Eve Joseph sits on a bench looking to the side smiling.

Facing up to stroke

As a healthcare professional, Eve Joseph understands how people in crisis can experience denial. So why did she not call 9-1-1 when she experienced signs of stroke? Eve tells her story.

What were you doing when you had your stroke? Did you recognize what was happening?

I had finished a 10-hour shift at the hospital where I work as a counsellor and had picked up my son from the airport. I felt totally fine. We were in the kitchen talking and laughing and I was making him a grilled cheese. I had a sudden and very brief spell of dizziness. Almost immediately, I felt tingling down the right side of my body.

I did not realize I was having a stroke but I knew something wasn’t right. Denial almost felt instinctual to me. A kind of survival mechanism: if I didn’t acknowledge something was possibly wrong then maybe everything was OK. Crazy when you look back on it but very, very real in the moment.

You called the nurse’s helpline and were told to hang up and call 9-1-1, yet you asked your husband to drive you to the hospital instead. Why?

All the clichés come to mind as to why I did not call 9-1-1: I didn’t want to embarrass myself by overreacting; I still felt like “myself” and thought I could handle whatever was happening; an added thing for me was that I work at the hospital and I didn’t want to arrive at the ER in an ambulance. I think, on some level, this kind of denial is connected to dignity and embarrassment. We just can’t believe that something so critical could be happening to us and we don’t want to look foolish.

How has your life changed since your stroke?

Two main things: I feel enormously grateful for each day and grateful that the stroke was one I could recover from; I also feel a deep vulnerability. Whatever sense I may have had of being spared or passed over is gone. I feel closer to death – having had it brush so closely by – but, paradoxically, I also feel closer to life because of that.

I wish I could say it’s made me a better person, a better human, but I still carry on often oblivious, rushed, too engaged in the things that catch us up in this life. And yet, I think I am a little more awake, a little more aware of fragility and I think I take myself a little less seriously.

As someone who has survived a stroke, what do you want other people to know about stroke?

I’d have to say, don’t doubt yourself. If you think something is happening, if you think you might be having a stroke or a heart attack, call 9-1-1.

And I’d also say, don’t push yourself too hard. Be gentle with yourself.

Eve Joseph is a poet and author of In the Slender Margin: The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying.

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The faster someone experiencing a stroke gets to a hospital that provides acute stroke care services, the better their chances of survival and recovery with little or no disability. But this is not happening to the extent it should. Read the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s 2015 Stroke Report to learn how we can work together to create better outcomes for more Canadians after stroke.

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