“Embracing My New Normal After My Stroke”

By: Toi Robinson

Normal is such a subjective word, as it can mean many things for different people. In the past four years, my “normal” has evolved as I’ve overcome many challenges and celebrate my daily triumphs.

Saturday, July 5, 2014, started as a typical day for me.  I’d spent the morning busying myself with household chores and decompressing from the previous workweek. My husband was preparing to leave home to pick up our niece so we could go to a friend’s house for a pool party. But, my typical Saturday morning was interrupted and nothing could have prepared me for what occurred.  On this day, I suffered a stroke.

Vocation and Reality Collide

For years, I have worked extensively with individuals with disabilities, but there was no specialized training or rationale I could grasp this day that would help me understand why this was happening to me. I felt like a bystander in my own body. My profession equipped me with knowledge about the symptoms of a stroke, but there was nothing I could do to stop what was happening. My body weakened beneath its own weight, everything began to spiral, and I felt myself staggering on what felt like a ledge of consciousness.

Luckily, my husband had not left the house, so I knew if I steadied myself enough I could alert him to call for help. I honestly don’t know how I made it down the stairs, but I managed to get to my husband and he called 911. As he called for help, I remember my legs giving out, and as I slid down the wall I felt like a pendulum swinging back-and-forth between reality and unconsciousness.

Paramedics took me to a nearby hospital, but I was soon transported to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center (TMC) after doctors determined I needed a higher level of care, which included a blood transfusion. I was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for three days and spent another three days in acute care before being transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann-The Woodlands, where I remained for 18 days.

In the days that followed, I underwent numerous assessments and doctors provided me with treatment options, but nothing could address the most haunting aspect of the experience — my fear and uncertainty. My physicians included Dr. Nicole Gonzales, a neurologist at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth who is affiliated with Memorial Hermann-TMC and Dr. Anjail Sharrief, a UTHealth neurologist who is also affiliated with Memorial Hermann-TMC.

I had so many questions about the here and now, as well as what the future would entail. Many of the questions were answered by the knowledgeable staff at Memorial Hermann, but I still had such internal turmoil about whether I’d ever be restored to “normal.”

What I’ve Learned

Since 2014, I’ve undergone countless hours of physical therapy and other restorative treatments. Since the stroke affected the left side of my body I had to learn how to use my right hand as my dominant hand. My fine motor skills were also impacted, including my ability to walk, write and speak. However, the continued treatment and help from my support system have been paramount in my recovery.

Perhaps the most helpful dynamic of my treatment has been the internal methods I devised for my overall wellbeing. Of these, the most important method is acknowledgement that my new normal can’t be measured by the days before the stroke, but rather by my accomplishments since that day.

I am so grateful for life. To experience so much compassion from those around me is incredibly comforting, and helps sustain me day-to-day. I hope that in some way my story will help other stroke survivors to persevere in spite of obstacles.

After all, I’ve learned that the new normal is an opportunity to write another chapter in one’s life story, and have a deeper appreciation for the successes along the way.

Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, is a Comprehensive Stroke Center and home to the world-renowned Mischer Neuroscience Institute. To learn more about stroke prevention and treatment, click here.

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