Well, I suppose I should have seen this coming and heeded the unsolicited (and solicited) advice from those around me, including my personal
I've just returned from the hospital after spending the last 30 hours on the Stroke Ward. I had a stroke Wednesday morning.
For those who have never experienced a stroke, I thought perhaps it would be useful to describe the event in some little detail, to give you a
first person perspective. Then you might need to seriously consider a few lifestyle changes, such as giving up smoking.
I've been smoking since the first day of college in 1978. Yes, I tried giving it up a couple of times, for as long as a year in one case. Although
I have beaten plenty of other addictions and bad habits in the past, it seems that I just didn't have the willpower to abandon
Until now, that is.
Early Wednesday morning, around 7:30, I stepped away from the computer and went outside for a smoke, as is my wont several times every night (and
every day, for that matter). I noticed instantly that my cigarette had a harsh and disagreeable flavor, and I tossed it after only a few
puffs. It then occurred to me that it was garbage pickup day, so I went about the routine of gathering up the garbage and litter bags from
around the house for deposit on the street corner.
I was struck by the foul odor of the garbage, which was highly unusual — we normally compost all organic matter, and as far as I knew
there was nothing rotten in the garbage. Still, there was this pungent, acrid, fecal smell that seemed to be growing stronger — like
an evil mixture of Pine-Sol and diarrhea — so I hurriedly disposed of the bags in the appropriate receptacle outside and wheeled it out to the end
of the driveway.
But the foul odor followed me back inside. Very curious, indeed.
I realized, then, that I had forgotten the wastebasket next to my computer, so I retrieved it and headed outside to add it to the other trash at
As I descended the seven steps from my front porch, wastebasket in hand, my left leg suddenly buckled and went out from under me. The
sensation was that of stepping right though the wooden step. I caught myself, preventing a more catastrophic fall, and realized that I was on
my left knee, yet there was no pain — it was as if my leg had disappeared for a split-second. I regained my footing easily and continued out
to the garbage can.
It was when I returned to the house, entering the front door, that I was abruptly overwhelmed with an unreasoning sense of despair,
which descended into gloom within a few moments, followed by utter hopelessness a moment or so thereafter. Alarmed with this freakish
mood swing, I decided not to return to the computer, but rather headed upstairs for a lie-down.
Reclining in bed was not the answer. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw wild and colorful scenes flashing past, which gave way to dark,
somber, monochromatic images that quickly flickered away like a celluloid movie running off its reel, as though the projectionist had missed his cue.
I started having Death thoughts.
My awareness of the passage of time seemed retarded, as well — I had no idea for how long I lay there until my wife Mary entered the room and
announced that it was 8:15. She then asked me who I was talking to.
I wasn't aware that I was talking at all.
She asked me again, more persistently, and I said something stupid like, "You know I talk to myself all the time." Which I don't.
Coming to my bedside, she peered hard at me and asked, "Have you been drinking?" She knew that I gave up drinking ten years ago, and it
angered me that she would leap to such a conclusion. I said, "No, of course not!"
"Then why are you slurring your words?" she asked worriedly.
That's when it finally hit me, when I finally assembled all the data of the last forty-five minutes: The bad-tasting smoke, the foul smell,
the collapse on the steps, the inexplicable mood swings, the chaotic thoughts, the slurred speech...
"Oh my God," I said faintly, "I think I'm having a stroke."
Mary was stunned for a moment, then immediately shifted into high gear, grappling my arms and pulling me into a sitting position. "When did it
begin?!" she said sternly, trying to look into my eyes.
I was now having difficulty articulating what I wanted to say... I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn't figure out how to
formulate the words. With some effort, I finally managed to mutter, "Seven...thirty..."
Come on!" she cried, "We have to hurry!" See, she has been preparing us for a stroke event for years — there's a high incident of
stroke in her family, and we've educated ourselves in preparation for such an incident — but we never ever anticipated that it
would be me.
As with a cardiac event, you have a fairly small time frame for action before massive and untreatable damage sets in due to depleted oxygen
supply. With a stroke, there is a "Golden Hour" of action, just as with a heart attack. Every minute counts.
Once I was on my feet, supporting myself against the door frame, Mary flew downstairs to alert her mother of the emergency. This was the moment when
I realized how far gone I really was.
The sensation of a stroke, in my case, was very claustrophobic. It was very much like wearing a large fishbowl over my head — that's how my
hearing and vision were distorted. When I spoke, the sound of my own voice was like speaking from inside a fishbowl. And my senses were rapidly
deteriorating as a weird pressure increased in my temples.
The sense of unreasoning hopelessness was now like a heavy weight pressing down on me, pressing down on my neck and shoulders — thoughts of
Death were looming around me. I felt a childlike panic building in my chest, I wanted to tell my wife that I loved her, that I was
going to die, right now.
But the fear only lasted a few moments. I stopped it with my Faith, and cast the fear off of me, by sheer force of Will. I tried to recite
The Lord's Prayer aloud, but the words were impossibly difficult to form in my mouth — nonetheless, the fear dissipated, the Death thoughts
evaporated. I felt serene.
Just then, Mary came flying back up the stairs, put her arm under mine, and supported me down the staircase — I could tell she was on the verge of
panic herself, but I managed to speak to her, Don't...worry. What I wanted to say was Don't worry, it's in God's hands now.
The drive to the hospital emergency room seemed swift, but I had lost my sense of urgency. I was quite impressed with the efficiency with which the
ER staff took over the situation — anyone who doubts the high level of medical care in the USA just hasn't been to the hospital recently. It was
nothing like I remembered or imagined it. It was superb.
Within a few minutes of arrival, a stroke specialist was at my side, rapidly assessing my awareness, my vision, my hearing, my physical strength, my
tactile senses, my ability to coordinate my movements, and my ability to speak — which was practically gone at that point. The specialist gently
assured me there was no need to speak, the only thing I needed to do with my mouth was hold a couple of aspirin under my tongue.
I looked down and was surprised to see an intravenous drip already inserted in my left arm. I turned my head slowly, quizzically to the nearest ER
tech, who, without further prompting, answered that it was a blood thinner. Just then another tech came to my side and assisted me into a wheelchair
and took me straight away to the X-Ray labs... I was in the CAT scanner less than 15 minutes after my arrival at the ER.
One hour after my admission, I was already in a private room, attended by a charge nurse, her immediate assistant, and a number of other nurses each
wheeling in her own bit of vital signs equipment. Much to my relief, I was not surrounded by beeping, humming monitors (as was my last
hospital experience) — this time, my heart, respiration and blood pressure were monitored by a small telemetry pack carried in my patient gown. I
was free to move about, if I so wished.
Within three hours of my admission, an echocardiagram was performed right there in my private room, followed shortly thereafter by a much more
sophisticated ultrasonic doppler-carotid examination. Within five hours of my admission, I was already on a pharmaceutical regimen and a cardiac
And my ability to speak articulately had completely returned.
What is most astonishing, to me, is that I could observe, very objectively, my rapid deterioration and rapid recovery under the care of a
stroke team. They were nothing less than amazing.
At about 3:00 pm, my personal physician arrived at my room, came to my bedside and gave me a hard look. The first words out of his mouth: "WHAT
is the Number One contributing factor to Stroke?"
I set my jaw defiantly, then sighed: "Smoking." He had told me this many times during our association — I just never listened.
"Smoking." he affirmed.
I grinned sheepishly, "Funny you should mention smoking, Jeff. Did you hear that I gave it up just today?"
He smirked at me and nodded, "Yeah, I heard that."
— Doc Velocity
[edit on 5/28/2010 by Doc Velocity]