A week ago, I was laying in a hospital bed on the 6th floor of Rex Hospital. The area known as 6 East is
I had a stroke.
It's a really weird thing to say. In fact, when I asked a close group of mommy friends to pray for me (on the very short list of people who knew what was going on), a girlfriend said, "Only old people are allowed to say that!" Which is this idea most people have, and it's not totally untrue, but it's (obviously) not totally true either. I'm 31, and according to all the doctors, nurses and staff who saw me last week, I am as healthy as I can be. I don't smoke or do drugs. My cholesterol and blood pressure are low. I don't take birth control bills. I don't have any pre-existing conditions or hereditary risks. My heart & arteries are free from blockages and holes. Which is probably why, when I happened to mention the "weird symptoms" I was experiencing to my kids' pediatrician, she never said the word stroke. It didn't make sense, it couldn't possibly be, but I knew she was concerned, and she pleaded with me to take my symptoms seriously, and without her ever saying the word, I could tell she knew something was dangerously wrong.
My symptoms didn't fit the normal picture we are all shown of a stroke victim. I wasn't slurring, my face wasn't drooping, I had no headache and I was able to walk & balance fine. I had trouble speaking, but I was aware of the issue and was trying to compensate & cover it. I was calling people I know well by the wrong name, and couldn't think of the right words for things - not totally off-base for an over-tired mom of two little ones, right? I was foggy, disoriented maybe, so much so that I couldn't think of how to get to very familiar places, but I knew enough to plug the directions on my phone to get me there. I had trouble seeing, but figured it was from sleeping in my contacts or maybe I was overheated. No one could see anything wrong with me. No one, including me, had any inkling that there was something serious going on in my brain. I actually repeated the words of the triage nurse, "I might be having a stroke", to my husband and a friend, very nonchalantly while driving myself to the hospital. But when the neurologist turned to Ben and asked, "Does her smile always look like that?", reality set in, and that reality was scary.
I didn't fully understand what a lot of it meant, but I could see the concern in the staff members faces and the swiftness with which doctors & technicians were moving me from test to test, that told me they were taking this very seriously. It wasn't until a third person suggested the possible diagnosis that it finally sunk in. I was 31 and I'd had a stroke.
Now, before you go panicking like I did, there's varying degrees of strokes. Mine was considered a TIA (transient ischemic attack) or a "mini stroke". Don't you love how they use the word "mini" like it's this adorable little minor stroke? Like I'm supposed to be way less scared because it's only a little baby stroke, right? Hmmm, not so much. TIA was a new term for me, so here's the lowdown - they typically produce stroke-like symptoms but no long lasting effects. [For reference "loss of vision" and "trouble speaking" are the two things I said that waved a big red flag for the woman checking me into the ER. As it turns out, those are scary things that should always always prompt you to seek emergency medical attention - immediately #themoreyouknow ] Once I was already in the hospital, I experienced some numbness and weakness in my right side, but thankfully it was almost fully resolved by the time I was discharged.
While we can't really be sure (or at least that's what they tell me), it's likely that this TIA occurred because a blood clot blocked an artery for a short period of time. There's no real medical reason why I would have a blood clot, which means they can't say for sure it will or will not happen again. So when the pamphlet they gave me says "Good news! Stroke is largely preventable by reducing and controlling your risk factors," I'm like LIAR!!! But I guess the good news is that there's a reason they're all so baffled by my case, and that's because it's really rare for there to be no logical explanation. I take that to mean that, because you know me, your odds are really low of having the same thing happen. You're welcome.
I guess to make a really long story not so short, I am in this weird emotional place right now, and possibly a weird physical place but who can really be sure? I have a lingering pressure in my head, which I like to say is because my brain is working so hard. [I actually read that, in young people, the nerves near the affected area can try to learn the jobs of the damaged nerves, so I'm more tired because my more little nerves are doing two jobs] I'm really thirsty, at least partially a result of my body trying to flush out all the contrast dye they had to use for the MRIs. I'm waiting on the results of a few blood tests, which would tell us if I have a clotting disorder of some kind (unlikely that I wouldn't know it by now, after having two vaginal births, but you never know!). And the only possible link anyone can think of is the fact that I have an IUD, so I'm waiting to discuss all of that with my doctor tomorrow. But beyond all of that, I had this really really major scary thing happen to me, and nobody knows why or how or if / when it will happen again. That's frightening for my own sake, but especially for the sake of the two tiny humans I care for on a daily basis. A friend said something like, "it sucks to feel like your body has failed you", and that's kind-of where I'm at right now. I hate medical mysteries, I hate not having answers, but it sounds like I may just have to give this one to God and trust that He has a plan, which may or may not involve future TIAs or even full blown strokes, but He's going to take care of me through all of it. Writing that down, reminding myself of His mercy over my life, is really the best medicine, isn't it y'all?
I've been really on the fence about saying something publicly regarding all of this. A few people close to us know, and those who need to know because they care for my children, but I've kept it pretty private and I'm not totally sure why. On the one hand, I don't want people thinking every time I forget a word or a name that I'm having another episode. But, the flip side of that is that the more I'm able to educate those around me, the better chance someone will notice if and when it happens again. And really, if this helps even one person re-evaluate stroke symptoms and look at themselves or their loved ones a little more closely, that's all I can really hope for. There was a billboard on Capital Blvd. for awhile that said, "Time lost is brain lost," or something morbid along those lines, but it's true. If you suspect even for a second that something is not right, call 911 right away. They can do blood tests in the ambulance and have a stroke team waiting for you at the hospital so as to make the most of that precious 3 hour window. OK, this is super heavy ... Honestly, I don't need or want pity, even though this whole entry might sound a little "woe is me"; it was cathartic. I needed to really be in my feelings and take a good hard look at the whole situation. But I covet your prayers: for me, that God will calm my fears and remind me that He is in control of all of this, and of course for my healing; for the doctors, that they will be granted wisdom in reviewing my results and making recommendations for next steps; for my family, that they will be patient with me as I continue to recover from all of this, physically and emotionally, and that my sweet husband, especially, will have the strength to pick up all my slack, as he has been; and for everyone involved, to accept the fact that we might never know the "why" of this situation, but that God has a plan and His protection is my greatest assurance. I'm ok, I swear. And I'm pretty sure that Fudge Round is calling to me...