I suffered a hemorrhagic stroke on September 8, 2010. Almost one year later, I have no physical detriments and have learned to focus on that which is more important in my life... my family and friends.
I left work on September 8, 2010, arrived home and stepped out into the bright sun light. As I looked across our home, I felt myself convulsing at my neck and my eyes started to blink rapidly as I sensed myself helplessly falling to the ground in our stone driveway next to my car. My last thought was that I couldn't get it to stop and I started to worry who would find me and when. According to my wife, she heard me pull into the driveway, but when I didn't come in the house right away, she looked out and saw me lying there. She quickly came out with my son (Austin) to see what was wrong. I was in the midst of my first seizure. She quickly got a neighbor to help take the kids and called 911 to have an ambulance come and assist with me. On the way to the hospital, I awoke in the ambulance to one of the EMT's shaving my chest to apply the EKG leads. Let's just say when you awake in an ambulance to full sirens and lights and being treated you immediately know that it's not a good sign. The next time I was conscious was when we arrived at the ambulance and they took me into the ER. Once I was in the ER, they put me in a room and started to evaluate me and determine what was happening. It was at this point, I went into a second seizure of a grand mal variety. Once they had my seizures under control, they were able to get me into a CT scan where they could determine that there was a significant brain bleed going on. Bleeding on the brain is clinically called a stroke. The seizures were a symptom of the stroke and the active bleeding. In any case, that was the start of everything, as the admitting ED doctor had the head neurology doctor determine the best place for me to be. I can only imagine the conversation he had with my wife that evening, as from what I am told, it was determined that age and strength were on my side that evening, however, in any case, I could easily die as well. Still to this day, I can't fathom the depth of taking that information all in. However, they called in a Medivac helicopter to the medical center and put me on a helicopter flight to another hospital.
Once I arrived, I ended up going through more CT Scans to show that I had a significant brain bleed issue that was over a 4cm x 3cm area. They attempted to put me in an MRI, but being sedated, incubated, and somewhat unaware of what was going on, it took over 5 hours of me being uncooperative until they finally were able to get a successful MRI that was unable to be read due to the amount of blood on the brain. Ultimately, they were not able to see the underlying issue, however they were able to perform several other tests rule out major arterial events such as tumors, AVMs, aneurisms, etc. All guesses were leaning towards a cavernous malformation.
After being discharged and sent home a few days later, I had a follow up visit with my doctor on September 24, 2010. During that follow up visit, a CT scan showed that my brain had continued to swell from residual bleeding and had actually shifted a little bit on the mid line. That meant that the condition was continuing, but again, nothing could be seen to resolve the overall issue and bring forward momentum towards resolving the entire issue. My body was essentially a continuous stroke and we couldn't do anything to stop the continuation of the symptoms other than keep me home, medicated, and hope it would resolve or provide a window of opportunity for the doctors. I was re-admitted to the hospital's CCU to monitor me for the weekend. During this time, they stabilized the swelling, but things did not improve enough yet to determine the root cause. Again, I was discharged and sent home after about two to three days in the hospital. I was sent home on October 7, 2010 and spent most of the days resting from the exhaustion that I was feeling from the actual stroke. During this time, I developed severe pain in my left calf muscle to the point I was unable to walk or stand very well. I spoke with my family doctor who sent me to the hospital to have an ultrasound done to determine if it was a major issue regarding blood clotting or something else. After the ultrasound, the technician stated she not only found a DVT (deep vein thrombosis aka blood clot) in my deep calf vein, but also pulmonary embolisms in every quadrant of my lungs. It was obviously apparent that my health was in jeopardy again. I was taken to the ED and advised that they cannot administer any blood thinners due to my ongoing brain bleed. I was sent back to the other hospital via ALS ambulance to deal with the issue. While there, they knew they couldn't do any blood thinners, so instead they surgically placed an IVC filter into my inferior venous cavity to catch any further PE's that might filter up from my leg into my lungs. There I was again with ongoing issues, frustration, and no understanding of what was truly happening, as the bleeding just would not clear up enough on my brain to determine the root cause so that it could be addressed. I was discharged and sent home again. On October 15, 2010, I started to develop severe headaches. These continued through the weekend, but on Monday, October 18, 2010, they got to a point where I physically became ill. I went back to the hospital. After a CT scan they saw that the bleeding was continuing, my brain was continuing to swell and shift midline enough to cause all of the headaches and other issues I was experiencing. On the Thursday of that week, they did an MRI to determine if they could finally see anything or not. They were finally able to see that a cavernoma appeared to be the underlying issue and made the determination to do brain surgery on me the next morning to remove all of the bleeding and blood product that was on my brain that was causing the swelling and symptoms to continue and to also remove the underlying cavernoma to clear up the condition overall. Finally! After six weeks of thinking I was being sent home to recover, the issue was identified and I was finally going in to have it resolved surgically. My original doctor was at a conference in California and was not available. I was reassigned to a new doctor to perform the operation. In my opinion, it was probably the best thing that could have happened. My life was in the most capable hands possible and we knew it. The day of the operation came and went. I remember being in pre-op to prepare and I was back in the CCU after the operation without any memory in between. They had performed a craniotomy to remove the aforementioned items. After reading what was done surgically at a later time it seems that brain surgery is a very delicate operation and I will pretty much leave to those who are the experts. Basically it is better to not know some things and how serious they could possibly be, as I believe if I had known what I know now my anxiety would have played a much higher role through that day.
Towards the end of the surgery, my doctor stopped to talk to my wife, Lori. He told her that they were successful in removing all of the existing blood that was there from the previous bleeding and that was causing all of the symptoms (brain swelling, shifting, and headaches). They were also successful in removing the actual carvinoma from the good part of my brain to prevent any future issues. During the surgery they were also able to see my brain actually shrink a bit from the existing swelling that was there as well. From this news, it was quickly apparent that the brain surgery was a success and that, with everything removed, I could now finally begin to progress forward and recover from the entire situation.
When I came out of the proverbial fog of anesthesia, Lori was there by my side in the CCU. However, if you ask me, I was lying in a bed in a hallway next to some elevators and people passing by in the hallway on tours of the facility. Anyway, all I wanted was ice and water, but the dietary department brought me a tray and the nurses told Lori that I had to eat. However, I didn't want to. That was up until she lifted the lid to see what they had prepared. My post brain surgery operation dinner consisted of a small circular pizza, French fries, apple pie, and ice cream. I had always joked w/ the nurses during my times at the hospital that they would move me from floor to floor because the other floor was where they had the pizza and anyone who knows me well enough knows that my favorite food is pizza. I don't know to this day if anyone arranged something or not with dietary, but apparently when I heard it was a pizza, my eyes lit up and Lori couldn't cut up the food fast enough or small enough for me to eat it. It was the most delicious pizza I ever ate. I'll probably never know how that pizza was the meal I ate that night, but it's all part of the caring and magic that seems to wind its way in and out of this entire story.
The morning of Monday, October 25, 2010 started early for me, as with all of the checking of vital signs by nurses, etc., I was awake around 4am. The doctor came into my room sometime around 6am and we had a very good conversation on the operation, the post-operative MRI results, etc. Everything that needed to be removed in order to provide an optimistic recovery had been removed. For the first time in weeks, I woke up without any headaches and felt really good. He stood by my side and while I was slow in function and processing everything, took the time to thoroughly answer all of the questions that Lori and I had written down in a notebook over the course of time to ensure that we had all of the information we needed. He told me that I was going to be discharged that day for sure, given his satisfaction with the post MRI results. What great news one would think, however, I knew that there was still a long road to travel after being discharged.
I was extremely fortunate in that the stroke did not have any impact on my physical functionality. The hardest part of recovery for me is facing me as I move forward. I know my past and the skeletons that are part of that. I'm also challenged now in my belief system. In the midst of all of that, so many people who knew me less intimately than I ever knew them came forward and cared, loved, and displayed characteristics to both me and my family that emulated pure love. I hope that in the time I have left on this Earth that I can emulate just a fraction of that shown to me. I've always believed that actions speak louder than words and if that's the case, the world will be just fine as far as I'm concerned, as the actions I have witnessed from those around me are so overwhelming and emulate pure love and concern that I believe can outshine any evil force in this entire world. While I struggle with my own personal beliefs, it is becoming quickly obvious that the love I have been shown is stronger than any other force I have ever experienced.
While difficult to fathom, the type of stroke that I endured statistically has a greater chance of death, the pulmonary emboli that I developed should have put me into cardiac arrest and ultimately death as well. Realizing that I should be dead, I also recognize that I have been given so many new chances at life. I survived a stroke, multiple pulmonary embolisms, and so much more. In retrospect, I have now been given a chance to learn and change and become a completely better and stronger person. There is light at the end of my tunnel and a new ending to my life story can be written. Not many people get that chance. I can only hope to emulate a small fraction of the love I experienced from others around me who didn't know me.
It is almost a year later since I had the stroke and I have successfully overcome many hurdles. I found out that my shoulder will not need reconstructive surgery from the dislocation that I had suffered during one of the seizures. I have met with my doctor in February 2011, who determined after further CT scans that the cavernoma I suffered was a single event and he is 97% certain I will never have the issue again. Today, I struggle with the mental aspects of the stroke, surviving it with no physical ailments, and essentially avoiding death twice. My lack of short term memory is the only remaining symptom from the effects of the stroke, and I continue to strive to be a better person and enjoy every moment I can with my family and friends.