Happy Anniversary! Your gift: Stroke
A young woman's story of sudden stroke while on an anniversary getaway with her husband away from home. She learned to be an advocate for herself when the medical community told her nothing was wrong. She overcame stroke with strength, humor, and faith.
On March 13th 2009, my husband, Derrick, and I were enjoying a weekend retreat for our anniversary in San Antonio to attend the Luminaria art festival and St. Patrick's Day festivities. We spent the day like any other tourist walking around the River Walk and St. Mary's Street. That evening we finished up the night by hitting the Holiday Inn hotel bar for a few drinks before going to our room. I had two long island ice teas and Derrick had water. We left the bar and went to our room. Derrick and I were intimate and immediately afterwards something went terribly wrong.
It was now about midnight and the date has shifted to March 14th. Immediately following intimate relations with my husband, I went completely lethargic, everything went dark, and my body was tingling on both sides from head to toe. My tongue felt fat and I could barely speak. I was able to mutter to him "Call 911". I felt like I was about to die. The room was spinning heavily. I was having double vision. My hands and feet were stiffening up and curling inward. My breathing was erratic. I was vomiting. I could not support myself and definitely could not walk. Knowing that I've had two long island iced teas before this night and never had this reaction, I was sure something was wrong but didn't know what.
The paramedics arrived. Derrick and I both described to them the symptoms noted above. Their response was that I was having a panic attack and hyperventilating. They said that I simply had too much to drink as they make the drinks stronger there in San Antonio. They told Derrick that if I was their wife that they wouldn't bother bringing me to the hospital as I just needed to control my breathing and sleep it off. They specifically discouraged us from going to the hospital saying that I was just having a panic attack and hyperventilating. They left.
I continued with the same symptoms despite attempting to control my breathing and sleep. I continued to vomit. My symptoms did not change. At around 6:00am I told Derrick to call 911 again because I strongly felt that this wasn't right. My symptoms were not because of a panic attack, and we needed to seek medical help. Derrick called out the paramedics again to our hotel room.
A different team of paramedics arrived. We described my symptoms to them. They seemed unconcerned and responded with 'Well what did the first team say?" and "What do you want us to do for you?" They were not willing to consider beyond what the first EMT suggested. We had to forcibly tell them to take us to the hospital. They loaded me up on the transport bed all the while being flippant about my symptoms asking me if I was using drugs and making comments about having a drink that night. While in the ambulance they told me not to vomit in the ambulance because they'd have to clean it up and in turn gave me a bag to use. All that was going through my mind were my three children at home and that nothing can happen to me because then they would no longer have a mother.
Derrick followed the ambulance to Baptist Medical Center in downtown San Antonio. I was taken out of the ambulance and placed in the hallway of the Emergency Room. I was having involuntary convulsions of my hands and feet and all symptoms mentioned earlier. I was there for about 20 minutes before I was acknowledged by the ER staff. The ER visit resulted with the ER physician telling me my symptoms were all metabolic and therefore would just subside with time. He again said it was because I was hyperventilating and because I had two drinks earlier (now well over eight hours ago). He said "what, do you think somebody put something into your drink? I can run a toxicology test on you but by the time that is through then enough time will have passed that you'll be fine". He completely dismissed me. We were discharged from the ER on the basis that they didn't see anything emergent to admit me for, despite the fact that I was still completely lethargic and home was a 5-7 hour drive away depending on traffic. We expressed this to the ER doctor and were still discharged.
Derrick put me in the van and we headed home. I could only handle being in the front seat for about an hour or so of the drive before I needed to lie down. He removed the middle row of chairs in our van allowing me room to lie down on the floorboards. I also had limited bladder control. When I needed to urinate there was little I could do to control holding it. Because I was still lethargic we had to pull over and Derrick had to get out and help me use a bed pan in the van when my bladder was full. We made at least three stops like this on the way home.
We arrived home. Despite me sleeping most of the trip, my symptoms were still very much present. Derrick had to literally carry me into the house, up the stairs, and into our bedroom. We called our family physician's after hours number. After three hours of waiting for a return call, we were told to go to Denton Regional Emergency Room by our home. Once again we left to go to the ER. Derrick had to carry me out of the house and got the help of a wheelchair once we arrived at the hospital. The same scenario happened. We were told that there was nothing emergent to be admitted for and we were sent away with instructions to follow up with a neurologist the following day.
March 15th we had an appointment with the neurologist at 1:45pm. I was still unable to walk on my own. Derrick had to support me to get me to the office. Once in Dr. Ravindran's office I had the aid of a wheelchair. Dr. Ravindran met with me, listened to my symptoms, did a few observations, and told us that we needed to return to the ER. He called Denton Regional ER and told them that he was sending me over immediately for some imaging tests. He spoke directly with the ER physician and explained that they sent me away the previous evening.
Upon completion of six MRI scans and three hours straight in the MRI machine, Dr. Ravindran was able to determine that I had a brain stem stroke due to a right ventricular artery dissection. The symptoms I had were very classic stroke symptoms and because the stroke was in the brain stem that explained every symptom I was having. There was a consultation with several physicians to determine if I needed to be flown out to Dallas for emergency surgery or if I was to be admitted in ICU at Denton Regional. Ultimately the decision was to admit me to ICU as it was determined that the surgery could be too risky and do more damage than good.
I remained in ICU for three days. I stepped down to the regular floor for one day and then moved to the physical therapy wing for about a week while they attempted to bring anticoagulants to therapeutic levels. I was discharged from Denton Regional on March 25th.
Bottom line is that despite doing everything right on our end to seek medical help immediately we did not get the medical attention in that crucial three hour window after a stroke. I had very classic stroke symptoms and two EMT teams and two ER physicians failed to diagnose stroke thus essentially robbing me of potential crucial fast treatment that could have eliminated lasting stroke symptoms. I was sent away multiple times in the most crucial time following a stroke- sent home where on that drive anything could have happened and I very easily could have had a secondary stroke with fatal results. Because I was only 31, stroke was not even considered and instead, I was treated like somebody who was just looking to have a good time and over did it.
I clung to my faith and a positive attitude to get me through this. Humor was also helpful. I laughed at myself and watched a lot of comedy central to keep my spirits light. I was determined that I'd be able to do everything I was able to do prior to having a stroke. I counted myself blessed because there was no permanent paralysis and I knew that it easily could have been so much worse.
Presently, I have returned to my local university to finish up my bachelor's degree. In my senior year, I currently hold a 4.0 GPA with the university, I've been inducted into a few honor's societies and most recently I was given the honor to join a social psychology research team. Unless I tell people that I am a stroke survivor, they have no idea and are often surprised by my accomplishments despite such an injury.
I've learned to be an over-comer. I've learned how strong I truly am. I've learned that despite life's challenges I can come out stronger than before. I've learned especially that I need to be my own advocate for my health and keep pressing the matter when those in positions of authority insist that there's nothing wrong. Trust yourself.