I must apologize for dragging this story out. Apparently, writing these words is therapeutic for me. As the post-stroke days trudge by, writing seems to be the shining star of "normalcy" in my life. So, there's that.
It occurred to me that had we decided to take our rental car to the hospital, the wait for the hotel valet to bring it from a remote parking garage would have been about fifteen minutes at best. Once in the car, one of us would have held up an iPhone and said, "Hey, Siri, directions to the nearest hospital."
One of the first "rules" of stroke etiquette is CALL 911. Never drive yourself or a loved one to the hospital if you have even the faintest notion that one of you is having a stroke. And, you shouldn't go to just any hospital. Don't ask your Siri to locate the nearest certified Comprehensive Stroke Center. She'll find businesses that are "certified" and "comprehensive" in dealing with things like auto body repair. EMTs, on the other hand, will hook you up. God bless EMTs.
The ride to the hospital took about fifteen minutes. The EMTs escorted me in and announced, "This is the 64-year-old possible stroke." Someone at the desk called out a room number and we continued rolling down the hall without even pumping the brakes. Alan was by my side dutifully carrying my favorite light blue Dooney Burke like a boss. He reassured me all along the way, "You're right where you need to be." Apparently, I needed to be in a Trauma Room.
The trauma room was very large with those big lights like they have in an OR. There were lots of gizmos and gadgets and electronic equipment on wheels. My only ER experiences were those with my mom - curtained cubicles and tiny rooms. Like those spaces, the trauma room had a TV hung high on one wall softly playing Law and Order: SVU. I wondered to myself why it wasn't tuned to Grey's Anatomy or ER reruns. That would have made much more sense.
"I'm Dr. So and So. I'm the Stroke Team such and such." [Stroke team? There's a team for that?]
"I'm Lily, and I'll be your nurse while you're here in the ER." [She was cheerful and had kind eyes.]
"I'm Dr. Blah-Blah-Blah. I'm a neuro-something-something Fellow."
"Can you tell us what's going on with you right now?"
"Her BP is...[200 over another high number]!"
People in scrubs and masks were drawing blood and attaching electrodes to my torso. Others were standing to the side holding things like clipboards and tilting their heads to one side as they tried to piece together my situation. A guy with a portable x-ray machine stood just outside the room. This was very serious business.
"Do you feel dizzy?"
"Smile for me please." [One person said something about my pretty teeth. "Veneers," I confessed feeling that total transparency in a trauma room could be nothing but beneficial.]
All of my facial features were in perfect alignment. There was no telltale drooping.
"Close your eyes and raise both of your arms. Hold it. Hold it. Hold it. OK, now relax."
"Do you have a headache?" [I did not. For the record, I haven't had a headache since 2004, the year of my hysterectomy. Oops. Now I've gone and jinxed it.]
Alan was ushered to a chair on one side of the room where he sat digging through my purse in search of my driver's license and insurance card. He, too, was being questioned about the numbness in my face and hand and my uncooperative right leg.
Heavenly Father, please don't let this be a stroke. Make it be something else. Please let me become the "Prosecco Lady" in all the funny stories my stroke team will tell around the coffee pot. I promise that I'll never again for the rest of my life drive through Chicken Express and order chicken livers with cream gravy, fried okra, and hot rolls . I really mean it this time. Amen.
Then, came the questions turned from symptoms to TIME.
"What time did the numbness begin?"
"Well, I noticed my hand was acting weird during dinner." I did a demonstration that I like to call Crab Claw in a China Cabinet.
"What time did you have dinner?"
"Alan, what time did we get to David and Russell's?"
"We got there about 6:30, but we didn't eat until around 7:00 or 7:15."
"Yeah, but remember the prosecco? I drank that on an empty stomach," I said holding out hope for a "Severe Reaction to Sparkling Wine" diagnosis.
The questions continued...time? time? time?
At one point someone kindly stroked my arm and said, "You did the right thing in getting here so quickly." Those words were both reassuring and terrifying. Would they have said the same thing if I had broken my pelvis or chopped off an arm? Should we have run down to the street in front of the hotel and commandeered a car waiting to be valeted?
The first order of business was a CT scan which would determine whether or not there was bleeding going on inside my skull. That would have meant that I was having a hemorrhagic stroke. [I googled it.]
A young doctor that we came to call "Dr. Manpurse" escorted me to the CT scan. As we left the CT scan, he said, "We saw no evidence of a stroke (bleeding)." Retching into my hotel ice bucket liner, I mumbled something about prosecco.
I was then taken to have an MRI. Again, Dr. Manpurse and his ever-present cross-body bag were my companions. A while later as we exited the MRI, he said very matter-of-factly, "You have had a stroke." Just like that. No prosecco joke. No soft-peddle. Just. "You have had a stroke." Have had? I guessed that the good-ish news was that he used the past tense. "Are having" would have implied that they would soon be carving my cranium with a jigsaw.
Back in the trauma room, the gang gathered again to discuss the course of action. Because I was still within the FOUR HOUR WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY, I was a Clot Buster candidate.
The IV-administered treatment is officially called TPA (recombinant tissue plasminogen activator). [Again. Google.] Before the drug could be administered, Dr. Manpurse rattled off the list of possible scary side effects. I looked towards my rock, Alan. What. Should. I. Do. "Do what you need to do," he calmly told the doctor.
The IV bag was at the ready. "I need someone to call the exact time," Dr. Manpurse said sternly. Time. There it is again. "I'm Dr. So-and-So, and the time is 10:45PM." I couldn't help but notice that the large clock ticking away on the wall just behind Dr. Time's head disagreed with his iPhone by about four minutes. Right there in the middle of all of the ruckus I found myself comforted by the fact that somewhere in the world an official timepiece that dictated down-to-the-millisecond-time for the whole planet probably used an iPhone for verification as well. "Dr. So-and-So has called the time at 10:45PM," echoed Dr. Manpurse, "I am administering the...(other official wording)."
The Clot-Buster was to enter my body through the IV that the EMT inserted as we bumped along the streets of downtown Houston. Before they hooked me up, I asked them to show me exactly what a Clot-Buster looked like. The nurse held up a small IV bag filled with clear liquid. It could have been saline or tap water or the clear liquid from a lava lamp for all I knew. Whatever it was, it was the Obi-Wan-Kenobi of the Trauma Room in that very official moment.
I suddenly had the urge to leap off of the bed and run for the exit. I was terrified. I could not wrap my brain around all that was happening around me. I braced myself for the onset of menacing side effects. But, there at my side was Alan. My ride-or-die, my person, my voice-of-reason. "You're doing the right thing. It's gonna be OK."
I felt exactly nothing as the Clot-Buster coursed its way through my body in search of its prey. Lying there waiting for something palpable or jarring to happen, I felt hyper-aware of every organ, bone, muscle and cell in my body. I didn't feel any kind of embolism coming on. No pesky allergic reaction. I began to pray that the drug would be able to find the tiny clot hidden within the maze of my body. This time I threw in a promise to never eat another Blue Sky cheeseburger with a side of fried onions for the rest of my natural-born days. Amen.
After the "calling of time," very little fanfare followed the infusion. I was left to "rest" there on the bed with its narrow black plastic mattress with my legs all akimbo in a tangle of thin sheets while sweet Nurse Lily stood guard.
Why can't they invent fitted sheets that will cling to those narrow black plastic mattresses like the plastic packaging encasing a twelve-pack of AAA batteries? In a room full of health care professionals is no one assigned to fitted sheet watch? "Nurse! Quick! Her lower calf is beginning to adhere to the mattress! She HATES it when that happens!" I ponder these things even in the midst of a crisis.
After fifteen minutes passed ("We'll check on you in fifteen minutes."), a posse entered to assess my condition.
"How are you feeling?" [same]
"Are you still feeling numbness?" [yup]
"How about your leg? Is it still feeling weird?" [um, I'm lying down]
Me: Is it not working?!
They: Not to worry! It's doing its job!" [then why did you ask]
With that, the team retreated, and I was soon to embark on a new adventure. A trip to the Stroke ICU. And, there was to be another rather interesting elevator ride.
For the freaks and geeks that want the deets:
The tiny clot was located in my left thalamus which sends messages to the right side of my body like "stomp the runway" and "grab that Route 44 Diet Coke" and "that place on your belly is itching again." The "why" of the clot was most likely related to the fact that I have a bit of built-up plaque in my arteries. My cholesterol levels have never been a big problem - maybe approaching borderline. Throw in a bit of "as we age" and an order of fried chicken livers and bada-bing bada-boom, people start asking questions about the exact time you ate balsamic strawberries topped with fresh whipped cream.
If I had been out of the range of time for the administration of the Clot-Buster or the clot-buster had proved to be ineffective, I was told that there were other ways to get rid of my tiny neural nymesis. I asked no questions. If there was to be talk of shaving my head, I couldn't have handled it in that moment. It took me a whole year of Covid isolation to grow out my dyed dark blonde hair. The transformation to grey was complete. I had fully embraced my new look. Go, Clot-Buster, go.