WHEN MY HEART BECAME WHOLe
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
Waiting in an Emergency Room for hours is not an uncommon experience.
You wait and see people rushed into the back by a flurry of nurses, and you wonder what has happened to them.
On the morning of December 4th, 2008, in Dallas, TX, I was one of those people rushed back into the Emergency Room.
In the early morning of December 4th, around 2:00 am, I woke up feeling sick and nauseous. At the time, I assumed I was coming down with the flu and quickly went back to sleep. Then, a few hours later, I awoke to a piercing sound in my ears. Still very sleepy, I brushed it off and went back to sleep again. I'm not sure what the time was when I woke up next, but I remember the sunlight coming through my bedroom window, and Mother Nature was calling. At that moment, I knew something was wrong, but I was not sure what it was.
When I stood, I noticed some weakness on my right side. I am in no way a morning person nor the most coordinated, so feeling uneasy in the morning was "normal" for me. I shuffled to the bathroom and tried to steady myself on the counter. I wanted my arm to go down, but it went up and out. Still unsure what was happening, I called a neighbor friend, Shawn, who came right down. He had a key and let himself in. There was some conversation on what to do next.
Neither of us thought something serious was happening. Shawn called a nurse friend, and he said to go immediately to the Emergency Room. Then, during the drive to the Emergency Room, the feeling of nausea I had earlier that morning came back. We stopped five times on the way as I got sick on the street below me. The final time was right outside the Emergency Room in the ambulance bay.
When we arrived at the Emergency Room at Baylor Hospital, we knew something was wrong. We just had no idea what it was. So, before Shawn left me to park the car, he handed me a clipboard with an intake form to complete.
When he returned, I told him I could not complete the form as my hand and arm were not working well. So, he reported that to the triage nurse. Rushing into the treatment area, I saw a blur of people sitting in their chairs waiting for their turn for the nurse or doctor to see them. Before I knew it, I was sitting in a wheelchair surrounded by five nurses.
No one explained to me what was going on. As a nurse typed, I answered questions, and another took my blood pressure; yet another was on the phone talking to whom I was unsure. The nurse kept saying STAT to whomever she spoke with on the phone. The final one put a white pill in front of me and said, "Take This!" It really was an Alice in Wonderland moment. My only question was, "What is it?" She said it was aspirin, and I needed to take it immediately. So, I took the aspirin as instructed.
I could tell each nurse they had a role to play; I would not learn what they were doing while helping me for some time.
From this point on, much of the day is a blur. Blood tests, questions, blood pressure cuffs-blood pressure 210/180, a few more of the same questions, CT scans, MRI scans, medical students, medical interns, third-year residents, even more, questions, nauseous some more, nurses to help me clean up, and waiting.
After five hours, a doctor sat with me. He was the Chief of Neurology; I recall him being a kind man. Straight shooter and did not gloss over anything. He told me I had a stroke, a spontaneous vertebral artery dissection. He explained that an inner layer of my vertebral artery had torn away, causing a blockage. The doctor asked if I had been in a car accident or had any other trauma. I had come to learn that most dissections happen because of trauma. Around 4% of people have a connective tissue disorder that may cause a dissection. I had neither, so this was a real mystery.
Additionally, he informed me that the MRI showed five other strokes I had had in the past. My initial reaction should have been shocked, but I was comically surprised. I was 37 and had a stroke. Let alone six strokes. After a lengthy conversation, he left, and it hit me while I had a few minutes to myself. I had never been more scared for myself, and the tears started coming down my face. Shawn came back, and I brought him up to speed; we were both in disbelief. So, I asked him to make a phone call.
Over the next five days, I was in the Neurology ICU. I was on blood thinners and blood pressure medications. I was hooked up to too many wires and tubes and could not get out of bed or use the bathroom without assistance. I didn't sleep much either; every fifteen minutes, a nurse did what is called a neuro check. Translate-they put a flashlight in your face to ensure you are still doing okay.
Friends and family were all there by my side. My mom flew in from Kansas City and was tremendously supportive, but I knew she was terrified for her son. That kind of fear only a mother can feel. I was lucky; all symptoms subsided rather quickly, and I left with only a minor deficit, which resolved within a few months.
There is a silver lining to my story. The call that Shawn made was to someone I had been dating for a few months. When Brian heard what was happening, he was right there and never left. Brian was a medical resident who was kind and gentle with my mother. Brian took all the time needed to help her understand what the doctors and nurses were saying. At that moment, I knew I had found that special someone; he didn't have to be at the hospital with me; in the grand scheme of things, we had not known each other very long. We had only gone on a handful of dates. I would not have blamed him if my health scare was too much for him to handle. But he proved me wrong. I am happy that he became my husband on October 7th, 2014.
The critical part of my story is that I had no idea what a stroke's symptoms were—paralyzed at that moment without the knowledge to respond as quickly as we should. If I had, perhaps, I would have acted sooner. If Shawn had, maybe, he could have acted sooner. It is so important that everyone knows when and how to get help.
The acronym for identifying a stroke is FAST - Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time to call 911. The key is speed, don't wait like I did to see what might happen. Everyone is not as lucky as I am.
MY HEART IS WHOLE!