An interesting and alarming video/article has been circulating on the crackbook lately: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/06/18/stroke-smartphone-video/10822049/. The woman is having - and recording - a TIA or “mini stroke.” TIA's are often precursors of major strokes.
This really hit home for me. When I had BS (my affectionate nickname for a right ischemic brainstem stroke) in 10/12, it was preceded by 4 TIA’s over the course of 2 days (you can read about the event in more detail here http://uncanneryrow.blogspot.com/2012/10/stroke-of-some-sort-of-luck.html). For me, during each TIA, I got momentarily dizzy, had a slight headache, and my left arm & hand wouldn’t work (they weren’t paralyzed, numb, or tingly—my left hand just sort of hung there, loose, and wouldn’t do what my brain told it to). Each time, things would go back to normal after a few minutes, so I thought I was fine—just stressed, over-tired, light-headed from too much coffee, or any number of other rationalizations. I put myself through the standard stroke inventory in front of a mirror—smile, raise my arms, repeat short sentences, stick out my tongue, and everything seemed okay. Still, I suspected from the beginning that these were TIA’s, because of the dizziness and sudden weakness and lack of coordination in my left arm.
On the second day, I went to the doc and was diagnosed with “possible atypical migraine,” even though I TOLD the doc I’d never had migraines and was probably having TIA’s. The doc started me on BP medicine. (Duh...maybe my BP was suddenly high because I was having mini strokes and was terrified?) This was probably a huge mistake on the doc’s part, since the BP med further restricted blood trying to get to my already-choked brain. The doc sent me home to wait a couple of days for a mobile testing lab. That night, I had the Big One and had Ray drive me to the ER in the Big City.
If I had known then what I know now, I would have bypassed the doc and clinic from the beginning, in favor of the ER in a hospital with a stroke unit. They MIGHT have been able to give me the magic t-Pa drug that could have prevented the Big One entirely—you have a 4-hour window from the start of symptoms to get the drug. By the time I got to an ER, the window had slammed shut.
BS did plenty of mischief. It left me with left-side “weakness and incoordination,” as the neurologist puts it. My left hand didn’t work. I had trouble walking and had to use a cane. My left leg dragged. My left eye wandered. I careened into walls. I had “emotional lability” and cried or laughed inappropriately or spontaneously. I sometimes had trouble swallowing.
Thankfully, exercise, repetitive movements, and plain old everyday muscle use & memory has helped my brain re-route or make new connections to my body, so things mostly work again. The “deficits” (another neurologist pet term) that remain are subtle and invisible to the casual observer. I’m still slightly dizzy about half the time. I have occasional hand-eye disconnect, so that I type letters in reverse, or my fingers go for a key on the opposite side of the keyboard from the letter I want. Sometimes my left fingers type two letters at once or miss the keyboard entirely. My memory is squishy. My left foot doesn’t always lift high enough to clear stairs, and I trip. When I’m tired, everything on my left side starts to “wilt” or drag, just a hair. I still get tired VERY easily and don’t always deal well with over-stimulation. And my brain processing speed is slower (probably a difference only I can detect), so I’m occasionally at a loss for words – for a millisecond.
I also lost my singing voice and my ability to play gee-tar. My left fingers still have a hard time holding down gee-tar strings firmly enough to make a nice ringing chord, and they sometimes miss a string entirely, since they don’t always go where my brain tells them to go. Both singing & playing are improving with daily practice, though my former clear singing tone still eludes me.
In the words of today’s ubiquitous expression, “It is what it is.” I can’t go back and un-stroke. I’m alive and grateful. I can think and speak. BS taught me that the brain is an incredible, complex, fascinating work of art, and I have a profound new love and appreciation for my brain. More importantly maybe, BS taught me that we need to be our OWN healthcare advocates—doctors are not gods; they do NOT have all the answers; they are NOT always right. I heard long ago: If 50% of docs graduated in the top 50% of their class, what does that say about the other 50%?
And here's the real point of this post: If YOU think something is amiss in your mind or body, GO. If you think it might be something big—stroke or heart attack, for example—bypass the clinic. Go directly to the ER, preferably in a hospital with a unit specializing in whatever you think is wonky (brain, heart, etc.). It’s better to go and be wrong than not to go and to be sorry. The video at the beginning of this post also points out that if you aren’t satisfied with the answers you get, ask for a different doc. Or, walk out of one ER and into another. Ask a bazillion questions. Whine. Protest. Scream and hold onto doorframes if you have to, but don’t leave until they Check. You. Out. Completely. It’s YOUR life…save it. ;)