A Stroke Survivor's Story
Still Stroke Free After 22 Years
I had a brainstem stroke when I was 40 years old. Because of my age it went undiagnosed in the emergency room. Have not had another stroke for 22 years and am in fairly good health; I still have short term memory deficits, muscle spasms and tiredness.
I was studying for my orals and completing my Ph.D. in April of 1989. I was working on the school computer several hours a day and I began to have blurred vision and my left arm was going numb. I went to the eye doctor 2 days prior to the stroke and he thought it was eye strain, although I also had a very bad neck ache which would not go away either. When I went to see one of my professors the next day to practice for the oral exam I couldn't remember anything I had studied. The following night at about 1 am I woke up with a really loud buzzing sound--something like a train sound getting louder and louder in my right ear. Then I felt an explosion in my head where the headache was located that dispersed throughout my brain--it felt cold like icicles but there was no pain. I tried to sit up and discovered that my left side did not work. I had nausea, I was in shock and I couldn't walk. I felt that I would die if I did not stay awake. I knew I was having a stroke but I could not communicate this to anyone.
My boyfriend got me to the hospital emergency room and the stroke was misdiagnosed as an allergy to monosodium glutamate. I literally passed out as soon as they got me on the table. My temperature was down to 93 degrees and I was out on the table for a few hours. When I awoke, I could sit up but had no feeling in my body.
I complained to the doctor at the university on the following Monday that I still had no feeling in my left side, but he said that was typical from the MSG. A few days later I was still vomiting, the headache had not been alleviated and I couldn't function. The doctor decided to have me take a CAT scan and an MRI and they found some lacunae along the posterior portion of my brain and damage in my cerebellum.
I was home for several months after that. I slept almost continuously the first month and could tolerate no noise. I dragged my left leg. My handwriting was very poor--I was left handed so this was a problem. I gained a lot of weight from the medications that I was taking over the summer. I had no physical therapy whatsoever. In the fall I began to have muscle spasms--until that time my muscles were fully contracted in my left leg.
I had difficulty remembering things, word finding problems, emotional lability, muscle spasms and jerky movements, along with tiredness, among other long term term effects from the stroke. I felt like my brain was a file cabinet but I could not reach the information inside. This is still true to this day.
I take medication to prevent another stroke including blood pressure medication and muscle relaxers. So far, I have not had another incident and I consider myself very lucky. The doctors were never able to determine the cause of the stroke. However, one of the doctors that I saw over the years did not believe that I had a stroke and I had to have another MRI to convince him. I found that because of my age at the time there seemed to be a reluctance in the medical community to consider that this was a possibility. They thought I was just too young to have a stroke, hence the misdiagnosis.
Over the years I have found that more and more young people are having strokes. I have also read stories in the Stroke Magazine that many people are misdiagnosed in the emergency room when they arrive with symptoms. I find it amazing that the medical community still has trouble diagnosing stroke when the symptoms are so obvious. I had all the symptoms, but they were ignored and I was sent home. I discovered shortly thereafter that with the type of stroke that I had, I had an excellent chance of having another one within a day or two afterward. I think it is a miracle that I survived.