Meet Cam, who does a talk show on Brain Injury Radio

I worked full time at Mercy Medical Center as a medical secretary. I’d also been a resident coordinator for years. I’d been there for thirty years. I was at work [when I had my stroke]. I was at the hospital in the cafeteria. All of a sudden, I’m looking at one of the signs for what’s being served, in one of the lines, and I’m thinking, “What is wrong?” I thought we were having an earthquake. Everything was moving, it wasn’t really me, but I noticed nobody else was panicking, just me. I’m thinking, why aren’t … and I finally realized it must be just me. I don’t know how I looked or whatever, but then all of a sudden I lost all upper body strength and they got me a chair and somebody brought a wheelchair and they took me down to the emergency room.

They were busy that day and they took me back, did all the tests, asked all the right questions, but they sent me home with vertigo. I hear that happens a lot. My mom was driving me home. Every right turn we made I blacked out. I said, “You’ve got to take me back.”

I knew that something was wrong, but they didn’t get it. They kept telling me to get out of the car, and I kept saying, “Wait, I can’t figure this out.” I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the car.

Nobody really, I didn’t get it, they didn’t get it, so I sat on a stretcher for another eight hours before they took me back in, because I’d already been there and I’d been released. I had originally gotten there at 11:30 in the morning. Around midnight or so they finally admitted me.

I was in the hospital for almost six weeks. I couldn’t walk when I came in, and I at least left in a walker.

I had a daughter in high school when this happened, and a granddaughter who was living with me. My youngest was in tennis and so we did tennis tournaments and tennis lessons and she was into horses and we did the lessons but we also did horse shows, so I had to do all of that as a single parent. The year before my stroke I got divorced, so it was still kind of a new thing when the stroke happened.

I ran two Girl Scout troops, I volunteered at a homeless shelter at least once every quarter, if not more. I volunteered at church, I was room parent, I did stuff. Now I can’t do all those things.

I had to find a new purpose, so my purpose is helping other stroke survivors. I come [to St. Louis] and I do twice a month the stroke support group. I started a new stroke support group out in Washington, Missouri. There’s a stroke walk that we work on. The stroke support group organizes something we call Junk in your Trunk sale once a year. It’s a way that we raise money for the stroke support group.

I was a mom and volunteer before, so I think to continue moving forward I had to find a purpose. I do a talk show on brain injury radio, which is actually like a podcast on the internet, so they do shows every night, but mine is the one on stroke and brain injury. I talk to, between Facebook pages and survivors, if they don’t have a purpose or acceptance of who they are now, that they’re lost, and I don’t think work as hard at getting better.

I didn’t like the new person that I was in the beginning. I didn’t like the loss of memory, because my short-term memory is gone. I don’t like my voice or that I can’t find words now. I don’t like the fatigue, that I can’t work full-time. I didn’t particularly care for the new person, but I’ve learned that she’s pretty awesome and just work with her and it’s all good.

Everything I am now, I was before, so I say I was fun, nerdy, quirky, forgetful, I was a procrastinator, but multiply that by ten. I’m still all of those things, just a lot worse or better, depending on how you look at it.

I am the same person I was, but because of the brain injury I’m still different. I wouldn’t have done all the things that I do now if I hadn’t had the stroke, so in that way, I’m a different person. Trying the tai chi and the archery and the yoga and doing those things, that’s new.

Again, I go back to purpose. I think that you have to have a purpose, or something more than thinking about your stroke. A lot of people are angry about having the stroke, and they don’t look past that anger. They don’t try to accept the new person because they just don’t like them.

I think any anger I had was gone in a few months or so. I get down on days and wish for things, but then I think, “Hey, if I had the old me, I wouldn’t be doing the things that I do now. You have to have that, you have to have acceptance and understand that, even though you are a little different, it’s not a bad thing.

Once this happens, there is a new you, so work with it and have fun. If not fun, at least do something. Go to a baseball game, go to the library, go take a new class, learn something new. Find something free, whatever. I know we all have financial difficulties, a lot of times since having the stroke. I can’t work full-time, I’m a single person, but I’ve managed. I’ve found different ways to get out and do things.

I went back to the same office, to my job, but it took us like two years to figure out what I can and can’t do. I do more things like answer the phones and inputting research information for our research nurses. That’s the way it is, but I am thankful that they kept me.

I haven’t lost any friends since my stroke, but that’s another one of those things that I see on Facebook about, “Nobody understands me, I lost this friend today, I lost that friend, I have no friends.” Again. I think that has to do with purpose, and also getting out there.

I haven’t lost any friends, I’ve gained hundreds more. My filters are gone, so I just go up to people and start talking. You never know what’s going to come out of my mouth sometimes because it’s … and I don’t care what people think anymore, you don’t like me, you don’t like me. I get out, I date, I go places, do things. I’m pretty active as far as things go, I take different classes. I’ve done tai chi and yoga and archery and more recently I tried circuit training. None of it’s ever pretty, but I can do it.

I know that my limit is three things each day. I try not to do three, but I know that that is the limit. Work is one, if I have to run an errand, each errand is one thing. If I have a date, or something, those are the three things, so that’s it, I can’t do any more. I find even working on the phone or something, I have to kind of count that as a thing.

I think a lot of stroke survivors say, “I can’t do that.” I would say, “Well, I can’t do it now, but I am trying to do it.”