WHEN A STROKE IS MORE THAN A STROKE
In honor of my late daughter Tammy, who wore her inner child
on the outside…every day in every way.
Let me tell you about a young woman of thirty-two who had everything to live for. Tammy had a career she loved and was engaged to Nick, a handsome police officer who professed that she was the love of his life. She was the picture of good health and met each day with boundless energy. Well then, just imagine this. Tammy arose for work one morning, showered and made her bed only to turn down the covers and get back in. This is a story about feeling good one moment and never feeling the same again. It’s the story of a devastating event that occurred on March 5th, 1998 and changed her life forever.
Thinking she might have the flu, Tammy took her first day ever off work, fretting about how her clients would fare if they were short staffed at the hospice where she worked. She taught life skills to assist young quadriplegic adults, many who had been born with severe cerebral palsy and others with equally physically challenging conditions. She made it her mission in life to put a smile on their faces even when they were having a bad day, and she was so good at it. Nick stopped me as I was leaving for work to let me know that he was off duty that day and would stay with her and let her rest.
When I returned home that evening, I sensed that something wasn’t right. Their cars were in the driveway yet no one was home. Were they out walking the dog or visiting a neighbor? Then the phone rang. It was my sister. She told me to stay put, that she would be right over. And in just two minutes Kim was at the door to break the news that Tammy had been rushed by ambulance to the hospital and that she had possibly suffered a stroke. Earlier that afternoon, Nick had noticed that Tammy’s right hand was tightly clenched and that she was unable to speak. His police and emergency training had taught him that this meant serious trouble, so he immediately called 911.
My sister drove me to the hospital, wanting to stay by my side through this nightmare. We were hurried into a case room where Tammy laid helpless. She was paralyzed on the right side and was semi-conscious. As I held her, she was shaking, and tears filled her eyes, and I sensed how frightened she was. She was still my little baby, even if she was thirty-two years old.
Tammy’s CAT scan revealed that she had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage in the left frontal lobe, something which explained her total right side paralysis. She was immediately transferred to St. Michael’s, Toronto’s top trauma hospital, where a team of five doctors, including a renowned neurosurgeon, prepared to perform a frontal lobe craniotomy on her. She was out of surgery by 1 a.m. but remained in a coma in the trauma unit for a week. She was hooked up to every manner of monitor imaginable, including a pressure probe in her brain. A Doppler ultrasound machine was brought to her bedside to monitor for blood clots that were forming quickly despite the blood thinners she was on. Tammy’s surgeon explained that her hemorrhage had the same residual effect as a stroke. She suffered brain damage, paralysis, a degree of aphasia and double vision. He ruled out an aneurysm but believed a brain tumour had ruptured and bled, though he couldn’t prove it from the pathology. In the end he promised to get to the bottom of it but feared that the tumour was likely an incurable oliodendroglioma―which always grows back in time.
Next came Step Down care. Step Down was a semi-intensive care unit where Tammy stayed for two weeks before being transferred out to a Rehabilitation hospital to relearn how to walk and talk. She wanted to come home so desperately and outdid herself to speed up her recovery. After just three days she was walking with a special cane, and it wasn’t more than two weeks before she was allowed to return home to continue her physical therapy and recovery. The worst was over and she seemed to be out of the woods. The next months brought multiple therapies such as speech and strategies to help her overcome the linear after effects of her brain damage. Despite her deficits, Tammy had seemingly regained her health. She set about enjoying her life as though nothing had ever happened.
Tammy’s positive outlook continued until one day when she suffered a major dizzy spell accompanied by a minor seizure. Her surgeon ordered more scans, including an MRI. Sadly, it was diagnosed that she had a tumour, and we were told it had indeed been the cause of her original hemorrhage. It was growing rapidly and within two weeks, she was being treated at the Brain Tumour Clinic at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. Her doctor didn’t risk anything that even remotely resembled surgery, not even a biopsy. She started with oral chemotherapy which continued for eighteen months. When chemo was no longer effective, numerous trial drugs were administered and, finally, massive radiation treatment. This was when Tammy lost her hair, but that was the least of her worries. To those who loved her, she was beautiful anyway. Her spirits were high and she vowed to beat the odds because she had too much to lose. She remained optimistic and lived a full life to the extent that she was able.
It was in March, 2003, nearly five years to the day of the first event, that a final prognosis was given. Tammy was running out of time and would be lucky to make it to the end of the summer. We were advised to prepare ourselves for that.
Now, didn’t I say that Tammy wore her inner child on the outside? After sharing the heartbreaking news with me, I chose that time to ask Nick to make an honest Mother-in-Law out of me. Without missing a beat Tammy immediately dropped to her knees and proposed to her sweetheart. Nick was completely caught off guard and dropped to his knees to accept (Had she waited one more minute, he was going to propose to her anyway). He then reached into his pocket, brought out a ring and placed it on her finger. They were married in June, and I finally became the Mother of the beautiful bride and an honest Mother-in-Law to Nick. They said their vows in the Toronto police chapel and celebrated with an elegant reception at our home with close family and friends.
Utter happiness and hope helped Tammy to surpass the timeline she had been given for another thirteen months. She simply had too much to live for and refused to let go. Tammy gave it her best shot, but the inevitable deterioration won out. Her paralysis returned. And she became more child-like with every passing day. Tammy spent her remaining time in a hospital bed with home care until it was her time to go. She suffered a final hemorrhage and spent her last day and night in palliative care.
Tammy left us on July 22nd, 2004. In that final moment, I understood that I had come full circle. I was with her for her first breath and by her side for her last. She had given us six precious years and now it was her time to rest. I had to come to terms with that.
Of course, much living existed between these lines, but I offer this as a small tribute to my daughter who taught me so much about integrity of spirit and how important it is to never let go of your inner child. She maintained an uplifting sense of humor throughout her young life, and I decided to honor her by creating my Sunshine series of children’s books, dedicating them to her memory. Her smile lit up my life and so many more who loved and knew her. If my books make even one child happy, then I am honoring her memory well.
Linda Hales is retired and devotes her time to writing in various genres for both freelance and pleasure. Her greatest passion is writing motivational stories for young children. Linda has self-published two Sunshine books, an Activity Story Book and Andy-Roo which was recently awarded the 2013 Kart Kids Book List award for Creative Storytelling. Learn more about Linda and her books at:
All books are available on Amazon
And Clayton Bye’s Online Store