I was a 23 year old nurse when I had a stroke. It changed my life

This first-person column is written by Lindsay Bond, a nurse who lives in Halifax. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see the FAQs.

I was 23 when I had my stroke.

It still seems silly to say it. I was young and healthy and had just started my nursing career. That’s why I was in such shock when I had the stroke. It turns out it was caused by a patent foramen ovale (PFO), which is a hole in the heart that usually closes in a baby.

It’s almost a year after my stroke and I feel like I haven’t fully processed it. I often have to convince myself that it actually happened. But it happened, and now it has changed my perspective on my nursing career and my family.

While I was applying to colleges in high school, being away from my family wasn’t really something I thought about too much. Sure, there were times when I missed my family, but I spent many weeks, weekends, and summers reading at home. I had no idea how much I relied on my family and friends for emotional support or how homesick I would be.

This feeling intensified when I had my stroke just as the third wave of COVID-19 was peaking in Canada. The hospital where I was had closed its doors to all visitors and the province had closed its borders. Everything had to be done virtually, which proved quite exhausting as I had terrible double vision and relied mostly on my ears. I felt trapped in the hospital. My parents couldn’t travel to Nova Scotia from Ontario, and even if they could, they wouldn’t be allowed to come to the hospital to see me.

Lindsay Bond, left, is pictured with her family in 2018. (Lindsay Bond)

My mom had stage 4 esophageal cancer, and I felt like my time with her had been stolen because I was stuck in the hospital for six weeks and separated by thousands of kilometers. During my hospitalization, going home to my family was my only motivation to get better. After going through this pandemic and feeling so alone in the hospital, I never take the time I spent with my family and loved ones for granted.

As a nurse, I have seen the devastation that strokes have on people and their families. Typically, these patients were older and usually had comorbidities, the medical term for additional conditions. It was scary to think about how these patients would continue after leaving the recovery room or what the lasting impacts might be.

After my stroke, all of a sudden things turned around and I went from nurse to patient. I never once thought that I could be the one on the hospital stretcher – I didn’t know if I could walk again or swallow solid food again or be a nurse again. I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t the only one going through this. Strokes happen to people every day. After being the one in bed with nurses taking care of me, I feel like I have a better understanding of the hundreds of emotions that many patients feel while in hospital.

I am not saying that a nurse intends to ignore the emotions and fears of having a stroke. But we’re so busy and focused on the medical treatments of multiple patients that it’s easy to forget to pay attention to these things in such a fast-paced environment. When I get back to work, I don’t want to forget how lonely I felt lying in that hospital bed. I hope this will make me slow down and pay attention to the non-physical needs of my future patients.

Lindsay Bond worked as part of a COVID-19 testing team in April 2020 before her stroke. (Lindsay Bond)

This past year has been one of the toughest of my life, and that’s not even really taking into account the pandemic. After enduring many adversities with health and family, I remember things for which I am grateful. I think about the silver linings of every situation instead of asking “what if”.

I will remember that I was not the only patient in the hospital during the visiting restrictions. I will remember to be present when I am with my family and loved ones because at any moment they could be taken away. When I return to work as a nurse, I will remember what it was like to be on the other side of things. What it was like lying on the stretcher and being scared, relying on someone else for things I normally could have done myself. When I think of everything I learned from that experience, having a stroke at age 23 doesn’t seem so bad to me anymore.

I’d love to say that now I’m spending more time with my family, but with everyone’s busy lives and the ongoing pandemic, it’s hard to buy time. Instead, I try to be more present in the moment, acknowledging that I have loving, supportive people around me, encouraging me in my stroke recovery.

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