This is a column that I wrote in 2009 when I was the editor of the Amity Observer newspaper. For years, I had all of my copy written and the entire newspaper laid out the night before deadline day. But not this particular week.
If it seems a bit scattered, (poorly composed) you will understand why 2/3 of the way through it at “Revelation”
I Had A What?
This has been a strange, scary and educational week. August 18, started out as a typical Tuesday, in which I normally would begin “laying out” the Amity Observer as I have for the past 10 years.
But something was different. I had what I thought was crippling depression. There was no reason for it, but I couldn’t get motivated to format e-mails, write stories, or prepare the paper for publication.
This has never happened before. I am known around the office for my dedication to the Observer. I wouldn’t ever do anything to compromise the quality of the newspaper or to be late turning in my stories, photographs or updating the web site, but that day I was unable to do anything.
I was fully aware of what day it was and knew I had to find my motivation to write inside briefs. But I couldn’t. I spoke to one of my co-workers around 11:30 that evening, as he and I collaborated on the final front page design for several years, and I hadn’t sent it to him yet.
On Wednesday morning, Aug. 19, I woke up late and remembered that I hadn’t written two of my front-page stories, nor had I laid out any inside pages.
I felt “out of it.”
I was numb in the head, unable to get anything done, although I wanted to, and realized how important it was that I step it up a bit.
Using notes I had previously compiled, I wrote the story about Russ Arpaia, the hot dog vendor, and Keith Johnstone, the injured firefighter from Bethany, and sent them to my managing editor 10 minutes before the newspaper was due to go to press. This was totally out of character. I would never do that if I was in my right mind.
I remember driving to work as my paper was supposed to be on the way to the printing plant. I knew I should be, but couldn’t bring myself to be concerned. As I walked down the long hallway to the office, it seemed like a tunnel. A long, fuzzy tunnel.
When our production “go-to guy” Mario told me that I was four hours late, I had to look at the clock. I couldn’t believe what he was saying, and I couldn’t do the math.
Strangely enough, still no sense of urgency. That wasn’t me. He asked, and everyone else was wondering “What’s wrong with you?” (add a curse word in there) I didn’t know. I thought maybe it was the “depression” that I felt the day before. My managing editor strongly suggested that I see a doctor. I called the doctor’s office to see what the waiting time would be and drove home.
Later that night I went to my friend’s house to pick something up. She, too, asked, “What’s wrong with you?” she mentioned that my eye looked funny. I had no idea what she was talking about. She said my speech was slow, and I was in a daze, taking forever to answer simple questions.
A Visit To The Doctor
On Thursday, I woke up early and made my way to the doctor’s office. The wait wasn’t long. My friend (and co-worker) Jill, showed up at the office, just out of the blue. Luckily for me, she answered questions about my insurance. My head was fuzzy and I didn’t know what they were talking about.
“Insurance Card? Why do you need an insurance card?” We have new insurance that just kicked in, I didn’t get a card yet, but I had a piece of paper that explained the insurance plan.
Jill called my managing editor and got some answers. The doctor’s staff was able to confirm that I had insurance that was active. Jill came into the exam room with me and told my doctor all about what she had observed about my behavior – information that I would not have been able to provide.
The doctor told me to take a week off, and I told her that I didn’t know how to do that. She then ordered a magnetic resonance imaging test (MRI). My head was still “fuzzy” and I had a headache. Why an MRI?
The appointment was set for Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 5 p.m. Hearing this, my doctor said “no” and insisted that I get there sooner. “You don’t fool around with the brain,” she said. Her staff made another appointment for the following day, Friday, Aug. 21.
When I got to the newspaper office on Thursday to pick up the 200 copies of the Observer that I deliver every week, my publisher and managing editor met me and told me that I had vacation time coming this week. They told me that I couldn’t write any stories for this week’s edition, but I insisted on doing the Open Farm story since it was the last part of a six-part series. I wanted to keep the formula uniform with the other five parts – that was important. They finally agreed.
They’d made arrangements for my police blotter and other stories to get written by other reporters for this week’s edition.
I drove myself to Stratford for the MRI on Friday, still speaking slowly when I answered questions but I was fully aware of what was going on.
I wasn’t feeling like myself and went through red lights and stopped at green lights along the way. I knew what I was supposed to do but couldn’t seem to do it.
Within a few minutes of leaving the MRI testing place, my doctor called my cell phone and said, “You had a stroke.” “Oh, OK, that explains it,” I thought, then I asked, “Was it a TIA mini-stroke or a stroke, stroke?”
“It was a stroke,” she said. “You need to pick up your films from the MRI office, and you have to get a ride to Yale-New Haven Hospital emergency room right away.”
I called Jill and asked if she could give me a ride. Within minutes she was ready and waiting for me and off we went.
I had my CD film of my MRI with me and that little piece of paper with insurance information to give at Yale.
The staff took me in immediately, as my doctor had called in advance.
Everyone told me how lucky I was to still be able to function after the loss of blood flow to the frontal lobe, which controls one’s ability to plan and the temporal lobe, which controls speech.
To my surprise, I was admitted and sent to a room on the eighth floor. And I remained in the hospital from Friday through Wednesday. Writing that final installment of the open farms’ story (and this column) from the hospital bed.
On my walks and stretcher rides in the hospital hallways, I heard other people talk about he loved ones they were visiting who had strokes and were going for MRIs. These people were profoundly affected by their strokes. Some couldn’t talk, others couldn’t walk, or lost the use of their extremities.
It’s then that I realized just how lucky I was, considering that I didn’t recognize the severity of the initial symptoms. Assuming that I had the stroke on Tuesday when I was “Depressed,” and didn’t get to the doctor’s office until three days later, I am extremely fortunate.
I actually had several TIA (mini-strokes) weeks earlier leading up to this one.
I would go to the gym and while I was on the treadmill, I noticed that my right leg would drag behind. When I was walking my Golden, Baron, I also experienced the leg dragging issue, but didn’t do anything about it. I also stuttered occasionally.
I hope this will serve as a warning for everyone out there. Pay attention to “strange” changes in your body. Call 911 immediately if you have concerns. if not for my managing editor, my friend Jill, and my awesome doctor, this could have ended much differently.
This is the first installment of a three-part series that I will publish in real-time as they ran 10 years ago.