884. Eight hundred eighty-four. Days. Two years, five months and two days. One hundred twenty-six weeks. And then it was Memorial Day, 2014.
Not a single day in the past two and a half years have I ever been able to forget about what happened or leave it behind. It’s been tattooed on my being and even if it isn’t in plain sight, I know it’s there. Every morning I wake up, I have to find my center of balance. Every time I shower, I feel the two very distinct halves to my one body. Every time I get a headache, I wonder if it is another stroke. I know the numbers. I have studied them. I decided I would not be one of them while at the same time, I feared them and in some ways, have waited for them to arrive at my door.
Monday. Memorial Day. I woke up feeling mostly fine even though I spent the weekend in bed, too exhausted to do anything at all really. The Thursday before, I was having a great day and then quite suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. It was as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the place I was in. I thought I was having a panic attack. The next day, my energy was low but I felt a little better in spite of breaking down crying. I felt better as the day went on and then came home and went to sleep, staying in bed pretty much until Monday morning. I was exhausted. Just getting up to go to the bathroom seemed daunting and challenging. I ate here and there and made sure I drank lots of water. I thought I was just tired, perhaps stressed. I started getting very depressed and that just made me want to stay in bed more. It really is an ugly cycle. Sunday night, I tossed and turned, not sleeping at all.
Monday morning, I woke up feeling pretty ok. My balance was off a little, but that happens sometimes. I didn’t think much of it. And then, quite suddenly, my vision changed. It wasn’t really blurry. It wasn’t really double, just something in that area that made it all but impossible to read anything on my phone or computer. I didn’t think much of it, and figured I just didn’t rest enough the night before and needed to sleep a bit more.
But something was nagging at me. I couldn’t get comfortable. I decided to watch a video. It was also out of focus. I thought of going to the hospital, but I felt like I was overreacting. The nagging feeling would not go away and so I drove myself to the hospital. I expected them to tell me I as being silly and send me home, but instead, the put me in front of everyone and before I knew it, I was having blood taken, EKGs and CAT scans before they put me in a bed in Critical Care. I didn’t tell anyone I was at the hospital or even that anything was wrong. I was sure I was being overly dramatic and didn’t want to worry anyone.
Only when the results all came back that there was nothing wrong, I sent out a text to my sister letting her know I was in the ER and nobody needed to come down. I wouldn’t have said anything at all, but we have a history in our family of people not letting others know when something in going on and we have promised to stop that. I only sent the text so she wouldn’t get upset with me when she heard about it later. I think she was a little upset in any case, but she didn’t say anything.
I was told everything was fine and to go home, and then I was told to wait for just one more test. They wanted to do a CAT scan with contrast. I was actually getting the scan when Laura arrived. I was told the results would be back in thirty or so minutes. They took over two hours. I was told I had a right vertebral artery occlusion. I was told I was in the process of having a stroke. They gave me three treatment options and I was told that at least one of them was not possible due to the amount of time that had passed. It has to be started within four hours and it was closer to twelve. There was the option of a procedure, where they would go into my brain and remove the blockage. Then there was a medication called Heparin, which would keep my blood from coagulating. It was my understanding we would start with the Heparin and then go to the procedure if that didn’t work. A stroke and brain surgery. My day was not going as planned. I called my friend John and as soon as I heard his voice, I broke down. I broke down again when he arrived at the ER. He is one of those people that I just can’t hide from. He stayed a few hours and went with me when, shortly after midnight, I was moved from the critical care part of the ER to my very own room in the ICU.
I starting having intense pains in the left side of my body, the side where I never have any pain. The ICU nurse, Ken, explained that the new stroke was likely causing my brain to reroute yet again, possibly “fixing” what the original stroke had done. We went through my family history and then I tried to sleep. Later, he gave me four random items to remember. Five minutes later, I could only recall two. Even prompted, I never remembered the other two. I think it is funny that I can recall entire conversations from that night, even the one when he first told me what to remember, and the one where he tried prompting me, but I can’t remember all four items. Thinking about it would give me a headache.
My blood was taken every few hours to check the coagulation levels. I was connected to a heart monitor and forbidden to get out of bed for any reason. Due to the fact my blood would no longer coagulate fast, I was in at a high risk for internal bleeding if I fell or even bumped myself hard. Given that my balance was off, I was put on absolute bed restriction. I was connected to so many machines, I wouldn’t have gotten up anyway. Heart monitors, blood oxygen monitors, the IV, blood pressure machine and who knows what else. I was exhausted but could not sleep.
Unlike the first stroke, this one did not cause any tissue damage due to the fact that there are other arteries supplying the same area with blood. Last time, the blood supply was totally cut off, causing that tiny part of my brain to die. This time, other arteries picked up the slack. While I would have some issues, all would most likely be ok. It was in the morning when I found out that the procedure was not an option. The blockage was in a very hard to reach place and the risk to me was just too great. They told me there was no way they would consider it.
A few visitors came and went and I was waiting to have an MRI to show more detail about what was really going on. It was ordered around 5am Tuesday morning and I had it around 2pm Wednesday afternoon. The MRI confirmed the blockage and the stroke. It also confirmed that there was nothing, absolutely nothing that could be done. I thought the medication would break it up, but it just prevents it from getting worse. Around 11pm on Wednesday, I was sent home, with a blockage in one of the arteries in my brain.
I spent the past few days staying with my friend John. I have to say that in the short time I have ben here, he has become my local person and I really don’t know what I would do without him. I stayed with him the last three nights, and against his wishes, I decided to come home today and be on my own. I was torn about being alone, but I have to face it sooner or later. It was the dark cloud looming and I needed to just hit it head on. So I’m home. Not sure how I feel about it, but trying it out.
A lot of people have been calling and texting and in all honesty, I am just not really up for people. With a couple of exceptions, I don’t want to see anyone. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I text with a few, but only because I have to. Right now, I am not even up for seeing my niece and nephews, the people that always make me feel better. I hear myself speak and I think I sound so quiet and timid. I know this is nothing like the last stroke. I can walk. I can type. I can read, at least when my eyes cooperate. I know it could have been a lot worse. I don’t think I’m depressed, I think that the adrenaline of the week has come to an end and I am just revisiting and processing what happened. I think the part of wanting to be alone is just from days of being poked and prodded and having no privacy to myself and the stress of what was happening. I just need to get back on my feet and into my life as quick as possible.
My life now will be different. My diet has to change a little to be even stricter. Alcohol is a thing of the past. Cardio and being in excellent shape has got to be a priority. Being kind of in shape is no longer an option. It’s all good stuff, just wish it didn’t have to be under these circumstances.
And I have to stop thinking about the future. At least when it comes to strokes. Every stroke increases the chances of future ones. I know that, and I just have to live with it in the way we live with the fact that every time we get in the car, there could be an accident or we are one mile closer to that inevitability. Maybe we are, but living that way just doesn’t work and I need to keep reminding myself of that when those thoughts come into my head. I have never been one to let anything slow me down, and yet I feel like I keep running into this one wall over and over. Time to find a way under, over, around or through. Maybe a combination of them all.