November 1, 2016 was the last normal day of my life.
I spent it complaining because I had an early morning meeting and a late afternoon team bonding.
November 2, 2016 started out like any other day. I had a team meeting to go over logistics for a large upcoming holiday event; the rest of the day was to be copacetic.
After the meeting, I ran over to Target to pick up some headphones for a toy drive that we were doing at the aforementioned holiday event. As I pulled my keys out of the ignition, I noticed that my right hand felt numb – not like it had fallen sleep numb, but completely numb. I remember holding my car keys in my right hand as my flopped my wrist back and forth thinking how weird it was.
Then I walked into Target.
After about 15 minutes of unsuccessfully searching for headphones, I left the super store to drop some event linens off at the dry cleaners. As I drove there, I remember wanting to text my friend to see how his day was but I couldn’t remember his name. “Strange”, I thought, “I must be tired” and continued to try to recall his name to no avail.
Two minutes later, I pulled up to the dry cleaners with 15 table cloths in tow, dragging behind me as I carried them in a heap through the front door.
“Phone number?” the clerk barked at me.
I suddenly felt paralyzed even though I wasn’t. I dropped the linens to the floor and knew without speaking that I couldn’t say my phone number. I just grunted.
The clerk came around front to pick up the dropped linens and handed me a slip of paper to write down my number. My hands were shaking as I started to write my name…
“No, that’s not right!” I thought as I motioned for more paper.
This happened over and over. The clerk stared at me, flabbergasted. I’m sure she thought I was on drugs. I paced back and forth trying to gather my thoughts and words. At one moment, I thought back to that reporter who’s segment went viral because she butchered her words beyond recognition. They said she had a stroke. Then everything clicked.
Holy shit. I AM HAVING A STROKE.
A few minutes later, I decided to call my sister who works about five miles away and who’s boyfriend is a firefighter. As I searched for her contact information in my phone, the names all looked funny to me. I found it based on the dancing girl emoji I put next to her name. She didn’t pick up and I was irrationally mad. I called my mom next.
Talking to my mom was a blur. I still couldn’t speak well, but she knew something was seriously wrong. She kept asking where I was and what was happening. As hard as I tried to get out words, any words, all she could make out was “I don’t… I don’t…I don’t… I don’t…”
Thankfully, I could understand my mom clearly, who gave me instructions; “go into a store where you know someone (I do the marketing and events for retail centers) and hand them the phone now.” I stumbled, hyperventilating, into Zinga and literary shoved my iPhone into the manager’s face. I could hear my mom on the other end, panicking, saying “the girl who just walked in is my daughter. She needs you to dial 911.”
Within the three minutes that 911 was called and the ambulance and firefighters arrived, I fully regained my ability to speak. A few minutes later, while being examined by the EMTs, I lost it again.
The EMTs said they couldn’t find anything wrong other than the fact that my blood pressure kept jumping up and down. Based on that information alone, they took me to the hospital.
The ride was nauseating. I remember being surprised that the driver ran lights and sirens; I didn’t feel critical. In fact, I felt fine. I wasn’t in any pain at all. I was mostly annoyed that I couldn’t speak or recall my birthday, addresss, etc.
Once at the hospital, I was rushed in for an MRI and two different CT scans. Back at the ER, I was given fluids, oxygen and poked and prodded with a ton of other stuff I don’t know the names of. I was given speech tests and asked to pronounce words like “feather” and “huckleberry”. Still stuttering, I kept asking what happened and if my family had arrived.
My mom and dad were finally allowed into the room just as the off-site neurologist was dialing into the video chat. Thank God because I was about to have to make the most nerve wrecking decision of my life…
Without seeing the MRI yet, the neurologist surmised that I had an acute ischemic stroke and offered the medicine, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). Here comes the fun part: tPA should be given within four hours of the time symptoms first started so according to the neurologist “we’re facing a time crunch. You have 30 minutes to decide.” Thanks, doc. But wait, there’s more… one out of 20 patients receiving tPA, bleed out. Nearly half of those patients who experience a hemorrhage, die.
I sat there quietly, fighting back tears, in absolute shock of the decision that I faced, as my dad asked the neurologist and surrounding nurses and ER doctors all the questions I wished I could ask. After getting the answers, he looked at me as if I was defiant pre-teen about to be scolded and said “you are not getting that drug.”
“Okay…I don’t want to bleed.” I managed to blurt out in agreement.
Everyone chuckled and it was decided – I would take my chances without tPA.
Soon after the video chat with the neurologist ended, a hospitalist came in to inform me that he believed I didn’t suffer from a stroke, but rather anxiety. My dad and I looked at the each like “anxiety? Who is this guy and WTF is a hospitalist?” By the way, a hospitalist is a general practitioner that works in a hospital opposed to an office.
Later, the hospitalist came back with his tail between his legs saying, “Welp. I was wrong. Turns out it was a stroke.”
“And we’re going to admit you.”
As I was waiting to be admitted, bored out of my mind, the ER doctor pops her head in casually and says “Oh, by the way, you should stop drinking water because we may transport you to Alexandria for surgery to remove to clot.”
I’m sorry. What?
Surgery?! You cannot just drop a bomb like that and then walk away, but she did.
An hour slowly ticks by and then then ER doctor strolls in, “yea, we’re going to admit you now.”
Okay, so no surgery? Just a night in the hospital? Sweet.
Up on the third floor of the hospital where I spent the night, I’m hooked up to more IVs and these leg compressors to prevent clots (that also made sleep impossible). I’m given heparin shots in the stomach to break up to clot in my brain. Three weeks later and I still have the bruises from the injection sites, but, hey, I’m not complaining.
I’m told to “relax, get some sleep, no more freaking out” by the nurse.
In my head I’m thinking “you’re bananas.” If I could I speak, I would have to told her to kick rocks, but I couldn’t speak without severely stuttering, so you know, I just kept my mouth shut and gave her the evil eye.
After five difficult hours of sleep, I’m woken up by the nurses who want to take my vitals and about a gallon blood for lab tests.
A speech pathologist comes in for an assessment. I need therapy. Duh. Next the occupational therapist and physical therapist stop by; I get a gold star (their words, not mine).
A tech comes in to do the echocardiogram and bubble test. It’s painful. Everything comes back great.
A few hours later, I’m released with a couple of prescriptions in hand and not a clue as to why this stroke happened in first place.
I’m thankful to be alive as stoke is the fifth leading cause of death in the US. I’m lucky to have recovered so quickly even though I still deal with some side effects, such a fatigue, issues with memory and word recall, and numbness in my arms and legs. But I think the worst side effect of all is the fear that comes with not knowing the reason or cause, because that’s something I think about every day, no matter what I am doing, where I am, or who I am with.