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James J Alonzo

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My Wife Had a Series of Strokes
By James J Alonzo
Saturday, May 24, 2014

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Wife had 4 strokes and how life has changed


James J Alonzo (c) 
Late May, early June 2013
My lovely wife, Nanci, had a series of strokes that left her left side paralyzed and with some swallowing problems and short term memory limitations. An event we thought could never happen to us did happen. It destroyed our previously comfortable and often laugh filled lives in much the same way that a forest fire destroys acres upon acres of land after a lightning strike ignites a single tree. The fire engulfed us and when it burned itself out, it forced us to rebuild and redefine our lives. It was hardest thing we've ever had to do.
She had a severe headache, a headache is not something that Nanci had a history of, so I drove her to the hospital that specializes in these type of events. It started early in the morning, with a bad headache over her right eye.  No big deal. We all get headaches. And maybe as she aged, she would get headaches, so Nanci took a couple of aspirins and went back to bed. 
I remember laying next to her, concerned, and saying, " Maybe we should run you to the hospital?"
But she said, "no, it will go away."
A couple hours later, I don't know why, my daughter called, but Nanci mentioned it to her and Sherri told her mom to get moving.
 By now the headache was worse and she was talking funny, using more words than needed to get her point across. Yes, It was time to go to the hospital---wrong. We should have gone much earlier. 
One thing a stroke to a loved one does is make you play the "what if" game for months afterward.
"What if we had gone to the ER when the headache started? What if she had taken better care of her health? What if I having known the symptoms of a stroke, put my foot done and insisted she go immediately to the hospital? What if Nanci had gone vegan like her daughter? The "what if's" eats you up in the early stages of accepting Nanci's permanent disability and the changes that come with it.
When we got to the hospital, Nanci, holding my hand walked in with me, like nothing was wrong. (Little did I know that I would never see her walk again.)
After the usual wait, and preparation, they call the specialists and eventually they took her up to get an angiogram. Raising her left arm and hand like a gladiator, Nanci looking towards me, we said to each other, "whatever it is, we will get through this!" 
(Little did I know that that raised arm and fist of defiance and strength would become a permanently contracted arm and claw.)
This was our motto as tragedy occured in our lives. Every time we hit a bump in life, we knew working together, we would get through it.
However I was not prepared that my wife of 48 years, at her age a young 66, would get worse. We always thought problems like this would happen in our 70's.
After some long hours wait, two neurologists came to me and said,
" Nanci had a large stroke over her right eye. It wasn't the largest, but wasn't the smallest? That when we did the angiogram and we were cleaning up the blood clot over her eye, the clot broke loose, as we were cleaning it up, she had another stroke over her right ear area."
"What's that mean?" I asked, afraid to hear what they were going to say next.
"Well", the doctor replied, "we cleaned it up, but we have to see if there is more damage, to her brain. Time will tell, so we are going to observe her for a few days, run more tests, MRA's, CAT SCANS etc. "
As days went on, the prognosis became that maybe with rehab she might be able to  walk. So the decision was to send her to a nursing home that handled stroke rehab and advanced care. So Nanci was to be moved to a nursing home 4 miles from our home, one that Nanci had mentioned to me that she liked, from her 16 years experience in the nursing home business.
"She is too young for that!" my heart cried.
I was to find out that strokes happen to people of all ages including to babies in the womb. 
Nanci spent the next 90 days in the rehabilitation system. Time in the hospital to get stabilized, time in the rehab part of nursing home gaining her strength, and finally a meeting with the staff gave her a chance at more rehab, however she only improved to a certain degree, and she was moved again. Apparently during the rehab period she had suffered two more minor strokes. And it effected her swallowing, and some of her personality.
No longer was she the bright, analytical, administrative, no nonsense person.
After the in-patient rehab ended, Nanci was now in out-patient therapies, and housed in the permanent area of the nursing home. The doctor told me that she would not get better, and would eventually get worse. I had to become her "power of attorney" on finances besides health proxy.
I was at her side every single day of this period.  Her body was broken and she could talk like the "old Nanci, but she was still "there." But yet like a child too.
When she left the in-patient rehab program Nanci couldn't go back to her house or our house.  Our house,( even if we had money), was not good candidate to remodel to make the rooms accessible for her wheelchair.  She was incontient and couldn't care for herself, and I couldn't either. My injured back made it impossible for me to lift her
Those first months were terrible and when we weren't going to therapies I was dealing with selling off personal property and hunting equipment: to raise money for attorneys to help apply for Medicaid.
Fortunately, before the strokes Nanci and I had prepared medical proxy, power of attorney, so I was named her medical and legal power of attorney in a worst case scenario. It couldn't get much worse. Having our legal T's crossed and the I's dotted ahead of time made it easier, but it didn't help my stress levels.
 The bad stuff was behind us and rebuilding our lives was bringing many good things back into our every day existence. 
I was able to start doing some gardening for the first time in my life and I got seriously addicted to blogging as a way to share some of the funnier situations that were occurring in my life as a caregiver to a guy with severe aphasia. Looking for humor is situations is a great coping technique for me to defuse the inherent stress that comes with the territory.
At this point in time my still-wheelchair-bound wife  out from the stroke that nearly destroyed both of our lives. She is a happy, lady with a great personality and a positive attitude. We appreciate life to best of our abilities and not a day goes by that I am not grateful for that.
Her unprompted vocabulary is less amount of words a day---and this from a girl who before the stroke was a gifted conversationalist  who rarely quit talking. I no longer mourn the loss of in-depth conversations late at night or the political debates we used to have. I stopped mourning my old way of life a long time ago. But it wasn't an easy transition.
How has my wife's stroke changed my life? There isn't an area of my life that hasn't changed. Aside from the obvious things written about up above, I've learned the true meaning of the words: failure is not an option. I've discovered that in the face of adversity we humans are stronger than we think we are. I've come to appreciate that love can move mountains. My belief in the goodness of mankind as been reaffirmed; for every blatantly indifferent person we've met since the stroke we find a dozen others who go out of their way to show kindness to me and my disabled wife.
A stroke in a family is like a lightening strike igniting a tree in a forest. Its effects are far-reaching and our story is not unusual. Approximately 700,000 new or recurring strokes per year happen in the United States with 163,000 of those strokes ending with a fatality. But will I was able to bring Nanci and me through our own personal fire storm and go on to forge a new life that includes joy and happiness once again. 

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