Larissa B.


Stroke at 23 from birth control

My story of the morning the stroke happened and what my new life has been like after

On April 29th 2013, I got up at 5:45 AM to get ready for work and by 3 PM I was a state away; in a Seattle Hospital ER being treated for a stroke. I was a healthy 23 year old that morning, or so I thought, and then my entire life was flipped upside down in a matter of hours.

What I didn't know was that there was a blood clot that had formed on the left side of my brain, and it had built up enough pressure and started to bleed out. Unfortunately my body gave me warning signs that I ignored for about 4 days prior, they came in the form of headaches that woke me up every single morning around the exact same time. I had always had headaches, but I had never ever been woken up by one. The headache usually went away in the mornings after I took ibuprofen and went back to bed, but the 2 days before my stroke it hung around all day, but at a dull pain.

So that morning I woke up, took a shower, and started to put on my makeup like usual. I know the exact moment the stroke hit, because I couldn't figure out which brush to use to put on my eye shadow. I ended up using my concealer brush and was absolutely confused because I KNEW I had done it wrong, but I had no idea WHY it was wrong. Then I got scared. By now it's probably around 6:45 and I go downstairs to my Fiancé and I try to tell him something is wrong, but I can't speak. I don't know what I managed to tell him, but it was intelligible. Then he got scared, but he didn't want to think that anything bad was actually going on, and I don't blame him. So he goes upstairs to eat breakfast and get ready for work and I call the people I know might be able to help. My parents. Now my Dad just happens to be a Physician's Assistant and he said that as soon as I told him "I can't think" and he remembered that I had discussed those weird headaches a few days before he knew that I was probably having a stroke. I distinctly remember him telling me "Get your Fiancé and tell him to drive you to the ER". But I couldn't explain my situation; I couldn't say what I wanted to say so badly. So my mother got on the phone and instructed me to take the phone to my Fiancé. Once I handed the phone over I dropped down and tried to curl myself into a ball while still standing on my feet. I was so confused and scared; I didn't know what to do.

We get out to his truck and he hands me his keys to turn it on because it's diesel and he wants it to warm up, and he has to go drop off the trash bag at the can. So I get in the truck and just stare at his keys, I know that I can turn the truck on but I just don't know how. So he comes back over and is standing outside his door looking at me while I'm looking at the keys and he asks me to unlock his door. So I look at the unlock button but I just don't know how to press it. My thought process is so jumbled, I watch him start to walk around to my side, open the door and press the unlock button. Then I finally manage to start the truck, incredibly. I know I need to call my work and tell them I can't open. So I search through my phone to find my boss's cell number and dial, no answer. I keep telling my Fiancé I need to call "Stephanie" but he knows I haven't worked with a Stephanie in over 2 years so he calmly tells me who I need to call instead. So, I call the right coworker and she answers and all I can say is "dude" then I start sobbing because I'm not able to say anything else no matter how hard I try. I hand the phone over to my Fiancé and he explains what's going on and that I won't be coming in. Phew, so at least my work knows I might be a little late today, at least that stress is gone. Oh how little I knew what was about to transpire.

I sobbed the entire way to the hospital and he was very quiet. I apologized to him, because I didn't know what else to do. I had absolutely no idea what was happening. We get to the parking lot of the hospital and get out, and then I see my mom. My mom had no idea what was going on either, my father elected not to tell her (wise decision believe me) and she said she just knew she had to meet me up there. My father was not able to for another 30 minutes. As soon as I see her another huge wave of tears hits me, and she looks worried. She puts her arms around me and starts to lead me away, then I remember my Fiancé and turn back around and wave and probably said goodbye.
My mother leads me into the ER and the lady at the desk asks for my name, too bad I can't say it. So she asks me to write my name down on the sign in sheet, can't do that either, I start writing an "S" and my name starts with an "L". So I give up. We go sit down and she comes over with some papers for my mom to fill out and tells me I have a cute purse, and then I get pissed. I think I can sense my whole world is changing and all she cares about is my purse. Of course now in hindsight, I realize that was very nice of her to say, she didn't know what was going on! Then a doctor comes out and says he's ready for us, we happened to be the only people in the ER that morning, which was pretty awesome now that I think about it. We follow the doctor through the back doors and all the sudden everything goes black. I was conscious, but I was not aware of anything. Nothing at all. The next solid memory I have is all the sudden being in a hospital room in Seattle hearing the words 'stroke' and 'birth control' being tossed around. But there were a few flashes I have of the in-between.

The first flash is in my local ER and I can see my mom to my left, my fiancé to my upper left and my father to my right. I believe this is the moment that they told me I had my seizure. My fiancé described me as being conscious but not being able to follow any instructions. The doctor had wanted me to hold up two fingers and I just smiled at him. He wanted me to answer questions and I just smiled at him still. So my family was taking turns holding my hands trying to get me to respond in any way. My father stepped up and grabbed my hands and got nothing so he stepped to my right and motioned for my fiancé to try. This is where I believe my flash is from. My fiancé told me in the split second when my dad asked him to come forward and try to hold my hands I had looked at him and he said he could have sworn he saw recognition in my eyes. He stepped up, grabbed my hands, and immediately I had a seizure. I think it was me coming out of my weird stasis and recognizing him that triggered it. Of course the poor guy had a front row seat in probably one of the worst things you could watch someone you love do. Then I was out again until I had a flash of being on a plane.

The second flash is on what I learned was a Mercy Flight from my town to Seattle. The doctor in my town had decided that it would be better to send me to specialist and have them care for me. So I was put on an ambulance and driven to a Mercy Flight plane that whisked me, my fiancé, and some nurses a state away. The flash is once again of my fiancé. I distinctly remember coming to and looking at him from my position on my little bed they had me on, he was up ahead of me in a seat turned around looking me straight in the eyes. I was so happy to see him I remember thinking "hey baby!" Then I look to my right and there are some people sitting next to me and one of them says "yeah it's a bumpy ride!" Apparently there was a ton of turbulence on the flight over, which probably woke me up! Then I was out again, until the ER in Seattle.

The last flash is of one of my doctors standing in front of me and my fiancé standing to my right. I don't remember anything he said, or anything that happened in that moment, just that tiny screen shot stuck in my head. Then I was upstairs being told I had a stroke and birth control was most likely the cause.

During the time I was "out" I had numerous head scans and blood tests. When I officially came to I had an IV in both arms and my own little room on the stroke/seizure floor. I was actually in really good spirits for a few days, better than my family because I hadn't actually gone through anything. Plus we had an amazing view of the Seahawks stadium and I love football!

I made the first joke about having a stroke, I thought it was funny, but my parents (who had driven the 10 hours to the hospital while I was out) and my man just looked at me like I was nuts. They were so exhausted and emotionally spent, I had to apologize! So I gave it a few more days until I tried to joke around again, then they were a little more prepared to handle it. Still didn't laugh though.

It didn't actually hit me that something major had happened until Wednesday, which was 2 days after the initial stroke. Then I cried again. The hospital stay was so miserable, and my head hurt so bad I was overwhelmed. I was constantly taking oxycodone, throwing up from it, and getting blood drawn every 4 hours like clock work, I was miserable. But I tried to stay in good spirits, because what else can you do!?

By the 4th day I was there I had realized a few things. My math skills had taken a huge hit, my speech quality and word finding had deflated, and I was so weak. That day my father and fiancé drove home leaving my mother and me, two overly emotional women to deal with everything else! This makes me laugh now but at the time we mostly cried each time the other cried! The nurses were incredible though, I loved each and every one of them. The doctors were great too, but I didn't see as much of them as I did those awesome nurses. Everyone that ended up sitting down and talking with us about all the things we'd need to do when we left was incredible. The speech and physical therapists were so nice, so was the occupational therapist. Luckily by the time I saw them all I was doing much better, and was able to walk on my own and talk almost like normal. They cleared me in the hospital but said I'd need to see a physical therapist and a speech therapist when I got back home, just to check up.

So Saturday May 6th I got on a plane with my mom and went back home. I can't lie; my mother and I were both terrified for what the future held. I didn't know if I had to be extra careful to make sure I didn't jostle my brain or what... even though the doctors had said I'd be fine as long as I didn't over-exert myself. And then... life went on as normal... sort of.

The first couple of weeks back home were bad, but that was due to headaches and an allergic reaction to the seizure medicine they put me on in the hospital. Did you know that an allergic reaction to Dilantin looks a lot like a normal viral infection? Neither did I. Three different doctors looked at me and said the same thing, but I was getting progressively worse so I went to emergent care and my smart father had been doing some research and asked the doctor at emergent care to check my Dilantin levels, turns out they were WAY too high. I was weaned off the medicine and immediately felt better.
After that I didn't really have anything scary really happen again. My blood levels were inconsistent so my Coumadin dose kept changing but that's not really a huge issue unless it goes on for too long without treatment. I was told I couldn't drive for a bout 3 months due to that seizure, and so far it's going okay. My neurologist had met with me about 2 weeks after I got home and he had ordered and EEG for me to take to see if I was going to have any more problems with seizures. I had really figured I was fine, everyone had pretty much said so because the seizure was caused by that bleed. Then I went in for my monthly checkup and he had told me that the stroke did in fact harm my brain. I was seizure prone. So now I'm stuck on the seizure medicine for 2 more years, then a repeat test and hopefully I'm better, if not then I'll be seizure prone indefinitely. That hurt because I thought I wouldn't have any permanent damage, I thought I was good! But oh well, you take these things as they come right? Right.

So here I stand today, 52 days since I had my stroke. In those 52 days I turned 24, kissed my fiancé so many times, hugged my family and friends, cried, laughed, and changed. I changed a lot. I'm off birth control, and will never be allowed to go back on it again. I am cutting back on drinking alcohol when I get off this medicine; I haven't drunk more than a tiny sip since the stroke. Overall I'm thankful for the life that I was given. Everyone looks for a purpose in their lives; I believe a part of my purpose is to be an advocate towards educating young people that strokes don't just happen to older people. Strokes can hit you at any age. Know the signs and symptoms and get help fast! I also feel the need to warn young women like me that birth control can harm you. We see the commercials all the time about lawsuits but assume nothing will ever happen to us, and we are wrong. There have been days where I've been angry because I'm different, my life was one way for 23 years and in the blink of an eye it'll be different forever. I'm now a "Survivor".

So now I'm 24, going to school to be an elementary school teacher, and getting married in August of 2014. My life has just begun, or as I've seen people call it, my "second life", because God gave me another chance to be greater than I was and I intend to not let him down.


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