Lisa Foster shares experience after her husband, Mike, had a stroke.
In February 2020, Lisa and Mike were on vacation in Florida and had just finished a round of golf and a nice dinner. They were looking forward to doing that again the next day. Their plans took a dramatic turn; instead of spending the next day on the golf course, they spent it at a hospital. Mike had a stroke and was in critical condition.
My husband had a brain bleed that caused a stroke, hemiparesis and aphasia
“I was terrified when Mike was in the emergency department,” Lisa said. “His right side was severely affected, and he was having trouble communicating.”
The stroke trauma team determined Mike had a brain bleed that caused a hemorrhagic stroke. It damaged the part of his brain that controlled the right side of his body and speech.
“The next couple days were critical to understand how much damage was done,” Lisa said. “Mike was in and out of consciousness the first few days. He had more moments of lucidity after about five days,” Lisa said.
“It was terrible not to be able to talk to Mike those first few days. I could manage the possible physical limitations he might have, but I just wanted his personality back,” Lisa said.
While all this was happening, COVID-19 was ravaging the United States.
“Mike was in the hospital for 31 days. During that time, visitation went from 24/7 access to limited to restricted. I couldn’t see Mike at all at the end, which was really difficult,” Lisa said.
Related content: Top four things you need to know about stroke
Lisa worked with case managers, insurance companies, hospitals and rehab facilities to coordinate Mike’s care. COVID-19 added extra stress to an already stressful situation.
“Our insurance company gave us three days’ notice when Mike needed to leave the hospital. We thankfully had a few angels who helped get him into an acute inpatient rehab facility in Connecticut,” Lisa said.
“I hired a medical transport vehicle with two drivers and a registered nurse. They drove up Interstate 95 back to Connecticut; it took 22 hours. It was a horrible drive because some areas were restricting non-essential vehicles due to COVID-19,” Lisa said.
“I kissed Mike goodbye in the parking lot outside the rehab facility, and then only saw him over FaceTime for the next month,” Lisa said.
My changing role in our relationship after my husband had a stroke
Lisa’s role in their marriage changed and evolved after Mike had a stroke.
“One of the first things I remember was guessing Mike’s passwords with my daughter so I could access his phone and certain accounts to pay bills,” Lisa said.
“I took on a huge spectrum of responsibilities, from wife, caregiver, nurse and physical therapist to managing the household and continuing to work full-time,” Lisa said. “I was also responsible for getting him around because he couldn’t drive yet.”
“Mike has always been positive and rarely gets down. That always impressed me. Suddenly, I had to be a cheerleader and find ways to be positive, even though I was afraid and worried about him. It was exhausting.”
I worried about missing activities and our social life after my husband had a stroke
Lisa and Mike met in college. Ever since then, they had an active social life and shared a love of sports.
“I was a sorority girl and Mike was a fraternity boy,” Lisa said.
They have been married for 43 years and have two children and three grandchildren. They also have many friends — everyone “really got us through the challenging times,” Lisa said.
Although they had support from family and friends, Lisa initially worried if they would be able to maintain their social life and the activities they loved doing.
“All the things we looked forward to doing in our retirement came into question,” Lisa, 65, said about being able to travel and play golf and tennis together.
Our new normal at home after my husband had a stroke
“I was nervous about Mike coming home. My biggest fear was that he would fall and hurt the left side of his body and really limit his mobility,” Lisa said.
“I was constantly on him to let me do things, but that bothered him because he didn’t want to be treated like an invalid,” Lisa said. “It was hard to let go, and even to this day, I’m worried about him getting injured.”
Finding support after my husband had a stroke
“My family, friends and work got me through the tough times,” Lisa said.
“Our two children helped a lot. They provided humor, stability, support and unconditional love for me and their father. They were in constant communication,” Lisa said.
“My daughter started an Instagram page to document Mike’s progress. It was great to see all the support from our family, friends and others,” Lisa said. “My son helped Mike get back on the golf course by helping him with his golf swing.”
“My friends walked with me, and we would gather in the backyard in front of a fire on cold days,” Lisa said. “Mike’s friends embraced him, and he is back to golfing with them. We also traveled to Europe with friends.”
Lisa enjoys her work in marketing analytics and research. She continued to work despite everything her family was going through.
“My job was a saving grace because I love the people and work. I dove into my work, and it kept me busy,” Lisa said.
Ongoing challenges after my husband had a stroke
Lisa said she felt prepared to manage Mike’s physical limitations, but she was not prepared for the changes in his personality.
“I found plenty of information about the physical effects of a stroke, but not much about the emotional side of things,” Lisa said.
“Mike was always very fun-loving. Since the stroke, he’s a lot more cautious and guarded. He also doesn’t emote the way he used to,” Lisa said.
“Mike has become a lot more internal because he has been focused on his recovery,” Lisa said.
Lisa also has nagging fear.
“I’m always on guard, always worrying,” Lisa said.
Finding a way forward after my husband had a stroke
“Today, life is different but OK. We both settled into what it’s like now,” Lisa said.
“There’s not much Mike can’t do; he just does them differently and slower than before the stroke,” Lisa said.
Mike can play golf with one hand, bike ride on a trike and drive a car that has voice command control. He uses adaptive devices to assist him with other daily activities like preparing food.
Tips for others supporting someone after they have a stroke
Lisa is sharing her experience in case it helps others in similar situations.
Lisa said it could help to recognize small signs of progress after someone has a serious medical event.
“Every time Mike made small advances, I felt like everything would be OK,” Lisa said.
“Ten days after Mike’s stroke, he sent me a text message. It was the first time he was able to do that. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s progress.’ ” Lisa said. “Everything was relative. First, it was texting, then when he took his first steps using the parallel bars in rehab, and then was able to play golf and drive.”
Related content: Rehabilitation from a stroke, your questions answered
When someone is dealing with a health crisis, there is a lot to juggle between medical appointments and daily errands.
“My advice to others is to be as organized as possible and plan ahead for different scenarios,” Lisa said.
“When we travel, we find accommodations that are accessible and are prepared if places we go are not,” Lisa said. “When we traveled to Europe, we found it was not very accessible. But we were still able to get around.”
Talk with others
Despite the wonderful support from her family, friends and co-workers, Lisa said she still felt isolated because it was difficult to find others going through the same thing to talk to.
“My advice to others going through this is to seek out people who are in your shoes. They are out there. It may not be an organized support group, but start networking with your friends,” Lisa said.
“I also sought out a therapist to help me adapt to my new role, life and partner,” Lisa said. “I also went to church as soon as I could.”
Find ways to regain some control of your situation
“When we first came home to Norwalk, I was really afraid. I walked a lot, even if it was freezing cold. Walking helped in many ways,” Lisa said.
“I love to cook; that was my outlet. I would find a recipe, Instacart the ingredients and cook,” Lisa said.
Lisa has always been active but now has new reasons to stay healthy.
“I think about what could happen if something happens to me. With a compromised partner, who will help me? I feel a little alone in that way. I had never thought about that before. Mike has always been my protector. He’s 6’3” and was a college football player,” Lisa said.
“I stay very physically fit for just these reasons. I watch what I eat and go to the gym,” Lisa said.
Tell people what you need
“Many people would tell me to do things for myself and take care of myself. Although it was well intended, I wanted them to stop saying that. I only wanted to focus on getting through each day and didn’t need to add to the list to do things for myself,” Lisa said.
Tap into your inner strength to navigate life after a partner has a stroke
“I have always considered myself a strong person. Even still, I was surprised at my inner strength and how we were able to get through such a hard time,” Lisa said. “I also learned to take one day at a time and deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.”