I had a what? As a 23-year-old and still-fresh college grad this was not how I intended on starting my adult life. Frankly I didn't know that people my age could have a stroke nor did I really know what a stroke was. Strokes and brain aneurysms were things that I had only overheard in the background of my mom's medical dramas, online, or in passing, about those much older, yet suddenly I was being told that I had just had both due to a cerebral AVM that had been waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Luckily I don't remember the beginning of trying to understand this disorienting situation but people are often surprised at how much I do remember. For example, I remember where I was sitting and what I was doing when I got struck by the lightning pain of my rupture. I can even remember calling the ambulance after making my way up the staircase of my parents’ split-level raised ranch-style house as both my left arm and leg were growing increasingly numb. I even remember hearing the siren in the distance and being so anxious to get help that I tried to stand only to fall on the floor, my arm and leg limp. Then I remember being on a stretcher at the top of my staircase wondering how the EMTs would get me down the stairs on wheels.
That was October 30th, 2020 and my last memory for some time. My next memory comes from around Thanksgiving at the rehab center where I did my recovery work. What I don't remember was being at Yale New Haven Health, having an EVD placed, going through an embolization procedure, and being sedated for 10 days.
So there I was at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare entering December relearning how to walk, use my left hand, and even remember anything at all. Unaware of my deficits and impatient, I was buckled into bed so as not to try to get up only to fall (again).
And this is the point where I'm asked how I found the strength to get through this situation and navigate this new life. I had never considered myself a lone wolf before but I wasn't one to ask for help nor share that I was struggling so willingly. Here, I found the power in community and support from others.
I cannot say enough good things about Gaylord Specialty Healthcare but one of their best ideas was to put all of those on the neuro rehab unit into groups for some shared therapies. This really helped to instill a sense of community and camaraderie with people who could actually relate. We were, however, still in the midst of the peak of a global pandemic, so visiting restrictions were tight and my connection to the outside world was limited. I leaned heavily on my rehab/nursing staff and saw myself coming out of my shell for the first time in my life. This tragedy was also a huge opportunity for personal growth.
Gratitude was also one of the ways that I found to navigate this life post stroke. It would be very easy, understandable even, to wallow in self-pity and lament my situation. But considering just how close I had come to not seeing the next day I was honestly just grateful to still be here. That in addition to my limited frame of reference due to my memory issues led me to finally practicing the mindfulness and gratitude that I had always worked towards in meditation and yoga. It's funny how in the worst time of my life I learned how to be truly present in the moment and count every blessing. Every therapy session was a new opportunity and something I looked forward to every day.
Given how important community and the shared experiences of others were to me, I felt compelled, once I was discharged, to share my story and connect with other survivors on social media and even being trained to going back to the rehab center as a peer mentor, helping give those still on the unit perspective that I never got because of restrictions. Showing them that it was, in fact, possible to recover and graduate rehab by taking things one day at a time.
So, while I still cannot drive (yet) due to loss of vision in my left field, I cannot help but be grateful for every new day that I'm allowed to spend with my friends and family. Grateful too, that TAAF has become an extension of that family.
Click the photo to learn more about Vincent Zelinsky.