Stroke of luck

A bracelet I wore far too long ... and it's not very fashionable, either.

A bracelet I wore far too long … and it’s not very fashionable, either.

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.

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.

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).

Why is it so frickin' hot in here? Fan me, human!

She did one thing right; she fed me. Then she stupidly drove to the emergency room. Not my fault.

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.

This re-enactment looks about right ... though it needs a keening wail. GIF found on giphy.

This re-enactment looks about right … though it needs a keening wail to be more accurate.
GIF found on giphy.

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.

Pretty much every day with Luke. Rotten sweet boy. Illustration by my favorite artist/cartoonist, John Deering.

Pretty much every day with Luke. Rotten sweet boy.
Illustration by my favorite artist/cartoonist, John Deering.

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.

Don't get between me and good chocolate. That Palmer/Elmer/Frankford stuff everyone else can have. GIF found on The Odyssey Online.

Don’t get between me and good chocolate. That Palmer/Elmer/Frankford stuff everyone else can have.
GIF found on The Odyssey Online.

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.)

I'm with Heart on this one. Heart and brain webcomic by Nick Seluk.

I’m with Heart on this one.
Heart and brain webcomic by Nick Seluk.

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.

Be aware of possible signs of a stroke ... that is, if you like living. Image found on MyBrainTest.

Be aware of possible signs of a stroke … that is, if you like living.
Image found on MyBrainTest.

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.

No, Mom! My toy! MINE!

No, Mom! My toy! MINE! And where’s my dinner? Chop chop!

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4 thoughts on “Stroke of luck

  1. The title of your column caught my eye. Many years ago, a friend, who was then General Manager of WNEW in NYC and president of NBC Radio had a stroke and said he was going to write a book about the experience, calling it, “A Stroke of Luck.” I thought he did it, but I can find no record of it today although he remained active in radio. (At the same time, Amazon turns up a few books with that title, including one by Kirk Douglas.)

    Another friend had congenitally high cholesterol (c1500) and had 21 heart attacks during his lifetime. In fact, he had a number of broken ribs over time from the resuscitation efforts. Through all that, he managed to write several books, including The Peter Principle.

    An actress friend learned she had a rare cancer in the membrane near the brain and was given three months to live in 2013. After saying good-bye to her friends and family, she continued working and is still very active and successful today.

    The point of this rambling comment is to say you are in good survivor company, Brenda, I am proud and moved by how you have simply included the stroke and continued to march. I can’t wait for the three-year, five-year, and other anniversary columns.

    Against the experience of friends (including you), my own seems absolutely weenie, though scary the morning I woke up to discover the right side of my face semi-paralyzed and speech difficult. A trip to my MD/acupuncturist revealed it to be Bell’s palsy, in which some of the fascial nerves die. Steroids and acupuncture brought me back to about 95%. The bizarre thing is that during the recovery, lacrimal nerves (tears) and salivary nerves often get crossed, so when I eat, I tend to cry (in my right eye). I tell the cook I am moved by how good the food is.

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  2. Stroke is that common in children? I had no idea. I’m glad you recognized yours for what it was but, retroactively, am scared to death that you drove yourself to the ER. So very glad you’ve come through it so well.

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    • I didn’t know either; I knew kids could have strokes, but had no idea it was as prevalent as it is.

      I’m mad at myself for having driven. That’s what happens when you’re stubborn and impatient. I did the same thing when I broke my humerus … of course at the time, I thought I’d just dislocated my shoulder …

      Like

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