A nurse’s road to recovery

Victorian nurse Mary Wong hopes her journey will help inspire other stroke survivors. The nurse who had a stroke in 2016 completed a 10 kilometre run in the Melbourne Marathon in under 60 minutes late last year.

Running makes me feel free. I am so proud of how far I have come.”

Mary still finds it difficult to talk about the day the stroke happened.

“The emotions are still very raw. I was at home reading to my daughter Cassie who was 11 at the time. I became really unwell. I had nausea and vomiting and was unable to weight-bear.

“I didn’t recognise I was having a stroke, I didn’t think of it at all. I was 50, fit and in good health. I just knew something was wrong. The ambulance asked me to walk and I just couldn’t. The rest is a blur.”

Mary suffered a cerebral aneurysm and was unconscious for 72 hours.

“It was a freak accident. I have hypertension but I have been on medication and it has been well managed for 20 years.

“When you have a stroke, your whole life changes in an instant. I was a busy mum and nurse and I was also training for triathlons.”

At the time of her stroke, Mary had been DON of the Cardiovascular, Renal and Endocrine division at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) for 10 years. The operational role involved managing hospital wards in the division, including 600 staff.

“I then found myself in a hospital ward where I had to learn to balance and walk again. Most days were filled with headaches, fatigue and frustration.”

Mary attempted to return to work at six months post-stroke but wasn’t ready.

“Mentally I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t focus; I was in a cloud. I had a lot of frustration, anxiety and a bit of depression; I also experienced self-doubt. I had to give myself more time to heal.

“I had gone from being an independent person to being dependent on others. After stroke, it took a long time to accept that. Some days were really dark.”

A type ‘A’ personality and highly driven, Mary changed her treatment and saw a neuropsychologist who specialises in cerebral stroke and mental illness.

“In seven to eight months, I slowly rebuilt mentally and physically. I saw a physio. I had goals to get back to running, to get back to work. I got back running, got back swimming – it gave me a sense of purpose.”

Mary also started to do volunteer work with people going to a hydro-pool for rehabilitation one day a week.

“It gave me the routine and motivation to get up early. Then I increased it to two days a week. Then I started a project two days a week in cardiac care management at the RMH.”

Mary’s nursing career spans 33 years, largely at the RMH. She has always worked in acute and cardiac care. Hospital-trained in 1985, Mary completed a postgraduate certificate diploma in intensive care and in advanced nursing practice. She has also completed a Masters of Business Administration. She aims to return to her DON position, hopefully in 2019.

“I love my nursing and want to get back to it. I was nursing for 33 years; I never moved away from it. My mission has always been to improve patient care.”

Mary is part of a Stroke Survivors Group and the Stroke Foundation.

“The journey has been hard, you don’t realise how hard unless you’ve been through it. It’s all part of stroke – some days are good and some days bad. It’s how I live my life now.

“The cerebellum which was affected by my stroke, affects my emotions. I get overwhelmed and anxious.”

Mary ensures she practises self-care and has the support of her husband Glenn and daughter, family and friends.

“It’s been a rollercoaster and it [stroke] is an ongoing part of my life. I have come to accept it and be easy on myself. I do meditation and mindfulness and I run.

“I know my body really well now and how to manage it; I have a lot of strategies for when I am anxious or overwhelmed, and know when to pull back on my exercise. It’s day by day.”

Mary runs three to four times a week and also cycles a couple of times a week. She hopes her journey gives hope to other stroke survivors.

“A lot of people think this is it, but it’s not the end – you have choices. I have gone down the positive road. I have purpose in my life and my passions – exercise and nursing.”

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