So, I had a stroke on October 8th. We’d just come back from Matty’s birthday dinner with the kids. A wave of vertigo washed over me, and I noticed that my right arm felt strange. In the span of about five minutes, I lost all use of my arm, and it went completely numb. Luckily I have a very good friend who’s a neurologist. I called and asked, “Is this weird?” He told me, “You should already be on your way to the hospital. You might be having a stroke.”
Now, I’m not really a “hospital” kind of guy. Even after completely losing the use of my right arm I was in denial, chalking it up to tweaking something when I worked out the day before. But Tony’s urgent warning and Matty’s insistence that I get in a car and get to NYU Hospital immediately pushed me over the edge.
In the car, things got worse. I had a slashing headache across my right temple, and my vertigo was getting more and more intense. I saw a sign for an emergency room and bolted out of the car, not realizing I had missed NYU Hospital by about three blocks, and instead had rushed into Bellevue Hospital. I told them my symptoms, still thinking this was nothing, it would pass, and I would be home in an hour. And then I saw the looks of concern wash over the admitting nurses’ faces. I was now holding my right arm with my left, it was now completely numb, limp, and useless.
I was rushed into the acute care area, spoke to a doctor for about 30 seconds, and then heard a “stroke code” called over the loudspeaker. It was for me. My mind was still unable, unwilling to connect that this thing, a stroke, was happening to me. I was wheeled into another room where a flood of a dozen people poured in, surrounding me, pulling my clothes off, taking my blood, blood pressure, asking questions, testing my reflexes, my limbs, lights in my eyes… I was confused, in shock. This is what shock really felt like. I was slowly, finally beginning to realize that they were reassuring me everything was going to be okay while they were all working quickly and desperately to save my life. I was really having a stroke.
The next hour was a blur. A CT scan of my brain that didn’t return anything. A fevered conversation about a drug that could save my life, but I needed to consent to it, needed to tell them now. They call TPA “the clot buster” and they had the smallest of windows to administer it in the hopes it would save me and possibly return the use of my body. The limp, weak, numbness had spread to my right leg at this point. My entire body was shaking as I was wheeled from room to room. I was not only realizing that no one was guaranteeing that my right side would ever work again, but I had now been at the hospital for a while and hadn’t called or texted Matty.
A resident neurologist called Matty. Matty called Tony, I think, it’s all a fog. I remember trying not to cry because I had been parked next to a family of four who was crying. I thought maybe they lost someone that night and how insensitive it would be for me to cry, half-betrayed by my own body, but alive. Everyone agreed that I should have them administer the TPA. So I agreed. I was wheeled to the ICU overnight area, where I was rigorously tested again, and as they administered the medication, I was told that I had to stay in the ICU for the next 24 hours. My blood would be so thin from the medication that a simple fall could lead to a hemorrhage. Noticing the first symptoms to being administered the TPA all happened in under 45 minutes. I was in the hospital for three days.
I regained about 75% of my right side sensation and use within the first eight hours. But we still needed to assess the damage and the cause of the stroke. Endless tests, middle-of-the-night check-ins, waking up to the sensation of my bed being whooshed through cold hallways, being nudged into MRI machines, CT scans, sonograms…. Most friends and family assumed stress or diet. In the end, they found a hole in my heart. A hole that 1 in 4 people have, but nearly never causes a problem. The wall that normally closes inside our heart once we’re born didn’t close in mine. And a one in a million clot, or some other form of blood debris, passed through the hole, into my brain, and briefly wreaked havoc.
I have had an abject fear of strokes my entire adult life. The idea that it could just *happen*. But I had no idea that knowing the signs (I didn’t, but thankfully my friend did) and getting help immediately, being administered TPA so quickly, saved me. I’m now in physical therapy, and my physical symptoms are almost gone. I fatigue more quickly, and my leg is a little shaky after a lot of walking, but otherwise, aces. I’m finding that my brain is still “rebooting.” I lose my train of thought more easily, things don’t come to me as quickly, but that’s also improving. All in all, I had the most optimal stroke. If one is planning on having a stroke, I highly recommend the kind I had and the immediate treatment that followed. In the subsequent weeks, I’ve taken time to sleep, rest, not push myself, but also push myself a little. I know why I had the stroke, it wasn’t a profound wake up call with regards to work/life balance or physical health, but it did give me a glimpse into that space that many don’t often see and get to turn away from. How quickly life can change. How nothing, not even a quiet night of celebrating with your family, eating a little too much, and putting the kids to bed, is guaranteed.
Next week I’m having a simple procedure to close the hole in my heart (simple as far as heart surgery goes.) Please do me a favor, don’t ignore your pain. Trust that you don’t always know best. Getting help as quickly as possible can literally reverse a life-altering situation.
Below are common signs of stroke:
Sometimes a stroke happens gradually, but you’re likely to have one or more sudden symptoms like these:
Numbness or weakness in your face, arm, or leg, especially on one side
Confusion or trouble understanding other people
Trouble seeing with one or both eyes
Problems walking or staying balanced or coordinated
Severe headache that comes on for no reason
If you have these symptoms, call 911 even if you’re not sure you’re having a stroke.