Each month we highlight runners, walkers, and athletes that inspire you to keep setting new goals, and remind us why we run together in the first place.
By Eileen Berube
I am grateful for the opportunity to tell you a little bit about myself. I’m not sure how to begin as I have not told this story to many people. Folks tend to look at you differently when you’ve been through an experience like mine. I am just trying to be normal again.
To explain how I got here, let’s go back to five years ago when I was a 31-year-old registered nurse, working nights at a local hospital emergency room and midway through my studies to become a nurse practitioner. I bought my first house and had a new boyfriend. It was summertime and life was great. Or so I thought.
Throughout August, I was having nasty headaches. Regretfully, I ignored them. I had to work so I took Motrin and Tylenol together to get me through my night shifts. I didn’t complain. Working in the ER, I saw many people come in for headaches that turned out to be nothing, so I ignored my own. I was proud to be an ER nurse and I took great care of my patients. I paid attention to their symptoms but ignored mine.
In the beginning of September, we went out for ice cream. It was the first time I was to meet my boyfriend’s children, and I wanted to make a good first impression. On the way there, my whole right side went numb (I was not driving). The weird feeling went away in a couple of minutes. For a split second, I wondered if it was a stroke or a TIA (mini-stroke). No way, I thought, I’m too young. So, I ignored it.
On Sept. 11, I was at home and sat down with an apple at about 10 a.m. to watch some TV. I had a severe ache in the back of my head that took me to the floor. I walked upstairs, dizzy and struggling, to go to sleep. When I woke up around 7 p.m. my right arm felt like dead weight. I went downstairs to let my dog out and much to my dismay I could not call him back in. I could not talk!
I got my phone but couldn’t remember the password I use all the time. I finally got it to work and called my boyfriend. I had been having trouble with the phone because I’d dropped it a few times, and sometimes people didn’t hear my voice when I called them. So imagine my fear when my boyfriend answered and I couldn’t speak. He said, “Call me back when your phone is working.”
I ended up at the hospital where I work. I recognized the “Oh $#/!” look on my colleagues’ faces. I thought I was going to die. I spent five days in the hospital, seven days in intensive rehab and another nine months in outpatient occupational therapy and speech therapy. At first, I couldn’t talk and my dominant right hand didn’t move. I had to learn how to read and write again. I'd had a carotid dissection that led to a major stroke!
I was wrong to ignore the symptoms. If you have a headache lasting more than a couple of days, please see your doctor! The ER I worked in didn’t have a neurology unit so we were rarely presented with strokes, and I didn’t have experience in that area. If you see changes to your body, go to your doctor!
I thank my family for being so supportive through these tough and frustrating times. I am especially grateful to my then-boyfriend, now my husband, for staying by my side and going through all these challenges with me.
Life’s lessons teach you so much. They taught me to be grateful for life. They also taught me patience, perseverance and how to be humble. It is still difficult, even today, to do certain things. My right hand still doesn’t quite function but my speech is almost back to normal.
I love this quote: “I’m thankful for my struggle because without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon my strength.” — author Alexandra Elle
I did Fleet Feet Syracuse's No Boundaries with Coaches Kelly and Harold. Then I completed my first half marathon in February, the Lake Effect, with help from my coaches, Harold and Penny. I can’t thank you enough! The instant family I received when I joined Fleet Feet was spectacular! With all of the motivation and support from my Fleet Feet family, I am truly blessed!
Thank you all for reading my story.