For Erin, stroke was the hardest to hear. 24 years ago, her mom, suffered a stroke where they almost lost her. She was now being admitted to the same ICU she sat in as a teen praying for her mom to survive.
A little bit about Erin
On April 11th, 2023 I went to work at the middle school I have taught at for twenty years expecting it to be a normal day. While meeting with my principal I experienced what I now know as a “thunderclap headache”. I recall cutting off our conversation abruptly and making my way towards my classroom but before I could, I began experiencing numbness in my fingers and toes, eventually losing feeling. At some point I grasped on to the wall for balance and began to fall.
I was rushed to the ER where initial scans showed pooling blood on my skull. A subsequent angiogram ruled out an aneurysm and I was diagnosed with a perimesencephalic subarachnoid hemorrhage caused by a burst vein on my brain. While I was stable, I was told I would need to spend at least two weeks in the ICU. It was vital that they closely monitor me for vasospasms which, while rare for my diagnosis, could result in a stroke.
“Stroke?”... These words were the hardest to hear. 24 years ago, my mom, also a teacher, suffered a stroke where we almost lost her. I was now being admitted to the same ICU I sat in as a teen praying my mom would survive. She was a fighter, a survivor, and I was determined to be the same.
My experience while in hospital
On day 7, I began experiencing the vasospasms they were monitoring for. After another angiogram, they were able to observe two segments of my internal carotid and one of my vertebral arteries spasming. This allowed them to shoot medicine directly into the affected area, acting as a stent.
The next day, my 41st birthday, I suffered a seizure that left me unresponsive for several minutes. I could hear my mom begging me to come back, but could not respond to her pleas. I was rushed for more scans and another angiogram which showed my vessels open with blood circulating how it was supposed to. They are still unclear what caused the seizure that day other than my body responding to the pain. When I was wheeled back to the room, I was mumbling incoherently, unaware what year it was. Then, like flipping a light switch, I was back making sense. During the next several days my headache pain became more manageable, my scans continued to improve, and I was released to go home to my family. My neuro team did not expect I would have the vasospasms, so my staying in the ICU quite literally saved my life.
Recovery at home
My first week at home was difficult as I struggled with immense pain. In addition to headaches, random shooting pain would travel down my back and my legs leaving me unable to move. Despite the pain, I quickly made physical gains, moving from walking to the mailbox with help, to daily slow 1 mile walks with my dog, husband and kids.
I learned that I had new sensitivities to various sounds I didn’t expect. This scared me as, in addition to teaching, I direct and choreograph musicals and show choirs and sing with a local big band. Music is such a HUGE part of my life, the thought of the “new me” having to give it up was defeating. Thankfully, I’m finding not all music and sounds leave me struggling and noise-reducing ear buds help make situations I love tolerable again.
Moving forward and systems of support
I was determined to return to my middle school classroom before the school year ended to say goodbye to my students and see them off to high school. I was told at the hospital this was not a likely scenario. I had to come to grips with the fact that my timeline wasn’t fully mine to decide. With each “not yet”, my family was there to wipe the tears and raise my spirits. My friends were there keeping me laughing, and my mom, my hero, was there to listen and remind me to take it slow and I’d eventually get back to my classroom just like she did.
In late May, I was able to return to work on a limited basis for the last days of the school year with breaks, accommodations, and a lot of help and support from my amazing colleagues. Upon my return, I was nervous with a million self doubt questions running through my mind.
“Would everyone look at me differently?” “Was I ready mentally and physically to be back?” “What would happen when I had a headache or the students were loud and I couldn’t handle the noise?”
When I walked back into school, I found myself greeted at the door by dozens of colleagues sporting “SameYou” T-shirts and a brand new one for me! Through the hugs and tears, they continued to remind me I was still me.
Favorite quotes on the journey and advice to others
“We can’t always choose the music life plays for us, but we can choose how we dance to it.”
My advice to others would be to work to find joy in the little things and celebrate successes, no matter how small they seem. I never would have thought I’d be celebrating an assisted lap around the ICU with my 11 year old daughter or a successful walk to the mailbox with my husband and dog, but those milestones were everything in those moments and gave me hope and courage to reach the next ones.
Three months after my 41st birthday, the day I was told they almost lost me, my family and I celebrated a “do over” in Austria seeing the sights from my favorite movie musical, “The Sound of Music.” Four months after my brain hemorrhage, I was back directing and choreographing my middle school show choir and I’m gearing up to head back to my classroom full time this fall. Stay strong and believe in yourself. Life may look different, but each day is a gift. Celebrate it!