On the road to recovery

tumblr_m7v924QzXT1qacuhyo1_250I must say I’m sorry, dear readers, for not being at work. Sure, some letter-writers and people who just live to gripe have likely done happy dances (I’m looking at you, Mr. Anonymous), but some have worried (thank you).

I’m fine, but as I’m writing, I’m still off work until I get medical clearance, which should be Thursday. I can only take doing nothing for so long. pants

So what happened?

I had moved some boxes into the house on March 1 and felt a little lightheaded, but considering I hadn’t eaten yet, I just thought my blood sugar was really low. I decided to drink some orange juice, but was unable to swallow. Instead, I became a fountain, spitting the juice everywhere (and I’m still cleaning it up).

It was kinda like this ... but with orange juice in front of closed refrigerator.

It was kinda like this … but with orange juice in front of closed refrigerator. Image from kineticfountains.com.

I also couldn’t speak, was drooling, and was confused by the microwave … and no, that’s not normal for me. After a few minutes, it resolved.

I decided I would call my doctor in the morning to let her know what had happened, just to be safe.

A bit later, I got up to head to the bathroom and noticed the side of my right foot was tingling. By the time I washed my hands, I was again drooling, and unable to swallow or speak. I tried writing something, but it was illegible. This time I decided I needed to do something, and got dressed, put more food in Luke’s bowl, and drove to the emergency room (by the way, don’t do this).

What I tried to write that day. I wrote better than that when I was 5. I think that last bit was supposed to be my signature.

What I tried to write that day. I wrote better than that when I was 5. I think that last bit was supposed to be my signature.

What I think I meant to write.

What I think I meant to write.

When I got to the desk in the emergency room, the attendant asked me what was wrong, but all I could do was wail (and even with bronchitis, I’ve got a voice that carries, which prompted everyone in the room to stare at the crazy lady) and gesture at my throat and my head. She gave me paper and a pen, but I was still unable to do much more than a scrawl. I did finally manage to write something that resembled “stroke,” and they quickly got me to the doctors in the back.

The arm where they drained a good portion of my blood. I think they left me a little.

The arm where they drained a good portion of my blood. I think they left me a little.

The next couple of hours were a blur of tests, blood draws and attempted communication with the nurses and ER doc (who, coincidentally, was the same one on duty six years ago when I shattered my humerus … he might start to think I’m stalking him or something). They were able to conclude that I had indeed had a light stroke and was a candidate for tPA (tissue plasminogen activator), a clot-buster.

Since I knew what tPA was capable of, I consented. However, because there was no neurologist on call on Sunday at the North Little Rock hospital, I would have to be transferred to Little Rock since a neurologist would have to monitor me for 24 hours.

By the time the paramedics arrived to transport me to the larger hospital, I was able to get out a few somewhat intelligible words. By the next day, I had most of my speech back, and was aching to get back home to my own bed and crazy cat, but I would have to stay another day.

I missed you, Mom. Now play with me!

I missed you, Mom. Now play with me!

I finally got home late on March 3 and cuddled with my boy, with the knowledge that I’d had an embolic stroke (where a clot breaks free and travels to the brain). The episode earlier in the day on March 1 was most likely a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is usually a warning that a stroke is to come.

Wednesday, a TIA happened again, just for a couple of minutes. Luckily, the night before when I was being discharged, my nurse Emily told me that if I felt the symptoms again to take a 325 mg aspirin and call 911. The symptoms had mostly resolved by the time the paramedics got there, but I now know this isn’t something to ignore.

I don't feel so good, Mom ...

I don’t feel so good, Mom …

Several hours later, I was discharged and home again, dealing with a cat suffering from an acute anxiety attack and apparently in some pain … or just reaaaaaallly cranky.

Of course, by that time the freezing rain had started, so I had to hope it wasn’t a return of the kidney problem of last year. Luckily, it was just stress, and he’s feeling much better now (and parked on my leg as I write this).

We’ve spent much of the past week huddled inside waiting for all the snow and ice to melt. I think it finally is gone from my house today … though I could be wrong.

That little dot is the head of my welcome cat ... that's all that wasn't covered in ice, sleet and snow on Thursday.

That little dot is the head of my welcome cat … that’s all that wasn’t covered in ice, sleet and snow on Thursday.


Not everyone has the same symptoms, and they can vary with the part of the brain affected; mine was on the left side. My symptoms were primarily aphasia (difficulty speaking) and dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). I could understand everything I was asked, but was unable to communicate, which for someone who communicates for a living is terrifying.

Be aware of your stroke risk. Image from Stroke Association.

Be aware of your stroke risk.
Image from Stroke Association.

Still, the FAST mnemonic is good to remember (face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911), but know that there are other signs as well, especially for women. Just as with heart attacks, we just have to be different, darn it. Other symptoms can include sudden weakness or numbness, confusion, vision problems, dizziness and sudden, severe headaches.

Hey, I can open the door without creating a snow pile behind it now!

Hey, I can open the door without creating a snow pile behind it now! Just in time!

Now my focus is on recovery and returning to work, as well as figuring out why I had a stroke in the first place. I still have a little trouble finding my words, and a little trouble typing, but shouldn’t have to have speech therapy. Luckily, except for the temporary loss of fine motor control in my right hand, I had no visible physical signs.

I was already on a low-fat, pretty bland diet due to my IBS, and genetics dealt me blood pressure and cholesterol naturally a little on the high side, so I’ll have to rely on my medications and losing more weight. And because I’m not the most patient of people (polite yes, patient no), I need to develop a bit more of that quality.

I’m hoping you’ll be patient with me as well.


Most columnists would probably not recommend writing about something so personal, but I’m not most columnists. I’m hoping that you’ll learn from my experience, and watch for the warning signs.

Frankie Muniz's tweet after his first stroke. Image found on Crushable.

Frankie Muniz’s tweet after his first stroke.
Image found on Crushable.

While risk increases with age, just about anyone can have a stroke. Actor Frankie Muniz had a stroke just before his 27th birthday, and a year later had another.

President Dwight Eisenhower had a stroke with aphasia at the White House, returned to work a few days later, and finished out the remaining three years in his term.

Eisenhower was once a heavy smoker, but reportedly had quit about eight years before the stroke.

Eisenhower was once a heavy smoker, but reportedly had quit about eight years before his stroke. Image found on Presidential History Geeks.

The odds of having a stroke are greater the more risk factors you have, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking, drinking and diabetes. You can find out more from the American Stroke Association.

And don’t worry; my sense of humor and snarkasm is still intact. Patience is a work in progress, even though I was able to resist correcting a misspelling on the dry-erase board in my hospital room. That won’t happen again.

****

One of Ray's pieces, Guitar.

One of Ray’s pieces, Guitar.

One more thing while we’re on the subject of brain maladies: Please don’t forget about Ray Ferrer, a very talented artist and all-around nice guy who’s battling a baseball-sized brain tumor. Doctors told him a few days ago that because of its size, location and risk, it’s inoperable. Rhian and Ray, however, are seeking a second opinion and researching options while Ray continues his medications.

If you can afford to contribute anything to his GoFundMe account, or buy some of his art (he’s offering a discount) on his Etsy page, please do. If all you can offer is positivity and prayers, that’s good, too. Every little bit helps!

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11 thoughts on “On the road to recovery

  1. Oh my goodness! I almost fell over when I read your column this morning. I’ve been so preoccupied with school, family illness, teenager, that I haven’t checked WordPress (or written) and assumed you had the flu. I’m so glad you are on the mend and home with Luke. Thank you for sharing your experience. Stroke and heart disease run rampant in my family, and I know that genetics play a big role. Take care, and I’m glad you’re home with Luke. p.s. I love the “Soft Kitty” clip (or is it GIF?)

    Like

    • 🙂

      Heart disease is the big one in my family, so I just always assumed that would be what got me, but nope, the heart’s fine … just my brain that’s giving me problems. I’m taking it easy for one more day, then should be going back to work tomorrow, though I’ll have to ease into it. By now, Luke might want me to get the hell out of here. 😀

      I thought for a second about finding a clip of “Soft Kitty” (which I sometimes sing to Luke), but my brain quickly forgot, and was distracted by the GIFs anyway. 😀

      Like

  2. I am glad you are recovering so well. I was distressed to read of your experience in this morning’s paper. A stroke or other serious malady or accident could befall any of us at any time. I will tell you, though, the overwhelming feeling I had when reading was sadness that you obviously live alone, didn’t have anyone you felt you could call for help, drove yourself to the ER. I hope there was someone you were able to call to look in on your kitty while you were in the hospital to relieve your worry about his welfare. I am 65 and am caring for a disabled spouse in our home. I live 5 minutes from my very elderly parents and am there for most meals and at bedtime to make sure the heater is stocked for the night. I often long for the “freedom” to not have these responsibilities and burdens and hope that I might be allowed to enjoy at least a few years without said burdens while I am still healthy enough to enjoy them. But I also daily realize that without the burdens I would also be without my loved ones and I would miss them all terribly. We all need our support systems in whatever form they take. I trust you do, in fact, have someone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No need to be sad. I do have friends here I can call, but I’m also stubborn and impatient and try (sometimes too often) to do everything myself. I also had never called 911 and since I couldn’t speak, I was afraid they’d think it was a prank call; I now know better.

      I wish my mom was here instead of three hours away, but here is where I work, unfortunately; we do talk every day, but it’s just not the same. When I was growing up, my maternal grandparents lived a mile away, so they pretty much saw at least one of us every day, and that was a boon for all concerned. I’m definitely glad you’re there for your parents and spouse; it’s how I’d want it.

      The boy did have neighbors and friends checking on him, luckily, but he hadn’t been separated from me that long since I got him nearly 12 years ago, so he was more than a little anxious. We’re both much better now. 🙂

      Like

  3. Thanks for writing about your experience. I tend to be fairly healthy, with a few notable exceptions, and generally in denial about mortality, so appreciate the reminder about stroke signs and symptoms and warnings about taking them seriously. I hope you get back soon.
    take care of yourself.

    Like

    • Thank you, Dennis! I’ll consider my intention successful, as I just wanted to remind people these things can happen to anybody.

      When I saw my primary yesterday, the first thing she did was point at me and say “NO!” She’s determined to figure out why it happened, especially considering I’m younger than her, which is one reason I love her. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Like the rest, I want to thank you for the reminder that things can and do go wrong with us, and how to know what has when something does. (Edit that sentence. I dare you!) Sometimes I worry that I’ll have a stroke or heart attack and not know what the symptoms mean or have enough sense to deal with them.

    I’m glad you’re better and would check on you daily if I weren’t so godawful far away.

    Like

    • Awwww! I won’t even dare edit that after nearly two weeks away … besides, it’s better than a lot of writers I could name. 😀

      Just plan on carrying aspirin around because that’ll help for either one!

      Like

  5. Brenda – have missed you for the last month. Thanks for sharing your “Road to Recovery” editorial. I know what you are going through. On July 5, 1986 I did not wake up nor would I for over three months. I had a brain aneurysm burst and were it not for some incredible EMT’s, ER staff, an awesome neurosurgeon, and caring and gifted stroke rehab physical, occupational, and speech therapists, I would not be writing you today. I was also blessed to have the prayers of thousands of Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Jews, humanists and atheists in the Memphis community working for me. At Memphis Baptist Memorial I am still referred to as the “Miracle Man” – not because I do them, but because I am one :>). Upon “awakening” I became acutely aware of all I had to be thankful for but for so long had taken for granted – my wonderful wife Jan, my two incredible children, my network of work and professional associates, and, of all things, my health. I knew I was given a second chance to truly appreciate all of these and to play it forward for others in the following years. I know you, like me, will be the stronger for what you have recently gone through. And Brenda, know that your editorials have made me and so many others so much the better from reading them. My very best for your continuing health and success!

    Like

  6. Pingback: Mythic distortions | Serenity is a fuzzy belly

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