I have just spent 36 hours in hospital, my longest in-patient stay since the birth of my first (of two) children.
The story goes like this (and believe me, I know it off by heart now after repeating it to a procession of nurses, doctors, neurologists and friends.)
On Monday morning I got up at the usual time, 6.15, and began doing the usual things. I fed the dog, made myself some tea, made the children’s packed lunches etc. I had my husband’s tea ready to take up (which fixes the time at around 6.40) when I attempted to put my own empty tea mug in the dishwasher.
I say attempted, because the fingers of my left hand inexplicably lost their grip on the handle. I fumbled to regain the grip, and lost it again. I tried a final time, and the mug smashed into pieces on the floor. It was as if my fingers just weren’t working. Clumsy me, I thought, a little weirded out. I swept up the china fragments and put them in the trash, then carried my husband’s tea up the stairs–very carefully and with two hands, as I still felt a bit wobbly: from the shock, I told myself.
My husband was in the shower. I put his tea down on the sink countertop, saying “Here’s your number.” Why did I say that?, I wondered.
Now comes the best bit. I went in to wake the children. I have a well-rehearsed patter that I always reel out for waking my (heavy sleeping) children. “Good morning, Becky/Lorna,” I say “It’s morning time. Time to get up now. It’s a schoolday. Come on now. Morning. Morning.” I couldn’t get out any of it. I couldn’t even say my children’s names. All I could say was “How’s morning?”
My brain was shocked, horrified, even angry with my voice. This wasn’t right! We knew what we were supposed to be saying. “How’s morning?” I repeated pathetically in both rooms, resorting to shoving them gently on the shoulder to get some sort of a response.
They always get two minutes respite (more like five) after the first attempt to wake them, so I walked out of Lorna’s bedroom and tried to get my head together. I started framing sentences in my head before speaking them rather than letting them flow directly from the brain, and by the time I went back again I could talk again, rather carefully, but coherently.
Once I had them settled in front of breakfast I went to the computer and googled ‘stroke’–I’m not stupid. Obviously it wasn’t a huge, paralyse-one-side-of-your-body-for-life event, but neither was it the kind of thing you can laugh off by saying “Oh I shouldn’t have had so much caffeine/alcohol/cheese before bed last night.”
The websites I visited were pretty unanimously in agreement that it should be treated like a medical emergency, so I went and told Keba all about it. We decided to put the kids on the school bus as normal, and then he would drive me to the ER. Once at Virtua Memorial Hospital, they wasted no time, and within half an hour I was in a cubicle, wired up to a heart monitor, being given the first of many blood tests.
I have to say the staff at Virtua Memorial were wonderful. They were efficient, sympathetic, and told me everything they were doing/thinking at every step of the way. I owe particular thanks to the night nurse who hugged me when I was crying in the middle of the night, but I get ahead of myself.
In short order I had an ECG, a CAT scan, a carotid artery ultrasound and various blood tests. Actually the blood tests were the worst because I have very fine veins. My arms are both interesting shades of purple and yellow from the several attempts to put in an IV.
Everything came back normal, but they still decided to admit me for observation. It seems a TIA is often a stroke precursor, and the likelihood is that such a stroke will occur within 48 hours.
Well, of course by this time I was feeling fine, if a little miserable. I was up in the ward by around 2.30. Keba went home to get me some vital supplies: toiletries, my laptop, my MFA books, the usual kind of thing. The neurologist and ward doctor (Stroke Victim Ward) both saw me while he was gone.
Bothe doctors agreed it was a TIA, for which, they admitted, they might never find a reason. However, they immediately stipulated that I should cease taking the Birth Control Pill, which I had been taking for twenty years, and start taking an aspirin a day as a blood thinner. This in turn will require me to cutback on alcohol, as aspirin and booze together can have nasty effects on the stomach lining.
R came to see me after work, and then Keba came by with the kids around 5.30. He’d done a great job playing it down with them, and they were mystified and bored rather than worried. After that I was on my own with James Merrill’s Collected until about 8.20. when my good friend P stopped by.
Well I don’t need to bore you with the play by play account of a night in hospital. I didn’t sleep until the night nurse (who hugged me) gave me Ambien. I was worried I was going to die in the night, you see. She explained something else to me which needs to become a lifestyle modification: most TIAs and strokes occur early morning, when the patient has just got up. See, the body is under minimal stress when asleep, but as soon as we wake, particularly if we throw it into maximum overdrive from the word go as I do, blood pressure shoots up. I remember on Monday morning feeling very groggy when the alarm went off, but nevertheless forcing myself to practically leap out of bed and begin the morning chores.
The next morning they took another gallon of blood, or so it felt like, and I had an MRI. When this came back normal, they decided to let me go. I still need to get the results of the second round of blood tests and schedule an EEG. I have to see the neurologist again in about 3 weeks.
So here I am, back home. I slept ten hours straight last night and feel fine, a bit weak from all the blood taken, probably.
I suspect my life will never be the same again.