Stroke of Insight

Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk is the most viewed TED Talk to date, and this morning I shared it with my 81 year old Mom. I’ve suggested TED Talks to her in the past, and she’s watched them in the comfort of her own home on her own Mac, but this morning we watched together from the hospital bed where she is dealing with the fact that last week she had a stroke.

Indeed, my Mom had her own stroke of insight as she was aware of her body changing right beneath her. A week ago Saturday she asked me if she was walking okay, as she felt her feet were lagging a bit. She seemed to be walking with slightly less zest than usual, but no alarm bells went off in my mind. That was on Saturday, August 7. By the morning of Wednesday, August 11, she was positive something was not quite right. I am greeted every morning by an email from my Mom, and here is part of what she wrote that morning:

Feel a bit tired — after a good night’s sleep. Also, my legs are not holding me up similar to when I was in the hospital and sent hone with B-12, which I take every morning.

Will have to think abut this. Perhaps all I need is more walking. Well, I will give this some thought.

Later that morning my Mom fell, and then within about an hour’s time, she fell again. My Mom has a Lifeline in the form of a bracelet so all she has to do is push the button and help is on its way. With the second fall, the EMS folks insisted on taking her to the hospital (her preference was to lay down and take a nap), and she reluctantly agreed after lying down on her bed and seeing that Norma, one of the EMS folk, was going to pick her up. (My Mom may have a stubborn streak, but that’s nothing compared to the people from EMS!)

Again against her preference, we insisted she spend the night in the hospital, especially as the emergency room doctor had already admitted her for observation. The next morning, when Mom’s internist was able to come see her, Dr Lanman uttered the word “stroke” and that sent the hospital staff into action as they followed their stroke protocol. Several tests later, it was determined that my Mom had an ischemic (this simply means “lack of blood flow”) stroke and an evolutionary stroke. An evolutionary stroke means that the stroke takes place over time rather than happening all at once. In this case, it was still happening.

Dishearteningly, within two days of being admitted, we (including my Mom) watched as she gradually lost all ability to use her right arm and leg, and then a day later listened as her speech slowed down, words were lost, what she wanted to say and what came out did not match, and she began to be a little discombobulated. I noticed this morning that she didn’t initially see the scrambled egg on the breakfast plate; turns out that a stroke can cause “an inability to see one side of the visual field”, which might explain what happened. (Or else it could simply be that the lights were low…)

And my Mom knew all of this was happening as it was happening. She told me so. And she said:

Up till now, I never felt old. Now I feel old.

In the past two years she has had broken ribs, a broken right femur, a broken left femur, two hospital stays and became a widow in July, 2009. Yet she never felt old. Till now. She’s a righty and a skilled pianist. She’s also, as she has said (and I concur!), a strong cookie. She was, and remains, a stalwart fan of General Stanley McChrystal, and has often said that if she were younger, she would enlist. I told her that this same stubborn strength is what will help her to recover, and she has a goal of being able to dance at her youngest grandson’s bar mitzvah in 2012.

With that in mind, if all goes well this week, she will be transferred 15 minutes from my home to the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital, where they have a Stroke Recovery Program. And we – she, my brother and me – will begin to learn more about stroke, the brain and the body.


5 thoughts on “Stroke of Insight

  1. Pingback: Stroke of Insight redux (this time as a book) | Neurons Firing

  2. synapsesensations Post author

    Hi Beth,

    Thank you for your warm words and wishes for my mom. I need to point out, though, that I am not Barbara Arrowsmith, the person written about by Norman Doidge in his book; I have simply blogged about her.


  3. beth laster

    Hi Barbara:

    Firstly, I wish your mom a speedy recovery.How fortunate, she is to be blessed with you for her daughter.

    I am new to your Neuons Firing site, having googled your name with great interest after reading Doidge chapter on” Building Herself a Better Brain”. May your mom be blessed with all you have contributed to the field of Neuroplasticity in her journey to a speedy recovery.

    G-d bless you both.

    Beth MS CRC

  4. synapsesensations Post author

    Hi Susan,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I will share your words with my Mom 🙂


  5. Susan Sanders

    Thank you for posting your moving story. I wish your Mom a full recovery. My Dad thought similarly, that at age 82 he did feel “old,” but he kept adapting and living resiliently for many more years. God bless.

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