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Rosemarie Anderson: My Life Changed Forever After My Stroke

Family, friends and the staff at Santa Barbara Convalescent Hospital make a big difference in a long recovery

The first two sentences of my story reflect what my story is about: ‘’On July 29, 2007, my life changed forever. I had a life-threatening stroke.”

It tells my story as I went through the different phases of going from a person who felt I had nothing to live for, to the present day where I have everything to live for.

Rosemarie Anderson
Rosemarie Anderson

On July 29, 2007, my life changed forever. I had a life-threatening stroke. At the time I was in Los Angeles working at Divine Saviour Catholic Church. All of a sudden I felt there was something wrong with me. I was not in control of my faculties. I was falling and did not know where I was. I called out to anyone and remember saying, ‘’There is something wrong with me.’’ Those were the last words I spoke for many months to come.

At the church we had Officer Anderson from the Fire Department on hand. He took one look at me and said, “Rosemarie is having a stroke. Call an ambulance.’’

I was transported to Glendale Memorial Hospital. I arrived at the hospital with loss of consciousness. I was diagnosed with a bleed on the brain. The doctors and nurses worked on me for seven hours in the Emergency Room. While in the E.R., I was given the Sacrament of the Sick by a Catholic priest.

I was in ICU for two weeks on a ventilator. The right side of my body was paralyzed.

When my son arrived from Santa Barbara, I was told that I opened one eye for a moment. He asked me again to open my eyes, but I did not respond to him.

The neurosurgeon wanted to operate, but he was unable to do so because my blood count was very low. The doctors needed the packed cells, which were not available to the doctors at that time. ‘’Packed cells is a preparation of blood cells separated from the liquid plasma.” (Pack cells are given to the severely anemic patients in order to avoid overloading the circulatory system with too much fluid.)

The packed cells arrived and they were given to me immediately. Then I was ready for surgery.

The doctor told my boys, ‘’I can’t guarantee how your mother will turn out. She may not be able to walk and/or talk and/or may have a loss of memory.” My two boys said, ‘’My mother is tough. Go for the surgery.’’ I was brought to surgery on July 31, 2007, for a left craniotomy and evacuation of the intracerebral hemorrhage.

After my surgery I went back to the ICU unit, requiring intubation for respiratory status (move of air in and out of the lungs and exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen at the alveolar level — tiny air sacs in the lung).

On Aug. 11, I was moved from the ICU unit of the hospital to the medical/surgical floor. I was placed on a feeding tube. I began some physical therapy activities. Other issues I had included dysphagia (difficulty swallowing and expressive and receptive aphasia. I had difficulty verbalizing my wants and needs and poor self-expression).

One night I became very agitated, restless and couldn’t sleep. I did the unthinkable. I worked and worked until I pulled the feeding tube out of my stomach. It was a hard thing to accomplish. I, however, was so agitated I didn’t know what I had done. The feeding tube had to be replaced. I was heavily sedated most of the time. I had ugly, horrible dreams all the time.

I was transferred to the Rehabilitation Unit on Aug. 17. One day later I apparently became hypotensive (low blood pressure), and I was returned to ICU. The doctor said, ‘’She is currently awake, but is aphasia and I am unable to obtain any other information at this time. (Partial or total loss of ability to articulate ideas or comprehend spoken or written language, resulting from damage to the brain caused by injury such as a stroke.) This rehabilitation can take two or more years and is most effective when begun quickly.’’

My family and friends, as well as the people from Divine Saviour Catholic Church, were there every day. Unfortunately, I had very little recollection of people coming or going.

I returned to the Rehabilitation Unit two weeks before I returned to Santa Barbara. For the first time I was starting to recognize people as they walked through the door. I was happy that I knew the people. I was having a problem when they left after their visit. I did not want the visitors to leave. I would start to cry before they left, and I cried after they had gone.

Seven weeks after my stroke I was heading home to Santa Barbara by ambulance. A lot of my friends, who I met at Divine Saviours, were there to tell me goodbye and to wish me luck.

My son, Brian, was preparing for my arrival at Santa Barbara Convalescent Hospital. My son wanted to make sure that I saw familiar faces when I arrived home. There was a large group of familiar faces waiting for me as I settled in my room. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize anyone. The whole reunion was a blur. I was told many times that I was at S.B.C.H. It did not register for some time.

I met a CNA who was my aide that first night I was at S.B.C.H. She, in the weeks and months to come, was my guiding light. She kept a very close watch over me. She became very close to me and my family. I depended on her for my support. She encouraged me to eat, supported me during my physical therapy, etc. I will never forget her.

I was scared. I yelled a lot. Sometimes when my son would come through the front door of S.B.C.H., he would hear me in my room yelling. My room was about a quarter of a block from the front door. Of course, I did not know why I was yelling. I was not seeking attention. The bottom line I was scared. I was far from a model patient.

If someone would open the sliding door in my room for fresh air, I would immediately want the door closed and locked. I was afraid someone would come through the unlocked door and take me away. It did not matter what season it was, I always had a locked door. I was frightened. I suppose the locked door might have been my security blanket. I really don’t know.

I cried all the time. Someone would say to me, ‘’Why are you crying?” I would say, ‘’I don’t know.’’ That was my standard answer. I didn’t know why I was crying. It was way too early for me to think that I was worried about my total recovery. It was several months before I got to that point in my life. Most of the time I was extremely agitated. I believe that contributed to my crying.

It took me at least three or four months to stop all of the yelling and most of the crying. I was very sensitive. Very easily I would choke up and start crying. I was not told that one of the effects of the stroke was crying frequently.

It was about four or five months after the onset of my stroke that I began thinking and saying, ‘’Why me?” It became a big issue with me for a while. I felt I had a lot to live for and my life had been cut short. I could not do what I wanted to do any more. “Why me?” was on my mind for the first few years that I was dealing with my stroke.

Eventually I was removed from the feeding tube. I started going to the dining room for my meals. I needed to start socializing. We were taken to the dining room about 10 minutes before the meal was served. Sitting there waiting, several times I would start to cry uncontrollably. I would be taken back to my room to eat dinner. I could not stop the crying.

A speech therapist was teaching me how to eat with my left hand. All my life I had been right-handed. With the right side paralyzed, I had to master the left hand.

I had what was known as dysphagia (a swallowing deficit). I was on puree with honey-thick liquids. After a long time, I went to a mechanical soft diet where the food was chopped with nectar thick liquids. Three years after my stroke in 2010, I reached a milestone. I was finally put on a regular diet with thin liquids. What a wonderful feeling it was. I felt like a human being again. I was always reminded, I had to take small steps.

Going to the dining room was another catastrophe. After eating in the dining room I wanted to go to bed immediately. Since I was the first dining, I would come from the dining room at 5:45 p.m. and have to wait until at least 7 p.m. to go to bed. I felt it was too long for me to just sit in my wheelchair doing nothing. (I still was not able to sit still long enough to read or watch TV.) I become very agitated and angry. I finally realized that if I was put to bed right after dinner, I was better off. It was just one more aspect of the stroke.

My stroke also left me with expressive aphasia. I had difficulty verbalizing my wants and needs and poor self-expressions. This was very difficult for me. I knew what I wanted and needed, but I could not get the words out of my mouth. I was very frustrated.

With the speech therapist a few months after my stroke, with the utilization of descriptive cards, I started to do word finding tasks. I started feeding myself at my own pace. I was very clumsy at first. I had to learn to eat with my left hand. I continue performing to practice on pucker, smiling, elevation of tongue and tongue retraction. I was starting to demonstrate good performance and mild impairment. Word finding was at 75 percent with a minimum of prompting.

On Oct. 5, I demonstrated improvement in my overall mobility function. For the first time, I brought my right hand to my shoulder. On Oct. 31, I had some medication change that seemed to change my disposition considerably. I was confused, sleepy all the time and just felt like everyone was yelling at me. On Nov. 28, it felt like I was making functional gains in ambulation — to walk from place to place, to move around — balance and transfer.

In December 2007, I made my greatest improvement in ambulation to date. On Jan. 17, 2008, I went to an assisted-living facility. I thought I was ready for the next big step in my life. How wrong I was. I was in an apartment by myself. I still had no interest in doing anything constructive. No interest in reading, watching TV or even working on my computer. I had to take an elevator to the lobby. Going through hall after hall, I had to get my bearings. I was confused at times, which did not help my recovery.

Once downstairs, I just wandered around. There were definitely clicks with the people living there. As far as I was concerned, I was considered an outsider. I would go by a group of people playing cards. I would say hello. At the most, two people might say hello. I was too shy to ask if I could I play cards. They would never say, ‘’Would you like to join us?’’ I would go back to my room and just stare at the four walls. I was declining in my progress and in my overall well-being.

On March 3, 2008, I returned to SBCH. I was very glad to be back home. I was immediately put back into therapy. It was determined that I had declined in overall functional mobility from my stay at the assisted-living facility.

About this time there was another CNA who worked the night shift. She became another important person in my struggle for recovery of my stroke. She somehow knew when I was struggling and would come to my rescue. She was a strong supporter of my therapy. If she did not think I was working hard enough, she would let me know. She always wanted me to tell the truth about what was going on with me. Although she has left SBCH, she still visited me quite often. I will be forever grateful to her.

On March 31, 2008, I continued to decline. Once again, the cause was thought to be a change in medication. I was unable to fully participate in therapy. The therapist did not want me to walk or move along for fear that I would fall.

One month later, I was better than my old self. I started reading, first with large-print novels and then I graduated to regular books and paperbacks. I started to watch a little TV each evening. In the therapy room I began to walk the bars and graduate to a quad cane. Transfer and bed mobility improved as did overall endurance and standing balance.

A new piece of equipment for walking was obtained for use in physical therapy for the patients. I was the first to progress to gait training with a hemi walker. I did need verbal cueing but no physical assist.

I still required a hemi walker and close supervision for safe ambulation. On occasion my sequencing was affected by distractions from environment or from getting frustrated or upset.

I was never able to use a walker, because of my right hand. I did not have enough strength to hold the right side of the walker. It was never an option.

In the year 2009, I continued to progress with all phases of my physical therapy. My speech continued to improve to the point that people started to understand me, and my communication with everyone was beginning to take shape. I still had a hard time remembering a lot of words. I knew what word I wanted to say in my mind, but it was very hard to get the words out of my mouth. I was walking every day with the assistant of an aide.

In January 2010, I graduated to a quad cane once again. I was able to walk around the inside of the building with a CNA.

Eventually, I was able to go around the building by myself and my quad cane. After awhile I decided I wanted to walk without a cane. I had to go through tests to determine that I was capable of doing what I wanted to do. I passed with flying colors. Then the therapist had to convince the staff that I was up to it. Again, I was successful. Three times a week I walk unassisted with no cane and a CNA by my side. Once again, I was determined that I was going to accomplish what I know I could do.

I have also accomplished another milestone. I now go out shopping, to restaurants, etc., with only my cane — no more wheelchair!

Then, the unthinkable thing happened. I fell. I fell flat on my back. I had just come back from a walk with my quad cane. I was putting the brakes on my wheelchair, which I should have done before I went for my walk. That was a gross error on my part. I knew better.

I ended up in the hospital with a compression fracture and disk bulge with kyphoplasty. I was able to return to SBCH five days after my fall. I was back to normal immediately. After the surgery I was free of pain and able to continue my recovery for my stroke.

On March 1, 2010, I wanted to learn how to write left-handed. At that time my right hand was still useless. I also lost my ability to spell. With a third-grade spelling and reading book and the never ending help of a dictionary, I learned how to spell. A speech therapist taught me how to write left-handed. At the end of three weeks I was on my own with the writing. I wrote more than 125 letters in a three-month span of time. In the beginning I was lacking in total control of my writing skills. After a few weeks, I began to see improvement daily. This made me happy and proud.

On July 1, 2010, I began another challenge in my life. I started to write ‘’My Family History.” I wrote everything I could think of on paper first. I did not want to lose my writing skills. Then I placed it on my laptop — 13 months and 55,000 words later, I completed my story. Now I am working on pictures to accompany the individual books — one for each of my three boys and one for each of my four grandchildren.

On Oct. 20, 2010, I was able to reach more milestones in my continuous recovery:

» I was able to be independent in all aspects of toileting.

» I completed grooming and hygiene tasks in sitting independently using my right hand.

» I resumed my writing tasks using the right upper extremity.

» I also completed bed mobility safely with minimum to moderate support.

In December 2010, I, for the very first time in three years, wrote my own Christmas cards. They were not perfect, but my family and friends appreciated my effort and were proud of me.

During the year 2011, I continued to work on my walking, writing, letter writing, etc. I always kept busy during the day. I have never been one to relax for too long a period of time. As long as I have the ability to be productive in whatever I do, I am happy.

In December 2011, I wrote 75 Christmas cards and notes. Except for two gift cards and three gifts, I did all my own Christmas shopping.  As the new year 2012 came in, I set my sights on new approaches for my right hand. My goal is to be able to use my right hand again. Where there is a will, there is a way.

I want to mention as I close this story the support I received from my family, my friends and the staff at the Santa Barbara Convalescent Hospital, where I call home. I would not be where I am today if it was not for the group listed above. My family was always there for me, always ready to give ample support and encouragement, as well as my friends. Speaking of friends, two of them came once a week for four years to have lunch with me. I always looked forward to seeing everyone.

The staff of the Santa Barbara Convalescent Hospital has always made my stay at SBCH a very happy experience, even in my darkest days. I never considered it a nursing home, but a place where I would get the care I needed.

My thanks for all who prayed for me, my family, my friends and to the Santa Barbara Convalescent Hospital. All these people got me to where I am today — happy to be alive and able to accomplish what I set out to do.

— Rosemarie Anderson is a resident of Santa Barbara Convalescent Hospital.

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