Stroke survivor Katherine Isaac with her husband

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Life threw me an unexpected challenge, but I’m determined to keep going.
Katherine Isaac

After nearly a fortnight in the hospital battling COVID-19, Katherine Isaac sensed improvement. It was the spring of 2021, and she had contracted the virus before becoming eligible for vaccination.

Katherine's labored breathing had eased after four harrowing days in the intensive care unit, where she narrowly avoided being put on a ventilator. But then, without warning, the room started to spin, and she lost control of her fork. Her left arm felt peculiar. 

When Katherine's mobility deteriorated to the point where she couldn't attend a physiotherapy session, the hospital staff suspected something more was amiss. Tests, including a CT scan, confirmed their suspicions.

"We have some bad news," a doctor solemnly told Katherine. "You've had a stroke."

"No, I'm Katherine," she replied, convinced that the dreadful diagnosis was intended for one of the older women sharing her hospital room, which was near full capacity during the third wave of the pandemic.

Katherine grappled with the shocking revelation. How could this happen to someone relatively young and active? She was a busy mother of two young daughters, who regularly worked out on her Peloton stationary bike, a substitute for her pre-pandemic gym workouts, soccer, and basketball routine.

The doctors explained that the stroke was caused by a blood clot in the cerebellar region of her brain, triggered by COVID-19 in some cases.

"What's next? Can I still go home in a couple of days?" Katherine inquired, her concerns extending to her husband, Sheldon, their children, and her parents. What should she tell them? What did it even mean to have a stroke?

First and foremost, it meant an additional regimen of medications, including blood thinners, on top of the steroids and other medications for her breathing. Katherine now required additional physiotherapy to regain her walking abilities and address the weakness on her left side. She underwent more tests to ensure she wasn't at risk for another stroke.

With her walking improving, Katherine transitioned from using a walker to a cane. After spending nearly, a month in the hospital, she finally returned home.

Recovery did not unfold as Katherine had anticipated. Initially, she treated it like recuperating from knee surgery or a broken arm, failing to account for the fact that she had suffered brain injury and damage. Accepting her limitations proved challenging, as she could no longer multitask and often required naps. Loud or crowded environments overwhelmed her, leading to emotional stress. There was an incident at a busy Walmart that triggered a meltdown, prompting Katherine to acknowledge the need to let Sheldon handle the shopping.

"It's been challenging to accept that I can't do as much as I used to do. I don't feel as productive. That's a problem for me as I consider myself a productive person," said Katherine, who took minimal time off from her job during her illnesses.

Katherine now focuses on adhering to her doctors' and therapists' advice while practicing her unique form of self-care, which includes composing an encouraging note to herself every Monday. She strives to strike a balance between her expectations for the future, a task that occasionally brings tears.

"I hope for a 100% recovery," she says. "But I also need to accept that I might not achieve 100%. I don't want to give up hope."