Buena Vista County Auditor Karen Strawn serves as a key hub around which the workings of the county government roll. She is also the secretary of the Board of Supervisors and the Commissioner of Elections.
When she suffered a stroke recently, it was stunning news throughout the courthouse and around the county. But after six weeks of taking time to heal, Strawn is eagerly back in the auditor's office this week.
"It is wonderful to be back," Strawn said. "It is great to be back in the courthouse after spending so much time at home."
She is starting gradually, working her way up to being ready to spend full-time days on the job.
"I have generally been blessed with good health so this is all new to me," Strawn said of the experience. "I felt fine after spending time at home, so I thought I was ready to go but when I started going out and going to events there were times I realized that I wasn't completely ready."
She is also eager to ease some of the workload from her staff.
"The girls in the office have been splitting up my duties and have been doing a wonderful job," Strawn said. "It's been a great comfort knowing that they have been able to fill in and take care of everything but I'm ready to take it back."
Strawn has tried to stay in contact with the staff through email and phone conversations during her recovery, to help when she could.
"There was hardly anything that they couldn't handle and they did an excellent job," Strawn said.
On April 25, Strawn decided to stay home because she was feeling like she was coming down with a cold.
"I decided not to come in because I didn't want the symptoms to get worse and spread the germs around the office. Little did I know that I was have symptoms of a stroke," Strawn said.
Strawn had a few periods of blacking out during the afternoon and before her husband Bill came home, she had concluded that she was having a stroke.
"Before this I had a very limited knowledge or experience with a stroke but I knew something was wrong after I tried to move my hand and I couldn't move the way I wanted to," Strawn said. "I didn't realize there was something wrong with my speech until my husband came home and asked me a question and I couldn't complete my sentences."
It was later determined at Mercy Hospital in Sioux City, that Strawn had suffered a mild stroke. She is grateful that no permanent damage has happened and the other symptoms have all but ended.
"The only thing now is that I'm on oxygen and I think that will be done in short order," Strawn said. "I did originally have some problems with speech like choosing the right word. My kids said they noticed it right away, but now I feel that has gone back to normal."
A lot of well wishers have visited with Strawn over the time she was gone from the office.
"I'm very grateful for all the well wishers, cards and flowers, they really have been a comfort," Strawn said. "Sometimes you don't realize how many people you have known or worked with until something like this happens."
Strawn feels fortunate to be coming back within six weeks.
"I've read about people who have been down longer so I am absolutely grateful to be able to come back quickly," Strawn said.
"One of the things that I've always enjoyed about this job is that there are always new and exciting challenges," Strawn said. "You never get tired of something because right when you hit that point, you are onto something new. I am truly excited to be able to wake up and come to work."
Strawn has also worked on making sure that people who call her office or come up to the window in the courthouse have a good experience with county government.
"It is something that I feel we all strive for, that the tax payer has a good experience. Even if we don't have what they are looking for we are able to send them in the right direction."
Strawn has also filled the duties of being secretary for the Board of Supervisors and is happy to be back in the board room on Tuesdays as well.
"We have three new members and the first six months has been a lot of explaining what is going on and giving history of the board and I'm glad that I am able to help with that," Strawn said. "I know Sue (Kennedy) also has the knowledge and experience and has been able to do a great job."
Strawn would like to stress that people should take time to learn about strokes to be able to identify symptoms quickly.
"Before this I had a very limited knowledge about strokes and I'm still learning," Strawn added.