Something we don’t do very much here on jkOnTheRun is write about personal type stuff. We figure that’s not what you want to hear about on a tech blog and we like to keep some personal things private. I broke that rule when I originally wrote the "from the heart" series about my heart surgery and it’s resonated with a lot of people all over the world. I am getting a lot of requests from friends and readers who heard about my recent stroke who wondered if I planned to write about that experience the same way. I have been told that a lot of people would be interested to find out what the stroke experience was like and how it all went down. I must admit that I had not planned to write about this experience as I didn’t think there would be much interest in it but since I still keep getting asked about it I changed my mind. Thankfully, changing my mind is something I can still do, it could have been much different. If this experience interests you read on after the jump, if you’re only interested in tech stuff then skip on and it will be business as usual.
My scary experience started on a Sunday evening like many others. I was dividing my time between watching a little TV and playing around on the web preparing to write stuff here on jkOnTheRun for the next day. My bride was out running errands and all of the kids were out as teenagers usually are. It was just me and the dog, Oreo. The entire day was very uneventful and a typical one for me. That changed in an instant however.
I remember sitting down in my chair in Mobile Tech Manor in front of my computer. Nothing major was on my mind, I just sat down in the chair like I’ve done thousands of times before. Shortly after sitting in my chair and as fast as the light comes on when you flip the switch, I got extremely dizzy. Literally one second I was normal and the next I was not. Dizzy is not a definitive description as the Neurologist told me when I eventually would see him and he pressed me to describe what I was feeling in a better way. It was like an extreme unsteadiness, sort of like the room was suddenly spinning although not quite. It was as if i was suddenly unable to maintain my balance for reasons I couldn’t understand. The exact same instant that this hit I also was hit with complete numbness in the left side of my mouth from my upper lip through my jaw. Even my tongue was totally numb on the left side only, sort of like when you get Novocaine at the dentist’s. Both of these symptoms hit at the exact same moment and at the same speed I have described.
My mind was still working normally I thought to myself and I instantly realized it was a stroke. I remember thinking that quite clearly as the numbness tipped me off to what was happening. The only thing I knew about strokes was likely what you’ve heard so I was totally lost as to what might happen going forward. I have heard of those who lose motor control, speech and even the ability to sustain involuntary body control as you have probably heard too. I wasn’t experiencing that but I was thinking that it was going to get much worse.
An amusing thought that popped into my mind right after the stroke is remembered now with utmost clarity. It had to do with a joke that comedian Stephen Wright used to tell which I have to share with you so you understand my strange thought process. He used to tell about a light switch in his New York apartment that apparently didn’t control anything because it didn’t turn anything on and off in his apartment. He would still flip it every time he passed by it just for fun though and one day he got a call from a woman in Siberia who told him to "stop that". The stroke hit me so fast, just like Stephen flipping that light switch and the first thing I thought was "Stephen, stop that". No lie, that’s exactly how my mind reacted. If it was him that did this to me I hope he does indeed stop.
After the stroke hit I remained sitting in my chair in the office for a short bit and at some point I realized that I was out of my body looking down at myself. I remember that clearly because I saw that I was leaning far to the left while sitting, as if I couldn’t figure out how to straighten myself up. I told myself mentally to "sit up straight" and was instantly back in my own body. I was getting unsteadier as time progressed and I was getting very scared that the stroke was still happening and would get worse. Losing my mental faculties, such that they are, is a big fear of mine and as I realized I’d had or was having a stroke my fear was in overdrive. I decided I needed to lie down until my wife returned home so I attempted to stand up and walk the short distance into the living room to the sofa. Big mistake. I fell down immediately and the fear kicked into an even higher gear as I was afraid my ability to control my motor skills was diminishing. Most likely it was due to the "dizziness" though and after a brief bit I stood up by grabbing the chair and slowly migrated to the sofa. I held onto the walls, tables and anything else I could get my hands on as I felt very afraid and unsteady during this trek.
After what was a very slow journey I made it to the sofa and collapsed onto it. I tried to simply lie down but I fell quite heavily and stretched out. Rest wasn’t going to come however as I was not feeling well at all, what with the room spinning and the fear going hot and heavy. Every time I closed my eyes I felt a bit nauseous, kind of like after that bender you have when you shouldn’t. Fortunately my wife returned after not too long and I remember telling her "I think I’m having a stroke. I need to get to the hospital." She already knew something major was wrong because I never lie down on the sofa unless I’m feeling very bad. She asked if she should call 911 and in my befuddled state I told her no, just drive me to the hospital. The nearest hospital is only 5 minutes away but even so I now know how wrong that decision was. The minutes after a stroke are critical to get the proper treatment started to minimize the effects of the stroke and in some cases even reverse those effects. EMS personnel can begin that treatment in the home had they been called and we were properly chastised for that decision later.
The trip to the hospital was uneventful thankfully and we entered into the emergency room and told the nurse why we were there. She didn’t seem too concerned quite frankly and told us to have a seat and someone would be with me shortly. The entire time we were thinking that fast treatment was really important as we sat there for over 15 minutes waiting for them to take me back. They finally did and I slowly made my way into the triage area. My walking was very unsteady still and Sheri later told me that I was walking very "deliberately" as if I was trying not to fall. That’s what it felt like I was doing too.
Once back in triage is when the action started, with nurses and doctors making appearances and taking blood and all of the things that usually happens. Interestingly they never inserted an IV until much later when they decided they were going to admit me for observation and treatment. That told me that they didn’t really believe I had a stroke at first, probably because the affects weren’t major. Lucky for me they eventually figured it out.
I was in the hospital for 3 days and went through a battery of tests. There were ultrasounds, cat scans and an MRI of my head and neck. These tests would show that a tiny blood clot had penetrated my brain stem at the base of my brain and caused the stroke. It was very tiny, in fact the Neurologist told me that had it been the 3 mm that the admitting doctor had written in the report that I would have been a vegetable. The brain stem is the control center for both hemispheres of the brain and anything bigger than a very tiny clot would have caused untold damage to my brain. I am very lucky once again.
Throughout the entire time after the stroke my thoughts were very clear yet muddled at the same time. I frequently alternated between full awareness of my situation and feelings and also watching myself from out of my body. It was as if I could see myself as others were seeing me at the same time I could experience it from my own internal point of view too. It was very bizarre to say the least. Within hours after the stroke I realized that the numbness in my mouth was receding, it didn’t go away completely (and perhaps never will) but it was not as wide-spread as it was originally. The "dizziness" passed totally by the next day. In the days afterward my wife described how I was for a few days as she was watching me closely for signs of damage. I walked very deliberately for a few days and in the hours right after the stroke she noticed a slight drooping of the left side of my mouth, something that passed quickly. She also has remarked that my speech, while lucid even right after the stroke, was also very much slowed as if I was carefully considering each word I was speaking. That’s how it felt to me too, like I was afraid I was not going to be able to get to the correct word. That scared me more than anything being the wordsmith that I am. That symptom passed within hours thankfully.
So there’s my story about what it was like to have a very minor stroke. I am fortunate that it was as minor as it was, especially given where in the brain it took place. There are two kinds of strokes I now know, minor ones usually caused by clots as mine was, and hemorrhagic strokes caused by hemorrhages in the brain. These are the most serious and are usually the type we hear about when someone suffers one and has major therapy to regain functions. I am very happy mine was a little one although there is the fear I will have another one in the future. The doctors told me that’s always a possibility as once you’ve had one you’re always at risk.