Carrie Hoch-Mortlock Michigan
I will begin by taking you back to year 2010. I woke up one Sunday in March and decided to stop smoking, cold turkey. I never smoked a lot, a pack per week or two. I was a social smoker. In January of that same year, I started working with a personal trainer. It was my 40th birthday and decided I wanted to live a longer life. I needed to become healthy again by eating better and exercising. It was also about the same time our company was getting more serious about wellness awareness, education and benefits. I thought...well…I need to be a role model for others. If I do so and show how easy it could be, I can inspire others.
In 2011 I started running on the treadmill and running a little around the neighborhood. In 2012 I signed up for my first running race. Smoke free for two years and 20 pounds lighter, I ran my first 5k on May 5. I was hooked. I have participated in over 20 races since that date averaging about 15 miles per week. I did everything the right way, followed the plan, and made the transformation slow and healthy. I decided to sign up for my first 10K in 2014.
On December 5 of 2013, I woke up with a sharp pain at the top of my quad in my left leg. Had a little hard time walking that day and thought I just pulled a muscle. Because I am who I am, I ran 2.5 miles at an event that night. I made a promise, I kept it. I paid the price as I woke up the next morning with the same pain. I stopped running for a few weeks giving it time to heal. Unfortunately, it didn’t get any better. I finally gave in and made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor, who specializes in running injuries. The X-rays did not show anything. I was still having a hard time walking straight, so she scheduled an MRI. MRI on January 12, 2014 showed a stress fracture, what? My doctor was more shocked than me. The decision was to avoid surgery and place me on crutches for a month and keep weight off the left leg and hope it heals. After my first week of crutches, I was tired, more tired than I had ever felt before. I remember on Friday evening falling asleep on the couch. My husband woke me when he returned from work and we realized I had been asleep for hours. Not like me at all. I thought I must just be coming down with the flu or something. That is the last thing I remember, I woke up in Bronson Hospital two days later.
On Saturday January 25, 2014 two blood clots traveled to both lungs and I suffered a double pulmonary embolism. Because it caused lack of oxygen to my heart, I suffered a cardiac arrest and underwent CPR for about three minutes. The paramedics had kept asking my husband what kind of drugs I was taking. It was the only explanation they could diagnose relative to my symptoms; I had to be overdosing they said. My husband kept saying: I promise I know my wife is not taking drugs; she rarely even takes an aspirin. Giving CPR is so grueling on the body, back up was requested and anyone close by has to report for help. Eight cop cars showed up at my house that day to help. Life EMS and KPS saved my life! My husband laughs at me, but every time I see a Life EMS ambulance, I say “who hoo”!
About three days later in the hospital surrounded by my family, I started asking more questions. Why am I here? Did all of this happen while I was asleep? Thoughts quickly go back to everything my Mother taught me. Please tell me I had on clean underwear. I remembered nothing, absolutely nothing. Later on I had a faint memory of my husband yelling my name. Reality was I had awaked to my alarm, took a shower and was fully dressed before I collapsed to the floor. I remember none of it. I had passed out on the floor and my husband found me and woke me up. My response when I awoke? “Call Sarah and tell her I can’t make my hair appointment”. Really, that is what came out of my mouth? For those that know me, that should not be surprising. Thankfully my husband called 911. Why? Because when he asked if he should, I did not argue back. Yes, I just said that and yes, because I am a control nut. When I found out about all of the cop cars, the first thing I thought was “oh no”! The neighbors must think we are running a meth lab in our basement. We just moved into a new house and not yet met any of the neighbors.
I was finally moved out of ICU into a regular hospital room after about four days. I was only supposed to be in the hospital about six days. My team of doctors was not able to get my Coumadin levels at a therapeutic level, therefore, had to keep me a few days longer. I believe that happened for a reason. On Friday, January 31, I suffered two strokes. One affected the right side of my brain and the other the occipital lobe in the back of my brain that left me vision impaired and limited use of my left hand. My body was throwing blood clots, and we could not figure out why. The doctors went into overdrive. At one point, I had a team of six specialists looking after me, an internal medical doctor, a cardiologist, an ophthalmologist, a neurologist, a hematologist, and now a gyn/oncologist…
It took almost twelve hours for the doctors to determine I had two infarct strokes. First MRI showed no damage. At first, the nurses treated me for a migraine headache. There was no way to reverse the stroke; I was already on all the medicine used to do so. The neurosurgeon came in on Saturday and told us that they have no idea when and how the vision would return. The brain tissue has to die and your brain spends time rewiring. It could take four months to six months or as long as twelve months; it was too soon to tell. I just went silent. My husband wondered why I was so calm. Truthfully, I was screaming inside. I never said why me or why did this happen? I just said to myself, “I can’t do anything about this; all I can do is hope for the best”. I suffered very bad headaches for two weeks that were very debilitating. I would see a bright neon light in the upper left hand side of my vision, an aura. They would have to give me pain medicine and I would be down for hours. I now have a blind spot in the same location. I remember looking into the mirror at myself in the bathroom for the first time; all I could see was my right eye and eyebrow, a tiny section of the upper right side of my face was all I could see. Everything else was blurry.
A hematologist/oncologist was the one that saved me. He said the last time he saw something similar, it was cancer of the female reproductive organs. They called in an oncologist who ordered an MRI. The next day she came in and told us my uterus had tripled its normal size. Whether cancer or not, it had to come out and as soon as possible. How on earth could I not have known? I didn’t have any symptoms. Again, I had no knowledge.
They found pre-cancer cells in the endometrial lining of the uterus. They would have to perform a hysterectomy and once they opened me up, they would have knowledge if cancer had formed in areas unable to be detected by bloodtox screens and if radiation or chemotherapy would be needed. I remember my Father saying to me while in the hospital, “I am very proud of you and how you are getting through all of this”. No sense in getting upset, I can’t change it, all I can do is fight!
Before surgery, it was onto therapy boot camp. They had to wait two weeks from the date of stoke to perform surgery, it was safer that way. They checked me into an in-house rehabilitation center and every day went through hours of therapy. They had me putting together puzzles, completing word searches, memory games, reading, using a computer…even teaching me how to operate a microwave and a washing machine.
On February 14, I had my surgery, a hysterectomy. Yes, on Valentine’s Day. I had never seen so many doctors in an operating room. Post surgery, doctors let me know they found no cancer, finally some good news! Not sure if coincidental, but once I woke up from surgery, I never experienced another headache again. And my vision improved a little every day. I was lucky! People would ask, “how is your vision today?” I felt it improved each day but I was hesitant to say so as I was not sure if it was really improving or my brain was compensating. The day I knew it was better is when I arrived for my follow up appointment at the neuroscience center. I could actually see the face of the neurologist. When she first presented to my hospital room, I knew she was blonde, but was not able to make out her face. I could see her face for the first time, definite progress!
Bottom line… no symptoms of any kind. Well, unless you classify the hip fracture as a symptom. Remember where this all began? With a hip fracture if you recall. Interesting that my major concern ended up being a minor one. It was the perfect storm. I look back and it’s hard to believe. People ask and I have to think, a hip fracture…a double pulmonary embolism, a cardiac arrest, two strokes and a hysterectomy… all in 30 days. You can’t make a story like that up. A funny thing. While in the hospital we received a letter from our insurance carrier. It stated UHC had audited my medical claim and your MRI performed on January 12 has been deemed unnecessary…really? Good thing I can laugh at that now.
The staff at Bronson Hospital was amazing. I felt like I was the only person there. When you spend three weeks in the hospital, you get to know many people personally.
I finally made it home on Monday, February 17. All I wanted was to sleep in my own bed next to my husband. My Mom stayed with me for a few weeks and my Dad was there too for about a week of that time. My brother drove up for a weekend. My in-laws were by my side every day. I can’t even begin to tell you the amazing support I received from family and friends and countless cards and letters sent. I had visitors at my hospital bed every day and my hospital room looked like a flower shop. My family had posted Facebook messages for prayers. I had people praying for me that never met me before. Dad told me even months after my ordeal, he still had folks in his town walk up and ask him how I was doing. God bless family and friends. My most treasured gifts were the bouquet of flowers sent by the Bronson HR team, a big Get Well card from work with many personal messages and a card from our banquets team with their hand prints with messages that accompanied food they sent to the house for us.
I was in a wheelchair during my rehabilitation and my first week home. I amazed myself how well I did. At one point I was contemplating having a wheelchair race party. Bronson had physical therapy perform home visits almost every day to get me up and walking again. I finally transferred to a walker for assistance for about two weeks. I walked without the walker for the first time on my birthday, March 2. I remember on March 10, my husband and I traveled up north for an event. It was the first time I had worn dress up clothes, other than a hospital gown and pajamas. I almost forgot how to apply make-up and use a hair dryer. It felt so good.
While at home, I kept watching television. All I could see was the upper right hand side of the screen. I would see many distortions. Strange objects would shoot from the television; it was a manifestation of auras. To read, I had to move my head and focus using the right sides of my eyes. I decided I wanted to go see a movie, just to see what I could see on a big screen. We went to see “Pompei” and I could make most of it out. As soon as I was stable, I started completing jigsaw puzzles. My father-in-law purchased some five puzzles for me. I would take a picture and text him every time I completed one. I am hooked. I worked my way up to a 2000 piece puzzle of the Las Vegas strip.
Today, we joke and say I slept for 2 months. I can say it’s much easier being the patient than the spouse. My husband really is the person that lived through this entire ordeal. He won the Husband of the Year Award hands down. Thanks to amazing care, my vision improved to 75% in just a few months.
On March 19 I returned to work. My boss went on a five week trip to Australia. Folks said that I would beat him back to work. You can’t say something like that to me; because I of course did everything I could to beat him back to work. I did, I beat him by two days. On April 25 I jogged for the first time again. I was only able to run three and a half minutes. That was okay to me, I will take it! I was frustrated at first, but then I thought, just a few months ago you almost died twice. Take three and half minutes, it’s a miracle! I drove for the first time on May 10.
How did I get through all of this? Outside of being a miracle, it was positivity, loving family and friends, my faith and a hundred angels. God was not ready to take me, it was not my time. I must have more to do here, and now I have to figure out what that is. I do have survivors’ guilt every now and then, and I remind myself, there is a reason you are still here. Somewhere, someone is counting on you.
The reality is I am brain damaged. You would not know by looking at me. Doctors today scratch their head in disbelief of what happened to me. I think maybe I hide it well? I hold onto something in my left hand, it shakes. If I spend too much time on one task, my left hand freezes up. I have two blind spots on my left side and my field of vision is from one to two feet. Glasses help a little to see up close and far away. But glasses won’t fix it. I am brain damaged, my eyes are fine. I have hard time processing information if there are too many things going on at one time. I sometimes forget about conversations and at times have a hard time finding a simple word. It’s difficult to articulate too sometimes. But, I can live with all of this, it’s my new normal.
They say when you have a near death experience, you change. I am changed. One real moment was when my in-laws came over for dinner on a Saturday night. My Father in Law was helping me with a puzzle and he said to me, “it was nice getting to know you these past two months”. My heart sank into my stomach. I have been with Michael, my husband, for 15 years. You realize you have one life, now you have to live it.
What now? My team of doctors state they are 50% sure that my uterus caused the blood clots to form that is only 50%. I have to give myself a shot every morning. . I am still under the care of Neurology and Hematology/Oncology for the next few years as they keep watch over me. I volunteered to be a research subject for the University of Michigan Stroke Center. If they can find out the why and how, I might be able to save someone in the future from having to go through the same course of events.
One word comes to mind, resilience. Where did this come from? Both my parents come from humble beginnings. You learn early on there is a difference between want and need. And if you wanted, you had to work hard to get it. My Mom grew up in the mountains of Virginia and did not have indoor plumbing until she was 17 years of age. My Dad grew up with three sisters in a two room house with a single Mother who worked in a school cafeteria. My Dad’s Father died when he was nine years old. And as the oldest child and the only male, he grew up fast. He lived in the wet basement of that house. He can remember times when they only had white rice for dinner. My parents are both self made. My Dad was hard. He was the pusher; he taught me high expectations. Mom was the nurturer.
It all goes back to resilience. You take your positive energy and make the best of any situation, and you will persevere. I recently read a quote that spoke to me…"The winner’s edge is not in a gifted birth, a high IQ, or in talent. The winner’s edge is all in the attitude" - Dennis Waitley.
This speaks to me. I get it! I am a miracle.