Two years ago, home alone and reading a book, I started experiencing stroke-like symptoms. My body was clearly reacting to the unusual trifecta of quiet, solitude and personal enjoyment … As we sought a diagnosis, my kids kept it real as only kids can do. Here’s a throwback post revisiting that time.
“I think I just had a stroke.”
This is what I said to my husband on Good Friday, when he came home from work to find me shivering in the bathtub.
As I recounted what had just happened (confusion, memory loss, headache, numbness in my right hand), I could hardly believe what I was saying.
I’m forty-two and in okay shape. I drink too much wine but have never smoked. I don’t have a family history of stroke.
Yet thirty minutes prior, I read the same paragraph of my book five or six times before giving up. None of the words made sense me to and I had to pause on each one, trying to determine its meaning. Then I couldn’t remember my sister in law’s name, the names of my brother’s cats, or the city in Italy I’d just booked a trip to the day before. Information that should have been on the tip of my tongue was outside my grasp and trying to come up with it was like the dream where you’re running but not moving. Quicksand.
Then my hand went numb and I knew I had a problem so all four of us jumped in the car headed to the closest emergency room.
After blood work, an electrocardiogram and a CAT Scan, they sent me home with two baby aspirin and a whole lot of questions. Two days later I was back in the stroke prevention clinic where appointments were made for an MRI, an echocardiogram and a neck ultrasound.
I was also given a delightful apparatus known as a Holter heart monitor to wear for two days. “You can walk your dogs, sleep, cook, clean, do everything you normally would except bathe,” the nurse practitioner told me.
“No danger of the last two,” I said, making a hilarious joke she’d probably never heard before.
If you’re not familiar, the Holter monitor is as subtle as a third breast and just as sexy. Through the small electrodes stuck to my chest, the Holter was tracking my heart’s rhythms to determine if something irregular could have caused my symptoms.
My kids thought it was super cool.
“Are those like, in you?” my oldest daughter asked, pointing to the wires taped to my chest.
“Did the Doctor see your boobies?” said my youngest, wide-eyed.
Then the flood gates opened:
“Can you get electrocuted?”
“Can you put chocolate milk in those tubes?”
“Is that the same tape we wrap presents with?”
“Are they listening to your heart to see if you’re sad?”
“Do you have super powers now?”
“Are you going to work like that?” and,
“Are you going to die?”
“No, I’m not going to die but if I play my cards right I might get a cleaning lady out of this.” My humour was lost on them but fortunately they were back to Scarredy Squirrel before I had time to formulate a better answer.
Over the next two weeks I went back and forth from test to test, appointment to appointment enduring a variety of indignities that made me glad I’d never bothered to become a full-fledged hypochondriac.
The echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, involves a low-lit room and a technician rubbing a gelled-up wand over your chest, across your neck and under your boobs while you alternate being lying on your back or on your side. Unfortunately there is absolutely no way to endure this procedure while maintaining any sense of dignity or body confidence. Should I lift the boob for easier wanding? Should I stay still and let the technician manipulate the boob however she sees fit?
Eventually I stopped obsessing and let the boobs flop where they may. I decided that getting a heart ultrasound was like getting a massage, or sex when you’re really tired: just lie there and eventually someone will tell you what to do. The whole thing isn’t so bad if you just close your eyes and go to your happy place (a vineyard in New Zealand, for instance). That is until you hear your heart beating through the machine’s high-definition speakers and start obsessing about whether it sounds too fast or too slow, too loud or too quiet. And was that a murmur???
Despite being raised by a nurse I am ridiculously squeamish. The sound of my own heart beating made me want to run screaming from the room. I know it’s a pretty important organ but I have absolutely no interest in participating in my heart’s version of “take Jen to work day”. I don’t want a detailed job description and I most certainly don’t want sound effects. Please just do your job red blobby thing.
Before the brain MRI, a tech named Francis asked me three times if I had any metal inserts in my body, despite the fact that I’d already indicated “no” on the intake form he was holding in his hand. Good to be thorough, I guess. Francis then helped me into the machine, inserted my ear plugs, strapped in my head and showed me how to use the emergency call button.
“In case I want to order a drink?” I asked.
Francis was not amused.
For 20 minutes, I lay as still as possible as a bunch of meds students banged on the outside of the machine to simulate scary medical sounds and serious medically things to make sure I was taking this seriously. Or maybe the machine really was taking pictures, I’m not sure because I took the opportunity to have a wee nap. I’m not one to look a gift nap in the mouth.
When it was over Francis helped me up, told me my neurologist would receive the results right away and directed me back to the change room. Naturally I’d left my locker key sitting on the dirty laundry bin and had to tip toe back into the MRI room to retrieve it before I was FINALLY allowed to ditch the gown and flee the scene.
And now I wait. Even though I fully expect my tests results to reveal something benign and treatable, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t spooked.
I had a cancer scare in 2007 and I remember the incredible sense of relief when I heard the words “We were wrong, there’s no cancer.” Ever since, I’ve felt like I dodged a medical bullet and now, in my more morbid moments, I wonder if something scary has finally caught up with me.
The whole “life can change in an instant” refrain has been running through my head constantly since this happened. One minute I was planning dinner, the next I was headed to the emergency room. Was this a one-off with an innocent medical explanation, or are we on the precipice of receiving news that will change our lives?
Regardless, I have new respect for the people I know and love who are dealing with terrifying conditions and have spent weeks waiting for potentially life-changing medical news. I know how lucky I am to have my family and my sense of humour to get me through.
And if the worst thing to come of this is a few squished and exposed boobs, I’m okay with that.
This post was originally published on the Mabelhood blog in 2016. I’ve since learned my symptoms were caused by a benign migraine condition and there’s nothing to worry about, unless you count my family’s complete and utter lack of concern.