If you live in the USA, you take for granted the wonderful and interesting places that make up the nation as a whole. But when you live on the other side of the planet from America, a city like New Orleans, Louisiana, can become your ultimate destination. For Tanya Younger, returning to New Orleans became just that, a mega-motivator that pushed her stroke recovery beyond routine, so that she could make that trip half way around the world from where she lived in Queensland, Australia to get back to her “happy place.”
Tanya says she doesn’t remember much about that day in early February, 2010, when she experienced strokes in her brain stem, cerebellum and the left side of her medulla. She was fifty two years old at the time and had returned from a quick trip to New Orleans just two weeks earlier. Because she was a seasoned traveler, Tanya didn’t think it odd to be fighting what (she thought) was a lingering post-trip malaise. So, though she was very sick for two days prior to her stroke event, she didn’t think it was necessary to go to the doctor.
However, when she literally couldn’t get up from the couch to go to a hastily-scheduled doctor appointment, her husband called an ambulance and Tanya was rushed to Cairns Base Hospital in Queensland. There, her medical team diagnosed and treated the infarctions, and confirmed the cause of her strokes, a left vertebral artery dissection. Tanya says that things looked very bleak, but she made the best of a bad situation, as she waited out her hospital stay.
Her husband of twenty four years remained by her side the entire time. To cheer her up, he decorated her room with everything New Orleans: feather boas, New Orleans Saints memorabilia and other fun items in New Orleans-themed colors. For her part, Tanya played her favorite jazz music on her CD player.
When Tanya revealed to her doctor that she was fearful she would never return to New Orleans, he eased her concerns and presented her with a challenge: once she could walk independently and demonstrate that she would have a safe home environment, she would be discharged and could go anywhere she wanted.
Tanya kept her eyes on the New Orleans prize, as she slugged through seven weeks of in-house rehabilitation, plus another four weeks of out-patient rehab, at Cairns Base Hospital. Her grueling regimen consisted of physical, occupational, speech and balance therapies. Once her physician was satisfied that she was ready, Tanya was discharged from the hospital and on her way back to the USA and the New Orleans Jazz Festival. At that point, she was only ten weeks post-stroke and still in a wheelchair. (But, she quickly upgraded to a Trionic® all-terrain walker that she christened “Mabel”. Now, Tanya uses a cane and only relies on Mabel as a backup.)
Like many stroke survivors, Tanya says that at first, it was difficult for her to be so reliant upon her husband and friends. That feeling of dependency was something she had never known and didn’t like. From a physical standpoint, she also continued to be plagued by violent dizzy spells, and was frustrated by not being able to read (although she quickly adapted to audio books). But, hands down, the toughest thing to deal with, in the months after her event, was the absolute terror of having another stroke. Tanya says that although she’s a very positive person, she just couldn’t put that feeling away.
Tanya says that having her husband’s unending support was critical in helping her recapture her life. She also had an abundance of good friends, who buoyed Tanya up whenever she had a setback but, at the same time, pushed her to do more (which Tanya says was just “perfect”). And while it was difficult having two dogs to care for at the time, they had to be fed and exercised, so Tanya was disciplined into getting up and about, even if she didn’t feel like it.
These days, Tanya celebrates even her smallest successes and accomplishments. But, if she had to pick her greatest post-stroke achievement, she cites an unusual milestone. On her last trip away, she didn’t take her cell phone with her into the (rail-less) public bathrooms, because she was confident that she wouldn’t slip or fall. And, she didn’t, which left her feeling exhilarated that she had come that far. Another personal success was getting her driver’s license back, which Tanya says was about the happiest day of her life.
Tanya also says that she misses playing tennis and squash so to compensate, she’s become a “gym junkie”. Even though she has exercise equipment at home, she thrives on the structure of going to the gym to use the treadmill and other equipment because it forces her to shower, dress, and go out and interact with others.
In a few more months, Tanya will be marking her four year stroke anniversary, and although she feels well, she continues to be plagued by lingering residuals, including fatigue, nystagmus (a subtly “bouncing” left eye), and balance, concentration and anger issues. And, she’s still unable to sense hot or cold, or wet or dry, on the left side of her face, or on the right side of her body.
But, overall, she thinks she’s recovering fairly well. To prove her point, Tanya returned to the United States earlier this summer, when she and her husband took an Alaskan cruise, and then toured around California before returning home.
Tanya has never wavered, even when facing tremendous setbacks. Her optimistic outlook and grounded philosophy has served her well by propelling her from a seemingly hopeless situation, to fulfilling her life-long dreams. Tanya’s advice: despite all of the experts, the textbooks and the dire prognoses, dare to dream and to set your own goals, no matter how unattainable they may seem.
Tanya can be contacted via the Stroke Network. Her user id is: tanyounger