When My Mom, a Nurse, Had a Stroke

It’s been said that doctors and nurses make the worst patients. And if you’ve ever met my mother, you may agree with that statement. As a nurse practitioner, mother of three and grandmother of five, Mom has spent the better part of her life caring for other people. So much so that she has often put her own health on the back burner. However, that all changed after she had her stroke.

I remember the day well. I had just gotten back to my office at ProMedica Toledo Hospital after a meeting and found several missed calls from my dad. Dad rarely calls me during work, so I knew something was wrong. I called back and after several long rings, he answered. The reception was poor and his voice kept going in and out, but eventually I was able to make out, “Mom is in the ER.”

I immediately left my office and headed down to the emergency center. When I made it back to my mom’s room, I was relieved to find her alert and acting normal. She was obviously anxious, but seemed physically fine — except for her sight.

Earlier that morning, Mom had experienced an intense headache followed by fatigue and loss of her peripheral vision. Thinking these were the symptoms of a bad migraine, she decided to take it easy and wait for them to pass. Her headache eventually subsided, but her vision did not return. Still not overly concerned, she thought she’d just bring it up at her doctor’s appointment that was already scheduled for that afternoon. Her doctor on the other hand, was very worried and told her to go to the ER right away.

As soon as she arrived, the experts at Toledo Hospital sprang into action, running all the necessary tests and procedures. Ever the nurse and mother, Mom remained calm, even translating the medical jargon for Dad and me and asking us who was going to take care of their dogs that evening.

“Ever the nurse and mother, Mom remained calm, even translating the medical jargon for Dad and me…”

After a short while, the emergency physician informed us that Mom had suffered an infarction on her occipital lobe. Mom’s eyes began to well up as she knew exactly what this meant. Dad and I, on the other hand, just looked at him confused. “It was a stroke,” the doctor explained.

At that moment, a million questions and fears began running through my mind. A stroke? How could she have a stroke? She is way too young. What does this mean for her? Could it happen again?

Mom spent the next couple days in the hospital for observation and testing. An echocardiogram uncovered that she had a patent foramen ovale (PFO) — a small hole between the upper right and left chambers of the heart. Usually not a cause for alarm, PFOs can sometimes allow blood clots to pass through the heart and up to the brain which can lead to a stroke. Mom had apparently had this condition her entire life and never knew it!

Related: Family Helps Woman in Denial of Stroke

To prevent future and possibly worse strokes from occurring, Mom was put on blood thinning medication until a procedure was done to close the PFO. A small cardiac monitor was also inserted under the skin in her chest to keep track of her heart rhythms and alert her cardiologist of any abnormalities. Over time, most of her vision returned; however, it is unlikely that she will regain all of it.

This experience has truly been an eye opener (no pun intended) for Mom and our entire family. We have learned to not take our health for granted and the importance of acting fast if something seems wrong. It has definitely made Mom a better patient, and quite possibly, a better nurse too.

Learn more about why women are more susceptible to stroke and how to spot the signs of stroke.

KL_photoKate Langenderfer is a senior marketing communications specialist at ProMedica. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Telecommunications from Bowling Green State University.