followed by a tryptophan induced nap and have survived the annual mass hysteria known as Black Friday.  In the spirit of gratitude, I’d like  to give a

online shopping, friday, gratitude
How I Black Friday.

big shout out and a big thank you to the people who support, help and encourage stroke survivors and other survivors to lead more productive, healthy and thriving lives.

I am fortunate to be surrounded by amazing family who are also my caregivers: My husband, My children, my sister And my mom. My mother and sister-in-law also give tremendous help and support.

Caregivers give so much, it seems impossible to tell them how much they are appreciated. Material things will not be enough to express our thanks. I know this list is short, I have wracked my brain for answers and I cannot seem to come up with something that would be able to truly express my gratitude.

The Turkey Trot has become a family tradition. The family that wobbles together… The boys run, the husband & I wobble.
    1. Say what you mean. Our caregivers are not mind readers, we sometimes feel that they “should” know what is it that we want or need. Try not to say things like “it would be nice if I had a warm blanket” or “ Is there anyone here who could get me some water?”. It might be hard to ask, specially for the simple things we used to be able to do. But being direct, but polite eliminates a lot of misunderstanding and resentment.

2. Give them space. The first year after the stroke specially the first six months, I was worried about being left alone. I also did not like going outside. My family was held “hostage” by my fear. Armando, my husband was still working full time, so he would put in 9 hour work days, then come home and take over for my mom to care for me.  The boys were busy with school, so they help out when they can. Armando was essentially “on” 24/7.  He needed a break. I managed to kick him out of the house to hang with friends before he burned out. Since then we have learned that having some time for ourselves is essential for our sanity. He now works from home, so getting some alone time is even more important. The people who take care of us, must also take care of themselves, be it some time at the gym or going out with friends.  Time when they can just breath and relax without  having to worry about pain levels, medications or cutting up food. 

3. Encourage them to join a support group.  As much as we need support and other people who understand & know how we feel, our caregivers need the same. They need other people to be a sounding board, to get new ideas from and most importantly a place where they could bitch about us (Ha!).

4.Give your recovery your best effort. We all want  to get back to our normal lives and to be able to do things on our own.  Our caregivers want the same for us. Armando beams with pride when he sees me working out or doing physical therapy. I know in my heart he is happy to see me working hard and trying. He posts more photos on Instagram than I do!  Our loved ones our caregivers have invested a lot of time with us and for us. I feel that watching us work hard, putting in the effort and slowly make our way back to recovery is as satisfying to them as it is to us.

5.Say “Thank You”. Seems obvious, I know.  But there are times I forget or worse yet, I take their help for granted. Sometimes I get caught up with my deficits and self pity I fail to see how much my family does for me. Our caregivers give us the support we need: emotionally and/or physically. Express gratitude often and openly.  This simple phrase means so much.

I know this list is short and inadequate. I cannot come up with anything that would be able to truly express how grateful I am. Do you have any ideas? If you are a caregiver, what is it that you would like?  Please let me know in the comments!

 

Much Love,

Momma Berna

My Year of Running Virtually

I have been an ambassador for a local running club three years in a row.  Represent Running is a group which promotes running locally, meeting and running with awesome people and promoting 3 Bay Area races in three different, but equally beautiful cities: San Jose (408k), San Francisco (415k) & the East Bay (510k).  Each race highlights the beauty and culture of the city it is representing. My job as an ambassador is to promote the races, spread running joy  and discounts on social media. In the past years, I have been able to  to run/walk the races “live” meaning I am there at the event toeing the start line along with everyone. Unfortunately for this year, I was sidelined for all three of the races! I had to run the races virtually – This type of virtual running does not involve virtual reality glasses while sat on the couch. 

The 408k ( 8k-4.9 miles) is my favorite local race. After all it represents San Jose, runs through downtown and local neighborhoods. Accentuated by the Mariachi mile at around the 4 mile mark. The finish is at the tony Santana Row where area restaurants lure in finishers with bottomless mimosas. The week of the race I was struggling with vertigo. Staying on my feet made me incredibly nauseous.  I was hoping the symptoms would go away that weekend. Vincent & I picked up my bib at Santa Row.  We walked the Row for a bit, but after a couple of stores I thought I was going to hurl on an overpriced shawl (tbh, I probably felt sick about the price too). I was feeling optimistic so I got my race gear ready, set my alarm and went to bed early with hopes that I would be able to stay on my feet next day.  Unfortunately, when i got up on race morning, I felt like I just came off a triple loop roller coaster instead of my comfy bed. 

The 415K is the San Francisco installment of this race series. The backdrop of this race is the Golden Gate bridge. The 12k takes runners across the bridge and the 5k runs along the Pacific Ocean. The weekend this race was on, the Bay Area was experiencing a heat wave. My silly, dumbass self thought it was a good idea to walk a couple of laps at the Relay for Life for our city.  The day of the race, I woke up with excruciating neuropathy on my foot. It felt like I was walking on hot coals.

 The 510k was the final installment of the Run the Bay series, this one is set in the East Bay.  I missed that one too, I was scheduled for cranial angiogram the next day and my anxiety was running high. 

The virtual race:

 For those uninitiated, a virtual race is where one signs up for a specific race, for a distance specified by the race but instead of joining the hundreds of people on race day, one would set their own date & location. I find running a virtual race challenging.  There are no cheering crowds, no aid stations, be no cheery faced volunteer handing me my medal at the finish line. Instead, the medal arrives in the mail and the only race photos are selfies (at least they’re free!).

A virtual runner’s aid station.

The race becomes a battle in my own head. I have to fight the voice that tells me it’s time to quit, the voice that says I don’t need to put myself through this. I could just stop no one is watching. 

I am quite fortunate that I only had to run one of these virtual races alone.  My long time friend and partner in insanity Tammy has joined me in most of my virtual races.

408k Virtual at Shoreline in Mountain View,CA

Writing this makes me sad. I am realizing that I have been experiencing setback after setback. I have not reached goals that I have been working hard for. I thought I would have been further along in my recovery.  Instead, I gave up on a 10k earlier this year. I have two more 5ks coming up before the end of the year and I really would like to do them live. 

As much as I love being an ambassador for Represent Running, I am debating if I will apply to be in next year’s team.  I do not feel that I am representing if I am not running.

 The connections between my brain and leg have not yet established my need to run. I still have to constantly remind my legs I am running. Otherwise,  I will start walking . This constant dialogue is mentally and emotionally exhausting.  

I long to run with my friends again. I want to be an active part of a running community. I will continue to work hard to get my running legs back and to get my body and mind stronger.

Much Love, 

Momma Berna

To know Me is to Understand Me

I am sure you are all familiar with “knowledge is power”.  It is a well-worn adage thrown around as part of valedictorian speeches & candidate statements during campaign season.  Commuters have been enlightened by the phrase through bumper stickers for ages.

We expect professionals to be knowledgeable in their fields. Heck we expect them to be downright geniuses at their chosen profession. This is especially true for our medical providers.

Thankfully, most of the medical professionals I have met are very knowledgeable.  They have a very good grasp of issues related to strokes & their treatment.

Knowledge is gained through education & experience. Keeping up to date with the latest information, research & constant study helps expand knowledge in their chosen field.

But just because doctors know what they are treating, does that mean they understand their patients?  

Knowing how medications work, how our bodies are supposed to work and how those meds affect our body, are great qualifications, but for me it isn’t enough. 

As knowledgeable as my doctors and therapists are, I certainly would be appreciative if they also understand me as a person. Understanding is acquired on a deeper, psychological and personal level. I would like to be treated beyond being just a  diagnosis and medical record number.  I want this because if someone understands who I am and what my goals are, we could together forge clearer path to reaching that goal.

I met with a new physical therapist recently. As we enter her office, before I even sat down her first words to me were “You know, it has been 3 years, you should not expect too much progress right?” I slowly sat down, took a deep breath and worked on not crying my eyes out. I told her “ I will run again”. To which she replied “you could always try the paralympics”.  Her words hurt and hit me hard.  Not that paralympics  is a bad thing, but up until that moment the thought of being a paralympian has never crossed my mind. I was and is still convinced that I will regain my “normal” running legs. I wish she had taken the time to speak to me first, get to know who I am and talk to me about my goals before she abruptly told me about the paralympics. It would also have appreciated a little more information about the paralympics before she sprung it on me. 

The psychologist  I saw pretty much said the same thing. She gave me the “you’ve plateaued” speech.  I made an appointment with this psychologist because I wanted to talk about my frustrations and anxieties about my recovery. The first thing I told her was “I don’t want anymore meds.” She went through her list of questions, I opened up a bit. Then she says “I’m going to set up an appointment with one of our psychiatrist, he can talk to you about maybe adding more medications or increasing your dose. I met with her wanting to have someone i could objectively speak to  regarding my fears, anxieties & frustrations about my recovery.  I did not want  someone who will medicate me to numbness.  She continued to insist on medications. I did not make a return appointment.

Hospital staff & medical professionals are short on time. They are under pressure to get patients in & out of the clinic in order to serve more people.  But taking a few minutes to ask questions, looking beyond a medical record would mean so much to the patient who you will see on a regular basis. Be a person we can trust to not judge our deficiencies and dismiss our goals. Be one who is willing to help us reach those goals. If the goals are unrealistic, please meet us in the middle and help us to get there. Stroke survivors fight daily to overcome our deficits. Although, we have support from our family and friends It really helps to have our medical professionals understand us so that all of our bases are covered.  Healing and recovery goes on much smoothly if we are well supported.

What would you want your doctors or therapists to understand about you?

Do you feel that you are able to talk to your medical team and express your needs & goals?

P.S I have been seeing the same PT, we’ve had a couple of sessions since that fateful first meeting. I believe I have shown her what I am capable of achieving. Her & I are now working hard to get me back to running!

 

The Stroke Survivors Club

I belong to a stroke survivor support group. Recently, one of the members welcomed someone new with words along the lines of; “Welcome to the club, the membership fee to enter is hefty, but you will be surrounded by a great group of people.”  What stuck with me were the words “the membership fee is hefty”.  It has never crossed my mind that I now belong to the Stroke Survivors Club. I do not remember filling out an application. It is not a club that anyone would willingly want to belong. And yet, here I am.  And yes, I paid a high price for my membership.  And unfortunately, there are no refunds.

Club membership includes my family.  They were recruited and have been drafted to be my helpers. I’m quite sure it wasn’t what they were expecting to be doing at this point of their lives.

family, strong family, stroke support,
Nothing beats the support of family.

The Stroke Survivors Club does not discriminate. All ages, races and status are welcome.  And your recovery will be made better with the support of family and friends.

There are some perks. There’s the premier parking spot which comes in handy specially around the holidays 🙂   Kidding aside, this club will help you find out how strong you really are. The challenges you will encounter is not for the faint hearted.  survivor strength, survivor strongNo one asked to be in this club.  Membership is for life. But you will learn about yourself, you will learn about who you can trust and who you can rely on. You will learn to fight. And fight hard you will. You will fight professionals telling you that you have reached the end of your recovery, you will fight against yourself when a little voice inside you tells you it’s time to give up. You will fight negativity from people around you.

The Stroke Survivors Club is comprised of warriors. We are warriors who have faced great challenges and have found a way to surmount them.  And we keep on fighting.

Much love,

MommaBerna 

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