Developing Resilience: How Rock Bottom Became a Solid Foundation
Part I: When my World Flipped Upside Down
October 30, 2018. I’m driving down the road to head to the fire station, where I have proudly been a member since I was fourteen years old. I am attending Pennsylvania State University, the Behrend Campus, where I will complete two years of my general education classes before transferring to Penn State University Park, which is the main PSU campus, to complete my agricultural science degree. As I crest a hill in the road, I immediately become dizzy and lightheaded. I begin to see double and am unable to hold my head up. I quickly make a left hand turn down a side road and pull over. As I go to grab my phone to call for help, I realize that although I can see the button to turn off the radio, I cannot press it. When my mom answers the phone, I notice my speech is slurred. “Help, help me. Something is wrong,” I cry to my mom. “Am I having a stroke?” My mom quickly dismisses my concerns and assures me she is on her way. Though she tries to stay calm, I can hear the panic in her voice. My sister and mom arrive, where we discover I am unable to walk. My younger sister, who weighs maybe one- hundred pounds soaking wet, carries me into the back seat of the car. My mom, who has been an EMT for over 20 years drives me home, where she checks my blood pressure to find that it is normal. I am still unable to hold myself up and begin begging to go to the hospital. Forty minutes later, we arrive at the hospital. The entire ride in I was vomiting profusely and so dizzy I could barely keep my eyes open. I get wheeled into the hospital and when we arrive at the triage desk the nurse tells me, “they’ll be with me soon”. Hours tick by. As I begin losing consciousness, my mom begs me to stay awake. I am leaning on my mom since my whole body feels like jello.
Finally, after shift change, a new nurse appears and asks us how long we have been waiting. “Three hours,” my mom states. Infuriated, the nurse takes us back to a room where I remember laying for hours. I was taken for a CT scan and MRI. Around midnight I began to become agitated, exhausted, and the last thing I remember is someone administering medication through my IV lines and waking up on the neurology floor the next morning. My parents arrive, as well as a few other family members, to see how I’m doing. The night before, my mom told me, they had diagnosed me with a virus that caused vertigo. They told my mom that while it would be rough for a few days, I would be over it in no time. As we are sitting there talking, a team of doctors comes in the room. “Miss Edwards, may we speak to you with your family in here?” I tell them yes, and their next words turn my world upside down. “Miss Edwards, your second CT scan from this morning shows that you suffered a stroke.”
My eyes can’t focus. In the background, I hear a strange noise. “What is that noise?” I think to myself. Suddenly, I realize it’s me. The wailing, blood-curdling noise I hear is me screaming. My mom begins to cry, and my dad runs over and hugs me. “Julie, we will get through this. I promise you. We will get through this,” he says to me as he holds me tight. The doctors’ wheeled me away for more testing as I begin to realize that I will not wake up and be able to walk again immediately like I had hoped. Would my left-hand work normally again? Would I ever be able to fight fire again? Would I spend the rest of my life confined to a wheelchair? So many questions and anxious thoughts ran through my head. Afraid to ask for fear of answers I didn’t want to hear, I simply tried to focus on my breathing. The next few days were a whirlwind of tests, eight hours a day of physical therapy, and sleepless nights alone.
Eventually, I would need heart surgery to close a hole that they found in my heart, which allowed a clot to pass into my brain and cause the stroke. I am given a heart monitor to wear for the next thirty days, only to be taken off when I shower. I am diagnosed with Factor 5, a blood clotting disorder where my blood is essentially sticky and causes clots much more easily than that a normal person. There is no cure, and the only treatment is lifelong blood thinners. After one week in the hospital, I am sent home with a prescription of physical therapy three times a week, more appointments than I can keep straight, and the ugly, yellow, no slip socks I’m given as a parting gift. As I focus on my breathing in the car to manage the vertigo, I wonder what life will be like. Will things ever be the same? Will I be able to live my own life again?
My own house seems foreign to me as I carefully walk up the steps. After a week of physical therapy, I can walk slowly and carefully on my own for short distances. My motor skills in my hand, however, leave a lot to be desired. I make it to a kitchen chair, where my dad cuts off my hospital bracelets while my mom gets me some food. After I eat, I decide that I want to get some rest in my own bed. While I’m laying in bed, trying to process everything that has happened over the past week, I feel the dark thoughts creeping in. I know that I won’t ever be happy without fighting fire again. And what about college? I can hardly walk, let alone write. Do my dreams have to die now? It was then that I made a promise to myself. I promised myself that I would get better, that I would fully recover from my stroke and continue to do the things I love. It was the only option. I couldn’t imagine a life worth living if I didn’t.