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My Stroke

August 11, 2014

I am ... A Survivor

My Stroke

I had really two strokes. An MRI found an old clot in my basilar artery and a tear which caused a bleeding stroke in my basal ganglia. The tear was bilateral in my carotid arteries. This story is about my path so far.

I had a bleeding stroke on March 27 2013. Given it was bleeding I couldn't have tPA to prevent damage. I also had a clot in the basilar artery at the same time. Prior to this time I was not feeling well at all. For 5 months before I had hurting feet. That passed with a trip to the foot doctor about 3 times. He even said then that my recurring problem left him wondering if "something else was wrong". Every time I went outside in the cold my feet were freezing but would warm up with a hot bath and being inside.

During this time I fell from a ladder and hit my rib on a stone patio and bench. I was sore in my rib cage on the left side but that too stopped hurting and I thought nothing of it. I went to work and taught a full day. I am a university lecturer. I did sometimes feel dizzy and tired but that too would pass. About 2 days before my stroke when I walked my left calf of my leg would tighten when I walked and my right leg calf became swollen. During this time I stupidly thought that chiropractor adjustments would help me so I had those too. On hindsight, that was what probably caused the bilateral tear of my carotid arteries and led to bleeding in my basal ganglia.

One night I went out for dinner and had two glasses of wine. I didn't know it but on the train coming home my left hand went numb and that too past. When I was walking home after dinner my voice momentarily went robotic. On hindsight were these TIAs? When I got home that night I had two more glasses of wine and went to bed. In the late morning I got up and vomited and I noticed very severe double vision in my eyes and the side of my face went a bit numb. I told my husband when he asked what was wrong that I think I am having a stroke. He did the tests and my speech was fine and I could talk normally. I said that we should get to the hospital. What I realise now is diplopia was really bad and was making it hard to walk. I stupidly had him call a cab instead of an ambulance but we got to the hospital in 15 minutes from the time my husband called. When I got to the emergency department I had to be wheel-chaired in and was seen right away, being about 4 am in the morning. I had a CAT scan right away which proved inconclusive but the doctor said to me that I would be treated as if it was a stroke. I was hoping it was only vertigo like my brother-in-law had recently and my mother had 20 years ago or more. An MRI revealed I had a clot and a bleed. I was devastated! During this time I was up and talking but my speech slurred a bit more. I thought that I was lucky because the next day my husband was to fly off to Italy for a conference and if the stroke had happened 1 day later I would have been all alone.

So off to the stroke ward I went. I still had very severe double vision, which would last for 3 months. I still have it 1.5 months later, but only when I turn my head right do I see it in the side. I was so depressed in the stroke ward! I honestly believed that the tubes they put in me were not water but poison. Everybody around me was much older and just before I left to go to the rehab hospital my left food turned blackish-blue. A doctor was called and in a few hours it returned to normal. While I was in this ward I had physio 3 times a week in my bed. I was in the ward for a week. During that time I failed the swallow test and had to have a tube in my stomach. I was also diagnosed with diabetes 2. The tube was removed two weeks later.

After 1 week I was sent to a rehab hospital where people were younger than I am. I had physio, occupational and speech therapy. I was very depressed being away from my husband and 2 dogs and my double vision was hurting my rehab even though I wore a patch for it. I honestly thought the nurses and doctors were trying to kill me. I even asked a doctor that one night, and I thought he said yes but on hindsight he probably did not know what I was saying because my speech was slurred and I was talking and still am from what feels like a half of a vocal cord. In the rehab hospital I was in a wheelchair. I had a catheter in for 3 months and at one point Iwas put on a high blood pressure pill that caused me to violently vomit and make my speech really bad. Given everybody was intent on killing me I resolved to pretend I was sleeping by keeping my eyes shut at night but being wide awake. Needless to say I did not get much sleep! I also tried to pull out my tubes, thinking again it was poison and the nurses and doctors wanted me dead. I was to stay there for 3 months until my foot turned blue again and I was shipped for an emergency scan back to the acute hospital. A scan of both legs revealed a huge clot in my left leg and two smaller in my right. A scan of my abdomen saw a mass on my ovaries which afterwards was operated on turned out to be cancerous. I was then moved to a part of the hospital where they decide where a bed is free and then move you. I was there for two nights. When the doctors told me about the scan of my legs and ovarian mass I was very very depressed. In front of the doctor I was suicidal.

After 2 nights they moved me to a vascular ward. I was there for over 1 week and a half during which I had a CAT scan which confirmed the clots in my legs and the scan. I was discharged to home because I refused to wait for the emergency operation at the rehab hospital. The doctors wanted the clot to go down so they waited. They also had to get all the team together. When I was home my foot really turned blue despite being on injectable heparin so a doctor came round to the house and told me I had to be re-admitted. All this in me I was waiting for an operation. I was admitted to the gynaecological ward for another week and then discharged home again with injectable heparin. My operation was 1 week later and I had to be fitted with an inter-venous filter the day before it. Finally the big day came for the operation. The day before the anaesthetist came and told me that I would most certainly need a transfusion and I would most certainly need a bed in the high dependency unit. It turned out that I needed neither of them. I felt no effects despite the surgery having to be under general and the mass being 5 cm. it turned out to be cancerous.

This necessitated 6 rounds of chemotherapy, which I hopefully ended at the end of January 2014. I have had many CAT scans since and thankfully they have all been normal. I guess the silver lining in all this is that I survived a deadly stroke and at no time with the operation or chemo was I in pain or had nausea. And without the stroke they would have not found the cancer! After the surgery the radiologist tried to take out the ivc filter but could not as it had clots in it. One month during the chemo and after the operation it was removed. The oncologist just gave me one drug for the chemo--carboplatin--due to the stroke. I continued every day of the chemo with my exercises and have never so far been tired or had nausea.I am now wearing compression stockings and am taking Plavix everyday day. Immediately afterwards I was found to have slightly raised blood pressure and cholesterol. I am taking Losartin for the blood pressure and Simvistatin for the cholesterol. I am allergic to aspirin. At one point I was taking a daily Venlaflaxin for moods but I stopped it when I started the chemo.

How am I a little bit after the stroke. 1 year and 5 months later. I have mild paralysis on my left side including my face. I left hospital in a wheel-chair but now walk unassisted in the house and with a cane inside. I have a private physio who comes in once a month and in the interim I do the exercises everyday that she leaves. I am now medically retired. I also go to the gym twice a week and swim then too. I have good days and bad--I try not to think about the cancer, which really depresses me, on top of the fact that rehab is coming so slowly despite all my efforts. But if it weren't for my husband, family, friends and neighbours and the astute doctor who sent me for the scan I don't know where I would be today. I had a stroke when I was 53 and now I am 55. I am in despair at times because of all that has happened to me. The hospital stays and negative doctors' remarks haunt me to this day.

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