- Nick's journey: Life after a stroke
Hello world, my name is Nicholas Ryan Kremers and I was born, February 17, 1982, the same day as Michael Jordan. I'm just a regular guy. I'm 41, married, but separated, and have a 4 year old son. In high-school, I played football, and was the kind of guy who was friends with, and talked to people from all of the different walks of life. I graduated high-school with honors and moved on to college. Although I had a blast, I never graduated from college, although I'm one class away from obtaining my bachelor's degree in business administration. The day that completely changed my life was just like any other day. I was with my pregnant wife at a friend's house. I was standing in the living room talking to a friend when I felt a pop in my head. Suddenly, I fell to the ground. When I tried to stand up, I fell back down. I was totally confused as to what was happening. My wife yelled, " you're having a stroke! Your left side is drooping!" She said she was calling 9-1-1, and I instructed her not to, that I was going to be just fine. I tried to stand back up, but I fell yet again. She ignored my commands and called the ambulance anyway. That's when it all gets fuzzy. I remember coming to on a gurney, and giving a thumbs up to a load of family and friends there. When I woke up, I was completely confused. I felt my head, and it felt like I had chainsaw blades attached to my skull. My wife informed me that I had a massive stroke and they had to perform brain surgery to suck out the blood clot. The clot was on the right side of my brain, so it affected the left side. My entire left side was paralyzed. They said that because my stroke occurred on that specific spot, that I probably wouldn't be able to recognize music, or even decifer a cheeseburger from a hotdog. At times my wife would say something to me to see if I was coherent. I was on a massive amount of pain medication, so I would just nod and fall back asleep . I was in i.c.u. for a month. I was so out of it, I remember waking up crying and screaming for my wife bc I thought the staff were trying to kill me. They changed my pain meds, and I was fine. I couldn't swallow, so they attempted to crumble up my medication and give them to me with applesauce. That usually took an hour to finally get down. I was on pureed foods, so I lost about 30 pounds in the two months I was in the hospital. While in i.c.u., they almost had to put draining tubes in my head, because my spinal fluid wasn't draining properly. That finally subsided, and I was stable. When I regained consciousness and could think straight, I started realizing some things. I was going to have to live like this, atleast in the short term, and possibly the long term. I could feel everything on my left side, I just couldn't move anything. This hit very hard, and ran deep in me.. I thought, "how Type to enter text long do I have to do this?" In the hospital, it was easy, because I had everything done for me, but at home, I was, for the most part, on my own.Take note, my wife was pregnant with our little boy when this tragic event occurred. She stayed with me the entire time, only going home to shower every few days. She would sit in the chair next to me, holding my paralyzed arm, and keeping my fingers straight so they wouldn't curl up and get stuck that way. I had seen many stroke victims walking around with one arm all curled up, so that meant a lot to me. Since this stroke was so sudden and hectic, everyone was going crazy. My parents were furious because they couldn't come back to see me. My blood pressure wasn't stable, so my wife tried to keep the visitors down, because she didn't want to see it rise due to company. There were a few fights about that. Eventually, my blood pressure went down, so family and friends were allowed to come see me. It felt good, being able to see people and knowing I could still recognize them. My brain was still there. That was a moral victory. Also, knowing I had such a huge support system, gave me confidence towards the trying time I was about to face. Most stroke recovery comes in the first few days to months, so getting therapy fast was imperative. Therapists started coming in after I got out of i.c.u. Their goal was just to see if I could sit up and balance myself. Also, speech therapy would come and give me tests. I was having trouble swallowing, and it sounded like I was holding my breath when I would talk. They gave me a breathing machine I would have to practice blowing into for a certain amount of time. I also had some exercises where I would practice enunciating words. After a few days of that, they decided to try and get me to stand up and bear atleast a little weight on my left leg. It was one of the hardest things I've ever tried. Imagine being able to feel everything on one side of your body, but not being able to move it. That was so frustrating. After a few days, I was able to lift my left leg a few inches off of the bed. That was a major achievement because I could tell some of my brain was making new connections, and my body was coming back. I spent days doing elevation exercises. When I was first transferred into rehab, I was still pretty much out of it, but the part of me that was still there was pretty nervous. I still had lots of staples in my head, and wore a beanie most of the time to protect them and also to try and hide them from people. It's pretty embarrassing going in front of people for the first time after major surgery, because you don't know what people are thinking or saying about you behind your back. I've always had a problem with worrying about what people thought about me. They also allowed my wife to live with me. I really needed that at this stage in my life, because I was all confused, and just needed her by my side. I started off in a wheelchair full time, just trying to bear weight. We would practice weight bearing, pivoting, balance exercises, and various exercises just trying to get me out of my wheelchair. In my wheelchair, we would do heel and toe raises, leg lifts, and things designed to strengthen my leg, foot, and ankle. Those were very difficult because I was in a very dark place.. I was basically still paralyzed on my left side, and felt there was no way out. I was trapped in my own body. After therapy, I could go back to my room and watch TV with my wife. She would help feed me, and make sure I would drink all of my protein shakes, because I wasn't eating very good. I spent about a month in rehab. That's when I met Michael. Michael was a tall man, about 6'4", and 160 pounds, soak and wet. I thought, "how in the hell is this skinny guy going to lift me up and help me rehab"? Keep in mind I'm 6'1", 260 pounds. I could tell he was on the newer side of therapy, because it seemed every 5 seconds he was asking another therapist a question. I'll give you this, though, he was definitely dedicated and passionate about his craft. We worked and worked and worked. He would somehow support my left side, and we would walk around the gym. Every time I would try and put weight on my leg and ankle, it would turn, so we laid off weight bearing too much. After that time had passed, the staff got me prepared to go home. I was scared because I didn't know how I was going to handle it. I had steps in my house, but thankfully, I live in a one story house. My dad had a wheelchair ramp installed on the front porch in front of our door. He also put a handle in the bathroom by my toilet and in the shower. The rehabilitation place gave me a brand new wheelchair, a shower bench, and a raised toilet seat. When I got home, I didn't know what to do. I wheeled inside, looked around, and just stared off in the distance. I didn't know what to do with myself. I had only one arm, and barely a second leg. Eating was a chore. I would spend countless hours watching television, eating, just totally depressed. There was absolutely nothing to do. I was trapped in my own head. Getting out of bed was a huge chore, and took atleast two people. My wife had to help me pee, and wipe me when I did the dirty. It was a huge undertaking to get me in the shower, so my wife would usually just give me a sponge bath. She would also bring me my toothbrush, and I would usually just swallow the toothpaste after brushing. I had my first and only son in April of 2019. We named him Nicholas junior, after me of course. He was a blessing, because I felt I had so much more to live for. He came at exactly the right time for me, although it was hard as hell trying to care for a baby, as well as trying to focus on my rehab. My wife and parents stepped up, helping me care for him. My step daughter, also lived with us, so she was a huge help. I spent months with the monotony of life as a disabled stroke survivor, trying to find my purpose. I would do exercises in my chair, trying to strengthen my leg and ankle.I was confused and angry as to why this happened to me. Every time I got angry, I would just think of my son. After a few months, the rehab facility allowed me back in, because that's what my insurance would approve. This time, I had a huge, white AFO that resembled a big white cast on my left leg. My foot would fit in and It helped keep my ankle straight. I requested my friend, Michael, again. He came in with a huge smile, pumped I was back. It was great seeing a familiar face, and a guy so pumped I was there again. I was able to practice walking without having to worry about my ankle rolling. This time, he wouldn't have to completely support my left side when I tried to walk. My balance was still way off, so we would practice with a hemi walker, and only walk in short spurts. Michael was always so upbeat, and would help lift me up when I felt down. We were serious about my recovery, but always found a way to cut up and get a few laughs in. That completely helped my recovery and overall well-being. This time when I went hime, I went home a little better. I could back up the ramp, through the front door, all by myself. I could also wheel into the bathroom and brush my own teeth. That was an amazing moral victory. I would squeeze some toothpaste into my mouth with one arm, and brush my own teeth. Transferring onto the bed was a little easier. This time it only took one person helping me. Even showering was simpler. No more sponge baths for this guy. The shower bench fit halfway in the shower, and half out. We would put a towel down by the tub to soak up the water. My dad also installed a portable shower head to make it easier to rinse off. We used a shower sponge and body wash while bathing. I also had a suction cup handle in the shower to stand up and get those hard to reach areas. I could tell rehab was working. This motivated me, because my goal was to get as close to 100% as I could. Home health then came out. I was on medicaid. They would support physical therapy, but not occupational therapy, so I had to take what I could. My arm was still totally paralyzed anyway, so I focused on my leg. They would come out twice a week and work with me on my walking. It was tough to get out of bed sometimes, but I would always manage to do so. My son was growing like a weed, and every time I got down on myself, I would tell myself I'm still alive, and my son still has a father. A few more months went by, and I was able to go back into therapy. This time, I had a another AFO customized that was built into my shoe. It still supported my ankle, and I was finally able to wear an actual pair of shoes. I requested my friend, Michael, again, and he sure as hell came roaring in with that huge grin. It was so uplifting, and relaxing to see that familiar face. We would walk and talk, doing the same old exercises, but increasing the intensity. Doing exercises in my wheelchair got boring at times, but I knew I had to keep going in order to keep getting stronger. When I came home, I could tell I had gotten better. The home health agency was impressed with my gains. I could walk in short bursts with my AFO and a four pronged cane. Transferring from my wheelchair got easier, and I felt a little more independent, even if only a small mount more. See, after having a stroke, you have to rely on EVERYONE to do EVERYTHING. It's so hard asking for help after being independent for so long, but you gotta suck up your pride and do it to survive. I would spend my time going out to smoke cigarettes, watching tv and sports, helping raise my son in the ways I could, and practicing doing sit to stands out of my wheelchair. The months passed by and I was able to go back into rehab. This time, I had a black customized AFO that fit over my shoe. I was able to wear any type of shoe I wanted. I just had to fit a small adaptive piece on it so the brace would fit. My ankle was stronger, but still weak enough where I had to wear the brace when I wasn't in my wheelchair. In rehab, I requested the same therapist, and amped up the intensity. In my wheelchair, I would do ankle and calf strengthening exercises, and more walking. Walking is the best exercise because it works on your stamina, as well as working all the muscles used to walk. I graduated to a single prong cane, because my balance was getting exponentially better. We would even take off my brace and walk in very short bursts, as long as my ankle would hold out. During this time, finally, I could feel my arm making small gains. In therapy, we would shock it, and put a towel down on a table, moving my hand across as much as I could. I came home, and since I was so pumped about my arm, I did all of the exercises I could. I would do shrugs, arm lifts, arm motions on the table, and just basically moving my arm in any direction I could. The movement started in my shoulder, and eventually moved to my tricep. My son had gone from crawling to walking by now, and took up most of my time trying to keep an eye on. A few months passed by, so I went back into rehab to get more therapy. This time I was able to walk with no brace or cane! I started slow, because if I wore out my ankle, it would roll on me., I eventually strengthened my ankle enough where I could ditch my cane and walk freely, without any device or cane involved. Every time I went into therapy, I requested the same person, Michael, and I firmly believe that helped me progress in my rehabilitation. We had fun, too. We joked and laughed through our time together. My arm now is about 90%, and I can honestly say it will probably come back fully. Im just working on my fingers now! I'll give this piece of advice. Although therapy is a serious matter, try and make the recovery fun and enjoyable. It will help the time go by and make doing the hard work not seem so much like "work." Although Michael was new, he was a damn good therapist. He always put my thoughts and feelings first, and would ask for feedback on what I felt was working. He most definitely went from just a "therapist" to a good friend over the years. If you find a good therapist that you connect with, always request them when you go back through therapy because they know your body and abilities almost as good as you do. Michael and I spent countless hours working on transfers, ghost squats, working on the anti gravity treadmill, and most importantly, just walking. I will say, I've been through the wringer, and have experienced a stroke first hand, so here's a little advice. The most important thing is to never give up, and keep pushing, because time is definitely not on your side after this traumatic event. There are many emotions a person goes through after a stroke. Shock Shock usually occurs directly after a stroke. Everything seems foggy and the victim is in disbelief as to what just happened. The body is paralyzed on one side, and it's incredibly hard to swallow. A near death event has just occurred. Close ones feel as if they just almost lost a loved one, and emotions are crazy and through the roof. There are probably going to be fights and altercations between family members and other loved ones. You probably feel numb and disoriented as to what just happened. You think maybe it's all just a dream and you are about to wake up. But you don't. It's all real, and the emotions yet to come can be quite scary. Disbelief This usually occurs after the shock wears off. The questions as to the situation at hand start popping up. "What just happened?" "Where am I?" "Why me?" Nothing seems real and the victim is trying to figure things out. To be honest, for the longest time, I didn't know what was going on. When I finally did, I didn't understand why this happened to me at such a young age. I had a hard time understanding what had happened to me. I didn't have much knowledge about strokes in general and had a a lot to learn. Sadness The victim has answered those hard questions and have realized what has happened. Crying will usually come with the sadness. Disbelief is gone, and sadness has taken over. This is a tragic event and the victim is learning the severity of the stroke. Things will probably never be the same again, and it's just so hard to believe. The victim is unhappy with the situation and the body only knows to cry. Crying isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's a good way to vent the sadness and overcome it. I cried and cried after my stroke because I knew life as I knew it was over. Anger Anger usually comes after sadness. The victim is filled with hate. The victim has tried to answer the questions. The victim is angry, usually at himself, but still lashes out at others. Not a good time for people to be around. New questions pop up. Why didn't I take my blood pressure medications right? "Why didn't I exercise more?" "What could I have done different to prevent this?" "Why was I drinking so maluch caffeine?" The victim is angry because he didn't take the warning signs seriously with how to prevent the stroke. If anger is not vented, it can often lead to depression. I was angry at myself because I know the stroke was preventable. If I wasn't drinking all of those energy drinks and actually taking care of myself by eating right and taking my blood pressure medications right, I probably wouldn't be in this situation. I was angry that this situation was permanent. The anger caused confusion. The confusion just caused more anger. Once I get in my head, I'm stuck. The anger just builds up and builds up, until I explode. Then EVERYONE has a bad day. I tried to blame others, but it always came back to myself. To help with the anger, I tried medication, therapy, breathing exercises, but the thing that helped the most was just not giving up, and continuing to better myself everyday. Anxiety If Anxiety isn't dealt with on a daily basis, it can be quite debilitating. Once a person gets in their own head, it's hard to get out. Knowing you will never be the same person as you once were can cause anxiety on a grandiose scale. But it's how you overcome this injury and anxiety caused by the injury that makes you the person you are. I've always been told that how you overcome adversity is what builds character. It's not as easy as it sounds. After my stroke, I was scared, like really scared. I knew I would never be the same person again. It took me accepting my injuries, and realizing I wasn't just the same person inside, but I was actually stronger because of this experience. It was at that point I could control my anxiety. Guilt Guilt comes into play when you know you didn't do everything possible to prevent the stroke, yet it's too late. That's a tough pill to swallow. Just get over it. What's done is done, and you can't change that. Just accept who you are and be happy with what you do have and move on. If you don't, it will eat you alive. Depression Knowing you are not the same physically anymore can lead to depression. Picture at one moment, you feel as if you have it all, then it's suddenly taken from you. Your physical attributes, freedom, speech, able to concentrate. Everything you once knew is suddenly gone. That can lead to a violent spiral down into a deep depression. I fell into a deep depression for several months after my stroke. I knew I would never be the same again. Sure, I could rehabilitate and get better to an extent, but I would still never be the same. I had to learn to love who I was all over again. I realized I most definitely could be dead, and decided to look on the bright side and realize what I DID have in life. I have a wife and a beautiful son. Thats what I live for now. Loneliness Before my stroke, I feel I had a good life. I was working to learn and take over my father's business one day, and I was one class away from getting my bachelor's degree in business administration. I also had a beautiful wife and a child on the way. After my accident, I was pretty much bed bound. It was a huge chore just to transfer out of bed to my wheelchair. Then, I could what, wheel around my house, and go out for a cigarette? The deep depression I fell into made me completely isolate myself from friends and loved ones. All I did was watch television and play on my phone all day. My only outlet was being able to watch the Arkansas Razorbacks on television. We all know how horrible they've been over the past few years, so it wasn't much of an outlet. As I got better, my cousin took me to a football game, and it was nice to be able to get out into society again. As I've improved my walking, I've gotten a lot more active. I'm not a prisoner to my bed or wheelchair anymore. Although I still have my disabilities and restrictions, I have more freedom and actually feel alive again. I'm able to do so much more and now I'm grateful for who and what I have. Helplessness Helplessness came to fruition when I was paralyzed on my left side. The only way I can describe it is to imagine being able to feel absolutely everything, yet being able to move nothing. My entire left side was paralyzed, and I couldn't do anything about it. To me, that's the worst feeling in the world. The way I have been able to overcome this is to, first, accept Myself exactly the way I am, and second, try like hell to rehabilitate and become better. Not just physically, but mentally as well. I believe mental health is just as important as physical health.Fatigue Fatigue is most definitely a factor in stroke recovery. Everyone gets tired from time to time, but doing the same exercises in stroke rehabilitation and not gaining the results wanted can be awfully tiresome. Results will come, maybe not exactly like you wanted, but the work will eventually pay off. Just keep at it. Acceptance Acceptance is being happy and coming full circle with who you are now physically, mentally, and spiritually. You're 2 years removed from having a massive stroke. Yes, you are different, and aside from a miracle in physical therapy, you aren't going to change much. Just be happy with who you are and what you DO have. It could be much worse. Relief Relief comes after acceptance. You have accepted who you are and what you have become as a person. You've made huge gains, but not 100%. It's ok. There are people a lot worse off, and life isn't so bad. So sit back, relax, and concentrate on becoming the best human being you can. Conclusion It has now been almost four years since my stroke. It's been a very long road through recovery, and I've experienced a lot of different emotions and feelings. Having a stroke doesn't mean your life is over. It just means you have to live life on different terms. My life has totally changed, but I feel I still have a lot to give this world. I hope my little bit of advice can help you in some way, shape, form, or fashion. Just remember, never give up. This world needs you. You just may not realize the reason yet. It will come in due time.