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blueshoefarm at gmail dot com.... and that would be how to reach me

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Having a Stroke Part 2 - To the hospital

A teenager with standard issue smalltown eye makeup, a mom with no makeup and a 11-year old with a big smile!
At this point none of us are calling this a stroke. We are driving down the road, and Wilder starts calling people. Some of these memories are loosely running around in my head and I don't have the tightest grip on them. Like where did he get the wherewithall to call friends and family? Once he dialed my friend Lisa, and she determined he was not kidding she told him to hang up and dial 9-1-1. 9-1-1 had Rose pull the car over to the side of the freeway while the operator kept Wilder talking. I was awake and alert enough to worry when the aid car and firetruck pulled up... the firetruck blocking the right lane of traffic around a bend in the freeway... that it was not parked in the safest spot. We left the car, and the kids and I got in the aid car. I don't know if it was good or bad but my kids being there kept me from being drawn into the quiet of my brain. There was something powerful wanting me to tune out --no anxiety, no fear. But strongly present was what my kids were seeing, and feeling, and their fear. That is why I stayed present, to allay their concern, to show that mom was okay. On to the hospital emergency where they laid me out, asked me my name, birthday, where I was. The stroke symptoms were coming and going, I lost left side function five or six times that morning. Various medical personnel threw out opinions why I was having them from the aid car personnel to nurses, and all suggested stroke like symptoms due to.... ready? Oh yes my favorite : perimenopause. I was taken downstairs for an MRI. I remember it was a sad room in need of paint, and a portly man sat in a windowless room watching. I had to take off my jewelry, and it took FOREVER to get off earrings and a pendant. My hand was not able to negotiate the clasp or earring backs, it was present and working, but would not navigate the job. I only knew this because I could not take them off, my brain was under the impression that my hand was doing just fine. This is one of the strangest cognitive changes... my mind thinks everything is operating as it should when it is not. Also, why the hell didn't I have help? The orderly who rolled me down to MRI was gone.
Into the machine, which was a trip in my current state. I actually thought the different noises were a type of music so it would not be boring for the patient. When I had another MRI a week later I realized the loud blasts of sound were definitely not music. Just shows that the brain has an amazing ability to compensate, cope and justify. The MRI was done, I was wheeled back upstairs and Lisa and her kids had arrived from Seattle. Our sons are the same age so they went off to get food. The kids dad arrived soon after from a different ferry. My mom was notified in Michigan, and she got the nurse on the phone to make sure they knew that I "drank alot of coffee." We got several days of humor out of that one, thanks Ma! A doctor came in the room and had me spell world backwards. This was a favorite game of Rose and mine when she was in elementary school - "backwards spelling bee." Infinity, Mississippi, Precocious, pick any big word and spell it backwards. He said world, and I thought SIMPLE! But I could not do it. I couldn't see the word in my head. I couldn't see the letters. I couldn't group the sounds. I also had sporadic bouts of not talking. And zoning out, not really sleeping, but off in la la land. Every hour they came in and did neurological tests, and every time they asked me to spell world backwards. I think by this time Rose and Wilder had been through my whole contact list and notified everyone. My blood pressure was elevated due to the stroke so they gave me something to lower it, then I was wheeled upstairs into a shared room. The same doctor that intimated that I could just be having some hormonal issues then came in and said very seriously... "well, you have had a stroke." And they would keep me for 24 hours and watch me since "any damage will occur during the next 24 hours" he then asked if I had any questions and left. My memory is not highly accurate from this era of strokehood, but I do remember being dumbfounded. And that he could't answer any questions that we posed. Rose's best friend and mother came by. The staff took me for a scan of my arteries and heart. Rose recognized a staffperson who worked in the hospital as being "the wasted funny woman at the 4th of July!" -- that is small town living for you! She said she was sorry to see me under these circumstances. To digress as I always do, that 4th of July was a great education for Rose on being drunk. Since everyone there but us was plowed and exhibiting all the classic types of drunk : from the I love you, man, to sad, to dangerous (carrying a open fire pit with a blazing fire on the back of a truck) to crazy, beligerant, and foul mouthed. It was nothing I could have taught her by telling her the intricacies of alcohol, she got to see it in all its stupid glory.
Anyway, back to stroke. Basically they were admitting me to the hospital for observation and stabilization. After a few hours everyone went home, that is when it got rough. What kept me together was a nurse named Sarah. Or I think her name was Sarah. My friend Lisa had drawn a picture of me on a horse on a whiteboard behind my bed. When Sarah was in folding my discarded clothes she commented on my pants and said she had a pair and loved them. I said they were great for riding because my childbirth pooch doesn't hang over the top, they are high enough. She laughed and agreed, turns out she had a horse too. I don't remember what we talked about regarding the stroke, but I remember her hug was deep and warm, and it felt like everything might be okay. I told her I felt like a sitting duck just waiting for brain damage to occur as the doctor said, and the fear I had for my children. Somehow she calmed me and listened. She also normalized things by bringing in her phone with pics of her horse and told me how she got it. Again, that the world did not just end, there are still stories being made, horses being ridden. It is wonderful to be pulled out of my own space into the bigger world. The nurse the next day told me Sarah used to be a bartender, so has finely honed listening skills. It was perfect for me, and the only manageable moment I remember from the hospital. That and my friend Evelyn's visit the next day, where she advocated for me and told me stories. My night nurse was brought over from another department, and not the brightest bulb. It is sad that me having had a stroke noticed the diminished mental capacities of someone taking care of me. Like when I told her in the wee hours of the morning that my blood pressure was too low... she didn't know that. But I survived the hospital and its parade of hush voiced PT's, OT's, and doctors.

Having A Stroke - Part 1

I get asked alot about my stroke -- if I knew I was having a stroke, what it was like, how it happened. Looking back on it I see now that there were episodes leading up to it that were red flags. Slightly elevated blood pressure for about three years. Pounding heart and uneven beats for about two years. Four visual migraines the week before. The visual migraines - losing sight with no pain- started after the birth of our son around age 35, and I only have one every two to three years.
The migraines and extreme sudden dizziness that happened two days before were the big flags, but with most things got brushed off. Called my doctor. Heart palpitations? The medicine I was on for my blood pressure. The migraines? Menopause or allergies. In fact, many symptoms were explained away by perimenopause.
After the first dizzy spell on a Monday, where the world suddenly reeled, spun and then stopped, I knew something was different. It felt like being on sudafed... kinda like there is a big fuzz over my brain. That evening, I had a dinner to attend, and I remember it was all I could do to pay attention to what was being said. I was very tired, and things became "simple". I had that feeling many times pre and post stroke, the world becomes compartmentalized, and simpler. I realize now after reading about it that is because the brain has to pay attention to everything -- the part of cognition that is automatic and running in the background, i.e. The tv is on, someone is doing the dishes, the telephone rings, the dog is hovering 'cause she's hungry, someone is talking to you.... is altered. Whereas before all those things could be occurring at the same time and you isolate the conversation, my brain couldn't isolate anymore, and all of life's happenings came in at the same importance level. It was simple, because basically I could only focus on one thing at a time.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up and had my regular cup of coffee. After about five minutes it did not taste good anymore so I set it aside. I felt dizzy in the bathroom so went outside to feed the chickens and horses and it lightened and went away. Wilder had a doctor's appointment and so we were getting ready to go. I walked to the front door, knowing something was not right, but forged on. Wilder came outside with me to get in the car and asked if I was alright. I had been speaking to him with a slur, and was having left side failure. My brain was sending the words out correctly, but my mouth could not navigate creation of the sounds. I have not forgotten the look of fear on my son's face when he looked at me and said something's wrong. That's when I told him to get his sister to drive me to the hospital. She ran downstairs in her pajamas. (She didn't change out of them until the evening when her dad took her home) I decided I should go to the bathroom first. That is when I had major left side failure. I started standing up from the toilet and sliding to the left toward the wall and floor. I remember thinking that something was not working right and being somewhat surprised... like What?! Oh no you didn't... you are getting your butt up. I still remember the will it took to get my body upright -- my leg shaking and my brain solely focused on being upright -- but I was not going to traumatize the kids further. And really, what would be more traumatic than a mumbly mom on the floor of the bathroom with her pants down? The stroke at this point was coming and going, I was having intermittent left side failure. This is also possibly due to an embolic ischemic stroke, a clot that comes from the heart, and then dissipates into many little clots. Reminds me of the Angry Birds bird that starts out as a single, but breaks into several smaller bombs. (This stroke cause is a possibility, not a definite. They still don't know why I had a stroke, but are narrowing the options.) Next up: To the hospital.
Pictures: Prestroke. Put me in front of a camera and I cannot be straight. The one of me maniacally laughing was actually supposed to be my author bio photo. It was not chosen since I look insane.
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