One in five stroke survivors will have another stroke within five years of their first.
1 in 5
Last week my number came up. (Sort of.) Last Tuesday, I was standing at the stove slowly whisking my homemade Thai Peanut Sauce. My 3 year old son was playing with his train set and hubby was upstairs playing handyman. I’m standing there, stirring the sauce, and it occurs to me I’m swaying. I tend to rock a bit due to the weakness of my right leg, but this was different. I was swaying hard. My breaths were shallow. I looked up at the wall and an overwhelming spinning sensation came over me. My first thought: Just.Like.Last time. FUCK.
Then my mental checklist:
- Get to a chair.
- Check blood sugar.
- Scream for hubby.
Next steps are all contingent on Item #2. Dizzy spells can be brought on by a dip in blood sugar, so I knew to check that first. I don’t know how I remained logical in that moment because in my gut I knew what I was feeling. I pricked my finger and the glucose monitor read “177.” OK so it’s not that.
OH MY FUCKING AHHHHHH!!!!!!
And then I lost my shit. Screaming, scrambling up the stairs – albeit not the smartest move – to get my husband. He came running down and helped me up the rest of the way, still unsure of why I was freaking out. He was oddly calm. We checked my blood sugar on a 2nd monitor I keep upstairs. It was 173. Clearly my blood sugar was not the problem. He held my face and said, “Keep calm. Sit down. I’m getting the phone and calling 9-1-1.”
I said, “AHHHH! MY ARM! MY FUCKING ARM! AHHHHHH!”
I’m not very good with directions.
I felt the right side of my body turning to lead, very heavy, difficult to move. My son sat next to me and said, “Don’t be upset, mommy. Your arm hurts? I kiss it, OK?” He was so sweet and calm like his dad. It brought me back down from my hysteria.
EMTs came and took me to the hospital. They noticed the right corner of my mouth was drooping a little. After 2 CT scans and an MRI, they determined that it was not in fact a 2nd stroke. Good news. But it wasn’t nothing either. The Neurologist explained it was most likely a TIA, (aka “mini-stroke”) or a temporary exacerbation of the old stroke (whatever that means.) An artery in my brain stem is forever compromised from the first stroke. There is build-up there, and whether it’s scar tissue or something else doesn’t matter. It’s narrower. The arteries in the brain stem are already narrower than arteries in other parts of our body, so it’s an especially shitty place to have a problem. If that artery flexes or spasms, it can temporarily block blood flow to the brain causing stroke symptoms. The vessel then relaxes, blood flow is restored, and your body is like “Huh? What stroke? You’re just trippin’, dude.”
I'm alright. I was alright within a couple of hours. I spent the night in the hospital to make sure it had passed. I woke up the next morning still disabled, but not more disabled. I was back to my normal.
My husband and I realized that this may very well happen again. I am working hard to prevent it, but there is no guarantee that it won’t. It's a reminder that accepting our new normal comes with a greater responsibility of self-awareness and constant vigilance. It's a reminder that we're not like everyone else. But who the hell wants that anyways.
I also can’t stress enough how important it is to listen to your body. My husband was on the phone with 911 within 15 minutes of the onset of my symptoms. You don’t have to be sure. You just have to act. Let the doctors worry about being sure.