I have four amazing adult children, and this is the story of one of them and a tote bag I bought for her.
This daughter just turned thirty-one last month, and as part of the celebration she and her family went to Puerto Rico for a vacation and to visit her many relatives there. One day she sent me an email with a picture of a coffee cup that was imprinted with, "I can, AND I will!" I immediately wanted to buy ir if she hadn't already, which she had not because she had seen it in a coffee shop but it was not for sale.
"I can, AND I will" has always been the unspoken way she lives life.
She graduated high school near the top of her class because she wanted to prove to her classmates that she could. She was headed for college but got pregnant so she decided after the baby was born that she was going to take an accelerated nursing course at the local vocational school and was one of the few who actually completed the course, even though she spent a few days in the hospital herself, and then more when her son went in for a week with an infection from a dog bite. She was also the first student to ever graduate from that course to get hired by the VA hospital near us. While she worked there she applied for and was accepted to an accelerated LPN to RN course where she had to keep the fact that she worked full time and had a son a secret, Again, she was near the top of the class.
But, the reason I wanted to buy it for her is that at the age of twenty-six, four months after her second son was born she had a major stroke while in the local hospital where she had been suffering from a massive headache for a week. When the stroke hit she collapsed (more like fell like a tree) at the feet of a nurse who was just entering her room. Had she not been there at that moment, my daughter would have died on that floor. They crash-carted her, called a med-flight and sent her to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, about thirty miles from the hospital where she suffered the stroke. When my wife called me I was nine miles from the hospital, and I beat the helicopter there.
Shortly after everyone arrived there, the lead doctor came in to tell us that we had a very sick girl and that she might not make it through the night. He told us that if she did, and she made twenty-four hours, she had a chance. She made it through the night, but during those hours several other families lost loved ones who had come in with stroke injuries. Looking at her in that bed with tubes coming out of her nose, and mouth, and head, completely unconscious and knowing she was fighting to stay alive was the hardest thing I think her mother and I have ever done. It was absolutely terrifying.
Every minute was a long time, but those minutes melded into hours, and hours into days, and she was still alive, even if in a coma. We asked if she was progressing as she should, and basically, we got the feeling that they did not know what to expect. One nurse told us that the percentage of people who survive that particular type of stroke was "less than 5%, and that those who regained function was very much smaller than that". They started to say things like, "she will probably be here in ICU for a month or two", "you should not expect to have her back as you knew her", and "when she leaves here in a month or two, she'll be moving to a rehab hospital, and the time she spends there could go from a couple of months to years." More frightening words.
I think it was a bit over a week before she started responding when her mother spoke to her by squeezing my wife's hand. It was obvious that she knew who her mother was at least, and that she understood what was being said to her. About that time her husband decided that he wanted to bring their oldest son, who was seven, in to see his mother. I thought it was a mistake because it would be frightening for a child to see his mother with all the tubes, and unable to talk, but my son-in-law was equally sure that the boy could handle it, and it would do wonders for my daughter. We were both right. My grandson was in the room for just a minute or two before he asked to leave, and then he did not want to see mommy anymore. She, on the other hand, was obviously strengthened by the visit. She determined she was going home to her boys, and the next day started talking and making plans to go home. Amazingly, she appeared to remember everything she knew pre-stroke!
To shorten this up somewhat, and tie it into why I wanted to buy that cup for her, I'll skip ahead a few days to the day I came in to visit and she was eating a vanilla Greek yogurt, which I knew she hated. She was eating it with gusto and I asked her when she started liking yogurt. Her response showed me the level of determination she had..."Dad, I hate it. I'm trying not to puke while I eat it, but they told me that the feeding tube can't come out until I can eat, and I can't go home with a feeding tube, so I'm eating it. I would eat dog s___ if it was what it took for them to let me go home.
Two and a half weeks was the total time she spent in that neurologic ICU before she went home. The only obvious signs she had a stroke was a droop on the left side of her face, and "left neglect". I won't go into what that is, but if you don't know, Google it, it's really fascinating.
At first, she did go to rehab, but after just a couple of visits, they told her she was better than they would expect her to be and that she didn't need to come anymore. My wife helped her at home because she couldn't pick up her baby because of the left neglect, and couldn't cook or any of that stuff either.
She applied for SSI because she was not going to be able to continue her career as a nurse, but because of her age, she was turned down three times. She decided to go back to school. I think it was two years from then until she had her BSN (bachelors of nursing) degree. She then got a job at a hospital, where in less than a year she was made the charge nurse. She did not like the commute, the hours or the unpredictability of the elderly patients because she was frequently getting punched and worse, so she started looking for another job. She took a job at a local urgent care facility as an RN. She has now been there less than a year but is now the head nurse, and even has her name on the door.
She's making plans now to go to graduate school this spring with the goal of becoming a nurse practitioner. She plans to continue working while going to school. I know she will do it.
I bought the cup and the tote for her birthday and told her she ought to take that bag as her purse when she goes to interview at the school. She had a campus tour there yesterday and sent me this picture.
My apologies for the length of this, but sometimes I feel like I need to talk about her story.