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Strokes are serious, don’t ignore the signs — Part 2

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Oct 132021
 

This is the second part of a column about the strokes I suffered back in 2009 (In real time)

October 12, 2009

On that day, 12 years ago, I wrote: “It looks like I have more damage to my brain. The latest MRI shows new damage to the parietal lobe. probably happened when I had a bad headache for 6 consecutive days. DAMMIT! Anyone want to go to Maine for a week? Not too bright to go by myself, but it’s the ONLY REAL vacation I’ll have all year!”
{NOTE: It was the last vacation I EVER had.)
A week later, on Oct. 18,  I went back to Yale for a follow-up. The doctor told me that I was fine and YES, I certainly could go to Maine by myself, nothing was going to happen. The following morning, bright and early, I drove up to Maine and settled in, grabbing my camera for foliage photos in all of my favorite areas.
On the first two days I woke up early for the most magnificent sunrises in the world from the top of Cadillac Mountain.
On the third day of vacation, I decided to mark some personal uncharted territory and drove inland. I didn’t see any moose, which was my quest, but the scenery was beautiful. While out there in unfamiliar surroundings I began to feel dizzy and ill. I looked at my photos in the camera’s screen and they were all blurry. I began to yawn, but could not complete it — an all too familiar sign. I was having another stroke.
The GPS I owned at the time was not fully charged and it didnt work if it was plugged in. I had no idea where I was and I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to get back to the vacation home on Mount Desert Island (The part of Maine where Bar Harbor is located)
 
I took a deep breath and made a request. “Dad, I need help,” I said aloud. My father had passed away several years ago, but I could always feel his presence around me, especially when I was in trouble. “Please help me get back to the house.”
I started to drive and it was as if he took the wheel. I don’t know how much time had passed, but before I knew it, I was back on the Island and from there I could navigate to the house.

Facebook was a useful tool back in those days. I put a shout-out on my page and friends and acquaintances immediately chimed in. A dispatcher from the Woodbridge (CT) Police Department offered to call 9-1-1 for me, but I told him I’d do it myself, I’d be fine.

I called 9-1-1, and within a few minutes, an ambulance pulled up. I thought I’d just go to the hospital, get checked out and come back to the house — which is what happened at the New Haven area hospital. I left the computer on the table along with my camera and after assuring the Paramedic that I, Indeed was the patient, I climbed into the back of the ambulance for a very short ride to the tiny Mount Desert Island Hospital.

Real Hospitals Go Above And Beyond

The ER doctor took my complaint of an unfinished yawn and stabbing headache very seriously, and decided to keep me there for a while. Since I didn’t have my computer or any way to communicate with the outside world, the hospital landline became my lifeline and my friend Kathleen became my voice back home in CT, relaying all of the updates as they unfolded, through Facebook.

The nurse went out of her way working with my doctor to find a medication that would relieve my headache. For the first time in days, I could relax and sleep without crying from the pain.

My hospital stay lasted for nearly a week, and I felt respected and cared for. A therapy dog  — a golden retriever – came in one day and made me feel so much better. I was missing my Baron every day and getting a “Golden fix” helped ease the loneliness.

By day 5, the wonderful doctors and nurses fought with the insurance company to get coverage for an MRI and MRA, even though I had just had an MRI in New Haven less than a week earlier.

The hospital was small and did not have room for a permanent radiology department. The nearest machine was a mobile unit kept inside a tractor trailer that traveled around the state. On Saturday, it happened to be on site in the hospital parking lot. The nurse brought me outside in a wheelchair and I was able to enjoy the fall colors and crisp cool air the the first time in days. I sat on a platform that lifted me into the trailer.

The procedures took a while and quite some time after they were done, the nurse informed me that they didn’t have anyone who could read the films on a weekend. BUT since it was nighttime in Maine, it was early morning in Australia, they e-mailed all of the images halfway around the world, where professionals with fresh eyes could read the films and relay what the problem was inside my head.

What they found was astounding — my artery had collapsed and there was minimal blood flow going to all the critical areas of my brain. They said I had to get back to CT immediately where I could see a neurologist for treatment. But they told me in no uncertain terms that I could NOT drive myself back home.

Ashley and my daughter after rescuing me with my ex from Maine.

My daughter rallied my ex-husband and Ashley, a former newspaper intern to take the trip to Maine and drive me back home. They arrived on what would have been my 19th wedding anniversary (Oct. 25) had I not gotten divorced.

I felt terrible that we didn’t have time to see any of the sights or enjoy a fresh seafood dinner while they were there, but all of the restaurants closed by the time I was checked out.

My ex and daughter drove back home in his car, Ashley and I followed in my CRV.

Come back NEXT month for what happened next.

Opinion: Today Is My Independence Day

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Nov 162020
 

Back in 2009, I was a 52-year-old workaholic. Nothing made me happier than my busy work of running from assignment to assignment covering the three Amity towns of Bethany, Orange, and Woodbridge for the Amity Observer Newspaper — Remember that one?

On holidays, I’d find the best backroads and make it, on time, to wreath-laying ceremonies, tree lightings, craft fairs, parades, etc. and I never felt burned out. It’s just what I did.

At one point, I had a part-time job at a grocery store and took evening EMT classes at a community college, and, my personal favorite, giving my Golden Retriever, Baron, nightly intense obedience training sessions in an empty parking lot near my home.

In August, 2009, after weeks of ignoring classic symptoms of transient ischemic attacks (TIA) or mini-strokes — most obvious was my foot dragging behind on a treadmill at the gym, it happened: I didn’t turn in a completed newspaper to our graphic guru, Mario, by 9 p.m. the night before deadline day. Mario always took an “ok” front page and rearranged things to make it look “great.” {He is available, now if anyone needs an amazing, dependable graphic designer)

Mario knew something was wrong, but, I just thought I was having an off night. By the next morning, I still hadn’t written any of my front page stories and half of the inside pages were empty as well, but I wasn’t concerned.

Every Tuesday, for years, I’d gone into the office, finished the busy-work necessary to get the completed paper off to the printing plant, and then started working on the following week’s edition.

But on this particular Tuesday, I roamed around the office, didn’t do much real work and I was oblivious to the fact that four other newspaper editors were depending upon me to get my butt in gear and finish my paper so they could finish theirs.

At 2 p.m. I wandered into Mario’s office with a photo, or a question or something, and he said, “What the F#@k is wrong with you? You’re four hours late.”

I looked at him and asked, “What time am I supposed to be done?”

He glared and said, “11 o’clock, the plant keeps calling me. You’re holding everything up.”

I looked at the clock, counted back in my mind, and, still nothing registered. I couldn’t imagine why everyone in the office was mad at me.

Eventually, with some forced help, the newspaper DID get out that day, just uncharacteristically late.

To make a long story short, and spare you all the boring details, It took two days for me to finally go to the doctor. Our company had just changed insurance carriers and I wasn’t sure if I was covered, so, I didn’t go.

One of the original stroke images

Those two days were a blank, I don’t know how I functioned, or if I felt any different, the one thing that’s for certain is that Baron was by my side when I was home — he was my shadow.

When I finally did go to the doctor, a co-worker showed up in her office out-of-the-blue, and answered all of the questions about symptoms and insurance for me, since, by that time, I was completely incapable of answering anything.

After a few seconds with me and my friend, the doctor came to her own wickedly accurate conclusion and sent me for an MRI. Within 30 minutes of leaving THAT office, the doc was calling to tell me, “You had a stroke. Go to the hospital, NOW.”

Two More Strokes

In August, I spent nearly a week in the hospital with test after test, visits from my daughter and just a couple of other people (I wasn’t that popular, I guess).

Luckily, to stave off the boredom, I had my laptop with me and I was able to get some work done, in spite of strict orders not to do anything for the newspaper while I was recovering.  One specific memory was interviewing Patti Clark from Maple View Farm for the last installment of my Open Farms series. My Executive Editor said someone else would do it, but I insisted since I’d written all of the other parts of the series and wanted to keep it uniform — she reluctantly agreed, mainly because there was no way to win an argument with me regarding the Observer’s content, even if I was supposedly resting after having a stroke.

Before I returned to work, I had another smaller stroke — not a TIA, but a stroke — still, I was so lucky not to suffer any obvious lasting complications.

I finally did get back to the office and put out a couple of editions before it was time for me to take a long-awaited vacation to Maine.

I went to a well respected New Haven hospital for a final MRI and clearance to make the solo trip to Mount Desert Island, Maine (Where Bar Harbor can be found).

The doctor said I was fine, the MRI was clear and driving for 9 hours alone and staying in a vacation home, alone would not be a problem. So, the following day, with confidence in my health, I left.

I loved Maine, the peacefulness of sitting on the steps of the library in Somesville, chatting up a little chipmunk and taking photos of the boundless beauty around me.

A blurry “stroke” photo from 2009

On the third day of my getaway, I decided to drive to the mainland to try and spot a moose, but after a couple of hours in unfamiliar territory, I was driving on a deserted dirt road when, suddenly, I couldn’t complete a yawn. No big deal for any other human being, but for me, it was a sure sign that I was having a stroke. The doctors at the hospital in New Haven had disregarded this as a symptom, making me feel like I was stupid whenever I mentioned it, but for me, it was very real. The photos I took on that dirt road were blurry and I had no idea where I was.

My old-fashioned GPS didn’t work if it was plugged in, and the charge was so low that it wouldn’t even take me to a main thoroughfare. I asked my dad, who’d died more than a dozen years earlier, if he could help me get back to the island, and somehow without any guidance, except my father at the wheel, I found myself on the back porch of the vacation house.

Facebook was a friend back in those days. I put a shout-out on my page and friends and acquaintances immediately chimed in.

I called 9-1-1, and within a few minutes, an ambulance pulled up. I thought I’d just go to the hospital, get checked out and come back to the house — which is what happened at the New Haven area hospital. I left the computer on the table along with my camera and after assuring the Paramedic that I, Indeed was the patient, I climbed into the back of the ambulance for a very short ride to the tiny Mount Desert Island Hospital.

The doctor took my complaint of an unfinished yawn and stabbing headache very seriously, and decided to keep me there for a while. Since I didn’t have my computer or any way to communicate with the outside world, the hospital landline became my lifeline and my friend Kathleen became my voice back home in CT, relaying all of the updates as they unfolded, through Facebook.

The wonderful doctors and nurses fought with the insurance company to get coverage for an MRI and MRA, even though I had just had an MRI in New Haven less than a week earlier, and what they found was astounding. I had to get back to CT where I could see a neurologist.

My daughter rallied my ex-husband and a former newspaper intern to take the trip to Maine to drive me back. They arrived on what would have been my wedding anniversary.

Once home, we went directly back to that big New Haven hospital, where the doctor looked at my MRI/MRA images and totally disregarded what he saw, mainly because they were from an inferior small-town hospital in Maine. He told me that I didn’t have a stroke, but that I was having complications from diabetes — which, at the time, no one had EVER even mentioned, even though I had daily blood tests at previous hospital stays.

I left the hospital without checking out, disgusted with that “doctor’s” attitude and I asked my primary doctor to refer me to a “real” neurologist. I’ve never trusted that big reputable hospital since.

A week passed and my awesome neurologist hooked me up with the “best neurosurgeon” at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Which brings me to My Independence Day.

I met with Dr. Goban in New York, and after going over the images from Mount Desert Island Hospital, he showed me the trouble spot where an artery had collapsed and was restricting blood flow in my brain.

He gave me a game plan and on November 16, 2009, I went under the knife and my mind has been at ease for the past 11 years.

The only lasting complications I have after three strokes, is short term memory loss, reading comprehension, and some organizational skills. Other than these, I’m doing and feeling fine.

I thank the doctors who believed in me and took my “frivolous” complaints seriously,  especially, the staff at Mount Desert Island Hospital and Dr. Goban. Thanks to you I am still a functioning human being. Not as sharp as I’d like to be, but functioning.

So Happy Independence Day to Me!