Stroke has Struck Me

Could be a winner boy, ya move quite well …

So maybe you’ve been wondering where I’ve been; it’s been a year and seven months, after all. Just what, exactly, have I been up to?

Did I get caught up with my camera? Did I get lost in the sites and smells of Southeast Asia? Did I get involved in political intrigue there in Bangkok (and there has been a lot of it, lately). Did I finally write that book? Did I chuck it all for the simple life of a Buddhist monk?

Unfortunately, it was none of those things.

My brain on a hematoma ...
“There is a 4.5×2.3×3.1cm mild heterogeneous hyperdense hematoma in left basal ganglion with
moderate surrounding brain edema involving left periventricular white matter, temporal and insular
region; subacute stage of hematoma is possible. There is mass effect, resulting in mild rightward
shifting of midline structure about 2.7mm and obliteration perimesencephalic cistern with mass effect
to left-side midbrain.”

On December 23, just a few days shy of my 45 birthday, I had a stroke — a hemorrhagic stroke, to be precise. You see there are two different kinds of stroke we are worried about, ischemic and hemorrhagic. The vast majority are ischemic, some 80 to 85 percent. The rest are hemorrhagic — essentially the bulk are blood clots in the brain; I had to be part of the “lucky” few who actually had blood in the brain.

So let’s have a look at our hemorrhagic stroke victims. Most of those who don’t get to a hospital right away end up dead; of those that do get to a hospital quickly, half still succumb after the first day or two. The trouble is, I didn’t know this — I didn’t know any of it until well after fact (and lucky that I could learn it at all).

Incidentally, that picture of my brain, taken Dec. 29, is taken from the bottom, looking up, so everything is reversed.

According to the doctors, there was no underlying factor, as far as they could determine. I was overweight then, but I didn’t have high blood pressure or anything like that. It’s “just one of those things.”

All I knew was that at sometime that afternoon, I had, well … something bad. I was sitting in my chair and when I stood up — I fell down. Repeatedly. It was all I could do to make it into bed; my right leg and arm were useless. That’s pretty much all I remember for the next few days, a confusing blur of falling down repeatedly on the way to and from my bed to the bathroom. I don’t remember it but I a took out the bathroom sink during one fall.

After a few days friends started dropping by on Christmas Day; they were concerned they hadn’t seen me in a while. I vaguely remember asking them to come back later; I wasn’t in any condition to answer the door.

It was late on the third day — this would be December 26 — when I finally let someone in the door. By then I was feeling well enough to actually answer it. The next day, my birthday, I decided to visit that hospital. I thought I was just humoring friends, I thought, but the hospital folk took one look at me and ushered me in. You can guess the rest.

Well sort of.

The last I remember is the emergency room on the 27th of December; I woke up on January 4 in ICU. What happened? I don’t really know for sure, but It seems I had a relapse; the bleeding had stopped before but began again. I remember none of  that, from the time checked in until I came to in ICU. Seven days — a week — just gone.

Apparently whatever gains I made in the early days — my leg, my arm — were gone, too. My right hand and arm were just so much meat attached to my torso; my leg wasn’t much better. To say I was a lousy patient — at first — was an understatement.

Eleven days after waking up, I was discharged to an “extended care facility”— nursing home for short — for a month. My leg was good enough for short periods without much help but I still had an ambulance ride out to country where the home was. The staff of the home was great, although it took a few days to get used to showering with help — fully clothed of coarse (them, not me). But I had learned after my first few days in ICU that nurses generally knew what was up.

And what do you know? A few weeks later at the nursing home I could bend my index finger. By the time I checked out a few weeks later I could bend all of my fingers and could walk — within reason — with only the slightest of limps and no help.

Since then it’s been therapy. Lots and lots of therapy. Six days a week, and between that and what I pursue on my own, between gym and at-home workouts, it’s been a full-time job, getting better.

I came home last August, finally, after the doctor signed off and let me fly. So … it’s been over a year now.

Have I gotten better?

Well that depends. What is better? At five months a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time talked with me for 20 minutes before he learned I had had a stroke, and that was because I mentioned it in passing. According to him I’m “better,” or at least nearly so.

I can’t deny it; I’m a very fortunate man who rarely lets a day go by without giving thanks. And yet when I look at my hand and think about my handwriting or my typing — I typed this, for the most part, with my left hand because my right still isn’t up to the task — or when I look at the muscles of my right side in a mirror, I can’t help but think I’ve got months still to go.

Still.

You’re so together boy

Oh, you handsome devil
I swear my nose isn’t that crooked. And how ’bout those horns? Flashed with me my right hand, no less.

And in some ways I think I won’t get better, at least like I was before. My hand writing will never be the same regardless of which hand I use in the future. And even if my right hand continues still to improve — I typed this sentence with both hands, albeit slowly; a month ago I couldn’t — there are things I’ll do left-handed now (I’m right handed, in case anyone needed me to clarify that — well I was. Kind of sloppily ambidextrous now, I guess).

Then there is the brain itself. Fortunately my aneurysm was a relatively small one, about 4.5cm at its widest point, at the base of my brain, namely my left basal ganglia (hence no operation for me). While the motor pathways for my right side are gone, my brain found — is finding — alternate pathways to use.

Huzzah?

Then there was — and is — my attention span. Back in the hospital I could concentrate for about five minutes on a problem before me brain was done; when I got out of the nursing home a month later I was good for 15 minutes. Six months ago I could go for an hour or two before I need a brake, preferably a lengthy one.

Today, I’m more or less back to normal, with regard to my attention span. But what of the rest? My speech and speaking voice are shadows of what they once were, for example, in terms of being heard and understood. One day, it’s okay, the next … not so much.

Time will tell.

But that’s okay.

Maybe it’s just because I had a hemorrhagic stroke and lived to tell about it. Maybe it’s because that after a year of therapy and working out, I’m better than most survivors — I walk into the gym, after all.

Besides, there is a bright side. I weigh the same as I did in high school, for the first time since high school.

Time will tell.