My Stroke: Part 1: Nightmare

August 4, 2010 is a day I’ll never forget (though, admittedly, I ask my wife almost every time I recall it, just to be sure).  It’s the day I learned I’d had a stroke. The story begins, though, on the preceding day. Tuesday, August 3.

Most of the day was like many days before it; I woke up, I showered, I got ready for work. I went to the office at the normal time — 8:00 or so in the morning — and I did many of the same things I did every day in the course of my job. I remember that i had more meetings than usual that day; not for any discernibly important reasons, but those days happen to office-drones such as myself. I remember that I had a late meeting, taking me into the time that I normally leave the office.

Near the end of that meeting, I recall a sudden sense of lightheadedness came on me; lights took on a “halo effect” and things seemed a bit hazy — just off enough that I noticed it, but not so off as to signal anything was really wrong. I attributed it to a long and mentally-strenuous day of work, and resolved to get home, take it easy, and get some food in me — surely, I thought, that would restore me to my normal self. Obviously, I was just stressed, tired, and hungry; maybe my blood sugar was off. I remember looking forward to a community barbecue in celebration of National Night Out.

Weary but recuperating, I left the office and came home, ready for the event, to relax and eat and start feeling better.  A neighbour friend of ours asked my wife if she’d like to step into her apartment for a shot; when the offer was declined, she asked me, and I happily accepted – after all, I was looking to unwind, and that’d certainly help. In retrospect, this may have helped to save my life.

I went into her kitchen. She poured each of us a shot of vodka (Smirnoff, I think, for those curious) and opened a couple cans of soda as chaser. I took the shot glass in my left hand, and promptly dropped it on the floor. Confused, addled and embarrassed, I helped clean up, and went to wash my hands as she poured a replacement. Here, I felt the first sign of something truly wrong; as I ran the faucet over my hands, I felt my right hand bump into some unknown object, and looked down – only to discover that the foreign object was my left hand. I brushed this off, too, for whatever reason, took the vodka in my right hand, and downed it with a “Cheers!”

Back outside, I ate some food and mingled. A couple of times, I remember stumbling a bit. I bumped in to a couple of things. Unbeknownst to me, while this was happening, some neighbours told my wife what they saw in my behavior, concerned I was drunk to the point of instability. She assured them I was not, and came to me, concerned. I opted to return home and lay down on the couch a bit; this is when the confusion started to come over me. I couldn’t properly process what was going on around me. When my wife came home to check on me, I could hardly maintain a conversation. The words she said held little meaning to me, and for the life of me I couldn’t convince my mouth to put voice to the words I was trying to say in response. Confusion quickly turned to fear. I couldn’t fathom what was happening, or why — and, worse yet, I couldn’t express myself to that end. I even recall very briefly wondering if I was having a stroke, but rejecting the thought out of hand. I was, after all, only 27. Those happen to old people, right?

My wife called my mom, to come and watch our just-barely-three year old son while we visited the local prompt care to see if they could tell us what was going. I struggled to buckle my seatbelt, accustomed to using a hand that now refused to comply with my wishes. We went to the clinic, waited a very short time, and then the doctor came in. We — okay, probably mostly my wife — explained the situation. He asked me to raise my arms in front of me and close my eyes, and I did so. Then he made an inexplicable demand to “move this finger”.

I opened my eyes, and his hand was touching mine, indicating a finger. I hadn’t felt a thing of it. He told us he couldn’t diagnose a stroke, but that it was possible, and told us to take me to the emergency room. We declined the offer of an ambulance, and went to the only hospital in town, and repeated the process of explaining my condition. We sat in the waiting room, surrounded by the sick and injured, for nearly two hours. I got up several times to visit the drinking fountain, and explained that I was feeling much better – after some time, I nearly suggested leaving rather than waiting it out, but we wanted some kind of answer, so, we stayed.

Eventually, a neurologist came, and brought me to a table to lie down. This moment is when it all spiralled far beyond my control, my understanding, my ability to grasp any part of what was happening to me. He asked me to push against his hand with my foot; I pushed as hard as I could, and still, he simply urged me to try. I got angry. I was trying – hell, for all I could feel, I was succeeding. It became clear that something was deeply wrong.

I was moved to a gurney, hooked to some IVs, and wheeled off towards another room. I remember having to use the restroom, and asking to do so. I was told I couldn’t, as they didn’t think I could walk; I defied them, and tried to get up. You’ll need to bear with me on this next bit, as this is the last piece of my memory from that night. I’m told I tried to get up. I’m told I managed to tear an IV from my arm, sprinkling blood on my wife, the doctor, and the gurney. I’m told I fiercely struggled as they strapped me down and took me in for CT scans. I’m told I railed, physically and vocally, as they performed the scans, nurses holding my head down as I pushed against them and the restraints I was in. I’m told. I don’t recall it, even in part.

My next memory is coming to, hooked to some absurd number of things; heart monitors, IV drips, oxygen meters. I was in an unfamiliar place. It was dark; at this point, it was early in on the morning of the 4th, and I was in a room in the neurology section of the intensive care unit. They’d had some time to look at the scans they’d managed to get, and confirmed – my brain had suffered damage indicative of a stroke — or, more precisely, some number of small “cluster” strokes followed by one larger event (this, we figure, occurred when I was laid on the initial exam table). Out in the hallway, the neurologist had broken the news to my wife, and offered the grim advice that she steel her mind and prepare for the possibility of becoming a widow that night. We reeled in shock, trying desperately to understand how this could happen, why it had happened, growing frustrated with a lack of answers to these questions – answers which would have to wait for further scans later in the day. We rested.

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