^pBy RUSTY PRAY

Feeling Fit Correspondent

It was a little after 8 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 4. Phil Wilson, the Charlotte Harbor Realtor, was just arriving at a closing.

“As I was getting out of the truck, my phone rang,” Wilson recalled.

It was his wife, Linda.

“Is everything OK?” he asked her.

“Yeah,” she responded, “I just got out of the shower, and I think I’m having a stroke. Maybe you better come get me.”

Wilson picked up his wife at their Punta Gorda home, and took her to Fawcett Memorial Hospital. Thus began a medical drama that nearly cost Linda her life, stripped her of the use of her left side and tested the resiliency and resolve of a 78-year-old woman who had already survived breast cancer.

“I was feeling a little off,” Linda recalled what prompted her to call her husband. When asked to describe the “off” feeling, she couldn’t. “I was feeling a little off, because, I think, my left side was starting to go. When I got out of the shower and went to brush my teeth, my hand wouldn’t work.

“I started losing my left side.”

A stroke occurs when blood flow is interrupted to part of the brain. Depending on the part of the brain affected, it can cause paralysis, speech impairment, loss of memory and reasoning ability, coma, or death.

Stroke kills about 140,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That amounts to 1 out of every 20 deaths. Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death for Americans.

“Everybody wants to know what it feels like,” Linda said. “I don’t know. I can’t explain it.”

The stroke was devastating, but Linda survived. A well-known local advocate of breast cancer – she was diagnosed with it in 2005 — she has come back from being confined to a wheelchair to walking with a walker to walking with a cane — something she started doing about a few months ago.

She has been religious about her physical therapy, and in five months had regained enough strength to meet a visitor at the real estate office she shares with her husband on 41 Southbound.

Linda said that once she and Phil arrived at Fawcett, its staff did not hesitate. Appropriate treatment was begun immediately.

“I found Fawcett to be quick, quick, quick. They know what they’re doing.”

Still, for about three days she progressively got worse.

“When I went in, I could walk to the bathroom,” she recalled. “The next thing you know, I had to use a walker to get to the bathroom. Then I had to use a wheelchair to get to the bathroom, and then I ended up with a bedpan.”

She spent a month in the hospital.

At the time, she had a question running through her head:

“Why me? I’m in good shape. I thought it happened to heavy people who drank or did drugs or something.”

She said that she never once believed she would not get better, but that she did begin to focus on the things she couldn’t do.

“I had to pick up my left hand in order to move it,” she said. “I couldn’t turn over in the bed. I couldn’t do any of that stuff.”

When physical therapy began, it started at an elemental level.

“They showed me how to sit up in bed, how to get out of bed, Linda said. “They start with little bitty movements with your hands.

“Everybody would tell me to look at the positive, because I was, ‘I can’t this and I can’t that,’” Linda said. “They would say, ‘But look at what you can do.’

“You really have to play mind games with yourself. It’s tough to tell yourself, ‘Gee, look how good I’m doing,’ when you can’t lift something, you can’t take a step. That’s hard. I could have given up, and I could still be in a bed.”

But she didn’t give up, and slowly she regained her ability to function.

“We went from the hospital bed to the wheelchair, the wheelchair to the walker, the walker to the cane,” Phil said. “The night we bought the cane, we celebrated.

“I’ve watched her exercise. I’ve watched her work. When she first started walking with a walker, I’d reach out to help her and she would brush me aside. ‘Leave me alone! I can do it myself.’ I have heard ‘leave me alone, I can do it myself’ a thousand times.

“I walked in the house one day and she was flat on the floor. I screamed, ‘Linda, what’s wrong?’ She said, ‘I’m doing my exercises.’”

Now, with the exception of putting heavy things in the oven, she’s back working around the house. She had not yet been given medical permission to drive when she spoke in early June, and she was still walking with a cane. She was wearing a heart monitor.

She was grateful — to Fawcett, and to family, friends and the community for their support.

“I’m back to pretty much doing everything,” she said. “I go to the mail box on my own.”

Phil had faith she would make it.

“I was scared to death when it happened,” he said. “She was in the hospital room, and it was new to me, new to her. Through God’s intervention and her determination, I somehow knew she was going to be all right.”

She is.

However, in the spirit of transparency, it should be reported that she did get herself a cleaning lady for the first time in her life. The girl comes twice a month.

Linda does wash the floor before the cleaning lady comes.

She’s back doing what she’s always done.

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