Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chronicle of a Stroke: Day 1

This is the beginning of Al's Stroke story, which I originally posted in my other blog on January 15, 2011.

January 5, 2011

Five days after the New Year, three days into a new school week. We were still winding down from the holidays, and our bags weren't even unpacked from our recent trip up north. Near the end of the work / school day, I received a call from my husband. It seemed a little odd because e-mail is our standard mode of communication during the work day, and we had already bantered back and forth quite a bit. It was also just a little different that he was calling me from his desk phone instead of his cell phone. Oh well, I was sure he just had a quick question about the evening's activities or something.

I answered cheerfully, and he told me he was hoping my co-worker would have answered. He started saying maybe he should explain to her what was going on, and she could relay the message to me, because he didn't want me to worry. OK. I started to feel a little uneasy. No, I assured him that I would be fine, and that he should just go ahead and tell me what was going on. I prepared myself for the worst - by the way he was acting, I was sure he must have lost his job. But I was completely wrong.

He began by telling me that he had been having short periods of numbness and tingling down his left side for a number of weeks, once or twice a day. He hadn't mentioned it because he didn't want to worry me. But now, he was having increasing numbness on his left side that hadn't gone away. He was calling to tell me that his boss was going to call 911. He didn't want me to be blindsided by getting a call saying he was transported by ambulance to the hospital. But he seemed very calm and collected, so I was sure the 911 call was just a precaution – they didn't want him driving himself to the ER with limited sensation on his left side. He had also had similar symptoms a few other times: once during a time of high stress in his life, and the doctors concluded it was just anxiety, and another time when he developed Bells Palsy, where the left side of his face was numb and limp for a few weeks. What I didn't learn until later was that he had already fallen down and hit his head, and that his boss saw that the left side of his face was drooping.
OK, I promised not to panic or worry as I hung up. Then I quickly tried to come up with a plan for my 4 kids who were just getting out of class and making their way into the school office. I had to figure out a way to quickly tell my co-worker what was going on while fighting back a little bit of panic, all without my kids noticing. She, of course, told me to just go and not even worry about getting my desk cleared up, etc.
I went into the copy room to make a phone call. I got through to one of my besties, Heidi, and asked if my kids could come over after school. If my kids could live anywhere else, it would be at Heidi's house – her kids are my kids' best friends, they live in a gigantic, wondrous house filled with fun things to do, and they have a fabulous sledding hill in their back yard, as well as a frozen pond for skating just across the road. I told her what was happening, and she hesitated only for a second – being a busy homeschooling mom of 8! - and said, “Sure, bring them over!” So, I quickly herded my children out the door, trying to do my best to answer their questions about what was going on, I simply said, “I have to go and meet Daddy somewhere for a little while.” They pressed me for more details, but I told them they would have to wait.
Once the kids got settled with Heidi, I headed back across town toward the hospital. However, I hadn't eaten much since lunch, and it was going on 4 PM. I figured the ER visit would take a while and I should get some food so my blood sugar didn't plummet. I tried to hit the McD's drivethrough, but there was a tremendous line, so I just ran in to get take-out instead. All the while, I was thinking, “This would seem kind of selfish if anyone knew that my husband was being whisked to the hospital in an ambulance.” But knowing what I know about my blood sugar levels, if I don't eat regularly, I can become an incredibly emotional mess. And I was already close to it.
However, I was able to keep myself from panicking. I talked myself down, reasoning that there was most likely a simple explanation. At moments, I almost felt annoyed that we had to deal with another issue. I was afraid, but reasonably sure that it would turn out to be nothing and we would have spent our precious evening in the ER instead of warm and cozy at home. I figured that maybe I would be able to take the next day off if we were a long time in the ER.
Once I arrived at the ER, I was led to a room where I found my husband's coat, but he had already been taken away to have a CT scan. I was glad for a few minutes of quiet before they wheeled Al back in. The first thing he said to me was, “The lengths I go to to get a day off of work!” He told me that his boss already told him to take the following day off, and he had made an appointment to see our family doctor first thing in the morning. At this point, I was still sure that they would be running a few tests and come to the conclusion, once again, that this was somehow anxiety-related. I decided that, yes, I would take the next day off, go to Al's appointment with him, and spend the rest of the day at home with my hubby. That would be nice.
Shortly after Al's return from the CT scan, an X-Ray technician came in with a portable X-ray machine. “Wow,” I thought, “They're pretty quick with these tests.” Not the slow-moving ER I had experienced in the past. I was hoping we'd still be able to get done and get the kids to bed at a reasonable time.
After the X-ray, I was able to get a bit closer to Al and I noticed his left eye was wide open. The Bells Palsy a few years earlier had left it slightly more wide open than the right, but at this point, it was even more noticeably wide open. And his smile was droopy on the left. But he was still my goofy husband, talking about getting to stay home from work the next and playing his new video games from Christmas.
While we waited to see doctors, he had to go to the bathroom. We pressed the call button, and in came a male nurse. He brought over the urinal and started to undo my husband's belt buckle. I stepped in and said, “I can help him.” And then Al added his 2 cents: “It's OK, she's had my pants off before.” Ahem. He definitely hadn't lost his sense of humor.
Once we took care of the potty, I noticed his lips were dry, so I dug out my recent Burt's Bees purchase: “replenishing lip balm with pomegranate oil.” I spread some on his lips and put the tube back in my purse. A few minutes later, I realized that the lip balm was actually kind of pink and sparkly. What a nice touch!
Not too long after, a neurology doctor showed up and told us that the CT scan and X-ray didn't reveal any problems. They had Al do a few tests, including strength tests of his right and left limbs. He was able to lift both left and right legs, and left and right arms, although the left side seemed notably weaker. The doctor left and returned shortly with another neuro doc, specifically a “Stroke Fellow” (sounds funny, doesn't it?). That's when they started using the word, “stroke”. I was sure they were mistaken, and that eventually they would come to the conclusion that this was all due to stress or some funny side-effect of medication.
Once the doctors left the room, Al and I had some quiet, and the room was dark. Suddenly, Al became very drowsy. “I hope they don't mind if I drift off”, he said, and fell asleep as soon as he had said it. I assumed that he was starting to feel the stress of the day and just got tired. However, when the stroke team returned, they were much more concerned about his marked drowsiness, and his deteriorating sensation in his left side. They asked him once again to move his left leg and arm, and he was barely able to do it. They ordered a second CT scan – a CTA, which uses a contrast, inserted through the IV, to get a more enhanced picture of the brain, and they would also scan his heart and major arteries from heart to brain.
Once again, the CTA came back negative. “See? It's not a stroke,” I thought, figuring that at least they were getting closer to the diagnosis. The stroke team continued talking to us about our "options": did we want to give Al a TPA, a clot-busting drug, just in case this was a stroke that was not yet showing up on the CT scans? "How should we know? You're the doctors!!!" (I only said that in my mind, but I thought it was kind of ludicrous that they were asking US what we wanted to do.) Administering a TPA carries a small risk of brain hemorrhage, a risk we weren't willing to take unless the doctors were certain this was a stroke. And they wouldn't know that until they could do an MRI, for which they had him on the waiting list.
Meanwhile, the orders had been put in for Al to spend the night for further tests. He got a room rather quickly, and once he got settled, I went home for some sleep. I had called Heidi earlier on in the evening, and she offered to keep my kids overnight and get them to school in the AM.
I got home, had something to eat and went to bed at around 11. I slept fitfully for about 3 hours and then I woke up at around 2. I called Al's nurse and she told me he was sleeping peacefully, but that he had "returned" his dinner, due to the dye from the CTA scan making him nauseated. Poor guy.
After I got off the phone, I succumbed to the anxiety and emotion of the past several hours and had a good cry. I think I was slowly starting to realize that there may be something serious going on with my hubby. I started to fear the worst. What if he died while I was gone? What if he drifted away and I could never talk to him again?
I prayed. I got on Facebook to see if there was anyone to chat with, I did some laundry, I tried to sleep some more. Nothing worked, so I took a shower and got ready to go back to the hospital at the very reasonable hour of 5 AM. Once I got there and found out my husband was still alive, I breathe a sigh of relief and dozed off in a chair next to him for the next few hours.

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