The Stroke (Originally published 12/4/2012)

So I had a stroke. You wouldn’t believe how strange it feels to type that. I had a stoke. And nobody knows why. I have none of the classic risk factors. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink excessively. I’m only 48. There is no personal history of stroke. Hell, the only person I know of in my family to have a stroke is my Granny and she smoked like a chimney and ate fried food every day…and she was in her 80’s to boot!

So I had a stroke. It was weird. We’d gone to the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz the day before. I’d driven home because my husband was tired. Put our daughter to bed. Spent some time on the computer. Gone to bed. Normal stuff. I woke up at 5:30am to pee. Everything was normal. Then, I woke up at 8:15am, and couldn’t quite wake up, like I was still half asleep. My eyes were burning, like I’d gotten lotion in them. I tried to wipe them, but my right shoulder wouldn’t work, like I’d slept on it wrong. In trying to get up, I flipped the pillow onto my husband, and ended up sitting on the steps to the bed, braced against the wall. I thought about a tv show I’d seen, where the actress experienced a stroke, and she asked someone to look at her face when she tried smiling. I smiled. The right side felt funny. She had tried to raise both hands. I raised both hands. The right one didn’t make it off my leg. My husband, awake by now, asked me if I was ok. “No,” I said. “Call 911. I think I’ve had a stroke.” He tells me that all he could understand was “Call 911.” He called immediately. The paramedics were there in minutes.

Two big burly guys hustled in, joining the “I’ve Seen Crickett Naked” club in the process, and asked me all the pertinent questions. No, I couldn’t smile. No, I couldn’t raise my right hand. No, I can’t squeeze your fingers any better with my right hand. No, I don’t smoke. No, I don’t drink much. No, I don’t have family history of stroke. They couldn’t get the gurney in the bedroom, so they put a robe on me, supported me over to the gurney, and started getting me out of the house.

Half way out, things changed. The paramedic didn’t believe me. I grabbed his fingers with my right hand and squeezed, hard. His eyes got big, but said since they had come out, they were taking me in. I agreed. Good thing, because the symptom came back before we could even leave. He put an IV in, after several attempts, and we took off. He told me that in all his time as a paramedic, he’d never seen someone “resolve” like I’d done.

I remember seeing trees out the back window as we drove, and not much more. I remember the same questions over and over. And then we arrived at the E.R., which wasn’t bustling nearly as much as I thought it would be.

I found out that peeing at 5:30 (remember that bit?) was a good thing. It meant that the stoke had to have occurred after that…which meant I was on the edge of the 3 hour window to receive the clot busting drug TPA, That may have made the weeks to follow easier.

After the TPA, they hustled me into the Cat Scan, to see if I had a brain bleed. They gave me Benadryl (I have an alergic reaction to iodine), and got ready to shoot me full of a dye so they could take pictures of my brain. They warned me that it would feel hot. Especially “in my privates.” Boy, they weren’t kidding! But it blew out my I.V., and I started cussing them like a sailor because the I.V. was BURNING! I resolved again, because my cursing became highly intelligible in the midst. Oh yeah, they got the pictures anyway. They put me in the MRI machine, twice. They had to elevate my legs or they would spasm and make me move too much.

I resolved 5-6 times that day. I could feel each time that it happened. I could feel my speech start slurring, and my arm control would fade away. I hoped each time the symptoms went away that maybe they wouldn’t come back. But they kept coming back. At one point, I could only focus one eye. At another, my hormones went haywire, and I cried deep, racking sobs for no reason.

My husband showed up, but could only sit by my bedside. My sister and her husband drove down, but could only tell me that I was doing better than could be suspected. They picked up my daughter from the neighbor who had volunteered to take her. I can only imagine how it must have felt for the three of them, watching me, seeing the symptoms come and go, and not being able to help. It was bad enough to have no control my own body. To sit and watch it happen to someone you love must have been terrible.

Eventually, the symptoms came, and didn’t go away. I had no control over the right side of my body. My right arm wouldn’t work, and neither would my right leg. After about 6 hours, they moved me from the E.R. to C.C.U. They wouldn’t let me eat anything, because they were afraid I would choke. They had a blood pressure cuff on my right arm for 24 hours straight, taking a reading every 15 minutes. Let me tell you…you haven’t LIVED until you try to sleep with that thing attached and going off every 15 minutes. Between blowing out the I.V. and the pressure cuff, I had some monstrous bruising on both arms. I told the nurses that I didn’t mind a bit…it meant I was still alive to see them!

At one point, they put me under, and slid a camera down my throat, to give me an echo-cardiogram (I think) from the inside.  They were looking to see if I had a hole in my heart that might have thrown the clot. It was definitely a good news/bad news situation. I didn’t have any hole…but that crossed 1 line on the increasingly smaller list of reasons this might have happened.

Twenty-four hours in C.C.U., then 2 days in I.C.U. The indignities I went through! Bed pans, portable commodes, starting my period. But they took good care of me. I only wish I could remember their names! But after 3 days in the hospital, with Phil sleeping in the pull out chair in the room, I was discharged. Phil transported me, oh so carefully, to the acute care rehabilitation center that they highly recommended. But that’s a tale for another day.

Know the signs FAST!

Facial distortion – can they smile with both sides of the mouth?

Arms – can they lift both arms and hold them at the same height?

Speech – can they repeat a simple phrase without slurring?

Time – If they have trouble with any of these things..CALL 911 immediately!

These simple test can save a life. They did mine.