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My Plum
My Plum


Last year, on June 29th at the age of 29, I suffered from intracerebral hemorrhage stroke which would soon be known as "My Plum." This is some of my journey.

Looking at my date book, I realized I scheduled a photography session for June 29th. The only thought I could muster was, "wow, a year.. I knew it was coming but.. wow." At that moment my mind immediately took me to June 29th of last year. The day my life would forever change.

On June 26th, I woke up feeling like I had something in my eye, such as a sharp piece of metal. I immediately hopped out of bed and flushed my eye with water after removing my contact. "Strange" I said to myself as I noticed a small bump below my left eye lid. I brushed it off as a sty. I thought perhaps, I had some dirt in my eye from spending a lot of the time gardening. I questioned the strange pain, but was too busy with everything going on in my life to really pay attention, I popped my contact back in and continued my day.

The following two days (June 27th and 28th) are somewhat of a blur to me.. I remember having on and off painful headaches, but simply attributed them it to stress, after all Casey and I had just gotten married on May 8th, a lot was going on with work as well as with my father...so surely, I was fine, just a bit overwhelmed. But I still had a nagging feeling that something wasn't quite right. My normal self would have begun to research a causal relationship for my symptoms.. but this time I didn't.

June 29th finally rolled around and from the moment I woke up, I knew something wasn't right. I met my counterpart Carolyn at a diner in the early morning to discuss business and she told me I didn't look quite right. After having her confirm what I was already thinking, I made an appointment with my eye doctor that very day. I ended up seeing the eye doctor at lunch and he told me that, "I was just fine," at which point, I had a nagging suspicious that I wasn't. I drove home and called my manager to tell her I would be going home for the day. Something wasn't right.

I went home to my wonderful hubby who just happened to be off (thank God) and I decided that some hot compresses might help my headache/eye pain. All the while my hubby was trying to find a eye specialist who would see me immediately. Of course, with such late notice, no one was available. I continued to add hot compresses to my head and fell asleep on the couch. June 29th happened to be a Tuesday, which was vegetarian Taco Tuesday in our household. Casey woke me up and as we sat down with the meal he made, I immediately felt nauseous and I told him that I didn't feel hungry. Casey made a "sad face" and put some food on my plate anyways. I sat down to eat at the dinner table and I immediately felt a POP over my left ear. It felt like an explosion in my head and I said to myself, "OH NO" and grabbed my head. I reached for the closest thing to me, which happened to be a clinical trial I was reading at the time and I COULD NOT, I mean COULD NOT convey what I was reading to Casey. The words that came out of my mouth sounded like Charlie Brown's school teacher. I knew the words in my head but they wouldn't come out. He then showed me a can of Sunkist and asked me to read what it said.. I could not. As this point I ran into the bathroom and to look at my pupils, one was HUGE the other SMALL. At this point, I knew I had a stroke. What kind of stoke I had no idea. From this point forward my life would be forever changed.

I ran out of the bathroom and grabbed my glasses and contact case. Having worked in the pharmaceutical sales for 9 years in various therapeutic areas, I was aware of the signs of a stroke. We hopped into the car and Casey did mock ten to the local hospital. I prayed and prayed...and prayed for my husband, my family and my beautiful friends because I knew something was wrong and didn't want to cause anyone undue stress or sadness.
When we got to the hospital, I cut the line and told them, "My name is Janine, I think this is my husband, here is my insurance card, but I can't read it." I turned around and looked at all the people waiting and I said, "Sorry." They immediately took me into a room in the ER and asked me to identify images within a picture. I became rather agitated at this point as said, "Sweetheart, forget it it, I can't, I know I can't ..." By now, Katie, my bff of 23 years, had shown up and before I knew it I was sent for a CT scan.

I forget what happened until I got out of CT. I remember the doctor walking to the room and telling Casey and Katie, "There is a mass, perhaps a bleed, we don't know what it is, but it looks like tumor. We don't have an MRI machine here, so we are flying her via helicopter to a Neuroscience Center." At this point my husband broke down crying. Now mind you I've seen my hubby cry two times during our relationship: 1) at Marley and Me and 2) at our wedding. So I knew this was serious. I immediately began to worry about Casey, since he never knew his biological mother. His mother died giving birth to him and she passed away from a intracerrbal hemmorage, a stroke. We'd soon find out that now, his wife is suffering from the same thing that killed his mother. Little did anyone know however, that this woman in his life was not going down without a fight.

Before my mind could take me to somewhere dark the paramedics walked in dressed in black jumpsuits, which resembled something from Top Gun. At this point the drugs began to kick in. As they loaded me on the helicopter the female medic stayed in the back of the copter with me. Somehow, I felt it was an appropriate time to sing to her. And thus, I began to belt out my rendition of "Bonnie Tyler's - I Need A Hero."

Gotta love morphine.. I guess?? Anyways, it made her laugh and me too.. and somehow, I felt safe during the ride to Summit, NJ. I was so thankful to those medics.. in particular I remember the female medic. I never got her name, which I regret, because I asked her to hold my hand because I was scared. And she did. With all her might.
I arrived at the Neuroscience Center and I found myself lost in my head for the next two weeks. I was put into the Neuro ICU at first and before I knew it, my sister Christina and her husband arrived at 3:00am that night. They came back from their vacation to be with me. I remember seeing my sister's face and her tears streaming down her face and to this day it kills me.

The next day, the cloud which had enveloped my mind continued to blur my thoughts. My mind continued to process, but I was unable to communicate effectively. That morning I was taken for an MRI; one of many that would follow. I remember laying on the bed of the MRI machine and the lights above the machine began to blind my eyes. I remember not being able to see anything other than the light... and then out of nowhere my mother appeared before my eyes. My mother passed away when I was 15 and I was surely startled to see her. There were others with her as well, but I remember speaking directly to her. My exact words were, " Hi Mom, Hi God, I know what's going on here and if you need me, I will come, but I'd really like to stay here...really." That moment will carry on for me for the rest of my life. Since my mother had passed away, I've had very few "encounters" with her, and somehow she managed to come to me when I needed her most. I knew I would be okay from this point forward. Confused as hell for a long time, but nevertheless okay. Surely, it didn't help that I was having seizures over and over again for about a week. The medications weren't working and if they weren't able to control them I'd have to go into a medically induced coma. Which, truly, in the grand scheme of things woudn't be the worst!
The blur continued, but I distinctly remember when they thought that I did not have a stroke, rather a tumor. I was told that they would need to do a craniotomy the next day to remove the tumor. It took all the power in my body to be able to tell the doctors a simple, "Okay." Which meant I understood what they were telling me. In my mind, I knew what I had to say and wanted to say much, much more, but yet a simple, "Okay" was all I could push out of my damaged mind. I may have said more, with my hands as I was known to do, or in broken English but truly this is all I remember. Thankfully, it turned out that my head would remain intact. :) In fact, the bleed had stopped... By the grace of God. I was lucky, truly blessed that it stopped on it's own. Otherwise, my dome would have had to have been opened up and repaired per se. The size of intracerrebral hemorrhage was impressive. I remember hearing someone say, "it's the size of a plum" which has lead me to lovingly calling the dead area of my brain THE PLUM.

Days passed; seizures continued. But, alas, I was alive. Good stuff, right? My wires were crossed, I was able to read, but I wasn't able to speak the words I saw. I was able to process, but not convey. What I conveyed was often jumbled and my face expressed that of a foreigner who was lost and looking for translation. I remember drawing pictures to describe what I wanted. I drew circles on a piece of paper for my desire to have penne vodka. Did it make sense? Not really, but eventually it got me what I needed. So many hysterical things happened over and over again during this period of time. Such as, I insisted on washing my face with toothpaste for a good 2 weeks. Furthermore, I felt it was now necessary to pencil in my eyebrows a deep shade of BLACK and that I needed to resemble Lady GaGa as best as I could when they would let me have my makeup. Why? I think I did these things because my mind was out of control and if I could somehow accomplish the thought or idea in my mind, I would somehow find comfort. I also developed a Spanish accent... so I'm told. Not sure where what one came from, but people seemed to enjoy it.

Finally, I got the right mix of medicine to stop the seizures. Katie had been working on the advertising for Vimpat a new anti-seziure medicine and somehow the word got to my epileptolist. And BAM.. seizures done with a combination of that plus another anti-seizure med. Amen. Still the reading and writing thing needed some work. Daily, I would bust out my notepad and attempt to spell words. Sometimes I got it. Othertimes I threw my pad or other objects at the wall in frustration. My dear friend Cortnee made me a get well card of all images, because she didn't want me to get upset with my lack of effective communication. So sweet. :)

The second week into my stay at the Neuroscience Center, my friend Elaine came to see me with her CD player. When we worked together, she would often sing in the car on our way to POA meetings, programs, etc. So we made a CD of our favorite songs. I laid in my bed as she played the music and I quite literally demanded that she sing to me. The last song she played as "Ave Maria." I began to cry. Her voice was beautiful and words flashed before my eyes. After that I soon fell sleep. I woke up, sometime later and my hubby was sitting next to me. I looked over at the TV and saw the oil spill coverage on the news. I was able to read some of the words which flashed on the bottom of the screen and said to my husband, "What? They haven't cleaned that shit up yet?" Casey immediately flew out of his chair and said, "What did you say?!?" I repeated myself. Casey began to rip the cards which were taped to the wall off and asked me to read them. Slowly, very slowly, I could decipher what I was reading. Tears streamed down my husband's face. And he began to yell. "She can read!!!" Nurses ran in, family too. It was a miracle.

I can't even begin to tell you how many people came to see me in the hospital, friends, family, co-workers... I was always with people who loved me, the list goes on and on. I was and still am truly, truly blessed. I know so many people, people that did not even know me, prayed for me. I believe I was chosen to live as this event could have been far, far worse and yet... the bleeding had simply stopped on it's own. Miracle indeed.

I was eventually released from Neuroscience Center and taken to another facility for a couple more weeks and stayed there as an inpatient. I worked hard and was finally allowed to go home July 26th with 28 pills a day and a pain patch so strong that it could kill a cow if need be. My headaches were hell on earth for nearly 9 months after my stroke. But again, it could have been worse!

I spent my time in outpatient therapy until January of this year. At first I needed physical therapy to get my balance back, coupled with occupational therapy for my vision and last, but not least, I needed to repair this broken brain through cognitive therapy. I needed to learn how to organize, plan my day, simple math, problem solve and how to restore my memory. In the end, it was truly the most rewarding experience. I was able to repair myself and make a better me. Slowly but surely all of my deficits vanished. There really aren't even words for my feelings towards the therapists I worked with other than that they are remarkable individuals with an incredible gift to repair those who have been broken through a traumatic brain injury.

Spending nearly 6 months in my cognitive therapy group, we were often asked, "How did your TBI change you?" I often responded by saying that my life has not been limited by my stoke, it's been enhanced. Before my incident, I would live life at 100mph and felt that if I wasn't stressed, I wasn't working hard enough. It's taught me that life doesn't revolve around a great paycheck or worrying about things that you can't fix. And perhaps one of the greatest lessons I've learned is that some times in life it' s not about the choices YOU make, it's what life chooses FOR YOU. And that you need to do everything you can to make the best out of what has been given to you. If you're not happy with a particular facet of your life, then change it. There's no reason to wait, as you never know what life has in store for you. After all, today is a present isn't it? :)


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