Having a stroke- from the inside

24 Comments

ConfusionSomething 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.

24 Comments

Christie

Hi there,
i would just like to say thankyou, my Dad died 2 years ago and i always wanted to know what he felt like and if it was painful. He did have a major bleed in the brain. Your story has helped me understand what happened to him that night. Thankyou

Get well soon

The Wife

James left out some information most likely because he simply doesn’t remember. What we went through that night scared me beyond words. My best friend is an O/T (Occupational therapist). Her specialty is stroke rehab. I called her on the way to the hospital. She met us there. Between she and I, the triage nurse had no choice but to take him back and get him treated quickly. If they hadn’t, I think my friend would have grabbed the cuff, taken his vitals, and admitted him herself.

It frustrates me that when an intelligent, clean, and well spoken family comes to the E/R for treatment, they are basically thrown into the system.

I must get this off my chest so please forgive me, but, “Damn it e/r staff-listen to me. I’m not stupid. I know that time is of the essance for a stroke victim. I know that I should have called an abulance, but I didn’t. I know my husband. Next time, could you listen to me? Please?”

OK, better now.

Readers, please encourage Mr. JK that he must continue to take care of himself and do EVERYTHING his doctors (AND WIFE) tell him to do. EVERYTHING! Not just the easy stuff.

Martiny

James,

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I am very happy that you survived basically unscathed – especially considering the time delay. My mother suffered a major stroke a couple of years ago and is now in a nursing home, 100% dependent on her caregivers. Later analysis reveled she had suffer a number of minor stokes (“bleeds” as they called them) prior, but detection and prevention of those is beyond our abilities today – as you know. Anyway, you are a luck man and I’m glad you are still going strong.

Good luck with your continued recovery and I wish you many, many happy and healthy years ahead.

Martin

borax99 (Alain C.)

My pleasure, James, especially after all the fantastic information I have gotten and keep getting from your blog. You and Kevin are doing a fantastic job here and, since I visit daily, I selfishly hope that you will continue to share your unique perspective on mobile devices for a good long time!

Simon Coulthurst

All the very best M8. My thoughts are with you and yours!

borax99 (Alain C.)

James, I forgot some crucial information. Likely your physicians have advised you – mine did not tell me the whole story after my own ischemic stroke. Because you have already had a stroke, you are at greater risk than the rest of the world. If you do have another one, you have to take into consideration that

(1) You could be anywhere when it happens; at a business, among strangers at a Starbucks, etc.
(2) If it happens again, the effects could be worse than the first time; you might not have the power of speech, for instance, in which case you would unable to tell the people around you what’s going on.
(3) If a second stroke is more severe, the time factor will be WAY more critical than the first time around.

If you don’t already have one, please make sure you get a Medic-Alert bracelet or necklace. Emergency responders are trained to look for these, and they can save valuable minutes trying to figure out what’s going on.

In the event of a major ischemic stroke, your immediate family *MUST* ensure that medical staff are at least thinking of administering a TPA. This is a life-saving clot busting injection that, if it is given within 2 hours of stroke onset, can prevent most of the brain damage or long-lasting deficits that a stroke can cause (temporary or permanent aphasia, paralysis, loss of short-term recall, blindness, etc.)- medical types like to refer to these delights as “deficits.”

In my case, I have permanently impaired balance and some facial numbness that, after 2 years, refuses to go away. No fun.

Anyway, sorry to be so long-winded, but since you’re virtually a family member (I agree with Woadan) I want to know you have the information you need. Strokes suck, big-time!

I wish you the very best recovery.

Warm regards,

Alain C.

Taxman

James,

What I like about JKOTR compared to other gadget blogs IS the human element. When I read your blog, I not only learn about new devices, I am able to visualize through your gifted story-telling how I might be able to use those devices. I don’t always agree with your analysis, but I clearly understand the basis for your thoughts. I enjoy the coffee break segments too. Your “from the heart” series is one that I hope doesn’t have any more entries. Oh, it’s extremely well-written and thought-provoking. I just don’t want you to experience any more of these events! I’ve never met you or Kevin, but I consider you both my friends from the way you relate to your audience like friends. Thank you for another entry “from the heart.”

Dion Forster

Hi James,

Thank you for sharing your experience of your stroke in such clear and helpful terms. As you wrote I could visualize what was taking place in your body.

I am a specialist in neuroscince (I have a PhD in neuroscience and consciousness) and have done a fair deal of research on the functioning of the human brain (in various situations ranging from regular functioning to abnormal states of consciousness as a result of irregular functioning or damage to the brain). My interests and discoveries have been academic rather than therapeutic.

I was pleased to hear that you are well and that you have recovered. The brain is amazingly resilient and capable of recovery at an incredible rate! I’m sure you don’t need any encouragement, however, to take care of your vascular system (which is much less complex but much more difficult to control in our ‘McDonalds’ and cholesterol driven world!)

I have encountered so many people (even my own father) who did not turn to the emergency services right away. My experience is that it is most often men who do so (I have tended to be same, sadly) and it can have dire consequences!

With a very severe stroke a quick intervention by a trained person can mean the difference between permanent damage (such as paralysis, aphasia, and even death), and minor damage that is reversible.

Well, know that you remain in my prayers! We need you to stay healthy, strong, with all of your faculties in tact to taunt us with GREAT gadgets!

Thanks for the blog, and for your vulnerability in this post.

Regards,

Dion

Mike Whalen

I am glad you got into the hospital so quickly. I developed a severe pain in my side one day and went to Willowbrook’s ER. I was there for literally 14 hours, 10 of those waiting to be seen by anyone. In the end, they couldn’t find a damn thing and the pain subsided. I figured today that I had a minor kidney stone considering the location of the pain, but the 14 hours seemed a bit obscene. So, when I read that you deferred calling 911, I expected your next paragraph would be about the next 6 hours sitting and waiting.

I suppose they figured my problem really wasn’t that bad after all and would go away. Bah. :-/

James Kendrick

Mike, you have to understand that while I felt I was aware of everything with total clarity I was also “fuzzy” or not understanding everything as well as I would pre-stroke. Plus the human tendency is always to think that something will pass and not be an “event”.

Mike Cane

>>>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.

OK, that’s the frikkin SCARIEST sentence I have read this year — and you know I’ve been watching our economy go down the drain too, but you just beat all that!

And of course I’ve linked to you and to your heart report again.

Why did you go lay down?! Why not call 911 immediately? That what I don’t understand. You can’t tough out stuff like that!

James Kendrick

Thank you all so much for your kind words. I hope that this does raise the awareness of what can be although I hope none of you has to find out. I am doing very, very well and thankful each day for that. You guys are part of the family, even those of you who kick my butt in Scrabulous. :) Take care, everyone!

Susan aka gasusan2005

Thanks for sharing your personal experience. In doing so, you may have saved the life of one of your readers who might recognize the warning sides and take them for the serious ones they are.

I am thankful you have recovered…. I know you have one or two cell phones there at “the Manor”. Keep one close by….and if there ever is a next time… dial 911 (please)

Yolanda

And Genghis’s comment wasn’t there when I started mine! :-)

Yolanda

Yeah, I think Woadan probably echoed the thoughts of many of us who’ve been concerned and wondering about how you are doing in the aftermath of your stroke, but who didn’t want to bring it up. Thanks from me too for telling the story. It could be helpful to some of us in the future … .

Genghis Khent

JK, I join in those others who feel, though we may have never met you, that you are part of our lives. I’m glad you are doing better. I also appreciate your sharing your story. It may help some of us who may experience this in the future. Take care.

bluespapa

Thank you for sharing this, James. I’m amazed by the whole experience. You two were so level-headed. It seems so terrifying, but you two just did what you needed to. I’m so impressed by how quickly and completely you’ve bounced back. I’m sure when it’s happening it doesn’t seem “lucky,” but my goodness, a bit one way or the other . . . well, it gives me the chills thinking about it.

We’re the lucky ones, James, that you’re here and just being you.

Steve

Woadan

James, you’re a part of our family. (Or, if you prefer since this is your blog and you allow us to visit, we’re a part of yours.) So what hits you hits us, too.

I had been wondering how you were doing, but hadn’t fired off an email because if you weren’t talking about it, I wasn’t sure I should bring it up.

Hopefully all will continue to go well.

Peace,

Woadan

borax99 (Alain C.)

JK, you did a great job describing your stroke. I felt like I was reliving mine ! I find it funny that I made the same bad decision you made about not calling an ambulance, I called my spouse back from work because I couldn’t pick myself off the floor, and I figured we could make it to the hospital in a cab.

In my case, now if I get the slightest taste of that “special dizziness,” I’ll be on 911 so freakin’ fast the operator won’t know what hit ’em !

Very scary stuff. Thanks for being so open about the matter.

Judie

James, thanks for sharing your story. I think you are wrong about the personal stuff, though. We care about you guys and stories like this matter. Here’s to better health, and me continuing to kick your butt in Scrabulous! ;-)

Gatewood

Wow. That’s heavy. Thanks for the information. Praying you will continue to do well.

Gonzalo

James,

That was some good information, thankfully you are doing well. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Srini

Hi JK,

Sad to hear about this. I know this would be painful to go through. We pray GOD to wish you a speedy recovery and good health and the strength for your family to endure these tough times.

Best Wishes,
Srini

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