Trust your instincts
On Labor Day weekend 2011, I was involved in a wildly entertaining gossipfest on the phone with one of my best girlfriends. I had been on the phone, cocked against my left ear, for at least an hour, back and forth between her and another friend, all the while cooking dinner. All of a sudden I noticed something wrong with my left eye. I couldn't see properly out of the bottom portion of it, like someone had blacked it out with a magic marker. I got off the phone and commented to my husband that I think something’s wrong with my eye. Right away I'm thinking retinal detachment and how I hate all procedures involving eyes. My husband blew me off and said, “Go get your glasses, you're fine.” So I walked around the house for a bit searching desperately for my glasses that oddly, I could see on the table but couldn't really process that that particular thing was what I was looking for.
After I have no idea how long, I seemed to come to my senses and 'found' my glasses. Put them on, no difference. Maybe a Xanax will help. I do suffer from anxiety and I tend to write everything that happens to me off to anxiety so even I fluffed it off.
I kept cooking dinner although now I wasn't hungry in spite of the fact that it was almost 10pm. I wrote that off to the headache I felt brewing probably from waiting too long to eat. Still mildly panicked about the vision thing, I called my girlfriend back. Now I told her, I think something's wrong with me. I don't feel right and it doesn't feel like anxiety does. She talked to me, tried to calm me down, and later told me that I did still make sense, but all of a sudden I felt like I was going to vomit so I hung up the phone and ran to the bathroom. Let me tell you something, I do not vomit. Ever. Not in 25 years. At the time of stroke I was 37. That's a long time but here it was, and I wasn't going to be able to avoid it. But somehow I did.
As I sat there on the toilet bowl trying to breathe and calm down I reached for the toilet paper. At that very moment my left hand and arm went dead. As I screamed to my husband "honey, I can't feel my hand" I'm thinking, oh crap, but I need to wipe! (I'm a lefty) This time off to the hospital we went. By the time I got there the numbness had traveled to my face and left lower leg and foot and again I felt like I needed to vomit.
The stroke work up started immediately, right up until they asked what medication I was on. Once they heard Xanax, I was written off as a panic attack and told to just calm down. He said "your pulse is rapid and your blood pressure is high." I responded with yours would be too if you couldn't feel the left side of your body. I have suffered panic attacks since the age of 14 and never once lost vision, feeling or experienced nausea and NEVER sought help in an ER. I know what the cardiovascular effects of an anxiety attack are - ll that tingling paresthesia from lack of oxygen. It's not my first time at the rodeo, but I'm not on that ride right now kid is what I wanted to say to him but I could see it was pointless arguing. I had arrived there thinking they would help me and ended up walking out AMA because if you're telling me it's anxiety then I can go home and panic for free. I figured it couldn't be a stroke because they wouldn't take chances like that with cerebrovascular health, right? I talked it over with my husband and gave him strict instruction that no matter what I say, if this progresses, bring me back.
Fortunately, symptoms were subsiding or I wouldn't have left, the headache was progressing though, and the numbness in my hand became transient. I stopped my low dose birth control immediately and ran to the neurologist and my general practitioner Monday morning, who both confirmed a Transient Ischemic Attack but nevertheless were not shocked at the lack of concern by the PA once hearing about my panic disorder. They were, however, dismayed.
In hindsight I did have some warning signs. For a few weeks I kept having this feeling like I'd slept on my left arm wrong and I'd have numbness or weird sensations like a string wrapped around my big toe but nothing was there. I also got into my car one day and for the life of me couldn't figure out how to turn on the heated seat. To the point where I pulled the car over and stared at the instrument panel baffled. That lasted about 2 minutes. I wrote this all off to anxiety, just like everything else.
My biggest lesson is know myself, trust myself. I knew something was wrong. It took me a long time to get over that 90 day fear. Now I'm living a 5 year fear but I'm trying hard not to let it control me. 25% chance is pretty high if you ask me but reading all the other stories and knowing that my family and friends know the signs and will act quickly gives me comfort.