As a song by Tim McGraw begins: “He said I was in my early 40s, with a lot of life before me, and a moment came that stopped me on a dime… .”
Well, I was in my mid-30s, with a lot of life before me, when a moment came that stopped me on a dime. March 13, 2002.
I returned from a short business trip with a headache that was like no other. It was sitting on top of my head and felt like it could be removed if it were a hat. Tylenol alone or paired with Mountain Dew didn’t do the trick on this one.
I was a full-time wife, mother of two, full-time on staff at Virginia Tech, church secretary, Sunday school teacher, deaconess, organizer of church camp, active in Relay for Life, leading programs at work, traveling to present new programs, friend to many and much more. I knew life had to slow down but I wasn’t sure what to stop
After being fitted with a heart monitor at the hospital to check for sleep apnea, I stopped by my gynecologist to ask about the headache. He listened and said: “It could be hormonal, but I don’t want to give you anything and mess around with a stroke.” I took a Motrin Sinus as instructed and slept on the couch. During the night, I threw up dark blood and poured a small amount of Dr. Pepper to wash away the taste. The drink would not go down, but otherwise, I felt okay, so I wasn’t alarmed.
I slept off and on until 5 a.m. when my husband, Bryan, got up for work. I tried to tell him that something was wrong, but could not talk. I could hardly stand or swallow.
He took me to the ER at Carilion’s New River Valley Medical Center where routine testing began immediately ~ a CT scan, an EKG, MRI and a swallowing test, which I failed with flying colors. I kept trying to explain that I could not swallow or talk. Dr. Bishop, an ear, nose and throat specialist, was called in. He found one side of my throat was paralyzed along with a paralyzed soft palate. An MRA was ordered. Diagnosis: A stroke.
I remember hearing the words, but not processing them properly. “A stroke. You have had a stroke. Me? So? Okay?” This is what I remember passing quickly through my mind. Plans were underway in a heart beat, so to speak, to move me to Roanoke for surgery on a torn vertebral artery. I recall thinking: “I can’t go back to my job. I can’t answer the phone. I always meant to learn sign language, now I have to for me. My family doesn’t know sign language.”
Then: “HOLD IT! SNAP OUT OF IT!” This inner voice was strong, crisp and clear. After that point, I was ready for life, whatever it held. Ready to move forward, for whatever God had in store for me. My favorite scripture ran through my mind: “Consider the lilies how they grow…Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” [ Luke 12:27]. My family came in and asked if I understood everything. I tried to tell them to stop crying, that everything was going to be okay.
The next day went by minute by minute. The tension was thick with nurses and family trying to keep me calm and comfortable. I was ready to roll! My voice came back during the ambulance ride. When we got to Roanoke Memorial Hospital, I asked them to continue driving to the beach, that maybe I would be completely healed during another ride.
Because of the rareness of people my age having strokes, I was assigned a pediatric neurologist. He showed us the x-rays of the vertebrial artery and said that since I was speaking again, they would not do surgery. Another prayer answered! Consider the lilies!
After the second night, I moved to a regular room. Dr. Steinweg showed the pride he had for his job and an interest in my case, and he confirmed the answered prayer I received before leaving Radford—everything was going to be okay. He said: “This is only a season.” He had no idea of the hidden meaning when he offered to water the flowers in my room. Consider the lilies.
I began physical and speech therapy in Roanoke. I was not able to talk in a normal tone and could not swallow, even liquids. The decision was made to insert a feeding tube in my nose and throat, but I persuaded them to place it surgically into my stomach, so my throat was clear to heal. After five days, I was released to my mom and step dad’s house for rest and rehab. Bryan passed his trial run as a single father. Marrying an older man, I never considered leaving him behind, but God opened my eyes to that possibility. After a month of rehab, I was able to go home.
I am ready to tell the world what Tim McGraw had already sung in his song: “… someday I hope you get the chance, to live like you were dyin’.” God gave me a second chance, and I want to do all with it all that I can. Even though I have not slowed down a lot, I am fed and led by a different driving force. I choose activities that impact others. I try to fulfill the promise that I made the day I received the answer to my prayer—the day I received what I know was A Stroke of His Hand.
In the 12 years since Robin’s stroke, she has seen her son Cody, now 24, graduate from East Tennessee State University and move to Nashville to pursue his country music dream. Her daughter Casey, 16, helps me with fundraisers while working towards her dream of being a history teacher. Bryan, 63, still arises at 5 a.m. for his job as a masonry contractor. He makes sure all family members are partially awake and alert before leaving.
For eight years, Robin had annual screenings through LifeLine Screening and visited with a nutritionist through Carilion bi-monthly. Today, she takes one 81mg chewable aspirin daily and a two-hour nap “religiously” after church and lunch on Sunday. Nothing is off limits on the menu, and there is no medical follow-up. Sharing her story and miracle with others is therapeutically recommended.
By Robin W. Atkins
Photos by Shanen Photography