I Almost Died on a FIRST DATE | Stef Sanjati
I Almost Died on a Date
I'd been looking forward to dinner out all week. It was my fourth date with Adam and things had been going well. As a single mom, I had been on lots of dates, and this was the first time I thought that maybe there was a future.
While we waited for our table at one of my favorite restaurants, I suddenly started to sweat, my head began pounding, and Adam's voice grew fainter and fainter. It felt like I was having a panic attack, but that wasn't like me at all. As a sales manager, I was used to shaking off a bout of nerves. I excused myself to go to the restroom, where I splashed cold water on my face and told myself,Get it together, girl—it's just a date! He's going to think you're crazy!But I couldn't calm down, and my lips felt huge and heavy.
I slowly walked back to where Adam was waiting and asked him to take me home. He took one look and me and said "No, we're going to the hospital." But I insisted: I'd be fine if I could just get home and into bed.
When we got to the house, my symptoms quickly got worse—the pain in my head and chest was the worst I've ever felt, my vision went blurry and the constant ringing in my ears became unbearable. We rushed to the ER, where the first thing the nurse did was take my blood pressure. "You haven't been taking your medication, have you?" she said to me.What medication?I wondered, but was too afraid to ask. A full workup and two hours later, the doctor told me I'd just had a stroke. It was 2003, and I was 33 years old.
It made no sense—I was young and I wasn't overweight. I went to my ob-gyn annually and had seen an internist a handful of times, but no one had ever mentioned that my blood pressure was high. When my brother John visited me the hospital, the first question he asked was, "Aren't you taking your medication?" When I asked him what he meant, he said, "We're all on blood pressure medication—me, Val, Rose..." he replied, ticking off every one of my eight brothers and sisters, "...Mom, Dad. We all started taking it in our 30s." I remembered seeing my mother and father take pills, but they never said why, and I never thought to ask.
I spent my four-day hospital stay worrying about the future, but also feeling pretty stupid. Why didn't I know about our family history of high blood pressure? Why didn't I know that I had it myself? (It was 190/170 in the ER!) Why didn't I let Adam take me to the hospital right away? Why did I think I could just "get over" such scary symptoms by going home and lying down? Because I was a single mom with a 7-year-old son, and I was used to pushing through all the time.
It was Adam who helped me put my fears in perspective. We barely knew each other; in a situation like this, most guys would have been out the door in a second. But Adam never left my side. When I confessed that I was worried he thought I was a slacker who didn't take care of herself, he laughed. "Well, I do wish you had let me get you to the hospital sooner," he said, "but now the doctor has told you what you need to do. And I'm going to be there to help you."
With speech and physical therapy, I recovered from the stroke pretty well. I still have some weakness in my arms and have to manage my high blood pressure. I changed my diet—cutting out salt almost completely and eating a lot more fruits and steamed vegetables. I thought I had grown up eating healthy, since my family always sat down to a home-cooked meal of chicken and vegetables. But now I realize those vegetables were cooked in butter and lard, and the chicken was fried--and that was the way I was used to cooking, too. I had also never really made exercise a priority in my life, but Adam worked out a lot, so we started going to the gym and taking walks together.
A year after my stroke, we went back to the same restaurant—Adam said he owed me a meal since we didn't finish the first one--and the evening ended very differently from the first time around. After we finished our meal, Adam blindfolded me and drove me to the park where we had our first date. When he took the blindfold off, I was surrounded by rose petals and he was holding a diamond ring!
Since then, I've been healthy and I plan to stay that way. I have a husband and three boys who depend on me. I did have a second stroke in 2008, but the minute that eerily familiar heat, numbness and headache came over me, I went straight to the hospital. I'm now on new medications and thankfully, there was no severe damage.
I want to be around to see my grandchildren and for my sons to be around to seetheirgrandchildren. So I'm very open with them about my health issues, and I always emphasize how important it is to take good care of yourself. And I encourage all of my friends to talk to their parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins about their family health history. Sit down at your next family gathering and ask, "What health issues run in this family?" You may not be able to change your genes, but at least you'll know what to watch out for. You can't afford not to.
As told to Trisha Calvo, a health writer who lives in Norwalk, CT. Her work has also appeared inFitnessandShapemagazines.
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