Last July, I gave birth to my baby boy. Only a few weeks later, I started to experience the worst headache of my life. Nothing I tried stopped the pain. Since I work in the medical field, I was familiar with the signs of a stroke, one of which can be a severe headache, so I had my husband take me to the hospital. Once we got there, I tried to stand up from my chair and felt my entire right side go numb, and that’s the last thing I remember until I woke up in the intensive care unit ten days later. I had had a hemorrhagic stroke, caused by a bleed in the brain.
Jaime isn’t the typical person you’d expect to have a stroke since we often think of stroke as something that only happens to people above a certain age. Stroke can occur at any age and prompt medical attention can save your life, which is why it’s important to know the warning signs of stroke. Like Jaime, you can experience a severe headache, numbness in one side of the body and difficulty speaking; in addition to sudden weakness, blurry vision or dizziness are some of the other most common symptoms.
When I first woke up, I couldn’t remember much of what happened and I had difficulty moving on my own. My speech was impaired, I couldn’t use my right side almost at all, and I had two seizures during the following weeks. I was encouraged to start inpatient rehabilitation as soon as possible. I met with physical therapists, occupational therapist and speech therapists for the next month, and I made big improvements. I started therapy not being able to do much on my own, and ended up being able to walk out of the hospital with the use of a cane. My therapists worked with me every day, encouraging me and pushing me to keep trying. Without their support, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today.
When it comes to brain injuries, the sooner you begin rehabilitation, the better the outcome may be. Cone Health has several different venues of rehabilitation to help patients at different stages of recovery. Most of the time, the rehab process starts in the hospital with intensive inpatient rehab and can progress to skilled nursing facilities and outpatient locations. After a stroke, many patients have to relearn how to perform small, everyday tasks, like getting dressed. At outpatient rehab, we focus on role resumption, or helping patients resume the role they may have had before, in a way that works for them now.
I’m a mom of three and it was important for me to focus on the tasks that would help me take care of them. I appreciated that when I came in to the clinic, Karen would ask me what I wanted to improve. Then she’d find a way to help me relearn that skill. Recently, she’s been helping me balance while lifting objects so that I can lift my son out of the tub when I give him a bath. She has also helped me practice walking on a boat and keeping my balance since my family loves to be on the water.
The recovery process can vary based on the severity of the stroke, and patients can experience some life-long impacts and may need to find a "new normal." Everyone recovers at a different pace, but the support of family and friends can really help the patient reinforce and practice the skills they need to recover. Cone Health partners with patients to set goals that are important to them, and treat the deficits they have in certain areas so they can find their new normal.
The Cone Health Outpatient Neuroehabilitation Center has an exceptional trauma team comprised of physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists and a neuropsychiatrist dedicated to rehabilitating stroke patients in the community. As part of a multi-disciplinary approach to care, the team focuses on helping patients improve all aspects of daily things such as dressing, bathing, driving a car or returning to work.
Karen Pulaski is a licensed occupational therapist at the Cone Health Neurorehabilitation Outpatient Center. Karen received a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and psychology from St. Bonaventure University in Olean, NY and earned her Master’s degree of occupational therapy from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts in 1989. She has worked for Cone Health for the past 21 years.
Jaime Trotter is a local Cone Health patient.