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Tracey Brooks

Tracey brooks with family and dogs

On January 21, 2010 was my 45th birthday. Richard, my husband, was in England but he was coming home around 11:00PM. So I took my mother, her best friend, my best friend, and my brother out to dinner. I came home, took the dogs out, and went upstairs to wait until Richard came home. Everything was fine. In the morning, we were making breakfast and talking about my birthday thinking we would go to a restaurant on the weekend. I was making smoothies in the kitchen and then I don't remember anything else. Richard had to tell me the story months after but the story goes like this...

I don't remember falling down and collapsing. Richard told me that I said, "My head hurts, call someone".  Richard tried to assess the situation as I was having convulsions and he was calling 911. The first responders came and took me to Marlborough Hospital. One thing I remember was the helicopter. I guess I had an out-of-body experience because I was unconscious but I was talking with the pilots and I was walking with them and they said I was going to be OK.

Imagine, spending my 45th birthday with family and friends and the next day I was almost dead. When I woke up after six weeks, I was in the rehab hospital and I couldn't speak and I couldn't walk. It was dark, I was freezing, and I was frightened. I couldn't fathom what happened to me. My head hurt so much. 

Before, I was in the University of Massachusetts ICU for four weeks but I don't remember much, well I remember a lot of nightmares and I guess sometimes it was real. The team needed to put me in an induced coma. While I was in the coma, I suffered from vasospasm and had a stroke, which the doctors prevented from enlarging by taking me for 4 intra-arterial treatments. I also had a stomach feeding tube (PEG) and a tracheostomy in order to liberate me from the ventilator


Fast forward to rehab again: Mind you, I couldn't speak, walk or move. I couldn't do anything. One of the therapists gave me a chart to point out:
Husband, pain, mother, bathroom, and things like that. I had hours of therapy everyday and I was so tired. I think on the second week I could walk with 2 people and a harness; a couple steps that was it. My right leg responded better but my arm was in a sling, paralyzed. On the 15th day, Richard took me outside in a wheelchair because it was warm and sunny. I didn't know that happen to me yet, I couldn't comprehend anything; I just wanted to go home.
It was a Sunday and Richard asked me if I knew where I was. I didn't at first and I pointed and he told me our house was close. And I just cried and cried to go home. On the 16th day, we decided to leave rehab and go home; much to the dismay the doctors as I was supposed to stay for several months.
I wanted to see my dogs.

March 8th, I came home. After I was home, I couldn't do anything. Richard had to do everything for me. We had VNA care - nurse, occupational, physical, and speech therapist everyday. When I could walk well enough, I would walk one of our dogs just once around our garden and soon I could make
2 laps and then 3. Soon after, I was walking down our cul de suc and up the street.

For a sidebar, in my previous life, I was a writer and editor so I was so frustrated that I couldn't speak or spell. But I was determined to get better. Richard called my trainer at the gym and we embarked on this journey to be well again. April came and the VNA people said I was doing so well I graduated to outpatient status rehab. I couldn't drive so Richard took me always. I had grueling sessions at the gym, speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy. By August, I was driving with Richard. It took a while but by the next year, I was driving myself to rehab and the gym. 

One of the things I wanted to try when I was well enough was golf. Before, I was very good at golf. It took a couple of years but now I can golf again.
I'm not great but I enjoy it much more. Another one is spelling, reading, and writing. I'm sure a lot of people take things like that for granted.
When you have lost the ability to communicate, the world is a dark and scary place. Love, support, family, faith, and grace have gotten you through the dark days, and a lot of speech therapy and patience.

Now it's been almost 5 years. Now I'm a lefty because my right arm is compromised somewhat and I type with my left hand only. We have cried a lot, laugh a lot and now I'm certain I'm stronger in so many ways. Sure, I do have some deficits but everyone has something. I could have crawled into a ball and cried everyday but I chose to fight. I embraced therapy because everything is therapy for me. Everyone has bad days but when you are having a bad day, get back on the horse tomorrow and be grateful. Life is so fragile-tragedy and triumph.

Breathe. Listen to the wind and buy some wind chimes when you nap (and you should nap). Hug your children, dogs, animals, your partner and family. Tell them you love them. When I was in the midst of my parents dying, I was so determined to be strong and not cry, I didn't hug them enough. Crying is a good and healing process. Walk, if you can to clear your head. Go to the beach and smell the salt air. If you can't go to the beach, just breathe and be patient.