[past] umc, part 2

it's hard for me to describe my experience at UMC -- not because i don't remember, but because there is SO much i want to include that i don't know how to pack it all in to a post or two in a way that makes sense. so, i will give some background and then take a page from the book on compelling powerpoint presentations and bust out the bullets.

i arrived at UMC in the middle of the night on Friday, Feb. 25. i was put in a double-occupancy room on the 6th floor in the neuro med-surg unit. most people on this floor had some sort of traumatic brain injury or other neurological issue, and seizure monitors were constantly going off. this was my home for a total of eight days. (it seemed longer!)

Dr. Weinand and about five or so medical students came to meet me later that Friday. (Dr. Weinand never saw me alone. since UMC is a teaching hospital for the University of Arizona, the doctors are always assisted by students and interns.) he did a neuro assessment, including testing my paralyzed limbs, and talked about my MRI. his diagnosis pretty much agreed with what Dr. Nicol had said, but unlike Dr. Nicol, Dr. Weinand wanted to do surgery. He explained that he would go in my brain and remove the pooled blood and remove whatever caused the bleed in the first place -- he was almost positive it was a CVM. he said that once the blood was removed, the pressure in my brain would reduce and i might see some return as far as movement was concerned. surgery was set for Wednesday, March 2. in the six days leading up to the surgery, i would undergo more tests that would help the doctors map my brain for a successful surgery.

i couldn't really wrap my head around brain surgery. what i did know, though, was that Dr. Weinand knew his stuff. his bedside manner was terrible and he came off short and cold, but my family and i were confident in him.

despite that confidence, i was still struggling with my situation. the panic attacks continued, making things so much worse. my emotions were all over the place: one minute i was doing fine and the next i was in tears again. i easily became discouraged when therapists would come help me try to walk or move. didn't they know half my body was dead weight? each day lasted for what felt like forever, and i had little motivation to do anything -- mostly because i couldn't really do anything. knowing how depressed i was, Troy and my family tried to take me for walks outside every day. at first they were a welcome change from the dark hospital room, but then the thought of being away from my nurses frightened me to the point where i didn't really want to stay out for long. what if i stopped breathing or something else happened in my brain? who would help me? even though i felt uncomfortable inside the hospital, i felt even more uneasy on the outside.

thankfully, being in Tucson meant i was near family, and my three sisters - Keele, Alicia and Angela - along with my parents and Troy, brought me immense comfort. my sisters showered me with hugs, gifts and goodies. everybody took turns sitting by my side, feeding me positive thoughts, massaging my right leg and helping me feel safe. i also found strength in prayer and in hearing my parents read to me about the many miracles Jesus performed in the scriptures. i knew that Jesus could perform a miracle in my life if i just had enough faith in Him. trouble was, my fears were overtaking my faith, making my outlook on things less than rosy.

a big boost of positivity came when i found out just how many people were supporting me and, most importantly, praying for me. my family, friends, members of my ward and stake (my church congregation), coworkers and even people i did not know were asking God to heal me and bring me comfort. i also learned that one of my ward's leaders had asked his relative, a member of our church's First Presidency, to pray for me. (for those who aren't familiar with this terminology, the First Presidency is made up of the president of the church, also known as our prophet, and his two counselors. the three men regularly meet at the Salt Lake temple to pray and seek guidance for the affairs of the church and the teachings they should convey to its members.) knowing that men i believe to be prophets of God were pleading to Him on my behalf brought tears to my eyes. to this day, i can't express enough how thankful i am for all the prayers said for me, and how absolutely certain i am that they WORKED. if it wasn't for my prayers and the prayers of others, i know i would not be where i am today. (if you, reader, have prayed for me: thank you, thank you. times a million.)

now, i suppose i'll transition into the bulleted portion of this post. like i mentioned earlier, there is so much i want to record, and bullets might be the best way to do it.

- i really had hoped i was done with the MRI/CT scan business after Flagstaff, but i had to go through a whole new slew of tests, including two more MRIs and a barium swallow. let me point out a couple ironies which are funny now but weren't as humorous when they were happening.

first, before all this happened, i was supposed to get the barium swallow test to see if i had any ulcers or other issues that were giving me some bad stomach issues. the thought of swallowing that junk while already feeling nauseous was not in the least bit appealing to me since i am pretty freaked out about throwing up, so i kept putting it off. when the nurse at UMC told me i had to drink the barium so they could see if i had any other areas of concern, i couldn't help but laugh a bit. as soon as i tried to swallow the barium mixture, though, i stopped laughing. blueberry flavor? doubtful. in the end, it took much too long and was admittedly not quite as horrible as i made myself believe.

now to the second [and funniest] irony. for both my MRIs, i was offered headphones to listen to music. during both MRIs, i opted for country. BOTH times, the song "If I Die Young" by The Band Perry played. (if you aren't familiar with the tune, the video is below.) basically, the whole song is from the perspective of a girl who dies too early. i can't say this really helped matters. i laugh about it now, but i still avoid country during my MRIs and instead opt for alternative rock. just in case. :]

- my appetite at UMC was all but non-existent. i'm the kind of person who doesn't eat when i'm at all nervous, so i obviously turned away from food pretty quickly. i could order my food from the cafeteria downstairs, and when i did do that, the food was actually pretty good! i mainly picked at my meals, not really eating more than a few bites. while not eating worked well for the most part, it backfired a few times each day. one of the medications i was on was a steroid to help with my brain swelling, and a side effect it had on me was to make me feel super weak and woozy if i didn't have much food in my system. this was probably a blessing in disguise to help me eat more.

- many people came to my aid to help cheer me up. my dad wrote down my goals for each day to make me have things to work toward. drink water. sit up in bed for an hour. read my scriptures. my mom and angela, the two most inspirational people in my family, constantly encouraged me to think positive thoughts, focus on the good and picture myself being healed. keele brought my brand new nephew over so i could see him, and alicia provided comfort by speaking about things from her nursing point of view. and, who could forget how troy traveled back and forth from Flagstaff to Tucson every chance he got to be by my side. i am still in awe of his sacrifices for me.

- after a stroke, the affected side of the body goes through a period of flaccidity (pretty much being paralyzed) and then shifts to a much longer period when certain muscles go into hyperdrive (spasticity). at UMC, my right leg went from being completely dead to having some serious and very frequent spasms. they centered in my quad and would make my entire leg straighten out and shake violently and uncontrollably. the only way to get them to stop was for somebody to wrestle my leg so it would bend. the spasms were so strong that it sometimes took two people leaning on my leg to make it bend. when i was particularly nervous, the spasms worsened. during the night, they woke me up many times. thankfully, my mom slept on a terribly uncomfortable couch bed next to me and would corral my leg to make the shaking stop. my family and Troy were so good about massaging that leg to relieve the pain caused by the spasms.

- on the positive side of the transition from flaccidity to spasticity, i became able to move my leg voluntarily, albeit very slightly. i found that having a spastic quad meant i could push my foot against somebody's hand. i also became able to raise my leg off the bed a bit. both of these changes were met with lots of cheering and smiles from me, my family and nurses. :]

- speaking of nurses, i had some great ones at UMC. one nurse in particular, BJ, was a true angel to me. she was incredibly kind and caring, but also pushed me to stay positive and do difficult things. the days when she was my nurse were always a little better! she even brought me stuffed lamb after she found out lambs were my favorite animal.

- a few days into my stay at UMC, i finally got a shower. i had just barely brushed my teeth and gotten my hair brushed for the first time in days, too. my mom helped prop me up in the shower and washed my matted hair. it felt so good! she then french braided my hair. my last long hair 'do!

- this bullet point deals with the commode, so if you get easily grossed out, feel free to skip down! i think there was one instance prior to UMC when i was faced with using a commode (aka bucket with a seat on it). i was at the hospital when i was 10 for a broken leg, and i told the nurses i had to go #2. they brought over the commode. i had never seen such a thing. it turned out i could hold it after all.

well, this time i had no choice. any time i had to take care of any sort of business, i pressed the nurse call light and was be assisted out of bed and on to the commode by a tech. she -- or he -- would help me stand on my good foot, pull my underwear down and try to place me on the commode. (i say "try" because there were many close calls. since i had horrible balance and was partially dead weight, the techs sometimes had a hard time getting me in the right spot.) the tech would then pull the curtain shut, hand me TP when needed and then help me back in bed. following each of these episodes, my wonderful mother was always ready to pass the antibacterial wipes. :]

aside from the obvious awkwardness involved, i'd have to say the worst part of the commode experience was one fateful day almost a full week since the stroke. trauma, shock and not eating much had equaled out to an intestinal road block -- no #2 for almost seven days. despite days of coaxing from the nurses, nothing moved. laxatives had proved ineffective, so the nurses threatened me with a suppository. oh. shoot. i told them i would try one more time! what happened next is commonly referred to by Troy and my parents as "The Poop of Death."

- modesty kind of went out the window during my hospital experience. with so many doctors, nurses and techs examining me and helping me with personal hygiene, i stopped being embarrassed about being naked or semi-clothed in front of strangers. it's funny how quickly i went from wanting only a girl helping me use the commode to not really caring.

i guess this brings up another point: it is interesting how, when something traumatic happens, we very quickly find out what is most important to us. throughout my hospital stays, and even after, the things that kept me going were God/faith, family and friends. that's it. where i was once a perfectionist about my appearance, i could care less about blemishes, the state of my hair or what other people thought of me. the top news in the world and on Facebook didn't matter. thoughts of work priorities and social engagements dissolved immediately. now that i am out of the hospital and back to the real world, i try to remind myself of the things that matter most.

- one of the most memorable and laughter-inducing parts about UMC was my roommate, Diane. i had about three different ladies in the bed next to me throughout my stay, but Diane was there the longest. she was somewhere in her 50's and had just had a brain biopsy. she was so sweet and loving toward me from the very start. she was a very faithful Christian, so many of our conversations dealt with God. i really appreciated and was inspired by her faith and kindness.

that doesn't sound so laughter-inducing, does it? well, this next part is where the humor comes in. as sweet as Diane was, she was a somewhat difficult roommate to have. she was as anxious as i was and manifested it vocally. she was especially vocal during the night when she would wake up and talk to her husband. to help her sleep, the nurses gave her ambien. this was perhaps a grave mistake. instead of knocking her out, it did the opposite. she would stay awake almost all night talking to her husband about incoherent -- and often times hilarious -- topics. one night in particular, she awoke to share with her husband and the nurse that she had been riding a pancake train in her dream. (if you are wondering what a pancake train is, it is a train on which she was serving pancakes.) she talked about this train experience all night and the next day. it was very real to her, even long after she woke up. this is just one example of funny moments brought about by Diane. even though she probably never realized it, her episodes brought some much-needed laughter to me and whoever was staying in the room with me.

- the TV show Pysch offered many, many hours of distraction for me and my visitors. i was so grateful for wi-fi and Netflix!

- as many of you may know, each night, my mom posted updates about me on Facebook. i looked forward to waking up the next morning so i could log on to Facebook and see the comfort, love and support extended to me by my wonderful friends and family in the way of messages, posts, comments and likes. while i loved all the encouragement, i struggled believing in myself as much as everybody else believed in me. i remember telling my mom on multiple occasions that i wasn't as strong as everybody thought, that everybody had it all wrong and that i would just end up disappointing them. that was probably my lowest point: everybody rooting for a miracle and me not believing i was capable of meeting their expectations.

this now concludes the longest post ever!

next [past] post: the operation and transferring to Oro Valley Hospital.
next [present] post: the current state of things.


[past] university medical center, part 1: a detour

the following is a bit off topic, but i think it is pertinent to my past and future posts. hope you don't mind a brief detour. :]

University Medical Center is about 40 minutes south of my parents' house in Tucson, so it would have been reasonable if i had never been there before. but i had actually been there multiple times. just never as a patient.

from seventh grade through my junior year in high school, my mom and i accompanied my psychiatrist to UMC to take part in his lecture to the second year med students about mental disorders. once he was finished teaching, it was my turn. i would get up in front of the 200+ students and essentially tell them my life story as far as mental disorders were concerned. like i mentioned before, i have had OCD and panic attacks since i was very young, and my psychiatrist thought sharing my experiences with the students might help them be more understanding as doctors someday. (my mom also shared her experiences of caring for a husband and two daughters with various mental health issues.)

my life story went something like this: i had my first panic attack when i was five. i was so afraid to leave my parents -- and to be left by them -- that i refused to ride the bus to kindergarten without my mom and rarely went a day without breaking down in my classroom. i was afraid my parents would die while i was at school. everybody thought it was just separation anxiety. just leave her crying, she'll grow out of it, they said. i think my parents knew better, especially since my dad had struggled with panic attacks for much of his life. they took me to see a psychiatrist and i started on some anti-anxiety meds.

first grade was a breeze. maybe it was just separation anxiety after all! then we moved from CA to AZ, where the panic attacks returned with a vengeance, this time accompanied by OCD symptoms. school was already difficult in a new place, and crying all the time and spending lunch and recesses with the teacher were not exactly conducive to making friends. by the end of second grade, i had developed a huge fear of throwing up and, as a result, of germs -- because, naturally, germs lead to throwing up. i was so worried about germs that i washed my hands about 75 times every day, with 21 squirts of soap each time. i didn't eat much for fear i would get sick. i was a scrawny 8-year-old with cracked, bleeding hands and perpetually red eyes from crying. life was just so scary.

third grade was worse than second. my mom had no choice but to be a classroom helper on most days, just so i could feel comfortable at school. towards the second half of the year, even that didn't work. my panic attacks and OCD were so severe that it was determined i was not able to function in a school environment. i was removed from school and homeschooled for the remainder of the year and for all of fourth grade. at first, being away from all the germy kids was a relief, but i started to miss the social interaction of school. my family moved back to CA during my fourth grade year, and without school, i didn't have much of a chance to make friends outside of softball and church. i decided i would return to public school for fifth grade.

now i'd like to point out that i didn't just accept the panic attacks and OCD. my parents spent so many patient hours walking me through coping techniques that helped me work through the anxiety and feelings of obsession/compulsion. my psychiatrists and psychologists did the same. i pushed myself to do a lot of things i thought i couldn't do, like sleeping over at friends' houses and eating at restaurants. i also learned about the power of faith and how crucial it is in overcoming trials. slowly but surely, i became more confident in my ability to stand up to anxiety and OCD.

fifth and sixth grade had many rocky moments, but overall, i prevailed. i even went to sixth grade camp for a week in central CA, traveled to Lake Havasu with my friend and won the election for student body president. we moved back to AZ before seventh grade, and the upswing still continued. i had finally figured out how to master my thoughts enough so that my panic attacks came much less frequently, and my OCD was markedly improved. true, i still struggled and missed out on a lot of fun, "normal people" activities because of my fears, but i was able to fool most people into thinking i was one of those "normal people." i even threw up in my freshman and junior years of high school and realized it wasn't that bad. overall, i had a great weakness but had somehow found it within myself to be strong.

this is where my testimony to the college kids would end. they would then ask me questions and applaud me, and sometimes i would get a nice UofA med school sweatshirt to take home. i always loved that experience.

flash forward to 2011. i'm back at UMC, and ironically, i find myself feeling not like the strong, victorious high schooler i was when i last visited this hospital, but exactly like that scared little girl in third grade.


[past] flagstaff

how did i not post anything in July? i'm horrible at this blogging stuff! i'll try harder, promise. :] now where was i...

my parents drove from Tucson to Flagstaff the night of President's Day. they arrived in my dark hospital room sometime in the middle of the night. i was so glad they were there, not only so they could comfort me but also so Troy could go home and get some rest.

in all, i was at Flagstaff Medical Center about three days. i don't remember many details about it. my parents and Troy don't remember everything, either, but maybe that's a blessing. during stressful times like these, i think Heavenly Father might sometimes limit our recollection in order to help us move forward without too many negative memories. on to some of the things i do remember…

a different neuro doc named Dr. Nicol was assigned to my case. (i was not a huge fan.) his assessment was that i probably had a cavernous vascular malformation (CVM): a group of blood vessels in the brain that are malformed, causing abnormal blood flow that can lead to hemorrhaging. he said that i could have been born with it or had it for a long time, and that in many cases, people who have a CVM never have any ill effects. he also said it could be a brain tumor that had exploded. whatever it was, he saw calcium deposits in the MRI images, meaning the cause of my brain issue had been around for a while.

i think i registered what Dr. Nicol was telling me, but i was more focused on what was going on outside my brain. i was still super worried that my left side was going to give out, too. the doctor tried to explain to me why this wouldn't happen:

"see, Ashley, the bleed is on the left side of your brain and that's why your right side is affected. there's nothing wrong with the right side of your brain, so the left half of your body will be fine."

"can the blood bleed into the other side?"

"no, i don't think so. the worst of the bleeding should be over by now. the first 24 hours after a hemorrhage are the most dangerous. you should be ok now."

i think Dr. Nicol was trying to be comforting, but that just made me worry more. i should be ok? just should?

Dr. Nicol concluded that surgery would not be immediately necessary. before operating, he wanted to wait for the blood in my brain to dissipate so that he could see more clearly what the cause of the bleed was. he suggested i be sent to rehab for a month or so until that happened.

well, my parents were not thrilled with this plan. they didn't agree with waiting. i didn't fully realize it at the time, but my parents spent hours trying to get me into another hospital so i could be treated by a better neurosurgeon. i am so grateful for them.

first, they tried to get me into Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix since we knew that was one of the best neuro hospitals. no luck -- all beds were full. they then called any and all doctors we know through church to see if they could help. they talked to my cousin who is in his med school residency. my sister, Keele, suggested they talk to her neighbor, the head breast cancer doctor at University Medical Center in Tucson. she agreed to put a good word in with one of the neurosurgeons at UMC. thanks to her help, my case was accepted by Dr. Martin Weinand, one of the doctors who helped save Congresswoman Giffords only a few weeks prior.

while my parents were making calls and working with Flagstaff Medical Center and UMC to get me discharged and transferred, i was having a pretty continuous string of panic attacks. i have struggled with panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) since i was five years old. normally, i panic over things that have about a 5% chance of actual happening, and the panic attacks pass after a couple hours at most. these panic attacks were a different brand: there was a large chance my fears would actually come to pass and the panic attacks spanned most of the day. the nurses often gave me Xanax to help me relax and calm my quick breathing and racing heart. (hmm…maybe i don't remember much of Flagstaff because i was drugged most of the time...)

during one of my episodes, a nurse gave me a piece of advice that i have tried to follow ever since. he told me that the situation was out of my hands, and that worrying wasn't going to make things any better. (my mom often repeated these words to me. she would refer to him as the "Jesus nurse" because of his long hair. :])

on Thursday, preparations were being made to transfer me down to Tucson. i had been moved out of the ICU, but i was still seriously worked up. a nurse pushed Benadryl through my IV in an attempt to calm me down. it did the opposite. what followed was the worst panic attack i think i've ever had. i felt out of my mind. the Benadryl made me so woozy and even made me feel like i couldn't move -- not the best idea for somebody who was worried about that happening to begin with!

i finally fell asleep after that panic attack and awoke in the early evening when my parents and nurses were discussing my transfer to UMC. i would go by ambulance and would leave soon. i did not want to travel alone, but when the paramedics came to pick me up, they said nobody could travel with me. worst panic attack ever, round two, anyone?

i tried really hard to get out of the ride to Tucson: can we go tomorrow instead? no, i don't want to take Xanax. i don't want what happened with the Benadryl to happen again! can somebody PLEASE travel with me? please?

everybody's patience with me was wearing thin. finally, all efforts to convince me to go quietly were abandoned and i was placed on a gurney and rolled into the ambulance. i took a Xanax, said goodbye to Troy and my parents and just prayed and prayed. my parents assured me they would follow the ambulance the whole way down.

the medic caring for me in the back talked to me to calm me down. i brought up baseball and asked him about his family. he took my vitals every 15 minutes and sometimes made less-than-reassuring comments about them. after about 20-30 minutes, the Xanax did its thing. i fell asleep till we got to Tucson. when i woke up, i looked out the back window to see if my parents were still following. sure enough, there was my dad's truck. i saw the I-10 exit sign for Grant Road and knew we were close. it was almost over, and for a brief moment i thought: i made it through. if i can get through this, maybe i can get through whatever is coming next.


[present] shoes

last week i went shopping for clothes for the first time in quite a while. i didn't bring that many clothes down from Tempe, so i have been wanting/needing to go shopping. i didn't find much, unfortunately, but i did find this cute shirt at Gap:

ok, now i have a new shirt. what should i wear with it? how about jeans!

got that taken care of. what about shoes? after all, an outfit isn't an outfit without cute shoes. thankfully, i didn't have to think too hard about my footwear selection. it was immediately obvious what shoes would look best with my new ensemble. these!!!!

i know what you're thinking. where-oh-where can i get a pair? don't fret; you, too, can own these babies, and i won't even be upset if you copy me.

in case you don't see the readily apparent awesomeness exuded by my hot kicks, let's take a closer look:

first, please note that these are straight outta the Target men's section. the steely gray and dirty white is nicely complemented by perfectly placed splashes of deep red. second, the slit in the right shoe adds just the right amount of attitude. and of course, who could overlook the most striking feature of all: the twisty laces that hearken back to the glories of 4th grade. (initially, the twisty laces were installed to allow me to tie my shoes with one hand. i can tie regular laces now, but switching would mean i'd lose out on the awesomely quick tighten/loosen abilities of twisty laces!)

aside from their fashionable qualities, my shoes are also completely functional. so functional, in fact, that i am not ashamed to say i wear them every single day. they are the only shoes that fit over my slick AFO:

the AFO is actually super helpful. it helps me walk. without it, my right foot doesn't really behave. it turns in (due to spasticity) and won't lie flat.

the AFO keeps my foot down and also tilts my leg slightly forward so that i don't hyperextend my knee as easily as i do without it, and the joints built into the ankle portion allow me some flexibility while still providing control. when i wear it, i actually can walk kinda well!

when i was at the rehab hospital, my mom ran to Target to get me my shoes. i knew they would be a men's shoe since i needed something a couple sizes larger than my normal [rather large] shoe size in order to accommodate the AFO. i was nervous about what they'd look like. lucky for me, they turned out to be super stylin', not to mention they go with everything!

cute summer dress?

jean shorts?

long maxi dress?

khaki linen pants?



any style i could possibly wear while also needing to walk in public?

you get the idea.

some may think i would want to wear sandals in the hot weather, or that i would miss my Vans…or any other shoe for that matter. no way, jose! that's like asking a bald guy if he misses his hair. and to think, if it wasn't for my stroke, i never would have thought of wearing these shoes. ever.

here's to you, my faithful shoe companions!


[past] president’s day, part three

the first doctor to see me gave three possible diagnoses: a sudden onset of MS, a slipped disc in my back or maybe even some sort of viral complication from the flu. he said his wife had that particular virus years ago and it had paralyzed her for a while. he asked if i had had the flu recently. i told him i had, the week before. maybe that's what it is! that sounds curable! the doc had me swab my nose so he could test for that possibility.

next in was a neurologist. she asked questions and examined me. when she looked down my throat, she called the nurse over to show her something. "see that?" she asked, referencing the hangy thing in the back of my throat. "see how it is leaning to the right? that's something you don't see often."


she ordered an MRI for me. as i waited to be taken in, i went through bouts of panic and shorter bouts of calm. i was so thirsty, but they wouldn't allow me to drink anything. only ice chips, a few at a time, and IV fluid. less than an hour into my ER visit, i had to pee so bad. the nurse brought in a bedpan. i felt helpless but could care less about modesty (a recurring theme over the next month or so).

when it was time for my MRI, they shot me up with Valium to help me calm down. i was already in major shock, and the thought of being in a narrow tube with my head strapped down did not help matters. (it was one thing to be in the tube and lay still if i could have moved had i wanted to; it was an entirely separate matter to be told not to move and know that moving wasn't even an option.) i wanted Troy to come in with me, but they told me that was not a possibility. somehow, thanks to God and the Valium, i made it through. we went back to my "room" and waited.

the next thing i remember, the doctor with the swab came to say the test results came back negative. the paralysis was not induced by flu.
dang it.

the neurologist then returned with a picture from the MRI. this first image is what i saw (the other two came later):

what was that huge spot on my brain? she explained it was an aneurysm of some sort. a brain bleed. i don't recall much else of her explanation.

i had Troy call my boss at work to tell her i wouldn't be in the next day. this will probably take some time to figure out, i thought. maybe i'll have to stay in the hospital for a few days. i called my parents and explained to them what had happened. "do we need to come up there?!" my mom asked. i told her we'd see what the doctors said next and call them back.

i drifted in and out of sleep for a few hours. finally, at around 11 at night (according to Troy; i don't even remember), they transferred me to the ICU. my stay in the ER had not felt like 8 hours, but i could probably thank the Valium for that.

the end of president's day is pretty foggy for me. i know i had nice nurses in the ICU who frequently helped me on the bedpan. my room was dark. there were IVs. i'm sure i said many prayers. i remember Troy's tired face. i told him to tell my parents to drive up from Tucson. Troy tells me now that i kept asking him if i was going to die.

most of all, i remember the headaches starting. deep, painful, lingering headaches like i'd never had before. no amount of Tylenol helped. just as i would drift into unconsciousness, the pain would increase, making sleep for me -- and Troy -- very difficult. i moaned and squeezed Troy's hand, willing myself to sleep and escape a day that had started as a carefree holiday.


[past] president’s day, part two

ski patrol finally arrived and got to work, staring with asking a string of questions. i answered, despite a fog that had started settling over my mind.

my name? [ashley white] what were my symptoms? [i can't move my right side. it's completely numb] what was i doing before they started? [just sitting here] had i crashed that day? [no] had i hit my head? [no] was i sure? [yes!] was i hydrated? [yes] had i eaten enough that day? [yes] was i positive i hadn't fallen? [yes, yes i'm sure!] who was i with? [my boyfriend] what's his name? [troy. he should be coming down soon] did i have any preexisting conditions? [just panic attacks]

"okay ashley, this is probably a panic attack then," said one of the medics while another placed an oxygen mask on me and yet another took my vitals.

"no, it's NOT." i said emphatically. "i know what a panic attack feels like. this is NOT just a panic attack. i can't move my right side at all."

"well you are moving it."

i looked down. my arm and hand were moving on their own, but i couldn't even feel it.

"i'm not moving it on purpose…"

where's troy?
i kept looking over to my left, searching for his gray jacket.

after more examination: "ashley, we are going to recommend you get to the hospital as soon as possible."

"what is wrong with me?!"

"we don't know, so you need to be examined at the hospital."

"am i having a stroke?"

"no, i don't think so. but you should go get checked out. would you like us to call an ambulance?"

i knew the answer was yes, even though my need for an ambulance meant my condition was more serious than i was willing to accept. this was not something simple, though; i could feel it.

troy finally came into view. he was running toward me, his face painted with worry. man, was i glad to see him. i told him what was happening, and despite his concerned look, he assured me that everything was going to be ok. i wanted to believe him but felt so scared. (he tells me now that he wasn't just saying that to help me calm down, but that he actually felt that i would be fine.)

the ambulance arrived and i was loaded on board. i wanted troy to ride with me, but i braved up and let him take his truck down instead so that he would have a car. the lady inside the ambulance started an IV. searching for somebody to give me answers, i asked her if she knew what was wrong with me. she said she didn't. i don't recall what else she said, but i remember it definitely didn't make me feel better about the situation. i tried to relax and pray. i calmed down a little bit and just focused on the interior of the ambulance and the bouncing and clanking noises caused by the winding road.

we went down the mountain without lights or sirens, so it took about 30 minutes to get to Flagstaff Medical Center. once there, i was rolled on a gurney to one of those curtained "rooms" in the ER. troy got there shortly after and sat next to me, holding my hand and trying to calm me down. i was constantly moving my left side to make sure it still worked. my biggest fear, aside from dying, was that my left side would go out, too, leaving me completely paralyzed. (this fear hung around a while -- about three weeks.)

nurses gathered around me and asked many of the same questions that ski patrol had posed. as i answered them this time around, i noticed that it was difficult to form my thoughts into words. there were times i was trying to talk and would just stop mid-sentence, and then wonder why i had stopped. i also had trouble reading paperwork because the words blurred together.

at the first possible moment, troy closed the curtains and gave me a
blessing. i had wanted one back at snowbowl, but there was no time for it. after the blessing, troy told me that he felt very calm about the whole thing, that he knew i would be fine. i grasped on to his hope to fill the gap where mine had almost vanished.


[past] president’s day, part one

february 21, 2011. the day i think i'll always want to remember and try to forget. the day this new chapter in my life began.

on friday the 18th, i drove up to flagstaff to spend the three-day holiday weekend with my boyfriend, troy. that night, we watched the Dark Knight. saturday we drove into the woods and played in the snow.
sunday was church and a yummy homemade dinner. i don't remember what we made, but i know it included biscuits. the whole weekend we talked about how we wished it would snow really hard so that i would get snowed in and have to stay in flagstaff longer.

on monday morning, we got up early, jumped into our longjohns and thick socks, filled our camelbacks and headed up to snowbowl for a half day of snowboarding before i had to head back to tempe. this was only our second snowboarding trip of the season. i was pretty sick during the first one up in brianhead, utah, so i was really hoping to have a solid day at snowbowl. even before we got up the mountain, though, i was feeling nervous and not as excited as i had hoped. looking back, i wonder if i somehow knew what was going to happen. but to be fair, feeling nervous is definitely not new for me -- i'm a worrier (that's why my friends call me whiskers. <--- if you get this reference, consider me impressed).

worried or not, i didn't want to ruin the trip for troy, so we bought our lift tickets and started riding. my worry eventually subsided, and we had several fun runs. my right leg was hyperextending a lot, making carving very difficult. i figured it was leftover weakness from my broken ankle that hadn't returned back to normal yet. in fact, i had started seeing a physical therapist to try to strengthen my muscles. so, i just chalked it up to a weak leg.

around 1:30, i told troy i was going to take a break and rest my leg. i unstrapped and walked into the lodge to go to the bathroom. my right leg was like jelly. i almost couldn't walk. dang, i thought. maybe i should call it a day. so i limped back outside and sat down by the lift and waited for troy to finish a run. when he made it back, i told him i was going to rest a bit more, and then i'd join him again after his next run. he left. i pulled out a leftover biscuit and started eating. i saw troy get on the sunset lift and start his ascent. the next hour was the scariest of my life.

like a typical right-hand-dominant person, i was feeding myself the biscuit with my right hand. after the third or fourth bite, i noticed my arm felt heavy. then really heavy. then it was gone. i couldn't lift it. and i couldn't move my leg. within 30 seconds, i had lost all movement on my right side, and it was completely numb.

immediately freaking out, i scrambled for my phone. dead. there was a girl and a guy sitting close to me. i frantically asked the girl to use her phone and fumbled over the keys dialing troy's number. no answer. redial. no answer. one more time. nothing. my freak-out had now turned into intense panic.

"please!" i yelled to the girl and guy, "please go get ski patrol! i need help!"

"uh, ok," they said. but they didn't move. more urgently this time, i begged them to hurry and get help. the guy got up and went toward the lodge.

i laid back on the snow, trying to get ahold of myself. i prayed and pleaded for Heavenly Father to help me. my hyperventilating was causing my left side to tingle and not work properly. i'm losing my left side too, i thought in terror.


[present] the state of things: 5/25/2011

*i'm going to be jumping between past experiences and real-time updates, hence the bracketed [present] and [past] notations you will be seeing in the titles of my posts. make sense? k, good. let's begin... :]*

it has been quite a while since i shared my last update on how my recovery is going. the radio silence is mostly due to the fact that this stage of my recovery is pretty unexciting. when my mom was first updating facebook, things were changing every day and much was unknown. later, she recorded the progress i was making on a daily basis. since coming home from the hospital at the end of March, the steep slope of improvement has leveled off a bit. that's not to say i haven't made huge steps, but it has just been a bit more gradual.

if you've been following my progress, you know that my right side was completely flacid at first, and when i started getting movement back, my leg responded better than my arm. now, mr. arm has made a comeback, tortoise and the hare style! i just recently completed my 7th and final week of occupational therapy. my awesome therapist, Cherie, discharged me and said that time and practice will return my arm and hand back to normal. all my arm/hand/shoulder muscles work and i can control them rather well. now i just have to continue to strengthen them, refine my fine motor abilities (i.e. writing!) and work on breaking up the spasticity in my pec and shoulder by stretching and getting massages.
as for señor leg, he is being stubborn. while my hip on down to my knee is working fine, everything below is taking more time. what i can do is flex my ankle up. yay! because of the crazy spasticity in my tibial muscle and foot, my foot turns in still and inhibits any other range of motion. i am getting better at walking, even though i can't yet use my ankle properly. i ditched my cane a week ago (his name is Melvin...i'll introduce him later) and now walk with my AFO (ankle-foot orthotic brace) only. i nearly fall over sometimes, but it's getting better and feels more and more normal.

on the tumor side of things, i had an MRI today and will follow up with my surgeon next week to see if there has been any regrowth...which there
won't be, right? i had some bad experiences with MRIs in the hospital, but the one today went surprisingly well (minus the Nickleback song that came on around minute 15. gag.).

with my 24th birthday tomorrow, i am just so thankful to not only be alive, but to be improving at a solid pace. it has been only 3 months and four days since my stroke and less than 3 months since my surgery, and i have already regained so much of my movement. the rest will come, i know it. in the next year, i plan to:

- be able to move all the muscles in my body

- move back to the Phoenix area
- be back to (or at least close to being back to) playing softball
- walk and run on the beach
- take my dad up on his offer to take troy and me to any baseball game of our choice (!!!!!)
- keep tumors out of my brain
- not waste my time in finding and doing what brings me and others joy
- extend myself to serve others more and share my testimony of the healing power of Jesus Christ

i've got a lot to accomplish. but i'm excited. and i'm excited to be here and to improve myself through this refining process. bring on year 25.


brain drain

after a lot of resistance (and i mean A LOT), i finally decided to use a blog to document my life over the past few months and to record my stroke recovery. 

why resistance? well, i've never wanted to have a personal blog. maybe it's because i write all day at work and that's the last thing i want to do in my free time. maybe i'm not good at finishing projects or keeping journals. or maybe it's because i don't consider my thoughts and the goings-on in my life to be noteworthy enough to have their own space on the interwebs (aside from facebook, of course). when i got over all the reasons why i shouldn't make a blog, i came to the conclusion that, after all that has happened this year, there are actually a ton of good reasons why i should: 

 - writing out what has happened to me will be good for my recovery -- and maybe even for somebody facing a similar circumstance 
- i know i'm going to want to remember specifics about this experience. if i don't write them down, i'll probably forget
- speaking of writing: i can't use a pen very well yet, so typing a blog just makes sense
- instead of giving updates about my progress on Facebook like i have been doing (rather crappily!), this blog will help me keep my wonderful friends involved -- without the 420-character limit

admittedly, i'm writing this blog mostly for selfish reasons. hopefully, though, my readers will enjoy the experience as much as i will and maybe even gain a bit of wisdom or smile from time to time. thanks in advance for reading! :]