My Stroke experience at 33
This story details the day I had my stroke and what I felt that day. Most people do not like to "own" the stroke they had and call it "my", but I have noticed how different everyone's experience with stroke is. So this is my stroke experience.
On June 8, 2012 my life was turned upside down on a regular Friday workday. I went into work as normal; though I was upset because my co-worker had been let go the day before. My best friend drove me to work, and we had a normal morning conversation and smoke before I went in. I took several phone calls and felt a looming headache, but passed it off as a normal workday headache, since they had been doing construction in our building for weeks, including a lot of foul odors and noisiness. At about ten I felt the headache become deeper in a swift, sharp motion, but again just made the plan to go to the med kit soon to get some Motrin. It really was not an out of the ordinary headache; I have felt much softer and much harder headaches in my life.
I took one last phone call, and at the end of the call with a very nice woman, the fire alarm sounded. I apologized and asked her to call back with any questions, as I had to exit the building. I remember her responding with something like "I would like my card but don't stay in the building to send it to me" and we both laughed. I got up and grabbed my ever important cigarettes and headed out. I remember a little fuzziness when I first got up out of my chair, which again I fobbed off on the construction smells and the headache. I headed down the stairs and immediately saw a friend of mine. As we walked away from the building we talked about our extra morning break via the alarm and how our day was going so far at work: normal conversation. We walked up to another couple of co-workers from my department all talking about the same things.
I was in the middle of repeating what I had just said about the construction workers to my co-worker and realized that the words in my head had warped into something I could not understand when I spoke them, and looked toward my friend to ask if she heard my sentence the way I had. Instead in what felt like a flash I started to think how pretty the friend I was looking at was. And then I noticed the brightness of the sunny morning we were all standing in. I then heard my friend say my name with some urgency and turned back to her. I mentally replayed what she had said after my name and realized she asked if I was ok. In my mind I said I'm ok. My sentence just came out all wrong just now, but again what I heard myself say was slurred beyond any intoxication I have ever felt. There was no dwelling on that though because my attention was all at once drenched in only sound. I felt like everyone was screaming at me, and my head pounded. I realized in what felt like slow motion that only the people I had been talking to were actually looking at me though. I snapped back to the present tense and heard my friend say "no there is something wrong with her", and the look on her face made my brain ask the question are all systems go? Am I ok? She took my arm and her hand was very warm. Not scalding, just warmer than it should be and I looked down at our clasped hands and thought why is she holding my hand? She asked me if I could walk and I felt another clasp only this time of my elbow to steady me and I dimly realized it was my co-worker. I started to walk to the picnic table which is where they were directing me, and I remember looking down at my leg and wondering why I was walking so slow. My brain demanded that my leg cooperate and move but I watched as nothing changed in my gait, and was fascinated by the disconnect; the fact that that this was happening to me had not taken hold of anything in my consciousness. I focused on my empty left fist and mentally requested that it flex, and it did but it was at the rate of honey pouring from a jar.
I realized as I sat down that I was slowed in not only my body but my mind as well. I heard everything happening around me but it was all at a pace I did not have the effort to concentrate on. I next remember a manager that I had only spoken to on a few occasions knelt beside me rubbing my back and taking my pulse. Then two of my co-workers decided to call an ambulance and gave them all the information they could and helped interpret some of my sentences as the operator asked questions. Another co-worker went up for my purse after getting my best friends number and calling her to let her know what was going on. The ambulance came and as more people crowded around me I started getting mad. I still had not fully connected that I was really having a stroke. I knew it somewhere in my head but I was no where near to accepting it as fact. The sirens made me cry and I was mad that someone might notice; plain and simple. I wasn't crying for myself though, sirens remind me of all the times I had to call an ambulance for my mother when she was dying from Cancer, and it is an automatic response to cry when I hear them. When the Paramedics brought the stretcher down and started asking me questions, I answered and I realized my speech was slightly clearer when I concentrated a lot. I made a couple of jokes because that is the way I cope with all stress and it was again, and automatic response that I did not have to think about. When they asked me to get on the stretcher I really thought that I could do it but my body did not respond the way I asked it to. I was able to hide the disuse of my left arm, but they had to take my left leg and pull the dead weight up on the stretcher and that is a sight I will never forget. Some part of my brain started to make alarm sounds and jump up and down at that point screaming that this is happening to me, but again I was distracted by the annoyance that my limbs were not working in front of all of these people. Why do these people need all of my information, just leave me alone don't you understand something is going on. But what? I don't know but these people are distracting me from it! But they are paramedics and that means I should answer. Now I often talk to myself as most of us do, but this felt like private argument in my head like no other I had ever experienced. Like all of my other senses had shut down to take a seat and watch the pending battle, and another set of alarm bells joined the rest of the chorus.
I next remember being lifted into the ambulance and seeing more people in another area outside watching me. I was furious at this point but I know now it was fury over embarrassment and that emotion was magnified to a level I couldn't even react to. They brought me into the ambulance and I concentrated on the two men. One was very nice and explained everything as he did it while asking me general questions about my life. We talked a little about our kids as the young one tried to get a line in me and my answers were robotic. This set off another alarm. Being on auto-pilot while speaking about the three things I love most in this world was an oddity that I could not ignore. I told him he was not in but he kept moving it around and my vein blew. All at once I was angry and concentrating on not screaming at him. This hurt more than it should have and my arm immediately started to bruise in about a two fisted area. Again I should not have felt this intense about it. A blown vein hurts, but I seriously thought about punching that paramedic in the head and only the ideas that the man on the left side of me would stop me and then that my left arm was not working well made me hold off. I was so concentrated on this that the older paramedic asked me if I was ok.
As we got to the hospital I was passed along to three nurses who asked me a lot of questions in what seemed like a fast pace. Again on the inside I was warring with telling the nurses to get the f*&k off me, but on the outside I was on auto-pilot and my speech had returned to intelligible so I was polite and fake in my responses. They had me stripped down and covered in a blanket quickly and it was then I noticed my best friend come in. I was cracking jokes again and she took me off guard. Everything seemed like it was happening so fast and I couldn't comprehend how she got to the hospital so fast. But it has only been a couple of minutes, she's fast! Wait the drive from work to home is twenty minutes and the hospital is about two minutes from home. And the paramedics asked me all of those dumb questions and they weren't there when it happened. How long has it actually been?
When I returned to reality and looked at her I could see the masked fear in her eyes and I thought wow I must look like sh*t! Next I remember her beside me but I was in a different room and she was answering most of the questions. I thought good cause I'm tired. And then I was being asked to sign a paper for a trial and another for an angiogram. Now I immediately thought I knew what the angiogram was because they did one before my heart surgeries. But I looked at my best friend for explanation and opinion and she read me well and gave me both without a word, so I signed. She is one of the very few people I trust in this world and I knew at this point my head was not working right. I densely knew she was asking questions and being that she was an LPN would in general understand better than I, even if my brain was connected correctly. What they were doing was giving me tPA to break up the clots in my head. This is why they say that the quicker you get to the hospital the better. tPA can only be given for up to four hours after a stroke or it can be fatal to a patient, according to the nurses I spoke with. I was also being given either albumen or saline as part of a trial they are doing to see if albumen helps stroke patients in those first crucial hours.
The angiogram was beyond painful. I remember a jarring pain and a scrapping sound like pearls rubbing against each other at a decibel I have never experienced before. I tried to break away from the pain and heard dimly two or three people tell me at one time not to move and grab my head and limbs to still me. The doctor's voice brought a slight bit of reality back and I thought I remember him I talked to him in the ER and he is going to do my angiogram and wait...that's what they are doing now...and they are in my head...and I'm moving shit! I stilled out of pure determination and concentration on the cold. But that backfired and I started an uncontrollable shiver that had them all grabbing me again.
Then I was in a hospital bed, everything hurt and was freezing. The site where they went in with the catheter at my groin for the angiogram, my head, my right arm where the blood pressure cuff was coming to life every five minutes and the left arm that had my IV in it. Oh my God I had a stroke! I'm thirty three what the heck? And I haven't taken my blood thinner pills regularly in weeks. F*&k and I was smoking when this happened. Sh*t! But I'm alive and I'm thinking clearly and I was talking and moving well earlier thank God....but f*&k! I was so tired I fell back to sleep and woke up to realize my best friend was trying to talk to me.
Within days a dark depression had taken me over. No I don't want the curtain open today! No I don't want to get up today. F*&k off with your pills and your bed-pan and your pity! Go away! The only thing I looked forward to was my best friend coming to see me everyday and her telling me about my kids. But she looked weary and sullen every time I saw her, and it would come back everyday that less than a week before this happened she had confided in me that she could not take anything else on in her life. That she needed a break and an overwhelming guilt would put me right back where I started. The fact that I was checking on my motor and cognitive functions everyday in-between feeling an overwhelming exhaustion all the time, didn't help my mood much. By the time I left the hospital I was so happy to get out of there and see my kids that the funk dropped away for a bit.
I had also convinced myself that even though I had suffered a major MCA stroke, that I had walked away clean. In some ways that is true. All of my major functions still work. I suffer from some minor speech dysfunction, a left hand that does not like to cooperate 25% of the time, a super increase to my sensitivity with all of my senses, and some memory loss.
The speech dysfunction is for example trying to say look and actually saying book. It usually is a rhyming word. Or one word out of many comes out slightly slurred when I am talking fast. Or I have a thought and before I say the whole thing I lose it. It is not like before the stroke for example when I would walk into a room and forget why I went there. In that situation there is a thread or a piece of something you can pull on to remember. For me when I lose my thought mid sentence there is nothing there. Its blank and empty.
As far as the memory loss, it is mostly old unused memories. I had an old high school friend contact me and I had no idea who she was. But after talking to her some, we weren't close friends, we just hung out sometimes. But I also had a conversation with my children's doctor about a month after my stroke that I have no recollection of. I think everything remains to be seen. I haven't tried to learn anything major since my stroke and this is the first thing I am writing that has more than a page to it so, we will see. But although I have no major problems, I didn't make it out untouched which is what I tried to act like when I got home. I tried to go back to my norm like nothing had happened. That did not work for long. In fact I went back to work almost exactly a month after my stroke and I found an anger in myself that took all of my daily energy to conceal while at work.
But after time past and I did "get back to normal" or as close to my new normal as possible, with some adjustments to compensate for my detriments, I found a grateful place that has driven me to make some changes in my life. Small little steps and doing things for myself and my family that I thought of as unnecessary extras in life before the stroke. I have had two heart surgeries but it took a stroke to make me see these changes were necessary. For the heart surgeries it was more black or white. I would live or die and I never thought of any kind of inbetween. I was in my early twenties for both of them and living a disabled life never even occurred to me. Now in my mid thirties and having a stroke, I think my maturity brought a bigger reality to light for me.
They saved my life plain and simple; all of them: my co-workers, the nurses and the doctors at South Buffalo Mercy Hospital. The timing saved my life too. I cannot tell you for sure what I would have done had I been at my desk alone since that is not the way it played out. But my first answer to that as a question of what I think I would have done is that I would have tried to hide it. Who knows what I would have done to myself by waiting even mere minutes in the attempt to hide it from my co-workers. And I could have easily passed out or blacked out at my desk. My supervisor would have eventually noticed that I was not ready to take calls at my desk, but how long would it have taken her to get up and check on her employee. An employee who very often leaves her desk to talk to other departments to get answers on pressing questions a caller may have brought up, and has earned the trust to do so.
I am still depressed and am working on that at this point along with all of those changes. But I am able to bring myself out of the depression sometimes just with the thought of how grateful I am.