Two years ago today, I lived through the most frightening day of my life. Here’s what I wrote about the experience shortly before returning to work after a week and a half of convalescing:
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).
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).
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.
I soon learned I had indeed had a light embolic stroke because of a clot that had broken free and traveled to my brain. Luckily, I was still in the window of time when I could be treated with tPA (tissue plasminogen activator). By the time I was being transferred to the larger hospital in Little Rock that had a neurologist on duty (if you’re going to have a stroke on a Sunday …), the tPA was working and I had regained a little of my speech. My earlier episode, and one that happened the day after I was released from the hospital, was most likely a TIA (transient ischemic attack), sometimes known as a mini-stroke.
In the two years since, I’m mostly back to normal (or at least what counts for normal for someone as abnormal as me). I do, though, still sometimes have trouble finding words when speaking (which is a good reason to forgo public speaking), and my short-term memory’s not all that hot sometimes, but other than that, I’ve recovered completely. I still need to lose weight, but I do what I can. I get tired and emotional more easily, but I adapt … sometimes with a large dose of chocolate, but I perservere. I don’t do all that well on timed video games anymore, but I’m killing Bubble Witch 3. And yes, I still get a little paranoid when I have a headache (and lucky me, the auras I used to have before migraines decided to skedaddle, so I often have no warning for those).
But I’m still here, and that’s half the battle.
I’m still cranky and snarky, so I’m OK. And I have chocolate, so I won’t kill anyone.
We tend to think of stroke victims as the very old and/or very unhealthy. What you learn after having a stroke, though, is that it can happen to anyone. And sure, while there are things that increase your risk—high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, smoking, etc.—that you can mitigate, there are others (such as gender, ethnicity, family history and the presence of arteriovenous malformations) that you can’t. (Apparently, migraines are one of the risk factors as well. Oh joy.)
According to stroke.org, stroke is one of the top 10 causes of death for children; the risk of stroke for infants is greatest in the first year of life and in the period just before to just after birth. The American Heart Association says that of the 795,000 strokes each year, people 18 to 50 years old make up about 10 percent of the victims; in 2015, I was part of that 10 percent.
Neurology researchers have noted an increase in frequency of strokes in young adults without a clear cause, according to Dr. Richard B. Libman, vice chair of neurology at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute in Manhasset, N.Y. Actor and musician Frankie Muniz had two mini-strokes in the space of a year before he’d even turned 27. Diana Hardeman, hiker, marathon runner, and the owner of a Brooklyn artisanal ice cream company, at 33 had the first of several strokes that left doctors puzzled.
The fact that it can happen any time, to anyone, means that everyone should be vigilant and aware of the signs of a stroke because that can be what saves your life. While not everyone has the same symptoms, the FAST mnemonic (Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, and Time to call emergency services) covers the most common ones. I didn’t have any of the facial signs such as a crooked smile, but I did have weakness on my right side and aphasia; had I not taken the chance that it was a stroke, I might not be here.
I know—for some people, that’s not necessarily a good thing. For me, though … besides, someone has to feed the furry one and annoy trolls.