Synopsis: Scrambling Back—

One Woman’s Quest to Return to the Wild

After Stroke and Autoimmune Disease

By Anne Sigmon

 

Anne Sigmon Lightning Book Photo

On January 30, 2002, I stepped out of the shower and into the twin nightmares of stroke and out-of-control autoimmune disease. In an instant, my mind was wiped clean: I forgot my husband’s name, my address, or how to call 911. Even though I had no obvious risk factors, I had suffered a career-ending stroke at only forty-eight years old.

Three weeks after the stroke, I learned the cause: the autoimmune blood clotting disease called Antiphospholipid Syndrome—APS. It took months for me to understand that, with APS, I faced lifetime of autoimmune flares and bleeding scares, walking a razor’s edge between blood that was too thick, threatening another stroke, or too thin, risking unbridled bleeds.

Before the stroke and autoimmune diagnosis, I’d been a public relations and marketing consultant and novice adventure traveler. Fit and healthy—but decidedly non-athletic—I tagged along with my adventurous husband to Borneo where I wrestled with an orangutan and took tea with erstwhile headhunters. Once I’d tasted the thrill of adventure, I embraced the life of wilderness travel, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and bunking with a stone-age tribe in Papua New Guinea.

My traveling life—along with my career—were obliterated by the stroke. Soon, I discovered that I was the victim of “hidden” risk factors that primarily affect women—migraine, miscarriage, common clotting disorders, and autoimmune disease—risks that every woman should understand but, like me, most do not.

My particular disease, APS, has a nasty record of “re-thrombosis.” To prevent another stroke, my doctors told me, I’d have to take dangerously high levels of the blood thinner Coumadin (warfarin) for the rest of my life. Any travel remote from medical help would be risky. An infected finger, a slip on a damp temple step, even a minor traffic smash-up would no longer be mere annoyances—they could be life threatening. Not to mention autoimmune flares, overreaction to heat, or a jet-lagged mistake taking more, or less, of those hazardous blooding thinning pills.

Scrambling Back follows my journey into a baffling netherworld of stroke rehab and chronic autoimmune illness, with its debilitating flares of illness and exhaustion and the constant threat of bleeding. The memoir traces my struggle to read and write again, to hold a fork, to tie my shoes; my battle to regain keyboard skills—with the hope of retuning to work—in spite of a therapist who thought I ought to braid potholders instead.

I also fought to summon the nerve for third-world travel to Botswana, Burma, India, Laos, Vietnam and ancient Silk Road cities of Uzbekistan, all while living with a chronic disease that threatened to kill me.

But these weren’t the hard parts.

The hard part was to find—and accept—a new view of myself.

The book is threaded with memories of my travel life, both before and after the stroke‑—some humorous, some poignant, others downright scary.

There have been other memoirs about stroke, but mine is the first to address the important relationship between stroke and autoimmune disease. The book provides solid information on the “hidden risk factors” for stroke that all women should understand. It is also the first patient account of living with stroke and the autoimmune disease Antiphospholipid Syndrome (APS). Once thought to be rare, APS is now recognized as a major health issue for women, responsible for a third of all strokes in patients under fifty; an estimated twenty percent of all cases of deep-vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms, and twenty-five percent of recurrent miscarriages.

Scrambling Back also tells a unique story of my personal struggle to find meaningful work—and return to wilderness travel—when I was unable to resume my career. Despite the health limitations posed by my disease, I continue traveling to remote regions from Burma to Uzbekistan and most recently to Iran (2014) and Ethiopia (2015).

My work, including excerpts from Scrambling Back, has been published in national magazines and anthologies including Good Housekeeping and Stroke Connection magazines; the American Heart Association website; the e-zines Passionfruit.com, Wanderlust and Lipstick, and Southern Sampler, as well as a number of anthologies, most recently Wandering in Cornwall: Mystery, Mirth and Transformation in the Land of the Ancient Celts (2015), and Bradt Guides’ To Oldly Go (2015).

About Anne Sigmon
On my author website www.AnneSigmon.com I follow and share with readers information about stroke, autoimmune disease and APS, and write about my own experience as a patient trying to balance chronic illness, brain damage and blood thinners with an irrepressible desire to travel.

My blog www.JunglePants.com focuses on adventure “for the rest of us.” It includes stories about my travel adventures–and misadventures. It also offers tips and, I hope, inspiration, for travelers with limitations–chronic illness, memory problems, age, klutziness, or just plain jitters.