Surviving a stroke

June 23, 2010

The story of a victim who refused to give up

This one is from the archives. A recent health issue has prompted me to think about life with physical constraints. Every time I wonder what I’d do were I to lose the use of any of my senses or limbs, I think of two people — Janice and Nancy. This is Janice’s story that I wrote as part of my master’s professional program in journalism at The University of Iowa. Janice and I became good friends during the course of my stay in Iowa City and we still keep in touch via e-mail. She is one of the most resilient, warm, thoughtful people I have met and I just hope I can come somewhere close to being as courageous as her, if something like this happened to me some day .


“What’s wrong with your teeth? Why are you sounding so funny?” Steven asked.

“Nothing’s wrong with my teeth!” Janice retorted to her sleepy husband. Outside in the living room, her mother asked her the same question.

At seven in the morning, Janice had other things on her mind than her husband and mom’s questions.

It was the last day of her annual pilgrimage to her parents’ house and she had to drive almost two and a half -hours from Montgomery to Atlanta for the flight back to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Not accustomed to getting up and moving about that early in the morning, Janice was feeling a little lethargic but not extraordinarily enough for anyone to notice any difference. Thinking they were all having a Christmas hangover, she went in to take a shower.

It was going to be a long day.

Minutes later, Steven heard her dropping things.

“I didn’t know I was dropping anything till Steven came in to see what was wrong,” Janice recollected.Heart Stroke2 Surviving a stroke

Neither of them knew she was in the grips of a cerebral vascular accident, the third leading cause of death in America, but her mother did.

Helen came rushing to the shower. A certified nurse, she recognized her daughter was experiencing the onset of a stroke.

Wrapped in a blanket, Janice was rushed to Baptist East Hospital in Montgomery, Ala., where doctors immediately administered clot-busting drugs.

A blood clot, arising in her heart, had traveled to her right cerebral artery leaving her left side completely paralyzed.

What would have been a short Christmas vacation in Montgomery turned into a life-long nightmare.

“It was only when I started limping [after the drugs were given], did I realize something was wrong,” Janice said.

For a 48-year-old in perfect health, this was a huge shock. “It was strange for me because I was not even in the high risk category,” Janice said with a wistful look. “We went to my parent’s house as two adults, and I came back literally in my diapers.”

Janice joined the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at The University of Iowa in the fall of 1994, a strange choice for someone who enjoyed playing with typefaces, textured paper and graphics.

Journalism for Janice was not only about words, but presentation of informative content in a beautiful way.

Visuals excited her, colors stimulated her and graphic artistry was her forte.

Before starting her master’s program, Janice worked as adjunct professor in the Art Building. “She had an excellent eye for detail, a deep love for type and an aptitude for the work she felt so passionately about,” said James Snitzer, associate professor of art.

Janice was his right hand “press broker” for more than six years and was scheduled to start teaching the Publication Design Workshop after the Christmas break in 1998.

The “Mercedes Benz of printing presses,” as James called it, sat wrapped in a plastic sheet.

He walked slowly to the back room and uncovered the offset press with a deep sigh.

“I haven’t used this for a long time,” he said.

Metal sheets hung uselessly on the wall and color posters, brochures and mock-ups lay strewn on the shelves just the way Janice had left them.

Time had left this room untouched.

“I just haven’t found anyone as good as Janice to run this machine,” James said remorsefully.

As an offset press operator, Janice was required to produce a high volume of quality printing accurately to specifications on deadline.

“It is a lot of intensive work, needing a sharp mind, deft hands and quick reflexes,” James explained.

Running presses requires a fair amount of physical strength, agility, and good visual acuity and eye-hand coordination.

Janice would have to stand for long periods of time mixing printing inks, maintaining water levels and feeding paper into the rapidly moving rollers, virtually being on her toes throughout the entire process.

But she loved working on the press so much that she opened her own production unit in the basement of her house.

Today her letterpress, remains sheathed in silence.

Older people, men more than women, South East Asians, people with hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, smokers and drug users are at a higher risk than others according to Dr. Harold Adams, a neurologist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

In the U.S. the incidence of stroke is highest in African Americans and lowest in whites. “Even though we have identified a so-called high risk category, stroke does not discriminate between men and women, young and old, or rich and poor,” he said.

sleep apnea and stroke e12772526223192 Surviving a strokeIn Janice’s case, it came as a bolt from the blue.

Janice had to re-learn a lot of things.

And while her brain worked just the same, her body refused to cooperate.

Simple things like walking, bathing, tying shoelaces, tossing together a salad or driving became ordeals.

“Steven used to tie my shoelaces and I felt it was so ridiculous! I bought shoes with zippers so that I could at least wear them myself.”

Her master’s project also reflected her intense love for creating with her hands.

Framing the Book is a treasure chest of textual content with strong visual overtones.

An eight-by-six by-three inch cardboard box, it contains two extraordinarily and unique books.

The first is made up of a single sheet of paper folded over and over like a fan. The pages and text are treated like design elements.

The second book is saddle-stitched and looks simpler but it is evident that a fair amount of research and creativity went into its making.

“I feel my project was one of my best artworks,” she said.

“Where writing and designing emphasize a mental process, the making of physical objects emphasizes adroitness and development of craft skills,” Janice said.

From choosing the printing type, to the color and texture of the paper she wanted, Janice remained a perfectionist.

Recovery has been a very slow and painful process.

After returning to Iowa City, Janice consulted with Dr. Adams, who has been actively involved in providing stroke care to patients.

“It is common for people whose right side of the brain is affected to experience imbalance and disorientation,” Dr. Adams said. “They are also likely to feel mentally fatigued and have memory lapses.”

Despite all the challenges, Janice refused to give up.

Dr. Adams referred her for rehabilitation to St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, well known for its services and facilities.

After six months of being driven by friends to the rehabilitation center, she had had enough.

“One doctor there would say to me that I would never get better. At a time when hope was all I had…I thought, what a poisoned mind,” Janice recounts while shaking her head. “I decided I wasn’t going there anymore.”

In consultation with a UIHC neuropsychologist, Janice started a stroke support group for patients like herself.

“I wanted to give to people what I could not get myself,” she said. “Psychological treatment is a big part of rehabilitation and unfortunately, the most ignored.”

Having indulged in self-counseling since her stroke, Janice said she is sad that the system works in a way to bypass the psychological aspects of a person’s life.

She applied for and entered the master’s program in social work as a part-time student, a decision that was triggered by her need to reach out to people.

“I cannot do as much physically as I used to,” she said, “but my mind functions just as well and I want to help deprived people in society to become more independent whether physically, socially or financially.”

While her letterpress in the basement might remain in a comatose state, Janice has filled the palette of her life with vibrant colors.

“I have progressed and am moving on,” she said with a hint of pride.

One day the letterpress will come alive.

One day Janice will walk down to the basement without limping and turn the machine on.

One day she will carry those reams of perfectly weighted text and cover paper and mix those colored inks.

One day Janice will be able to twiddle those knobs and produce perfect prints.

Someday Janice will be an artist again.

16081BD1A60533E0F1173D28DE4F0D3F Surviving a stroke

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13 Responses to Surviving a stroke

  1. RohitNo Gravatar on June 23, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Very well written, Mansi.

    If you know someone with a disability, but only met them after their accident/illness, its often easy to forget that they too led completely normal lives prior to that. Their livelihood was abruptly halted and it is perhaps the longing to be able to just do those things again, those simple things we take for granted everyday, that keeps them fighting everyday of their lives.

    Best wishes to Janice for a full recovery.

    • MansiNo Gravatar on June 28, 2010 at 11:15 am

      Thanks, Rohit.

  2. Shachi ThakkarNo Gravatar on June 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Lovely story. Reminded me of a book I read last year – “My Stroke of Insight” – A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.

    We always think it won’t happen to us…and take things for granted which we should not. I have stopped doing that now….and as a result I am able to live happily in the present most of the time :) !

    • MansiNo Gravatar on June 28, 2010 at 11:14 am

      That’s the lesson I’ve learned, too, Shachi. Every moment is precious — we don’t appreciate what we’ve been blessed with until it’s taken away from us.

  3. Judith van PraagNo Gravatar on June 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    N.B. a sentence disappeared in the first comment, so I’m reposting.

    Dear Mansi,
    Like Shachi I as well was reminded of Jill Bolte Taylor. Her TED presentation is not something I’m likely to forget.
    Baring witness of life altering experiences such as as stroke is of great importance to everyone who’s effected. Your piece shows how the person who experiences the stroke is in the center of the cyclone, but also how those around are affected. Having James Snitzer talk about Janice draws us into the reality of before the stroke and what Janice lost. Her spirited love-for-life confirming choices and decisions in the aftermath of the storm give us an idea of how she applies her dedication in her new situation, helping herself by helping others. All that from such a short piece. Thank you.

    • MansiNo Gravatar on June 28, 2010 at 11:13 am

      Thanks, Judith.

  4. Susan DeborahNo Gravatar on June 23, 2010 at 10:09 pm


    Thanks for sharing this. This is the first time I am hearing about a first-hand experience of stroke. Janice, sure must be brave and strong. Someday she will be an artist again. I wish her the best of everything.

    Joy and peace,

    • MansiNo Gravatar on June 28, 2010 at 11:13 am

      Thanks, Susan.

  5. BillNo Gravatar on June 24, 2010 at 4:06 am

    Nice story Mansi, thanks for sharing. I use to do “pet therapy” in nursing homes & saw many stroke victims. It’s sad to see someone who was so vibrant reduced to a person unable to walk or talk. As I get older I always wonder about the things that can happen in an instant. We all think we have a longtime before our time is here but truthfully anything can happen at anytime, that’s why we need to live each moment to the fullest.

    I hope Janice has continued to improve since you wrote this article & I really hope that people will pay attention to any warning signs they have in their life in regards to health. I realize in Janices case there were no signs but many people ignore the signs thinking they can go on & everything will be fine.

    Take care of yourself & live a full life!!



    • MansiNo Gravatar on June 28, 2010 at 6:12 pm

      Thanks, Bill!

  6. Judith van PraagNo Gravatar on June 24, 2010 at 8:32 am

    I like the imagery you chose to add, one clinical and one artistic. The art reminds me of a show I saw last year. In art therapy the focus for a part must be on how people envision their brain.

    Next month the Wasshington State Brain Injury Association holds the second annual Artist Showcase July 6th – 11th, 2010.
    We are proud to announce that the 2nd Annual Traumatic Brain Injury Artist Showcase at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture Seattle, Washington. This show will include visual, musical, written and spoken creations.

    • MansiNo Gravatar on June 28, 2010 at 11:11 am

      Thanks, Judith. I shared the link with Janice.

  7. […] her email I knew she’d had a stroke. Since I had recently written a piece on another woman paralyzed by a stroke, I thought meeting her would be no big […]


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