Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The second time I woke up mad

A year ago June I had a massive ischemic stroke.  Now I have to check in with a neurologist every three months.  Sometime after a check in, I’ll think of another question I’d like to ask, and keep it in mind for the next time.  Last time Dr. Wong asked me if I’d had any more stroke symptoms.  I asked what these symptoms are like and he asked “What happened last time?”  I told him I went over like a felled tree.  “Well,” he said, “that’s a symptom.”  We both laughed.  When my cardiologist asked me the same question a week later I told him the only symptom I’d ever experienced hadn’t reoccurred.  He liked my story.

That’s exactly what happened.  I took our new rescue Cairn, Euba, out for a walk.  I came back in the front door and crashed to the floor.  I couldn’t move anything and could barely speak.  I was quite unconcerned.  Eventually my grandchildren stood around looking down at me.  Then my brother-in-law came in and wanted to know what occurred.  I didn’t answer.  He picked me up, put me on the sofa and went outside to wait for Jan; he knew she would be home shortly.

When Jan and Shelly came in from their errand Jan went straight to the phone and Shelly, the nurse, assessed stroke before Jan was done dialing 911.   The ambulance was soon whisking me off; the EMT fellows told Jan not to keep up.  The last thing I remembered was being taken off the ambulance.  Probably around 6:30 pm on a bright, cloudless June afternoon, and I thought “it’s really dark.”

Jan and Shelly showed up right behind me and they and the stroke team pinpointed the time of the “incident.”  Jan had called Tom to say they were on the way home shortly before he found me on the floor; she looked up the time of the call on her cell phone.  The doctor asked if there was a power of attorney, Jan said she would go home for it.  The doctor said don’t bother, you need to decide about using a clot buster.  Jan figured I would like to live so she took the remaining 50% chance on the clot buster.

The first time I woke up I looked to my left.  There was a doctor.  Except he was split in half, head to foot, right between the eyes.  Half a doctor.  I looked right.  Another doctor.  Split right down the middle.  No head.  Left.  Same thing.  Right.  Same thing.  “Wow.  How interesting” I thought.  When I asked Dr. Wong, months later, it was the clot on my visual cortex.  The headless doctor had his head tilted down and to his right.

I have vague memories of being trundled through hallways, put through a CAT scan, an MRI, more than once.  I recall saying “For this I quit smoking.”  Beth, Shelly and Jan were all there for that and insist I was asking for a cigarette.  Wrong.  There were no nouns in what I said.

Eventually I really did wake up.  A nurse was shining a light in my eyes and asking what it was.  She pointed at her watch and asked what it was.  She pointed at the clock on the wall and asked what it was.  I didn’t know the word. Later I asked Dr. Wong about that, right in the hospital.  That was the clot on  language center.  The nurse kept waking me with that damn flashlight and her questions.  First I strained my whole self to recall the words.  But then I snapped at her “If you’ll just tell me, I’ll know!”  She did, and I hung on tight to those nouns.

In a few more hours I woke up enough and thought enough to realize I did not know one single noun past the three the nurse gave me.  I had adjectives, but no nouns.  I was really angry.  More angry about the nouns than about how weak my right side was.  When Beth and Shelly came to visit I had demands.  I wanted my red sneakers.  I said red.  I drew a shoe.  I wanted a book.  I drew that.  Which book?  A blank book!  I needed to start writing stuff down as fast as I learned it.  Especially what the doctors were telling me.  I’d write that down as fast as I could.  If I couldn’t remember it all I’d ask them to come back and tell me again.  I wrote down the name of every noun I saw and could think of.  

I was so unhappy about the nouns that I would talk around a word.  I used words I didn’t remember seeing since I read them in a book in college.  The physical therapist walked me up and down the hall a few times, using the IV trolley for a cane and a wide white strap for support, and said I would need therapy.  Whatever.  I wanted to get back and write down physical therapy before I forgot it.  The speech therapist came in to assess me.  She didn’t really believe me about the nouns.  I could define all the words she asked about and when I explained elbow grease to her she said I passed her assessment.  I wouldn’t have known elbow or grease  if she hadn’t said them.

I put the book away when I came home from the hospital.  I asked people to be patient while I remembered words, and they were.  I have most of my nouns handy now and seldom have to stop and fish, or ask.  A while back I did have the need to tell a chauvinistic old man he did not know the difference between patronizing and apologizing, but it took me three days to remember the word patronize. I missed that opportunity, but I have the ammunition if he ever sends another scurrilous email to the township.  I work out three times a week, but my heart will never truly be in it, and someone else will be carrying my bags.

 I asked Dr. Wong what became of those two clots and he said they break up and stuff up the capillaries in the brain.  I have pieces of those two clots left, one on vision, one on language.  He said they could break loose and start travelling.  If I’m lucky, he said, they will go through my liver or kidneys, real good clot blusters.  If not, they’ll make the round trip and get me again.  I asked him how fast clots travel.  “As fast as your heart beats!”  Quite the education I’m getting.  When I see him in another three months I want to know why I was never frightened.

This morning at the post office I passed the very EMT who put an IV in my arm before he put me in the squad.  He grabbed my hand, we exchanged greetings.  He never let go my hand.  Finally he said, “You know, sitting around the day room afterwards, we had no hope.  Someone mentioned you the other day and said who would have thought.  Someone one else said it’s exactly what we should have expected, and we all laughed.”   He’s a great young man.  Seriously, he’s only old enough to be one of my kids.  I thanked him and wished him a Happy Thanksgiving.  I don’t know if I would have posted this if Scott hadn’t patted me on the back this morning.  I don’t waste a lot of time on the event, but I am so thankful for the outcome.

I am thankful my sister was on her way home.  I’m thankful she took in the situation and picked up the phone.  I am thankful the EMS crew got me to Akron General in fifteen minutes.  I am thankful Akron General is the stroke trauma center of Summit County. I’m thankful Jan could pinpoint the time to within a few minutes.  I am thankful she picked half a chance of surviving over no chance.  I am thankful for the friends and family who watched out for me.  And, I am thankful that nurse made me so mad.


  1. And we are all thankful too....I can't imagine blogger land without you.

  2. Anger is a good motivator. I am happy you ae with us and using nouns and all!

  3. You are truly an amazing person. We are all blessed by your ability to recover. The doctor said with no clot buster you would stay the way you were or get worse. The clot buster was 65% chance it could kill you, or you could improve and have a better quality of life. I looked him in the eye and said you would be really pissed at me if I didn't take the chance of killing you, as I knew you would rather be dead than the way you were right then. Thanks for fighting so hard for the nouns. I think sister is my favorite noun.

  4. Horrifying and inspiring. Thank you for sharing!