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Don’t Ignore The Signs! Life Twelve Years After Suffering Three Strokes

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Aug 222021
 

Circa 2009

This week marks the twelfth anniversary of a life-changing experience. On Aug. 22, 2009 I was in the hospital going through tons of tests answering friends’ questions about my condition and yes, working just days after having a stroke.

Back in 2009, I was a 52-year-old workaholic. Nothing made me happier than my busy work schedule 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 worked at the newspaper, had a part-time job at a grocery store, took evening EMT classes at a community college, and, my personal favorite, gave my Golden Retriever, Baron, nightly intense obedience training sessions in an empty parking lot near my home. I also went to the gym 4-5 nights each week.

Back then, I was focused and had a sharp mind.

On August 17, 2009, after weeks of ignoring classic symptoms of transient ischemic attacks (TIA) or mini-strokes — most obvious was when my foot was 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.”

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, (Aug. 18) 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.”

Yet Another Stroke

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 remember walking into the photographers’ office and asking Wayne Ratzenberger if he had a second. “Wayne, how do I turn this camera on?” He gave me a quizzical look and responded, “Oh, Come On!”

I told him honestly, “Wayne, seriously, I can’t remember what to do with it. I’ve had this camera for about five years, and right now, I’m clueless.”

Realizing that the strokes had damaged part of my brain, he kindly took me aside and gave me a quick tutorial. Wayne had the patience of a saint, and I will never forget how sweet he was to me that day. He died about 7 years after that, and I still miss him.

I will print Part Two of this saga in November, but in the meantime, if you’re not familiar with my case, to this day, I do have difficulty with comprehension, memory loss, and seizures — staring into space and being easily distracted by “shiny things.”

Column: How My Life Changed 10 Years Ago On This Date

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Aug 182019
 

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.

Revelation

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.