*This is a basic summary of my recovery from a stroke. It is a God story, but I don’t get into that here. If you would like a more in-depth description on the “how” of personal events along this line please email me and I will reply.
This is a story of my life-changing experience from the time when I had just finished college at UCLA, was a professional artist: choreographer and dancer, had my own dance company in 1990-1992 and choreographed over 30 pieces in 5 years. At the time of graduation I needed time off from creating and just wanted to be told what to do. So I had auditioned for a company and was an apprentice; perfect, I was just in the background. Then the opportunity came to be a member of another company, still perfect, I was being told what to do rather than creating the work myself. It was a wonderful time of rest for me. Funny though since at that time I had six part-time jobs to make ends meet.
In 1995 I was on tour with a dance company. We were in Scotland and had been working seven days a week for months. Even while at home in Los Angeles we were rehearsing seven days per week preparing the show for the tour. At the end of the performances in Scotland I went with a friend through the Highlands. That is where the event happened. It was just 3 days after the tour when I encountered a major stroke. I had actually been having warning signs for months, but at 26 having headaches with the kind of schedule I was keeping, working six jobs and rehearsing seven days a week, I figured I just needed some time off. Little did I know how much “time off” I would need.
The chronic headaches had gotten so bad, I would actually wake up in the morning unable to move my head at all. I took as many Aleve as the directions said one could take in a 24-hour time period all at one time. In about a half-an-hour I could move my head. At this time I had an extremely high tolerance for pain. But there were times during the performances in Scotland that I would awake in the morning in tears, in pain, unable to move my head. Once the shows were over and I was traveling the pain grew worse…I began vomiting…then the vomiting wouldn’t stop. I went back to the hotel, the morning that I couldn’t stop, just to lay down for a bit. That’s when I blacked out. I fell into a coma. My friend, whom I was traveling with, ironically had encountered a stroke just a few years earlier. This was looking familiar to him. He then took me to the nearby hospital, which did not have the equipment like a CAT Scan or MRI to check me out. They did what they could…a spinal tap…and found blood in the spinal fluid.
I was then taken back down to the hospital in Glasgow. It turns out at that time this was one of the few hospitals on the planet that was doing research on strokes; specifically strokes on young people and athletes. Interesting. I have no awareness of this, I tell this through what I have been told by the others who were around at that time.
After the MRI they found that I had 9 blood clots in the veins on the base of the left side of my brain. Strokes typically happen from clots in the arteries…which bring blood to the brain…for me blood was unable to leave my brain. It's surprising I didn't have an aneurysm because of the engorged veins.
My parents were called and they were told that if they ever wanted to see me again that they should get to the hospital because I wasn’t going to make it. I have no recollection of when I first awoke from the coma; I was told I had been awake for three days. When I first recall being awake, three days after I first awoke in the hospital bed, I saw my mother. I wasn’t scared but wondered where I was. I asked, she told me. I wasn’t surprised nor was I upset. It made sense to me. The nurse was getting me up and I couldn’t figure out why the right side of my body didn’t work – I couldn’t sit, and I definitely couldn’t stand or walk. The nurse told me what happened more specifically. The right side of my body had been affected from the stroke, paralysis. Again I wasn’t surprised, it just made sense why I couldn't move the right side of my body. Without a wheelchair the nurse attempted to help me “walk” into the bathroom so she could give me a shower…of which I had no concept of what to do, nor would I have thought to give myself a shower. She found she needed to get a wheel chair for me because she couldn't move me or bathe me without one. At the hospital they had me walk as frequently as possible, and as best as I could. Someone held onto one side of my body while I held onto the wall on the other side. Only a few times had they gotten out a wheelchair for me. I am actually grateful for that. It made me "work." The hospital even had a speech therapist come in and work with me. I vaguely remember that…but I do remember thinking ”who is this woman, this is ridiculous and doesn’t she know I understand how to do what she’s asking.” Mentally I understood, however, the words that came out of my mouth were different…displaying something else. I was at the hospital for nearly a month before I could leave and travel on a plane to come home.
My mom brought me back to California and another friend of mine packed up my apartment and put it all into storage. My step-father and mother moved me back home with them since I couldn’t take care of myself. I would sleep 20 hours a day. When I was awake I would be in a dream-like state. No movement, no talking, just staring. This went on for months. When I thought “I should move my body” and I attempted that…it was very painful. I could not get the right side of my body to move.
I couldn’t read…not that I couldn’t interpret the words or didn’t understand the shapes of the letters…but my focus would “float” somewhere else. Once I realized what was happening, I focused on each word. It was then that I realized I didn’t remember the meaning of a great many words. Words used to be easy for me. I had always been a reader and had high proficiency for reading in school. When I was in the 5th grade I had a high school to college reading level. Consequently speaking was difficult. The words just weren’t there. It was very frustrating. I knew what I wanted to say but I didn’t know how to communicate it. This is where I understood the difference between the mind and the brain. They are not the same thing. The brain is simply the physical housing of the mind. My mind was fine…it was the brain that had the damage in it. Added to all of this was the need for quiet. I couldn’t handle much stimulation whether it was from sound, smell, or visual. I couldn’t watch television much either. So I kept very secluded and away from people, away from everything. I couldn’t even go to the store with my parents. They would try to get me out of the house. But I couldn’t handle it. I would have to leave the store and hide in the car where I could close myself in, even if I had to lower the seat or cover my head and eyes with clothing so I could calm down the “in-put." I would physically stress when this happened – shortened, quick breath, muscles tense and wanting to cower down and hide in the corner.
This was now my life. Very different from where I was before. Four months after the stroke I went to a neurologist near my parents home. He was amazed at seeing the MRI from Scotland versus the MRI I had just taken for him. He said I was doing great. Pretty amazing considering what I’ve just shared…I guess it means it could have been worse? He said it looked like two different brains. My brain had recovered a lot from the damage that was initially there…damage that remains once it has happened, so he said.
When I had asked the doctor about what I would be able to do, being a dancer, he said I would probably have to find another line of work and I would probably wind up in a wheelchair. Because I wasn’t in one at the time didn’t mean that I would stay that way. Prepare myself, he said. When I heard that I decided to not accept that “decree.” I knew that he had not experienced someone recovering from a stroke before. I decided I would be his first! I was NOT going to live the rest of my live that way.
The months following were very tough, even though I had made up my mind I would recover. I now had to work with this, work through this. I went through a severe state of depression. Simply breaking down and crying as I would fall to the floor was an everyday experience. Besides the fact that my body wasn’t working right and I had brain damage. My mind was fine, it was the physical housing – the brain – that needed repair. The healing has gone in stages. At two years after the stroke that’s when some part of my brain had literally “clicked” on…it was my sense of humor. That was something that I lost and it all-of-a-sudden turned on. I was ecstatic!
I had also lost how to choreograph and remember dances. It’s kind of like having your head in a paper bag as you walk by restaurants…you recognize the smell, but don’t know exactly what it is. The smell is familiar but you just can’t place it and you know that you “used” to know what that smell is. It was kind of like that. That part of my brain hadn’t “clicked." It took a tremendous amount of time and effort to get it back. And I did.
In 2009, my body and brain were in sync for the first time since the stroke. At the time of writing it has been 14 years since the event. And what I have achieved in that time is everything I had dreamed of as a young girl in college…I have my own dance company again, and we have been performing since 2002. We also have our very own black box theater with everything we need. We have toured internationally and have received high critical acclaim. So much for needing to be secluded and away from crowds…I have performed in Guatemala in the 2,000-seat National Theater and my company does aerial work. Total strength of the body, a balance, is needed for this work. In 2002 I performed with Baryshnikov and at the end of the year I got married. In 2007 we went to perform in Greece to sold out shows and all of our recent shows were sold out. This is good! It seems now I have some minor work to do with the “memories” of what I sensed from the stroke in my body, because my body is operating perfectly now…I am changing my thoughts…my memories… to match up with my body. This is often difficult to do. But it’s doable. I didn’t have anyone to go to. But the Lord brought certain people across my path. That’s the best. Doctors, from what I saw, only had bad news to give. I didn’t need to hear that. I may not have recovered. More specific detail about events is available through email. It is a long story…I will share with those who want it.
To your health !!!