When Your Dad Has a Stroke

Dealing with My Dad’s Stroke

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Over the past three months, I’ve shared a lot from my travels but very little about what’s going on behind the scenes. And seeing as it’s Father’s Day—and I nearly didn’t have the fortune of spending yet another one with my own dad—I figured it was time to come clean.

When Your Dad Has a Stroke

Behind the scenes has been mildly rough, I won’t sugarcoat it. Dad had his stroke four months and three days ago, and I don’t think that’s anything you can ever prepare for.

The good news? He’s alive. He continues to make progress daily. He knows who we are. He remembers everything. There was a time the doctors thought none of that possible.

My dad’s stroke: the early days

In the early hours of Feb. 15, my mom woke up to a loud crash. She ran into the living room to find a hole in the wall, the coffee maker boiling and Dad laying on the floor. He was conscious, but he couldn’t move his right side. Mom, ever steadfast and unwavering in times of extreme stress, immediately identified that he’d had a stroke and called the ambulance.

When Your Dad Has a Stroke
When Your Dad Has a Stroke
When Your Dad Has a Stroke

This wasn’t Mom’s first time dealing with such a predicament. My grandparents lived with my parents from 2005 up until when they both died, and my grandmother experienced a number of TIAs in that time. So when the EMTs came, she asked Dad to be taken directly to the nearest stroke center.

They did not do as she asked. This would be the turning point to what could have been a full recovery and where we stand now.

They said they’d have to take him first to Harton Regional Medical Center, the hospital in my hometown of Tullahoma that’s not exactly known for its high quality of care. During my wedding reception, my uncle was taken there after he passed out; they told him he had the worst kind of heart attack possible, so they airlifted him to Murfreesboro, a very expensive mistake indeed. It turned out they misread the EKG and he merely had a heat stroke as it was a boiling 99 degrees that humid June evening.

When Your Dad Has a Stroke

When my grandfather passed away in December 2012, he first fell and broke his neck in my parents’ home. They didn’t even want to keep him overnight—his doctor, thankfully, marched in and demanded that they did—and he died of pneumonia the following day. My mom has similar horror stories from when my sister was a very small child and suffered from seizures; she was made to sit in the ER waiting room for six hours, as she convulsed on the floor. Let’s just say, we don’t really trust these people with our lives—and neither do the majority of Tullahomans from what I hear.

But the medics insisted they had to take him to Harton first to get checked over, and as Mom followed in her own car, she called SVV—we often joke, she loves him the most off all her kids—and I could tell from the way he answered (and the fact that it was 6am on a Monday) that the news was not good. I turned over and buried my head under the pillow, hoping I was still in an Ambien-induced bad dream. In some ways, I’d been waiting for this call for years. My dad has been a heavy smoker since he was 13 years old growing up in Alabama, and he also isn’t good to his body (let’s just say I didn’t get my love for working out from him). He had a cardiac episode in 2001 during my first semester of college, then an aortic aneurysm in the summer of 2014. But he’s also always been the resilient type who we assumed would outlive us all, despite an unhealthy lifestyle.

We’d later find out Dad had a major brain clot. For those unfamiliar with brain injuries, you have a very narrow window of 3 to 4.5 hours to administer the tPA that could be the saving grace for a stroke victim.

But for two hours, we didn’t hear a thing, as Mom, SVV, and I sat in the waiting room with our friends Tom, Ginny and Kal. The doctor didn’t bother to update us—nor did he give him a tPA—let along ever tell us what was going on, when suddenly we were allowed to come back and see him and, oh wait, say your good-byes now because we’re whisking him off to Nashville, stat. This is never a good sign.
When Your Dad Has a Stroke

Moving him to a hospital in Nashville

By the time the Vanderbilt life flight team arrived and transported him to Nashville, it was bordering on too late. The kicker? A storm brewing meant they couldn’t even send him via helicopter the 75 miles to Centennial; instead, they rode beside him in an ambulance. Once, he arrived in Nashville, it had been five hours. Still no tPA. The brusque neurosurgeon we were assigned later chastised my mom and me for this, as if it were our fault.

“He might have made a full recovery had he gotten the tPA,” he scolded. Talk about rubbing salt into the wound.

I’ve tried so hard not to “what if” the last four months, but seriously: What if the doctor had done his job correctly? What if there had been blue skies and he could have been delivered swiftly via chopper? What if the ambulance team had taken him to a reputable facility in the first place? What if he’d never picked up his first cigarette 50 years ago?

Running a family business amid a stroke

SVV, Kari and her husband Josh all work for the family CPA firm, which my granddad started back in 1951. The managing partner having a stroke in the height of tax season? Well, let’s just say that was not in the 2016 business plan. I won’t bore you with the following three months in the office, but none of them were easy on any of us, let alone the other 20+ employees of Housholder Artman, many of them who worked even more hours than their typical busy season to help my family out.

When Your Dad Has a Stroke

I was so impressed and proud of Kari, Josh and my husband as they put out fires left and right and held down the fort while Mom and I stayed at the hospital in Nashville with Dad. For 10 days, he was at Centennial Tri-Star, where we were overwhelmed with how great his cardio team was (shoutout to Dr. Arthur Ulm, Dr. Patel and Catilin, who are, simply put, the best). From there, we had to make some tough decisions about where to send him next for stroke rehabilitation. Many speech professionals recommended Skyline—in retrospect, I wish we’d listened—but for us, it wasn’t that hard of a choice as Mom is a proud Vanderbilt graduate (both undergrad and MBA from Owen) and the facility is just a couple blocks from our condos. For the coming three weeks, we rotated Dad duty, making sure someone was there to visit him every day, particularly in the late afternoons when he’d come back from a full day of rehab.

Admitting Dad to Vanderbilt’s stroke rehab facility

What was surprising, though, is how little Vanderbilt actually did for him. I have the utmost respect for Vandy when it comes to their research facilities, their cancer teams and of course their undergraduate education—they’re one of the best in the world in so many realms. But Stallworth? If you’re considering sending a loved one to stroke rehab there, I’d strongly advise you research all options first. While he had an excellent babysitter, Brenda, with whom Mom still speaks, we were highly disappointed with the overall care. Brenda would come back after a three-day stint off to find no one had bothered to even change his clothes. No one told us anything, ever. We received no discharge plan when he left the facility in March. We were kept in the dark around every bend. It seemed from first moment we arrived, they chocked him up to a lost cause.

When Your Dad Has a Stroke

The first afternoon we were there, following 10 days in the hospital and a clean bill of health, mind you, we got him all settled in to his new room, and a series of four nurses came to get all the paperwork out of the way and take his vitals. Then, one particularly tense nurse claimed he was having a heart attack and that we’d have to go back to the ER. What? The cardio team at Centennial just signed off on his discharge hours earlier. But no, they insisted he go to the Vandy ER.

The nurse called the ambulance, and they wouldn’t answer (scary, right?). So she called the fire department, and suddenly a team of five paramedics arrive and wheel him out in a stretcher, load him in the back of the truck and drive him (literally) across the street from Vanderbilt’s stroke recovery facility to the emergency room. Mom and I nearly cried out of frustration (OK, “nearly” is an understatement—I fully did); after sitting in the Neuro ICU for so long, we were ready to get his treatment started.

When Your Dad Has a Stroke

But back to the emergency room we went, where we sat with him in a cramped closet of a room for more than eight hours as we awaited the doctors’ results. Eventually, after midnight, they came back and told us that he was fine and they were so sorry that Stallworth had alarmed us; he simply had an irregular heartbeat, which we knew and which they’d been monitoring the 10 days prior at Centennial (side note: what’s the point of a chart if no one reads it in the first place?).

It took a couple additional hours for Stallworth to call the Vandy team back to sign off on readmitting him. Once Mom and I drove him over, no one answered the door. We banged and banged and banged some more. Twenty minutes passed. When finally we got the attention of one of the night staff, Dad refused to go in (I don’t blame him). We asked the nurse for help.

“Sorry, we can’t force him to go when he’s not admitted,” he shrugged his shoulders at us as if this were all our fault. Correction: He had been admitted, but after the (false) heart attack scare, they discharged him once more. I’ve never wanted to punch someone as badly as I did that guy.

Dad held onto the steering wheel and yelled at us. I’ve never seen my even-keeled father so angry before; he’s never so much as raised his voice at me. It broke my heart for the millionth time in two weeks.

And it’s simply not the kind of “help” I expected to receive from the premier health care center in the country.

We’ve also not heard anything from them since we left, other than a couple calls soliciting donations, a $700 bill for the fire truck and a nasty letter demanding we return a heart monitor we were never given. Oof.

But you live and you learn, I suppose. Unfortunately, we can’t go back and undo that decision to send him there; I can only do my best to share our experience and tell any others who have a family member in the unfortunate circumstances we found Dad in to really dive into your research before making an impulse choice. Choosing Stallworth, as it turns out, may not have been the best option for my Dad making a full recovery.

Going home and stroke after-care

Dad’s been home for 12 weeks. He looks good, he’s in better physical health than he’s been in years, but I’d be lying if I said we aren’t skeptical over whether or not he’ll ever go back to work.

When Your Dad Has a Stroke

It’s words that are so hard for him. He’s speaking; sometimes in short spurts and phrases, and others he’ll surprise us with a full paragraph of thought. He gets frustrated easily, which in turn frustrates my mom. Our entire family life has become one ongoing game of charades. Sometimes, he’ll get mad that Mom won’t take him to the office, where SVV has been patiently re-teaching him how to use the computer and going through client files slowly, and he’ll throw a tantrum where he just walks out of the house and disappears. Given that he can’t drive and he can’t always communicate in lucid terms, this is the most terrifying part of all.

Insurance has been the worst, don’t even get me started. My parents’ provider used to use Blue Cross Blue Shield, who was wonderful in covering any medical costs they incurred, and switched to United HealthCare last year, who is the devil and not covering anything. It turns out, Dad is on the cusp, age-wise, where at 64 he’s too old for UHR to invest many resources in, but still too young (by a mere nine months) to qualify for Medicare. Thus, Mom is paying for all therapy—that’s five days a week at multiple facilities for speech, physical and occupational—out of pocket. Compounded by the fact that Dad may never go back to work and Mom retired many years ago (plus has turned into his full-time caretaker), this has been a very expensive year.

So, what does the future hold? Your guess is as good as ours.

For now, Dad has started attending social functions slowly. He no longer puts up a fight when we try to coax him along to church or a wedding. As more words return, so does his confidence—slowly. When he first got back home, he refused to leave the house other than for therapy; it’s got to be the most frustrating thing in the world knowing completely what you want to say but not able to communicate thoughts into words.

When Your Dad Has a Stroke

But we’ve refused to let this lifestyle change completely alter everything. Those of you who have followed this blog for years may have noticed we take a big family trip abroad every other year. This August is to be our biggest one yet: three weeks in Europe, first in Vienna and Budapest, then a week-long river cruise, followed by a week in Romania and Turkey. Most of our friends have assumed we’re canceling due to our current predicament. Never. Dad’s coming along—he’s even been inspired to start walking a mile each day and going to the gym to build up his strength—and while our trip may be quite different than vacations past, we’re not going to let this stop us.

Overall, the biggest thing this year has showed me is compassion, humility, empathy and friendship. Many friends I’ve known my entire life don’t even bother to ask about Dad, ever. I get it; out of sight, out of mind, and I’ve never been one to know what exactly to say to people in times of uncertainty either.

When Your Dad Has a Stroke
When Your Dad Has a Stroke
When Your Dad Has a Stroke

On the flip side, so many people from far and wide, IRL friends and blog readers alike, have constantly checked in to see how we’re holding up. These friends will never know how grateful I am for them being here when my family needed them the most. What this whole experience has taught me more than anything is how to act when I’m on the other side of the equation: It’s not about what you say or how small the act, but just showing that you care.

It’s also taught me that never take a day for granted, because just when you think everything is sailing smoothly for the first time in so long, it can all turn on a dime.

When Your Dad Has a Stroke

  • June 20, 2016

    Oh, Kristin. I’m so, so sorry. This all sounds terrifying and frustrating and confusing and sad. My dad had a serious health issue 8 years ago and spent a month at in-patient rehab, so I know firsthand how frustrating and opaque this can be. You have my sympathies, and if you ever need to vent/rant/etc. please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email. The transition from being taken care of by your parents to taking care of your parents is really hard, and talking with other people about it definitely eased my burden.

    • June 23, 2016

      You’re the sweetest, Ris! It’s crazy how many people have been through mirror situations as my fam—and I didn’t even know it until I started sharing our own story. My mom is in such good health, it’s hard to think of the tables being turned when I’ll have to someday take care of her (hopefully, that never happens as I like to think of her as my partner-in-crime up until she’s 100 years old).

      • July 10, 2023
        Adedamola Oyenuga

        Thank you for sharing this heart touching story in a beautiful way.

        Although you posted this years ago, I still find it relevant and relatable!

        My dad also suffered a left side paralysis stroke on February 7th, 2023.

        It’s been really tough but reading someone else’s story just fuelled my motivation to never stop caring for my dad and hoping for the best.

        Thanks again Kristen!

    • June 7, 2020
      Alivia Bauer

      My father had a stroke in February he’s been home since March and things are hard. He isn’t capable of what he used to be and he’s depressed about it. Everyday is a struggle. I read your story and things are very similar. I would love to have someone to talk to because I just don’t know what to do.

      • June 8, 2020

        I’m so sorry, Alivia! I definitely know what you’re going through and you can always message me with any questions as you move through the coming months and years. I will say that it gets easier, though it will likely be very gradual. Keeping him busy and giving him a purpose are the tips I can think of that could be helpful right now.

        Are his fine motor skills intact? If so, Dad still uses his iPad learning apps every single day, and it’s part of his routine to keep him sane and busy and learning. If you want, I can get a list of what’s been useful for him from my mom and send it your way.

  • June 20, 2016

    I am so glad you shared this, Kristin! You never know who is going through something similar who may be encouraged by your Dad’s progress and your family’s dedication. You guys are one of the strongest, closest families I know, and you’ve done everything right by sticking together and getting your Dad taken care of as best you can. Finding quality medical care seems to be harder and harder to do, so I’m praying you guys will find a solution to Dad’s needs soon. Love you all!

    • June 23, 2016

      It shouldn’t be this hard with as long as they make doctors study and prepare to go into the medical profession, right? And you’d think being in the healthcare capital of the country, we’d have better access to quality care. Oh well, nothing we can do about it now but keep on keeping on with his therapy.

  • June 20, 2016

    Thank you for sharing. So sorry you and your family are going through such a tough time with medical care. As someone who works with hospitals across the country for a living, you are spot on with your comments. It DOES matter where you are sent for initial and follow-up care, and I’m so sorry your family didn’t get the care he needed initially. Good to hear that he is getting better by the day, and I’ll keep your family in my prayers. And, good news that he is walking and working on getting stronger!

    • June 20, 2016

      Thank you, Kristen! Bottom line, this has been an eye-opening experience as to how our country’s health care system really operates. I just think about how lucky Dad was in a sense to have a decent health care plan and also a battalion of people (my mom, my husband, my sister, me) to stand up for his rights and also question the doctor’s decisions. It concerns me for the type of people who don’t have the luxury of having family around to do the same for them =(

  • June 20, 2016

    Sending you and your family (especially your dad) lots of love and healing energy. I am so sorry that all of you have had to go through this. I have been going through basically the same thing and it’s just awful. 🙁

    • June 20, 2016

      Ugh, I remember you mentioning that, and I had no idea you were also dealing with it. Adulting sucks, doesn’t it?

  • June 20, 2016

    Wonderful post Kristin!! Love your family!

    • June 20, 2016

      You’re the best, Libby! We’re all so grateful for you and your big heart.

  • June 20, 2016

    I have been a “silent” reader of your blog for years. I am so sorry to hear about your father. We are also dealing with health issues with my parents and it is so incredibly difficult. Sending you positive thoughts. I can’t wait to hear about your family trip! Go you.

    • June 22, 2016

      Well, thank you for no longer being silent, Jodi—your words and the well wishes of everyone in this space have truly gotten us all through the past few months! It’s amazing to think how lucky we are to have such a great support system, both online here and offline in Tennessee. xx

  • June 20, 2016

    Oh, Kristin! I’m so sorry to hear that your family has been going through such a rough season. Praying that God will help your father to recover and give all of you who love him the strength to travel the long road back with endurance.

    • June 22, 2016

      Thank you, Dana! Everyone in our camp has held up miraculously, but it does get to be a bit of a downer thinking that this could be the new normal, you know? Still, my Mom is a champ, and Dad’s truly blessed to have so many people in the immediate vicinity who love and have taken care of him.

  • June 20, 2016

    Both my parents are in their late 80’s and I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop so to speak so am glad you shared your experience so I can somewhat prepare myself mentally for what is to come. I’m happy to hear that you’re all still going on the planned vacation including your dad and look forward to all the beautiful photos!

    • June 22, 2016

      I feel like the most cynical person to admit this, but I’ve often felt like I led a pretty charmed life in terms of I have a husband I love, a job I love, a family who is super close—and so I long wondered when the tables would turn. I have always had the thought lingering in the back of my mind: “things are going to smoothly of late—what gives, Universe?” Turns out that was exactly the wrong thing to say, ugh!

  • June 20, 2016
    Mister Sister

    Bravo, Lunatic!

  • June 20, 2016
    Sandi richardson

    Please take care of yourself and your mom…caregiver stress can kill. I live in Canada and when my dad had his stroke they immediately transferred to a critical hospital in Ottawa by the time I arrived 7 hours later from Detroit,he was responding to treatment and made a full recovery with only a 10% deficit. As I nurse I see stroke patients all the time. I’m so sorry that the system failed you so badly. Stay strong and tough,it will get better..one day at a time.

    • June 22, 2016

      Thank you, Sandi. You’re kind to share your own experience, and I’m so glad that your dad made a near-full recovery! I doubt we’ll get back to 90% with my dad, but who knows, miracles happen, right? He’s already surprised us, not to mention his neuro team.

  • June 20, 2016

    I’m so glad you updated us on your Dad. I will keep him and your family in my prayers so please keep us posted!

    I have a close friend who had a stroke. He has very little language, but he thrives. He gets frustrated, of course, with his speech, and he has a bit of a short fuse. But he is doing awesome in his 70s. He had his stroke more than 20 years ago.

    My grandfather had a major stroke and was home bound for many years. He couldn’t even toilet himself, walk or talk. My grandmother lovlingly cared for him alone and she was in her 70s. I don’t know how she did it. She was an incredible, amazing woman. Grandpa could sort of feed himself. It was the bright spot in his day for Grandma to wheel him up to the table for meals.

    I’m very glad you shared your experiences with us regarding the medical community. I haven’t had many positive ones myself. As a mom of special needs kids, I have many horror stories. The service is deplorable. And for them not to change your Dad for three days? I would have stormed the nurses station a la M’Lynn of Steel Magnolias Style. I’ve been known to do so on behalf of my loved ones.

    I’ve learned that only the squeaky wheels get the grease when it comes to medical care. They are too overwhelmed to notice otherwise. Also, I have noticed through the years a severe lack of personal care. They depend on family to do all the hygiene, etc. Which sometimes, just isn’t possible when you’re working full-time jobs to pay for the medical care.

    I know the rage that boils inside when you are helpless to access what they need, and needed DAYS ago. And I can tell from this post that you’re holding back. I think you were more than kind. I just hope you get someone’s attention with it. But, medical care being what it is, it’s doubtful. The “care” in the medical field is definitely missing. And not because many don’t care, but because the system is broken in terms of red tape and other ridiculous protocols. The ones who really care can’t do their jobs right.

    Love the picture of your Dad with the fur babies. They are good therapy. I know mine comfort mine when sick. Mine also have helped my autistic sons with their speech. Here’s hoping yours helps your Daddy’s, too.

    Hugs to you and Scott. Amazing you!!

    • June 22, 2016

      Dogs have been the best therapy for my dad indeed! He’s always had a huge heart for animals and absolutely lights up every time one of them trots into the room.

      And your grandmother is a martyr! We’re lucky that Dad can do most tasks like eating on his own, but we do stress over leaving him home alone at all. Hopefully, that will change in time—I definitely have plenty of hope he’ll continue to make strides based on his progress these last few weeks alone.

      Hugs back to you, Karla! You’re the best.

      • May 26, 2021

        I’m so glad to have read your story. It sounds so similar to my dad’s story today…2021. Similar age, same circumstances… smoking since the age of 12. I wish doctors told us about the information we need, rather than being “wishy-washy”. I wish that they could tell me if he can recover 🙏🏻….. but this time it’s only blanks, ridiculous answers, and always negative or neutral-they never say he will get better😢

        • May 27, 2021

          I’m so sorry, Aarti. Sending you a hug and hope that he’s happy and continues to improve from here.

  • June 20, 2016

    Thanks for sharing all the details. I’m not sure how you got through writing this without completely sobbing. I’m so sorry your family is going through all this. The part about some of your friends not asking about your dad is something I’ve gone through as well. It shows you who your true friends are when things like this happen. Make sure you all take care of yourselves as well (physically and emotionally), especially your mom since becoming a caretaker overnight is difficult. You have an amazing family and I hope your dad continues to improve.

  • June 20, 2016

    Thinking of you and your family! We had this experience with Garrett’s dad a little over a year ago and it was hard to be so far away from them. 4-6 months after, we were wondering what the future would like as well, and more than a year later I can say that his recovery has been wonderful (and really dramatic!) The human body is so amazingly resilient.

    That said, crossing my fingers for a smooth recovery for everyone! You’ve been through a ton this year, all of you. xo

    • June 22, 2016

      I love hearing stories like this, Holly! Thanks for adding to our hope. We’re at that 4.5-month point and around 3 months, the time they told us his progress would peak, we were iffy, but we’ve seen so much improvement the past few weeks, that the optimism has returned.

  • June 20, 2016
    Pamela Monahan

    I’m so glad to hear that your Dad’s on the mend. I think the one thing that I learned from my Mom’s stroke is patience…..immense patience and the ability to anticipate what words are going to come next in a sentence. I could see how frustrating it was for my Mom when she couldn’t vocalize the words that she wanted, so I compensated by blurting out words for her. That is one thing to look forward to, a preternatural ability to complete everyone’s sentences. Continuing to send all my good vibes to you and your family!

    • June 22, 2016

      Ha! Funny, we try to be patient and give Dad the time to find the words but then he stares at us blankly. “You know what I’m saying?” “No, Dad, we have not a clue.” And then he busts out laughing.

      Patience and a sense of humor are definitely key to getting through an ordeal like this, for sure!

  • June 20, 2016
    Katie Hammel

    Wow, I’m so sorry to hear this! I didn’t realize it was so bad. I’m glad to hear your dad is on the road to recovery though, and I think if anything will help lift his spirits, some family time in Europe will do it.

    • June 20, 2016

      Yeah, it’s been bad—really bad. And I was kind to the Harton and Vanderbilt team in this post, too; the reality was much, MUCH worse—but honestly, I don’t want to really relive it in that great of detail, because what good will that do ultimately? I’m really just hoping to help any others who may stumble upon this post know what to do if ever they should find themselves in the same unfortunate situation.

      But yes, Europe! I can’t flippin’ wait. That’s the Ama trip I’ve been telling you about for a year! =)

  • June 20, 2016

    What a year! I worry about my dad for similar reasons, but thankfully he was never a smoker. He gave up chewing tobacco (grosser if you ask me) when I was in elementary school. I’m glad your dad is doing better!

    • June 22, 2016

      Ugh, why did our dads have to grow up in the deep South during the era of tobacco? Gross indeed. On the flip side, I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life!

  • June 20, 2016

    Kristin, thanks for the update! I’ve been keeping up thru Jim and Libby….but from your heart is better. Just know I continue to pray for your Dad and Mom, plus, the rest of the family! You are all survivors and God is with you! Love ya…

    • June 22, 2016

      Your son has been so kind to check on us regularly, come visit and take the dog for walks often. We’re lucky to have him just a few feet away!

  • June 20, 2016

    I knew a little bit about your past few months via Facebook but holy smokes, the medical treatment is so scary! Glad your dad is doing better, and I applaud you for focusing on the positives and not letting the “what ifs” take over your thinking. Continued thoughts and prayers for smooth sailing for y’all!

    • June 23, 2016

      Thank you, Laurel! It’s definitely been a weird, exhausting past few months.

  • June 20, 2016

    I’ve been thinking what to type for around 10 minutes. Your dad’s health has been popping up in my mind since you first wrote about it, and my thoughts are with you and your family. You mention “what if” in your post, which always makes feel helpless and sad. Then I saw the picture of your dad in the chair surrounded by the dogs. I don’t know if you experience this the same, but for me those normal moments after a life-changing event are the ones where I realize how lucky we are to have loved ones in our lives. All the best to you and your family!

    • June 23, 2016

      Dominique, you’re the sweetest blog friend I’ve ever known! I’m so touched that we’d even be on your mind and thankful for all the encouragement and happy thoughts you are forever sending me across the digital waves. *virtual high-five*

  • June 20, 2016

    Kristen, I’m so sorry. Thank you for taking the time to share your story. This is helpful, insider information that we all can use to make more informed care decisions. Sending love to you and your family.

    • June 27, 2016

      Thank you, Lauren! We’re all doing just fine over here; lucky to have so much family close by—I really feel for those who don’t and have to navigate our pathetic excuse for a health care system. =(

      • June 27, 2016

        I’m happy to hear that, but mortified to have misspelled your name in my comment. I deserve a shrill Belgian whistle in my ear for that one! xo

        • June 27, 2016

          Ha, and I didn’t even notice! That’s how common it is that people spell my name with an “e”…though, of course, they’re all not fellow grammar nerds 😉

  • June 20, 2016

    Thank you for writing this and sharing so much of your journey. I know it’s not easy, but hopefully cathartic!

    I keep meaning to do the same with my own complicated journey through the healthcare system.

    It’s shared experiences like this that saved my life once upon a time and this little big blog post could make all the difference in someone’s life 🙂

    Super hugs and blessings as always!!!

    • June 27, 2016

      I’ve never heard your experience with the actual system! Please let me know when you do write it up =)

  • June 20, 2016
    Kelly Carter

    Kristin, So sorry to hear (read) all this. I’d like to leave you with some hope for better times in the future, in very briefly sharing an experience of mine. 25 years ago, my firstborn child came into the world with supposedly good health. But at age 3 months, he had seizures that have continued to this day (not just “epilepsy”, but brain-damaging seizures). The medical professionals that we dealt with kept us in the dark–for reasons I’ll never completely fathom, maybe just out of ignorance or reluctance to see our hearts break–about our child’s prognosis. I had to learn about it by doing my own research in the library. What I found devastated me, and what followed was as bad. There were no offers of help from anybody in the medical profession. No information on getting any kind of assistance (of which there was plenty), nothing about family support groups (of which many existed), just nothing. We had to find our own way like pioneers (although countless others had preceded us). The positive outcome–yes, I did promise some hope–was that along the way we discovered many of the most wonderful and heroic people and organizations that *did* offer us help and support. And I have seen some of the best of humanity along a very difficult road. And what I thought was going to be a life of misery for my child and for me and his mother has been far better than I ever expected. No, there was no miraculous healing. But I found that God’s grace, or whatever one chooses to call it, was more than enough for us all to find peace. Life is hard, but amid difficulty can be found profound beauty and meaning. I sometimes wonder if that is the only way to make certain discoveries. In closing, I wish all of you the very best!

    • June 20, 2016

      Thank you for this Kelly. It’s incredible to me that we haven’t learned in the 25 years since this happened to you that life and death and trauma situations require a special kind of guidance from the professionals for whom we pay dearly. From the feedback we’ve been getting both public and private, we aren’t unique to experiencing this black hole of information, which absolutely slays me internally.

      The last part of your comment is what really got to me though. I feel the same way about moments like these and while they certainly feel super rough in the moment, I’ve found myself looking back at them with a different eye, a more learned eye, and appreciate them for what they are. An education of self.

    • June 27, 2016

      Kelly, I had no idea you went through all of this. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • June 20, 2016

    I’m so glad you wrote this as I’ve been wondering how your dad was all these months. My father is now a double amputee thanks to diabetes and 35 years of smoking, and it’s so hard not to play the What If game about all the choices he made leading up to his surgeries and all the decisions we made in terms of his care after them. And it is so so so hard to have a once vibrant parent be a shadow of themselves, especially when a lot of your friends have 100% healthy parents (and even grandparents) and have no clue what you’re going through, especially just how relentless it all feels.

    It sounds like there’s light though, especially in the form of your trip. Cheers to the new normal.

    • June 27, 2016

      I remember you mentioning that, Sian, and I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through all that. And yes, as someone who hasn’t had a grandparent in many years, it’s so odd to me that people our age sometimes still have both sets! Color me jealous.

      Side note: I like that saying—”cheers to the new normal”—might have to borrow it from you =)

  • June 20, 2016

    Girl, how you made it through all that without heavy drugs, I’ll never know. Thank god for all the strength in you and your family.


    • June 23, 2016

      I mean, whiskey helps (just saying).

  • June 20, 2016

    I’m always impressed by you but this puts those feelings over the top. How you and the fam have managed to not only keep things going but continued to add more and do more each day is so impressive. I’m rooting your dad on from California- thinking about your sweet momma because I know the caretakers sometimes get forgotten- and all you guys for sticking together through this. Love love love you guys.

  • June 20, 2016

    So sorry to hear about this and glad he’s on the road to recovery. Sending good thoughts to you and your family.

  • June 21, 2016

    Thank you for writing this! I am so sorry for what your family has been through. This makes me so angry at our medical system. When a family is going through something like this everyone (people and institutions) should make things as easy as possible. It hurts my heart.

    Best of luck to your dad on his recovery journey! He is lucky to be surrounded by such an amazing family and friends!

    • June 27, 2016

      I agree, Jessica! You read about so many heart-warming stories where the medical teams completely helped the patient do a 180—unfortunately, that was the opposite of our experience, ugh.

      That said, his teams at Top Rehab and the speech clinic he goes to in Tullahoma have been amazing since we brought him home, so we’re lucky to have a great staff taking care of him now!

  • June 21, 2016
    Cynthia Manley


    I lead the social media team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. This post was brought to my attention, and I am so glad it was. I am very sorry to learn that we let your dad and those who love him down in any way.

    I have spoken with Michael Garrett on our Patient Experience team. He is very interested in speaking with you or another family member to better understand how we failed to meet your expectations. We want to learn from this and make improvements — and I’m hopeful that we might even regain your trust in Vanderbilt.

    Michael or his team members can be reached at 615.322.6154, each day 7 am – 9 pm. Or if you’d be willing, please email me some basic information — your contact information, a good day/time to reach you and your father’s name and dates of stay at Stallworth — and I’ll have Michael contact you directly. You can send that to me at cynthia.manley@vanderbilt.edu.

    I am so sorry about your family’s experience. I am thinking of your dad and sending warm wishes for his continued recovery.

    Cynthia Floyd Manley

    • June 27, 2016

      Thanks for chiming in, Cynthia. We know that all arms of Vanderbilt don’t operate as one, but spoke to several families while we were still at Stallworth who were experiencing the same frustrations as we were.

      Seems to me that a self-evaluation based on internal review is called for by Stallworth. They can start by carefully reading the patient notes, talking to all the players involved in detail and then coming back with findings on how to do better in the future. We sincerely hope that no one else goes through the level of care (or lack thereof) that we did, which among many other things included no discharge plan, zero course for treatment once he left and no talk of a follow-up call/appointment.

  • June 21, 2016

    Kristin, I’m so glad your dad is here and recovering. What a frustrating time your family has had to go through. Health care is a nightmare to navigate through with a loved one (and this is coming from a Canadian – it’s not all sunshine and rainbows up here!) but I hope your dad continues to improve. Sending a big hug. xx

    • June 27, 2016

      Wow! And here we think that Canada has it all figure out (when it comes to some/most things) =)

  • June 22, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Kristin. Ever since I read that your dad had a stroke, I’ve kept your family in my prayers hoping for a full recovery for him. Know that you are all in my thoughts and prayers 🙂

    P.s. I also admire you for your courage and strength and I hope our family can be like yours when we go through hardship. Sending lots of love from Toronto!

    • June 27, 2016

      Thank you, Pauline! If nothing else, I’m glad that our story can hopefully help others navigate these tricky waters should they ever find themselves in a similar scenario. xo

  • June 23, 2016

    Read this when it first landed in my inbox Monday morning and it warms my heart to see how many people have offered their virtual love and hugs in the days since. I’m adding mine!

    I know that we are super aligned when it comes to family values and nothing scares me like the idea that I might be across the world when my family needs me. I do know I’d be back in a heartbeat and follow in your footsteps. You’re an inspiration and I’ll always admire your dedication to your fellow Lunas <3

    • June 27, 2016

      You’re the sweetest, friend! Can’t wait to introduce dad to the Vineyard next summer =)

  • June 23, 2016
    Briel K.

    I was so sorry to hear of your dad’s stroke when it occurred. He is a lucky man to have such a great support system of family and friends. I’m glad that he is on the mend, hope that he continues to improve, and wish you guys a wonderful summer trip! xo!

    • June 27, 2016

      Thanks, Briel! Expect some “how to travel with a stroke victim” posts in the future, ha…I’m sure we will learn a LOT on this trip! 😉

  • June 24, 2016

    Kristen – thanks so much for sharing such an intimate struggle you’ve had ‘in real life.’ I too have had recent health struggles in my immediate family (prompting my recent trip back to the states) but I have struggled with writing about it. Maybe because I don’t know what to say about it yet, maybe because I don’t want to share someone else’s story for them, I don’t know. But your openness was really helpful in allowing me to think about this further. Maybe the time will come when it’s a good idea to share more online, and if so, I will come back to this post to see how it’s done!

    • June 27, 2016

      Ugh, I didn’t know that was the catalyst for your trip back home! I struggled for awhile with sharing all of this publicly only because of my family’s privacy, but I got my mom, sister and husband’s approval to do so, so figured it was time. Ultimately, as my mom said, we needed a road map or intensive how-to guide to get us through the past few months, so I hope that somehow going through this in the future is able to find this post online and reach out to me so I can at least give them tips to what worked (and didn’t) for us.

  • June 24, 2016

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am sending so much love and prayers to you and your family.

    • June 27, 2016

      We appreciate ALL the good thoughts everyone is sending us—thank you, Marie!

  • June 25, 2016

    Dear Kristin,
    I am a follower of your blog. Reading and following your travel adventures and your exciting life, makes me so happy and smile. I love to travel as well, but haven’t got a chance or opportunities yet to travel more.

    I am so sorry for your father’s sickness, but I am grateful for his recovery. I pray for your family and yourself to be given strength and patience to go through all challenges. Especially to your mom, I am praying that she is always strong to take care of your dad.

    My father was having the stroke attack last month and it’s been a hell to my family and I. I am also the oldest of two children (I have younger brother). Reading your blog, makes me realize that I am not alone. What’s worst is that my brother and I live far away from my parents due to work. My father had retired years ago and had blindness due to glaucoma. It breaks my heart that such a strong figure in our life are now confined to bed. He is paralyzed, half of his body. I am crying every day since the stroke.
    I know it’s been hard for you. I pray that you always have the patience and resilience to go through it all. Thank you for a lovely blog.

    • June 27, 2016

      Jane, I am SO sorry you’ve been through this. In a way, I feel like I have it “easy” because my mom is the main force at work here and I’m just her support staff, in a sense, but I’ve been blown away by her energy and positive nature.

      We were lucky that other than some numbness in his right hand and a slight limp, Dad’s physical impairments were minimal. I will say that, cognitive ability-wise, we were not super hopeful in months 1-3 that he would make any kind of recovery—the doctors all told us any progress that would happen would be made in the first 90 days—but months 4 through the present, he’s made so much progress. Don’t give up hope! He could still continue to get better as the months pass.

  • June 26, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this story. I can relate that I have a dad in poor health and on the outside of my website, our life looks great. But these sad things are always at the back of my mind. You articulated this personal story so well and it just aches me about our health system. I could go on so long, but you story captures it. I don’t know the best solution to these incompetent layers that burden and affect us all. What if? It’s a question that can lead to such and possibility in one context and in another an remorseful anger that takes more strength to move forward with what we cannot undo. I feel for you, I feel for me, I feel for all of us that experience this type of circumstance. What else is there to say except onward with strength, hope and community. Best thoughts.

    • June 27, 2016

      Exactly, Tiffany—what is the solution, and who are the powers-that-be who can change it? That said, I lived in a socialist economy while abroad (Denmark, in addition to stints in Holland and Scotland) and had equally poor health care options there—in terms of the actual doctors; the care itself was free (but then it cost me so much $$$ to repair the mistakes when I moved back tot he States)—that I honestly don’t think *anyone* has it figured out.

      Thank you for the happy thoughts!

  • June 26, 2016

    Total nightmare. I see how health insurance and medical stuff works in Europe and I get so angry about how f’d up our health system is. I was definitely unaware while working the past 27+ in corporate America where I always had it, have been healthy so never used it. Going on my own self-paid sabbatical, I got private insurance for my hubby in me (ouch!). We needed it for from November on, so we started out in California, we got middle of the road insurance for $1200 a month – insanity! When we moved our homebase to Arizona, we got the same exact insurance, same plan, everything, but the cost was $600 – huh? Standard medications that used to cost $20-50 are now costing us $500 a month – more insanity. But I’ve been blessed, no family health issues, so I can only imagine what you went through – you kept up a good front, but anyone who is friends with you on Facebook could read through the lines. I am so glad your father’s recovery has gone as well as it has considering. And I truly hope it continues. My parents are now in their 70’s or my Mom will be next year, I am just waiting for the phone call for something like this to happen!

    • June 27, 2016

      That’s insane! I believe ours is about $600/month, as well, here in Tennessee. Luckily, in California, Scott was on his employer’s insurance so we never had to foot that bill! But I’ve always been on a lesser plan that means medications are super pricey.

  • June 27, 2016

    Hi Kristin,
    It’s really good to know that your dad is improving by the day.Been wondering how he was doing so thank you for that brave and honest update.

  • June 27, 2016
    Lisa Miller

    Last October, my dad was having a stroke. Fortunately, he was with people who recognized it and his wife got him to the hospital quickly. They did give him tPa and we are grateful. Even being that the stroke he experienced was stopped in its tracks, there is something about seeing your strong dad struggling to stop his arm and leg from moving on their own. Hearing the doctor talking very skeptically about his ability to ever go back to work. That day I had an anxiety attack for the first time in my life. So, I have a smidgen of an idea what you went through. I am so sorry that people who were supposed to take excellent care of your dad did not. I am very impressed by your attitude about it! Here’s to a wonderful trip to Europe!

  • June 28, 2016

    Thanks for sharing all the details. I’m not sure how you got through writing this without completely sobbing. I’m so sorry your family is going through all thi

  • June 28, 2016

    Oh my goodness, woman, I had no idea it was this extensive. I’m so sorry!! I cannot even imagine. Hugs and love and gentle hair pats to all of you.


  • June 29, 2016

    Hi, Kristin! I’m a long-time reader, seldom commenter. I’ve been thinking of you and your family since you first alluded to your dad’s stroke, and hoping for the best. I’m so glad to hear that he’s doing (much) better than doctors initially predicted, and I hope things continue to improve even more. Yours seems like such a happy, loving family, and I love following along with your life.

    I’m impressed that your family, including your dad, is still planning on the big summer trip. You guys are amazing, and I’m sure the trip will be too, even though it will be different! My mom is 66, and can’t walk without pain for more than a few minutes, but she wants to see Scotland (and Ireland, and Cornwall, and on, but most importantly Scotland). I need to renew my campaign for physical therapy and then just get the ball rolling on the trip either way, and make this happen sooner rather than later! You are always so inspiring. Thank you for writing this beautiful blog.

  • August 2, 2016

    Dearest Kristin,

    I’m so so sorry to hear about your father’s illness and I wish him all the very best in his recovery.

    I remember seeing the title on my phone, but I thought it really was about music, and didn’t read it until recently!

    How lucky that your dad has a family that will fight for him to ensure that he gets the treatment that he needs. Even though your family and friends (thank goodness for them) had to fight the system, you all prevailed and fought on, resulting in your father making a recovery.

    It must have been awful and frustrating for you all.

    Sadly, I too have experience of a stroke.

    My first German boyfriend had a stroke a few years ago. He is just 2 years older than me. He went into a coma after visiting the circus, survived, but never made a full recovery. I’m still enormously close to his family, as we dated for many years.

    It was devastating for his wife, because he didn’t remember her, but recognised me from years past and even though he and his family are blond and blue-eyed, he still thought that my son was his brother Olaf.

    What an amazingly strong family you are. Keep on rolling my dear. Keep on rolling!

  • March 24, 2020
    Kelly Bishop-Fulton

    It’s March 25, 2020. Dad has massive stroke one year ago today. Doctors said he wouldn’t be here. Still..he is. I can’t begin to put into words the pain I have felt watching Dad struggle this past year. Your story is so very real to me. He didn’t get the clot buster. They missed diagnosed it for a brain bleed. He lay there for hours with his brain starved of oxygen. Never to be the same. A businessman who ran his own business and was so incredibly smart and independent unable to find words to express what he wants to say and so many issues that if he had a choice that day he for sure would have chosen to pass away. The longest year of my life …witnesses Dad be robbed of his dignity yet continuing to fight far beyond when so many doctors said he possibly could. I wonder why he keeps fighting still? Yet so grateful for everyday I have shared with him beyond that day they all had him in the grave.

    Helping my father and loving him through this living night mare has broken me and made me whole at the same time. So many nights I stayed with him …holding his hands in the hospitals and rehabs for 115 days. Five children of my own left at home …but I had to. I could NOT leave him alone. He had given me so much for so many years.

    This year has changed me so deeply. How I think…who I am..what I believe. I will never be the same. Dad is nearing his end and I am ready for him to leave. No idea HOW I will live without him but I want him to struggle no more – more than I want to figure out how to live without him.

    Thank you for reading this and allowing me to express these feelings as I just needed to say it all today.

    • March 30, 2020

      Oh, Kelly, my heart breaks to read this. I’m so sorry for you and mostly for your dad, who probably feels so helpless.

      The good news is that despite what professionals will tell you, continuing to fight WILL help. Four years later, Dad still has speech problems, but his improvement is remarkable. They told us he would plateau after six months, yet we still notice him learning new things every month.

      I wish your father continued improvement, but also hope that you are remembering to take care of yourself. Caretaker fatigue is a very real thing, and at times, you need to put your own mental well-being first! Much love to you.

  • July 26, 2020
    kim shepherd

    I loved reading this. My dad had stroke aged 65, in 2017, he survived. His personality is slightly different. He loves everything which is cute, but we have had to adapt, especially my mum, like yourself and your family.
    I’m leaving a comment to also make yourself and others aware, something no one done for us, about the dangers of developing epilepsy for some stroke victims.
    I took my dad out on a speed boat to celebrate one year recovery from his stroke. An hour into the trip and out isolated on the Mediterranean Sea, he suffered a very near fatal seizure on the boat, that still haunts me to this day. He survived, purely down to the amazing people that helped every step of the way from doctors and ambulance, to the skipper and myself and my children, plus he is a very strong man thankfully. However, he now has epilepsy, a very serious type, and it causes seizures and set backs to his recovery.
    I hope if anyone has had a stroke or knows of someone who has had a stroke or a form off brain damage, please look into the link this has with epilepsy.

    Take care. To you and your family


    • July 26, 2020

      Kim, that is absolutely terrifying, and I’m so sorry you had to go through that! That will give anyone PTSD, no doubt. My dad never wants to leave the house anymore—especially due to the virus—so he stays at home most days, which is just a mile or so from the hospital, but is still in great spirits always. Having a two-year-old granddaughter over every day who my mom keeps has been the biggest blessing. We’re 4.5 years post-stroke, and no seizures yet, but my sister was epileptic as a child so we definitely know the terror of going through that.

      Hugs to you and your family!

  • February 6, 2021
    Swati Shukla

    I am suffering from same situation . my dad is suffering it and we are feeling alone and helpless. also we had moved to our new house that day when my father got the stroke and my life is now miserable ,my house is miserable and nobody is understanding , my routine is now the disaster and my relatives r making its worst
    Love your blog ,you gave me some strength
    Can you advise me something how to get my routine back or how to be normal again?

    • February 6, 2021

      I am so incredibly sorry, Swati. I don’t know what getting back to a normal routine looks like exactly, but I’ll tell you it’s important to take time for yourself. Take days away from caretaking duties. Book an afternoon at a spa or to just take a nap and read—take time for yourself in whatever way you can get it. It does get easier down the road, this I can tell you five years later!

  • January 5, 2024
    Rhiannon Brub

    My dad just had a stroke on New Years. The ending of 2023. I got a call at work, dad is having a stroke… I have to go to the emergency room right now. I left work in tears. Crying. Dad had a stoke caused from high blood pressure not treated… there’s blood on his brain. We spent NYE in the emergency room with my daddy.

    It’s been 4 days. He’s out of the icu. He’s still just in bed sleeping. He hears us, he talks to us when we speak to him but its hard for him to lift his right side and open his eyes. He can hear and understand everything that’s going on. He says “home” “bed” “Im going fishing” his left hand grips me and he tries to pull himself up cause he wants to go home so badly but he’s stuck in his hospital bed! He wants to get up but he’s not allowed to yet.

    That’s what kills me. My dad is so over being stuck in bed. My dad is not like that. He’s futless, he like go go go. He wants to be better but his body is not where it needs to be for him to just go. And the nurses won’t let him.

    I don’t want him to lose his spirit though. That fighting spirit… he no like be here anymore. I dont want him to be here anymore. He gotta focus that on doing what he has to do to get out of there.

    I promise him; he gets out; gets better, back to normal. I will never let him go back again. I promise! He’s going fishing. He’s driving us all over the island. We going 4 wheeling.

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