Jaleesa Matthews

Jaleesa Matthews Story

Leading up to the day, I felt “off”. My blood pressure had been higher than normal. I never had issues with my blood pressure, so I started to get nervous. I had been in rehab from a car accident I was in a month or so prior and every time they took my blood pressure it was high. Randomly, one of the physicians at the rehab facility told me to watch my pressure because high blood pressure like mine could lead to a stroke. Naturally, I slightly panicked. On top of that, I started to have really bad headaches. Then I told my good friend what the physician said and she promised to bring her blood pressure machine to work so that we could monitor it. Great idea I thought. We started monitoring my pressure and every single time it was high. I also became obsessive about looking my symptoms up on Google. (New rule for self: stop trying to self-diagnose.)

The morning at work was like any other work morning. Except, we were planning for the school year to start. As an assistant principal, that meant I had a lot of tasks on my plate and no time to sit around and do nothing. **head pain** All of a sudden my head started to hurt. I pulled out my pain killers. I took two or three. They didn’t help. My supervisor walked in my office to go over a few important details for the week **head pain**. When he left, I began to feel nauseous. So I put my head down on my desk. Just when I thought I could get through the head pain I felt a POP! (I don’t know how else to describe it), accompanied by a major pain in my head down my neck.

Then I remembered all the information I read online about high blood pressure.

“Oh my gosh! Is today the day when I will have a stroke?” I thought to myself. “My head was hurting, yes, but this was like nothing I had felt before.” I just kept my head on my desk, and mustered up the strength to text my friend because she knew my fears around my blood pressure.

I text her, “I need you to come to my office.”

She responds, ”I’m in a meeting.”

I responded back, “Come now!”

In no time, my very trustworthy friend was in my office. By this time, I was on the floor. My entire right side of my body was hurting and numb at the same time. I remember saying to my friend, “I don’t want to die. Please pray over me.” She prayed relentlessly.

She then told me she was calling an ambulance. I kept trying to fight her on that. I knew I needed medical attention, but that felt so dramatic to me. Like, what would people think?! (New rule for self: shut up! You could be dying and instead of getting help you’re worried about what people will think. Worry about what you need!)

I began to cry because this really felt like the end to me. I remember I just wanted my dad, so my friend called him for me. All I could do was cry and vomit.

The paramedics asked a series of questions:
Them: Are you stressed?
Me: Sometimes.
Them: What type of work do you do?
Me: I’m an assistant principal. We are supposed to be preparing to welcome teachers back.
Them: Well, maybe you should talk with a therapist if you’re that stressed.
Me: Okay, well what about right now?
Them: Right now, just relax
Me: Oh okay.

Then, they left, but I still felt like I was dying. I had never in my life experienced this type of pain before. All I wanted to do was lay down, so that’s just what I did, right there on my office floor. The place where I felt like a boss majority of the time – I felt my superpower was in how well I did my work, now felt like the place I was going to die. Would my job be the place where it all ended for me?

My dad then walked in with my principal. Seeing him brought comfort over me, but I still felt awful. We walked to the car. My dad drives a little crazy, so the entire time, I’m praying we get to our destination fast. I got to my parents’ house and all I wanted to do was lay down. So that’s what I did.

My supervisor told me that I had to take a covid test before I could come back to work. He sent me home with an at home test kit. I badgered my mother to get the test done, because so much work needed to be done at work. I didn’t have time to sit out (New rule for self: turn the computer off and focus on yourself. Work will always be there, and if you can’t be, they will find someone else. It’s okay.) My mom was so annoyed with me because she wanted me to get better before I worried about my job. I argued with her nonetheless.

Then, I don’t remember a thing.

My parents said during this time my skin was cold and clammy. My dad called an ambulance. Apparently, I couldn’t talk. I could track with my eyes, but I couldn’t do anything. The ambulance took me to a hospital near my parents’ house. It was there they determined I had a bleeding on the brain. I was then taken to Washington Hospital Center via helicopter where they determined I had a ruptured brain aneurysm.

During my surgery, they had to take part of my skull out to relieve the pressure on my brain. They stored my skull in my stomach. Cool story (about the skull in my stomach), but ugly scar on my belly.

While in the hospital I don’t remember a thing. I had some pretty weird dreams, but I don’t remember any visitors. Except one day, I looked over and my older cousin was standing in my room looking out the window. Seeing him made me feel so safe. I have no idea what he said to me, I just remember feeling full of joy seeing him.

At this point I was so confused: Why was I here?

Then I was transferred to the rehab center. I remember feeling like a mean b*tch. I was so irritated and uncomfortable. I couldn’t sit up in my bed or in a wheelchair. My head was wrapped in surgical cloth. My hair was gone. What happened to me?! I had a feeding tube in my stomach. I talked with my occupational therapist while writing this. She reminded me that I wasn’t speaking, my arms and legs wouldn’t move, I would respond to my name just by looking, I couldn’t remember how to wash my body, I needed 100% help with EVERYTHING! I couldn’t even get out of bed on my own. They had to use a ceiling lift to transfer me to the wheelchair. Then, I couldn’t sit up in the wheelchair. My head would stay tilted. I was miserable. I could only have one visitor. It was my mom. She was my superwoman the entire time. She would advocate for me fearlessly.

I was in intense rehab every single day, but I felt like I wasn’t making any progress. There was a time where I would cry every single day. Staying in the hospital can feel super isolating. My therapists were amazing, though. They always advocated for me without hesitation.

Being Home

I couldn’t go back to my home – the home that I had just purchased a year and a half prior. I have to stay with my parents until we are all comfortable with me living on my own again. I am currently spending three days a week at my house. With my parents around in some capacity. (New rule for self: praise your parents every chance you get. They disrupted their retirement to make sure I was safe and okay.)

My life feels different right now. I am not so concerned and consumed with work now, because I literally can’t work right now. It will likely look very different when I start working again. I go to rehab for physical therapy every week. I have made so much progress, but I am the hardest on myself. No matter how much progress I make, I always feel like I could do better. I’m currently using my walker and wheelchair to get around. I have now tried using the cane in rehab, but it feels so very hard.

I can’t do things like take my dog for a walk right now, or walk to my basement, but I’m alive! And I am making progress daily. Big and small progress. I am now able to sit at my little makeup desk in my room and moisturize my face or put makeup on. I can sit on the couch and watch TV with my family and friends.

Note to self: you are allowed to be down, because this was a very traumatic experience, but you are not allowed to give up. Love on yourself and your village. I am so proud of you. You are so special, and you are safe. So feel free to LIVE out loud!

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