I 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).
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!