A red herring is a literary device that is sometimes used to draw an audience’s attention from the real plot by creating a distracting clue or event. Red herrings are fun and interesting when used in theater. A red herring applied to critical health issues is a much more dangerous situation.
At 38 years old Brooke Allen was a vibrant and successful business woman. Her 18 years of service and dedication at Macy’s Department Store saw her work her way up to the position of Sales Manager. Brooke managed a team of 60 employees with sales of 9.1 million dollars. After her long hours of hard work managing sales at Macy’s she transitioned to her role as a successful wife and mother to an active, dynamic household. It was a full and often slightly crazy life but Brooke loved it. However, Brooke relied on too much caffeine and too many cigarettes to cope with the stress and fuel her high octane lifestyle.
In 1807 English polemist William Cobbett told a story about using a strong smelling smoked fish to divert and distract hounds from chasing a rabbit. The term “red herring” was born.
On September 4, 2018 a red herring of a different sort sent Brooke Allen down a much more troublesome rabbit trail. That morning she experienced severe stomach pains, so much that a trip to the hospital was necessary. There she was diagnosed with kidney stones and given medicine to help her through the ordeal of passing the stones.
The pills knocked her out. When she wasn’t sleeping she felt really “out of it”. At one point she tried to get up, but instead she fell down. She tried to call out to her husband for help but couldn’t speak. Alarmed at these events her husband called 911. He went downstairs to let the paramedics in and in his absence Brooke decided she didn’t want to go to the hospital in her pajamas. She attempted to find some more presentable clothes to put on but she fell again. When her husband and the paramedics got to her room they found Brook lying in the closet.
Brooke doesn’t remember her first few days in the hospital very well. She was told that she passed the kidney stones with a lot of accompanied screaming. She had suffered a massive ischemic stroke. Her speech was impaired to the extent that all she could say for three days after the stroke was “no”.
Over the next two weeks she regained some speech but she still has difficulty speaking. This is exacerbated by the aphasia that was also the result of the stroke. Additionally, her right side was paralyzed. Her right hand is still highly uncooperative and she requires the help of a brace on her right leg to walk. Nevertheless, in spite of these relentless obstacles, success is still a very big part of Brooke’s life, although her goals have changed.
In the less than 2 years since the stroke Brooke has succeeded in leaving the wheelchair behind. In fact, she walks 1 to 2.5 miles a day, rides her 3 wheeled bicycle 4 to 8 miles a day and does yoga daily. She also regularly exercises her hand with a SAEBO device and neuromuscular electrical stimulator. Recently, with the help of a friend from her church, Brooke has incorporated Interactive Metronome Therapy into her recovery routine as well. And to further redefine what success looks like, Brooke has set a goal of running as a target for this year.
Brooke relies on her exercise routine to help recover her physical functionality, and on the speech and aphasia therapy to overcome the communication challenges, but when you talk to Brooke it becomes evident that she has a special regard for the various support groups that have provided so much emotional healing. She is active in aphasia support groups, heart attack support groups and stroke survivor support groups that meet in person and virtually. Her involvements with the American Heart Association programs lead her to become an ambassador for that organization. In that capacity she is able to use the skill set she developed in her career at Macy’s to benefit to the association’s communication efforts. Brooke contributes to the American Heart Association’s Facebook posts, appears in videos and is involved in assisting with the organization of American Heart Association walks and fundraisers.
When asked about her greatest challenges since the stroke Brooke mentions the overwhelming changes that are required to accommodate her disabilities. There are big things like modifying the house to improve her ability to move through it and there are small things like cutting her hair short so she can style it with one hand. Brooke made one particularly salient point when she noted that “Your family’s life doesn’t end when you have a problem”. One of the family responsibilities Brooke shared was the transportation of the kids to their events. When she lost the ability to drive it was an imposition on the whole family. Regaining driving skills and learning how to operate the car with adaptive controls was tough. But Brooke succeeded, once again. She was so excited when she finally earned her license she said “I felt like I was 15 again”.
Brooke wants other stroke survivors to know “You are not alone. It’s frightening and depressing when suddenly you can’t talk. But there are stroke survivor meetings, aphasia meetings and Facebook groups where you can find others who are dealing with similar challenges. Take advantage of those groups. And above all…DON”T GIVE UP! You’ll get through it. You have to work on recovery every day.”
Brooke’s success in rebounding from the devastation of a stroke is proof positive that Stroke Survivors CAN!
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