So, on Thursday, July 28, I had a 9:00 doctor appointment as follow-up for the vertigo that had brought me to the emergency room the previous Monday. My clinic is quite close to my work, so my plan had been to go to the appointment, then see how I was feeling and probably go straight to work afterward.
But when my alarm woke me up, I had an awful headache. I managed to get myself out of bed and knew immediately that I would not drive myself to the appointment, but would go to the emergency room instead. I did manage to use the bathroom, and I didn’t exactly have vertigo like before, but I definitely felt like I was going to faint. I rushed back to the bed and laid there with my heart pounding, wondering what to do. Then I noticed that my right arm and right leg were numb and tingling. Had I been sleeping on that side, so they were just “asleep”?
Some said I was smart to go to the Emergency Room. Well, that part didn’t take a decision at all. I absolutely knew this fit the criteria on my discharge papers that I should go back. But should I call the paramedics, or should I get a friend to take me?
Where I was maybe not so smart was that I decided I did NOT want the paramedics to come when I was still in my Sleep Shirt. And they wouldn’t have room for a stretcher in my bedroom, with all the books on the floor! So vanity made my initial decision for me. I was feeling slightly less woozy, so I got up and put on some clothes. I did not go so far as to take a shower — I was really afraid I’d faint if I tried that.
I did wake up my one-day-less-than-17-year-old son to tell him I was going to the Emergency Room rather than to work, so I didn’t know when I’d be back. I wasn’t quite sure he really heard me! (This was early for a teenager.) I put together a little bag with some changes of underwear just in case they admitted me.
Okay, next step: I thought I’d get some breakfast. Maybe I’d feel better after eating? My standard breakfast is oatmeal, so that takes a little time to cook. I went to the sofa and laid down every minute or so and managed to get the food made. As I was eating, I noticed that the right half of my face — particularly my lips — was numb and tingly. That freaked me out completely. Now I was sure I was going to the Emergency Room.
I still wasn’t sure though, whether I could have a friend take me or if I should call the paramedics. I decided to call my doctor’s office, since I definitely wasn’t going to make that appointment. By then, I was feeling considerably better. I think the tingling had mostly passed, and I was lying down on the sofa when I made the call. They cancelled the appointment and told me to go to the hospital, and that I could have a friend drive me.
I called a couple friends, and found one who was able to take me and left right away. (Thank you, Kathe!) I tried to figure out what to bring and made sure I had everything I wanted. Then I thought I’d print a map for her to the nearest hospital. Somewhere while I was printing out the map, I started feeling awful again. I actually called Kathe, and if she hadn’t been only two minutes away, I would have called the paramedics. But she showed up right away. She helped me walk unsteadily — I couldn’t walk in a straight line — to her van, and I asked to lie down in the back seat instead of sitting up. She got me to the hospital quickly.
And they got me in right away and looked me over. (Fair Oaks is a great hospital!) At first they didn’t seem very alarmed. They had access to the CT Scan that was done on Monday, so didn’t think it needed to be done again. But since I had that tingling on my right side (and that continued), they decided to do an MRI.
While they were doing the MRI, I was praying that if something was there, they would FIND it. Because I absolutely knew that I was not okay and I would have a really hard time believing these were new migraine symptoms.
Later, when they did send me for a CT Scan, I figured they must have found something. Sure enough, they told me I’d had a stroke, and they were going to admit me “overnight for observation.” Okay, I guess they tell you “overnight” at first to let you down easy! I was super glad I had taken the time to eat breakfast, because I didn’t get any food until after they admitted me at dinnertime. They did four tests that first day. I think the other two were a sonogram of my heart and an MRA (magnetic resonance angiography) of my head.
When I had dinner, my roommate on the other side of a curtain said it smelled delicious. She asked what it was, and said she was on a liquid diet, so she was enjoying my food vicariously. I asked how long she was on a liquid diet, and she said For the duration! It turned out (from her phone conversations and such) that she was dying of cancer, but had just had surgery to drain her stomach from fluids that were making her sick, which had her feeling much better. She told friends that earlier that week, she thought she was dying, but thanks to the surgeon, now she was hoping to walk unassisted in her son’s wedding next month. She was an inspiring Christian lady, and definitely nipped any desire I had to complain in the bud right at the start!
The next day was my son’s 17th birthday, so I was sad to be in the hospital, but still rather dazed. (And his Dad had picked him up the day before, so I knew he was in good hands.) They didn’t let me eat, because they had two more tests scheduled. This was an MRA of my neck and a TEE (transesophagal echocardiogram?) of my heart. For the TEE, I had to swallow an ultrasound probe, so they could get an ultrasound of my heart taken from the esophagus. They were still looking for a reason I’d had a stroke. Oh, and they sedated me for the TEE, so though I remember the unpleasant experience of swallowing the tube, I don’t remember anything else about that procedure.
Anyway, the good news was that my heart is strong and healthy. However, the MRA showed the cause of the stroke. I’d had a Vertebral Artery Dissection. The neurologist described it to me as a brusing of an artery in my neck.
I immediately made the connection with the lowgrade headache I’d had for the last four weeks. I had noticed one thing about it that was different from my other headaches — I was super sore in my neck, right behind my ear. I also remembered how my neck had been hurting pretty consistently since ALA, when I tried to sleep on the plane and slept in a bad position. (That decision not to bring my neck pillow was a bad one!) I had chalked the headaches up to lack of sleep, but I now think it was a bit more than that!
That second day had some additional drama in that my roommate really wanted to be discharged. She had tickets to see Hairspray, and she explained to the (male) nurse that it was super important for her to really enjoy what was left of her life, so she would probably leave whether she were discharged or not. We were all very happy when she was indeed discharged!
Now that they knew what was going on with the stroke, they had me on a Heparin IV and Coumadin pills. They said I would stay in the hospital until the Coumadin was at a therapeutic level. Fortunately, I hadn’t had any more numbness or tingling since the first day. I had decided that in the hospital was a good time to stop my caffeine addition (three caffeinated drinks a day), and I had only had one meal Thursday and Friday anyway.
But Saturday and Sunday were taken up with awful headaches. I took as much morphine as they’d give me, and then they switched to Dilaudid. I felt better Monday, then started having the awful headaches again — throbbing, super-painful headaches that went away after about ten minutes — but then came back again. After a very bad day with that, the doctor reasoned that the Dilaudid might be causing the headaches, and switched to Percocet. After about a day, those super-intense headaches completely disappeared, thank God!
So from there, it was a matter of waiting for the Coumadin to get to a therapeutic level. I didn’t have a lot of energy, but managed to do a little walking. Dear friends came at different times, and I also got calls from friends, so I felt loved and supported.
Finally, on Saturday, August 6, my 10th day in the hospital, I got to go home!