Healing from Vertebral Artery Dissection – My story 2013


One minute I am feeling great, teaching yoga and moving just fine. The next moment, I remember feeling quite dizzy and thought that maybe it was the heat, so I left the room to turn the heat down in the yoga class.  ‘Maybe I can just sit in the room and it will pass.’  Yet it didn’t.


Thank goodness a few students came over, noticed and called 911.  I remember little  after that but remember telling them to call my husband Jeff.   They say I passed out, which makes sense, and I heard that many were praying and sending well wishes in the class.  I knew in the emergency vehicle that this wouldn’t pass.  I was able to tell them that as they asked me my birthday I couldn’t say the number part.  I could think it but not say it.  So I knew something was wrong.  It was so strange seeing the mind and body separated; I could think words but couldn’t get them out.  I remember even talking to one doctor from his home on a TV screen.


After one of many CT scans, we found out both left and right arteries in my neck had caused a vertebral artery dissection which caused a stroke; quite common in younger people, and effects are temporary unlike many other kinds of strokes. My head was killing me, but they only offered heavy narcotics which made me sick.   Being with Kaiser, I had to be moved to a Kaiser hospital.  The emergency vehicle people were so great and kind; laughing with them, learning about them and seeing them be careful on the drive with each bump, movement etc.  I have a new appreciation now when I see them on the road.


The days I spent in hospital taught me you never get rest there, and that there are some wonderful and some not so wonderful caretakers.  With each person I waited to see their attitude.   For those that treated it like a job and couldn’t use logic and sympathy I would be quite guarded.  Many times I was asked silly questions  (“Do you have a penile implant?”) before going to the MRI.   Really?  (We are still laughing at that one.)  I saw quickly that just like yoga, all areas need to be about the person.  It doesn’t do me a lot of good to be treated like a number; it also doesn’t take much time to offer attention and give each person what they need.  Many I found were just going about their work day, collecting data but not really being aware of the information or patient.


However, many of the people in the hospital were incredible, and I found the use of my yoga practice immediately; meaning not just the physical practice but all the Sutras.  I had to trust myself, not cause harm, dive within myself and learn to be safe there.  Many of the nurses understood that sight, sound and smell matter to those suffering from migraines and brought me ice cubes for my head often, and one nurse even took me herself to a 1am CT scan just to save me time and get me back to bed fast.  I’ll never forget that.


There was some residual swelling after the stroke to deal with and it made things like focus and balance worse.  I couldn’t even walk on my own and they had to strap a belt to hold me up with a walker as two young ladies would walk next too me to support me.  I was eventually moved to the rehab unit within the hospital after they tested me to see if I qualified, being re-checked in and answer everything all over again.  Sometimes I was asked to move right after being given medication which meant I got sick and vomited. They started me on blood thinners and had to give me shots in my stomach that started at 3am, then blood work at 6am and then breakfast at 7am.  Entire day would go on with rehab, and wouldn’t stop till 4:30.  Then I would have to get another scan done, so I wouldn’t be back in my room till after 8pm.  Then just when I could get some sleep, the night nurse would come in, turn on all lights, read the computer and ask me questions all over again; she’d say she would be right back, leave all lights on and the door to my room wide open, and not return for over 25 minutes.  Not realizing that someone with a migraine is so sensitive to light, sound and the pain I was in.


Doctors, nurses and therapists would come to my room though, and ask about my neti-pot, inquire as to why I was inverting my legs, comment on how great my lavender aromatherapy  smelled and enjoy the yoga music I streaming from my phone. Often in therapy, I modified and adapted positions and it helped me.  They said my awareness helped me heal much faster.  When asked what my number one priority was, I said “To get out of here!” Of course, by the next day I just wanted better food and coffee; for a place of health they offer the worst vegetables and food. Then found out the blood thinner was taking longer to work in my body because I have a lot of vitamin K in my diet from eating lots of dark leafy greens.  Some suggested that I change my diet, but others said just eat as you do and the blood thinner will be adjusted.  There were some that were quite open to the idea of using natural or Eastern practices but others that didn’t.  The OT would come in and want to go over stroke effects, why I felt it happened and kept going over each day that it will happen again.  I remember telling her I just can’t live that way though and to please stop.


Getting home was such a relief. I was checked out by 11am but was packed and ready at 7am.  Doctor filled out prescriptions for me but I had long decided to just stop the pain medication.  The effects weren’t worth it and gave little relief anyway.  After being watched to see if I could shower, cook and get around, it was nice to leave and gain some privacy.  Now I understand the ‘look’ from those that are injured – the happiness when they regain more independence, less pity and regaining the ‘self’.


Being home is great but yet not the same.  It takes a while to get the setup at home.  Each week my husband and I go to Kaiser for blood work and I never get used to being poked; I remind myself it will pass and could be worse.  Fortunately my hubby works from home so he does the shopping, checks on me and we rearranged the layout of the rooms so I don’t bump into things.  I have been completing learning therapy yoga and never thought I’d be using it on myself, but I have.  Letting go the entire time is what I’ve focused on.  Stop asking “why” and focus on the now; right now this is what I can do, not getting back to something, and tomorrow will be different.  Often I worry about who I’m disappointing though; being away from work and having others cover for me.  I’m quite hard on myself this way.   It takes a lot to let it go. Trust.


The mind and body has connected more each day; so I’m quite lucky.  The left artery healed very fast.  The right side is still healing and so is the head pain. I learned to say “no thank you” to prescriptions.  Trust what is right for me.  Still I’m asked “what happened?”, “why did it happen?”, and “have you improved?”  I’ve had to accept that this is going to take time and that I don’t know the “whys” and may never know “why now”.  That doesn’t mean that I haven’t had moments of anger or tears about it. Sometimes we just need a safe space to feel that. I resisted telling many about my experience but now feel it can only help to share.  I’ve had such amazing support but others are scared to even talk about it.  I was reminded by a yoga teacher how I had freaked out the yoga class that night I had the stroke.  No mention or question as to how I was doing.  Shame that we all can’t stop and pause more to be more aware of what really matters.


Yet so many people stepped up and sent flowers, cards, gifts and brought food.  Those in my community came to take care of us with their support.  Every thought helped me and I cried often to see how many helped not only me but Jeff as well.   He went through a lot that he didn’t share with me and needed support too.  Thank you all!


On the outside I look fine, but I know on the inside things are still different.  I can’t help but think about those in the hospital that I only saw briefly, yet they would say had only just met me and say things like “I don’t know why I’m telling you this” but they offered me such support, hope, love and encouragement.  They may not have known why but I certainly do know why we had that moment together.


I thank everyone for these moments, as sometimes that is all we get.  Stop and pause more – smell the roses – we don’t know how many more moments we get in this life.

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