I made it to the ER just in time

Fear of a se­cond stroke is a pow­er­ful mo­ti­va­tor to­ward heal­ing

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - LIFESTYLE - By Anne A. Jamb­ora @an­ne­jamb­ora

Icould have died last July 18. In­stead, here I am, al­most un­scathed. I was at work that evening when I had a stroke. But, un­like most peo­ple, I rec­og­nized its symp­toms right away and knew I had to be in the emer­gency room im­me­di­ately. Time is brain, they say—once a stroke be­gins you lose about 2 mil­lion brain cells ev­ery minute.

That evening I felt ex­hausted for no ap­par­ent rea­son. I willed my­self to walk home, where I could lie down and sleep, but feared I might pass out on the way. I knew some­thing was amiss.

Un­for­tu­nately for me, I was too dis­ori­ented to even get a ride to the ER. Sud­denly, tex­ting, an ac­tiv­ity that doesn’t re­quire much ef­fort, be­came a Her­culean task. I knew how my phone worked, but my fin­gers weren’t fol­low­ing my lead. It felt like my fin­gers had a mind of their own. In that se­cond, I knew I was hav­ing a stroke.

I got up from my of­fice desk, took the el­e­va­tor down to the nurse’s clinic where I could get a med­i­ca­tion to lower my blood pres­sure—I as­sumed, cor­rectly, that it was high—but when I got there I was too dis­ori­ented to know where the clinic was. Luck­ily I saw the nurse’s blue uni­form and called her at­ten­tion right away.


The nurse called my friend, who took me to the hos­pi­tal. Within 30 min­utes I was in the ER.

It took sev­eral more min­utes be­fore a team of doc­tors could do tests on me. They in­jected me with a drug that was sup­posed to “fire up the neu­rons in my brain” and to pre­vent fur­ther dam­age.

That night, much later af­ter my MRI, as I was drift­ing in and out of sleep—I was still feel­ing ex­hausted—I re­mem­ber doc­tors go­ing in and out of my room, try­ing to talk to a barely re­spon­sive me. One doc­tor specif­i­cally for­bade me from fall­ing asleep. He took out his pen­light, started pry­ing into my eyes, and said rather sternly, “Ma’am, stay with me.”

Where did he think I was go­ing? But I knew what he meant, so I tried to stay awake as much as I could. And then I fell asleep.

The next morn­ing a team of doc­tors came to my room again, and cheer­ily greeted me.


“You are very, very lucky. You got to the ER in time, and you are re­spon­sive to the med­i­ca­tions,” one doc­tor said.

She showed me the MRI im­age on her phone and ex­plained how the stroke dam­aged my right frontal lobe, and what to ex­pect. Luck­ily for me, again, the right frontal lobe is not my dom­i­nant side.

Af­ter five days in the hos­pi­tal, I was dis­charged, with strict in­struc­tions to stay away from stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, to ad­here to my med­i­ca­tions, and to main­tain a low-salt, low-fat diet. The prob­a­bil­ity of a se­cond, poten- tially fa­tal stroke is high in the first few months of the first brain at­tack.

I’m usu­ally good at fol­low­ing in­struc­tions. Med­i­ca­tion ad­her­ence was no prob­lem, I thought, but a low-salt diet? The fu­ture looked bleak.

Save for a few vices, I have gen­er­ally lived a healthy life­style. My first time to see the in­sides of a gym was in col­lege. Af­ter col­lege, I started hit­ting the gym reg­u­larly, com­bin­ing car­dio and weights. This went on un­til I started work­ing.

But the past 11 years I have been ne­glect­ful of my health, be­com­ing un­mind­ful of my food por­tions, quit­ting the gym and pack­ing on pounds each year. I’ve tried sev­eral times to get back on track but of­ten got de­railed. And each time I failed, I re­gained weight.

But the day I stopped count­ing calo­ries and fo­cused on a low-salt diet was the day I started los­ing weight. I’ve dropped more than 45 pounds so far.

I’m lucky I live with some­one who has a healthy

dose of imag­i­na­tion in the kitchen, some­one who knows how to sub­sti­tute salt with herbs and spices. My food is never bor­ing.

I re­al­ized that fear is a pow­er­ful mo­ti­va­tor—the fear of get­ting a se­cond stroke. Now I’m back in the gym do­ing mod­er­ate ex­er­cises. I sum­moned the grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion I once had—back to when I biked my way from Baguio to Sa­gada—and be­gan my jour­ney to­ward heal­ing.

Bik­ing from Baguio to Sa­gada with co­work­ers, the au­thor was the only woman in the group to fin­ish the tour.

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