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When Life Turns Upside Down

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There are times in life when you are forced to face yourself. Monday, February 4th, 2019, was one of those times. What started as a normal day, ended with a trip to the Emergency Room.


What I remember is that I was thinking about what I needed to do the next day. I had to write an essay. I had to post on some social media sites. I needed to get an oil change.


But I never got to those things. Sometime around midnight, my husband, Andrei, was standing in front of the bed, fully dressed, telling me we were going to the hospital. My pants were on. He was asking me what shirt I wanted to wear. I kept telling him I felt nauseas. My head was pounding like crazy and I was dizzy.


Andrei escorted me outside and he later told me I started laughing. We went down the elevator and walked toward my truck. I was asking why we were not taking his car. I told him I was going to throw up.


In the four miles to the hospital, he told me I must have said that at least 100 times.


Once we arrived, I only remember isolated pieces. The man in the bed next to me had had a stroke and his wife was terrified. A nurse came and talked to her. She said she had also had a stroke and had fully recovered.


The pain in my head was excruciating. I was so nauseas. The male nurse seemed too chipper, like he was working too hard to please everyone. Another nurse put these electrode patches on my head. She used a sticky goo that got all over my hair. She said they had to monitor my brainwave activity for 24 hours.


Then they told me they had to do an MRI and asked me if I was claustrophobic. I do not remember what I said. I kept thinking I was going to go home later that day. Andrei and I would eat dinner and everything would be back to normal.


Then they took me outside. Housed inside a semi-truck was the third MRI machine. The nurse told me it had been bought with a grant given to the hospital. I think I feel asleep during the test.


Once the nurses brought me back inside, they said it would take some time to get the results of the MRI. What seemed like only minutes later, a neurologist came to my bed. He said the results were normal. I told him I wanted to go home. He said they needed to do a lumbar tap.


Andrei called a friend of ours who is also a neurologist to ask about it. Our friend said he would talk to the neurologist about the test. Then he called Andrei back and said the test was necessary because I was having such severe headaches.


My brother Nick called and told me he and his wife Kathy would do whatever we needed to help. Kerstin, the manager of the barn where I keep my horses told me she would help any way she could.


I spoke to Kathy on the phone and she told me that she has a friend who is also a neurologist and he could look at my test results if I wanted. We talked about her trip to the ER when she and my brother were visiting last summer. We were out at dinner when she started feeling very nauseas. Then she could not talk. Or walk. I remember Andrei helping her into the car and sitting with her in the Emergency Room. Ryan, her son, kept wanting to play and running in and out of the room.


I remember thinking something like that would never happen to me. I am an ultra-runner. I train horses. I can even put shoes on them.


Now, as I write this, having just returned from a walk to the store, I need to sit down. The store is only a half a mile away, but the trip exhausts me. I feel very dizzy most of the time. My reactions are slow and I worry about crossing the street. I feel like I am in slow motion. My chest feels heavy and it is hard to breathe sometimes. My head feels like it weighs 1000 pounds.


I worry about everything. Am I getting too tired? Why does my head feel so heavy? Should I be trying to cross the street? Why do I feel so out of it? Am I going to have another seizure?


I do not remember when they told me that is what happened. The second one was much worse, Andrei told me. He is the one who found me convulsing on the bed. He had gone out to get me some hot chocolate, and when he came back, no one was around. He screamed at the nurses. They raced over and gave me Ativan. They said I would be out for some time.


When I woke, I remember that I was hungry. I drank the hot chocolate that was now cold. I remember feeling so grateful that we had not gone home that night.


As much as I wanted this to be distant memory, it was clear that things were going to be really different. The nurses told me I could no longer drive. “You have to be seizure-free for six months,” they said.


I repeated those words to myself. Seizure-free. I thought I was. I thought seizures were what other people have.


Then Andrei and I tried to go for a walk and I did not make it down the hall.


I write a blog about Leveraging Adversity. I wrote a book with the same title. I profess the concept of post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth says that traumatic experiences cause a critical reconsideration of our values, beliefs, and priorities. What results is a more authentic way to live. Because we know what we could have lost, we know what we value. We do not waste time on things that are not important. We do not put off for tomorrow what we know we should do today.


Now, as memories of the 100-mile races I have run dance through my head, I am having trouble holding my head up long enough to write this.


Everything looks different now. I see fear on Andrei’s face that I have never seen before and I want to tell him that I love him all the time. I want to tell Salut, one of our horses, that I never realized how grateful I am for him. He is so dependable. Every day he gives 1000 percent. Just two days ago, he carted around an 11-year-old girl. She had never ridden him before and he had not worked in two weeks.


I knew he would take care of her, just like he always takes care of me. I never knew how much I appreciated that about him. He is not the fanciest horse. He is not endowed with fabulous movement. He matures slower than molasses. Nevertheless, he always tries to do as I ask. And there is nothing that is more important than that.


Today, I am grateful for the reminder.







Photo by kleuske

When Life Turns Upside Down

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2019). When Life Turns Upside Down. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Feb 2019
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