What it's Like to Have a Stroke (Part I)


(My version.)

(I started writing this as one post but it's super long and I'm hardly there, so I'm going to break it up. You can't even comment here anyway so I won't know if you hate it.)

So. On Monday, May 13, yes, Monday the 13th like some kind of horrible ancient Garfield joke, I went to my morning workout at Lake Merritt with my awesome Boot Camp group. I felt a little lightheaded and weak through the workout, but I attributed that to a month off the workout and stuffing myself silly in Turkey. Time to get real and get back to work.

I was also less able to keep my balance, nearly falling over a couple times doing thigh stretches, which is unusual for me. I'm naturally a little clumsy, but I usually have good balance and I've been doing stretching yoga since I was a teenager.

My heart rate stayed in the normal ranges. I had to put down my weights for some of the workout -- I didn't feel exhausted but I felt unnaturally weak. That's OK, I thought, I will go slow and do bodyweight work until I'm back into the thing. Slow and steady. Don't push it and injure myself as I did when I was younger, over and over.

In the car on the way home I felt weird. Lightheaded. I should have had an energy bar with me, I thought; it almost feels like it should be illegal for me to drive like this.

I got home, had some breakfast (I can't eat before my workout because my thyroid meds need to be taken on an empty stomach an hour before eating, and honestly I can get up at 4:30am but not at 3:30am). I took a hot shower which was really nice. I still felt lightheaded.

I got dressed, had a brief conversation with Noel about something work related, then walked downstairs.

At the bottom of the stairs, the entire world spun around me as if a giant hand had lifted me and spun me around. I staggered down the hall to the kitchen. I could barely stand up straight. A wave of nausea hit me -- I absolutely cannot stand spinning -- and I made it to the bathroom to throw up.

In the kitchen again, I tried to put my head between my knees to calm the spinning. Henry jumped up on my back and started purring, and he got to join me for my second bout of nausea.

At that point I realized I was too sick to go to work and sent email to my boss and the project managers I've been working with. That's the kind of person I am: thinking about work responsibilities when I should have been thinking about why I might not be able to stand up straight.

Noel came downstairs. I was sick again. He got me the blood pressure machine and we saw that my blood pressure was incredibly high for me (129/96; my typical pressure is 90/70). He gave me a quick stroke check and I passed it, but we decided I should go to the emergency room anyway. I was thinking I was having a bad migraine and they might have good meds for me; as we left the house the visual migraine symptoms I sometimes get showed up which seemed to confirm it for me.

In the emergency room they gave me a neurological check, which I passed. "It's probably an inner ear thing; we'll give you some medication and keep you under observation." I took the medication. Time passed. They let Noel come in and see me, and we were talking about whether Noel should go to his own scheduled doctor appointment and risk having me have to take a cab home, when suddenly the right side of my body went numb, like a massive novocain shot. I knew exactly what that was and exactly what had to happen. I said so.

Noel got the doctor and I massively failed the neurological test. They stuck an IV in me; I think that was Heparin. I lost all sense of time and place. Noel went for his appointment: I thought it was important that he do that rather than just sit and worry and wait for me while they did all kinds of tests. They gave me a shot of Phenargan for nausea -- it is an antihistamine with all kinds of other uses. I guess it sort of works? It was very disorienting. I somehow ended up in a wheelchair covered in some delightfully warm blankets. Hospitals have blanket warmers, did you know? I did not. This sounds like a terrific idea for home appliances. I should look into this.

At Alameda Hospital the MRI is a mobile unit that sits in the parking lot, so they wheeled me out there and helped me get my earrings off (my wedding ring, made of platinum, was OK). For the next hour I alternately lay in the machine enjoying the very calming feeling of the padding holding my head secure, and sat up vomiting over and over. I think I threw up four times, enough that I didn't have anything to throw up in the end. The MRI techs were great, real champs about holding cool compresses to my face and neck and letting me barf it all out. A nurse arrived and gave me another injection of Phenargan to try to keep the nausea down, which did not much help but made it hard to carry on any kind of intelligent conversation like "I feel better now let's give it another go."

The MRI confirmed the stroke: I had a dissected vertebral artery on the right side of my head, fully occluded (that means no blood flow was going through the vessel at all). If you look at pictures of this artery you will see that it runs along the back of the neck on the side and through the spine. Interestingly, it also showed that the artery on the other side that serves the same area was enlarged, so my body had already adapted. This probably kept the stroke from being as bad as it could have been. I was unbelievably lucky.

After the MRI they brought me back to the ER and gave me an X-ray. I managed not to throw up for that one. Then they added another IV port at my elbow and sent me to have a CTA. This showed that the extent of the damage was pretty severe: the artery had dissected from below my shoulder to the very end inside my skull. I was having severe symptoms by then and had trouble keeping still for the imaging. But I did learn that I'm not as allergic to iodine as I thought I was, which is good because they injected it into me and I might have died if I were. I'm still not going to use iodine rinses on my skin, but good news for contrast imaging needs.

Also, when you get the contrast material injected in you, it makes you feel warm all over and especially, mysteriously, in the groin, where you feel like you just peed yourself. Weird.

Anyway, after that, I really needed to use the bathroom, though god knows why since I'd pretty much puked up everything I'd had to eat or drink ever. Back in the ER the nurse helped me stagger down the hallway (I could barely make it) to the bathroom. I managed that part OK, washed my hands, got out the door, and the nurse was not there. I couldn't get any further; I was clutching the walls to stay upright. Then the urge to throw up came over me and I staggered back into the bathroom.

The was the first time anybody has ever gotten angry at me for barfing in a toilet. I'm not sure where she expected me to do it: all over the floor seemed like a bad idea for many reasons. I got back to the bed in ER and they gave me another shot of Phenargan and 2.5 mg of Valium. I'm not sure how effective taking anything in pill form was at this point given the incessant vomiting, but maybe Valium gets absorbed really really quickly.

I don't remember the next few hours. I knocked out from the Phenargan and possibly also from the Valium. Noel came back and sat with me in the ER and I guess read all the stuff about my illness that I had to discover later.

Eventually I woke up right before they moved me to a room in the DOU (Determinate Observation Unit, a step down from Critical Care, but we shared the same nurses). At this point I'd totally lost track and thank god Noel was there to make sure they had my clothes and everything. I gave him my wallet and my work phone (I kept my personal phone with me in case I needed it -- for the foreseeable future I am going nowhere without my phone close at hand). The world was spinning. I think I threw up another couple times. I kind of lost track.

When I got settled in my bed, I felt better right away. They leaned my head back and I could rest against the pillow. Noel had called my parents while I was knocked out in the ER, so we called them again so they could speak to me in person and be reassured. Everybody was telling me how lucky I was. Every nurse and doctor gave me a neuro check and marveled at my swift recovery. My only real loss, by the end of the day Monday, was my balance center.

Some friends came by to see me, which was awfully nice. We hung out and talked and marveled over my roommate, who had arrived shortly after me and turned on the TV immediately. Through the curtains I saw her family had brought her a pile of junk food like chips and oreos. I was not hungry really at all, even though I had not eaten all day and had thrown up everything I had for breakfast. I was so sick that while I was overjoyed to pass my swallow test (to make sure I hadn't lost that ability in the stroke), I was not able to eat more than a single cup of applesauce. They brought me a tray of dinner that smelled horrible, and I didn't eat anything on it.

After everybody left, I barfed that up, too. Including, mysteriously, a large pill I took on Sunday night. I don't even know where that was that I could still throw it up. Gross.

They had to change all my sheets and my gown and everything, but there are no showers in the rooms and you can't wash the IV connections at all, so what I got was a wipe-off with wetnaps. For the record, this sucks. For the rest of the week I kept smelling old applesauce vomit on and off. I'd really just gotten over my aversion to applesauce from having to take ground-up prednisone tablets in it when I was 7 and got poison ivy down my throat thanks to some idiot burning weeds. No more applesauce for me, I guess, if it takes 35 years between aversive episodes.

Anyway. That was the having a stroke part. The next several days were about having had a stroke.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ayse published on May 22, 2013 9:44 PM.

Turkish Knotted Pile Rug Weaving was the previous entry in this blog.

What it's Like to Have a Stroke (Part II) is the next entry in this blog.

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