Sunday, April 07, 2013

In which I have a stroke and thus come closer to dying than I ever have... (Part 1)

Not my head
Update: title change.

I had a stroke in late January, only a few days before my 51st birthday. I'm kind of young for a stroke, but I couldn't just have a heart attack like everyone else, no I had to go and be different again. FML.

It all started in the early afternoon. I was jumping rope, when I felt this weird, painful popping sensation high in my neck on the right side. At first, I actually thought it was my ear popping, but the pain wasn't in my ear (though it was pretty close). Then I thought maybe it's some kind of TMJ pain, because I have some serious TMJ clicking on both sides anyway. But I figured out that the popping had nothing to do with my jaw.

That was followed by the worst headache I've ever felt. I had no idea what was going on, but I decided to persevere and finish my workout (only had a couple of minutes left anyway). And I did, still noticing no symptoms except the headache. So I ate something, swallowed a bunch of ibuprofen, and laid down for a nap. Those three things -- food, ibuprofen, and sleep -- had always cured any headache I've ever gotten, so I was pretty sure the combination would work on my super-headache.

Well, this time they didn't. I got up about four hours later, took some more ibuprofen, and decided I'd try going in the hot tub for awhile and seeing if that would relax me and get rid of the headache. That didn't work either. Through that point, I still hadn't noticed any symptoms except for the really bad headache. I'd been able to finish jumping rope, which requires considerable bilateral coordination, I'd walked around the house just fine, I'd changed into my bathing suit, had no trouble getting the big, heavy cover off the hot tub, got in and out just fine, put the cover back on, and got dressed again. Still no problems except the headache.

Then the weirdness started. I was in my kitchen getting ready to do the dishes, when I felt an arm bumping my back. "Whose arm is that?" and "Who's pushing me?" was what I thought. It seemed to me that the kitchen was suddenly very crowded, even though in reality my nine-year-old daughter and I were the only ones in the room. And the arm that was bumping me was actually my own.

My torso felt an arm bump it, but my arm didn't feel a torso. I didn't know where my own left arm was. I didn't realize it yet, but I had no feeling and no proprioception in my left arm. But I still needed to wash the dishes, so I kept at it. Since I was wearing long sleeves, my first task was to push my sleeves up to my elbows. I pushed up my left sleeve with no problem. Then it was time to push up the right. For that, of course, I needed my left hand. I could still bend my arm at the elbow, so after a couple of tries, I managed to get my left hand onto my right wrist. But I could only do it by looking. I couldn't tell where my left hand was unless I looked at it.

That was my first realization that something was wrong. I thought, "My proprioception is out of whack!" Then I watched in growing confusion and fear as I moved my hand to my wrist, and, unable to grasp the sleeve and push it up, watched my hand slip off again. I don't know how many times I did that, but it seemed like dozens. It's hard to describe what it's like when part of your body suddenly completely stops functioning. Even after I lost hope that my hand would work, I just kept trying to do the same thing over and over again. I was scared. I didn't know what it was, but I knew something was very wrong.

Then I collapsed. I still don't really know why. I felt a little dizzy. Did I lose consciousness? I don't think so, actually. Because I didn't topple over, I sank straight down with a big "Thump!" I heard the sounds very clearly: "THUMP!" I hit the floor. "Thump-rrrrrrroooolllll!" I knocked over a two-liter bottle of soda that we were keeping on the floor by the fridge, and it rolled across the floor. I think probably my left leg went numb and stopped being able to hold me up, but I don't know.

After that, I just stayed on the floor while my wife called 911. I don't think I even tried to get up. The operator started giving her questions to ask me. At that point, I realized that they were asking me stroke questions and that most of the answers were bad. That's when I knew I was having a stroke.

It actually was kind of like this (although less ridiculous, since I didn't shout, shouting not really being in my nature):

It's been two over months, but that's actually still pretty uncomfortable to watch. Kind of gives me flashbacks.

I'll talk about what happened in the hospital in Part 2 (and beyond). And I'll address my current condition later as well. I'm pretty OK, actually, pretty much intact. People keep telling me how lucky I am. Whenever they do, all I can think is "Lucky people don't have strokes." But among people who did have a stroke, I'm one of the luckier ones.

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  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s like someone coming back from the dead and describing how it felt when dying. Scary. And if not so much ‘scary’, it is, to be sure, thought-provoking and reflective. It made me think about how I’m going to ‘go’. I hope it’s fast, even fast and ‘dirty’ (a horrible, disfiguring act of terrorism or war, etc.). I don’t care, as long as it hits hard and fast -- ‘BOOM!’--I’m gone.

    I wish you a full recovery.

    All the best to your and your family’s peaceful state of mind in consideration of the residual effect this horrendous experience must still bear upon all of you.

    - Paul

  2. It sounded to me like the tale of a brave man with his head well screwed on (if that's an acceptable expression in the circumstance, and if it means the same on your side of the pond as it does here, i.e. well-grounded).

    I know strokes can differ greatly in their effects, but I took it as a lesson into what I may look forward to, any time, as I'm 20 years older than you and this is the way Nature has told other members of my family when their time was up. Excellent that yours isn't, specially as (from a selfish point of view) I've only just got to know you. May the life-force sustain you as long as you find it welcome!

  3. Vincent,
    It means the same thing over here (although usually we'd say "screwed on right"). Thanks for the compliment. I don't know about "brave," though. All I did was get sick and not die. (Which I'm also glad of.)


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