Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When shock comes calling...

“Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock. ”
Mr. James Baldwin  

On Saturday, March 10th, after the family had spent the whole day just hanging out at home (Scrabble, Wii Bowling - beer for them, Fine Ruby Port for me) - I fell asleep sitting up on the La-Z-boy sofa in the family room.  Around 9 p.m. or so, I awoke - startled by a hand, tapping me on my chest.  I remember flinching as I let out a loud, "Whoo!"  Slowly opening my eyes, I looked down and realized, the "hand" tapping me on the chest - was mine! 

Confused and fully awake now, I said, "Man! I scared my-damned-self!"  The sons, sitting across the room, and the husband in the kitchen, looked at each other and then me with a quizzical look, and started cracking up!  One of the sons said, "too much of that Ruby Port there Debba!"  I laughed too.  But as I moved the hand from my chest, flexing it open and shut - it felt strangely, numb.

As I shook it, jiggling my fingers back-and-forth, I stopped laughing.  The husband came over to me to see why, and I told him it felt like it feels when you sleep wrong - I couldn't feel anything.  I clicked my Bic, holding my left hand over the flame to show him what I meant.

All hyper (as is his wont), he said, "Come on, let's go to the emergency room!"  Stupid me said, "Uh-uh, I don't feel like sittin' in the emergency room all night.  It'll be alright, I think I just fell asleep on it wrong.  If it isn't, I'll call the doctor on Monday and make an appointment."

"Stupid me" was right.

By Monday, I still couldn't feel much with the left hand (amazing how you take little things for granted, like how hard it is to put your braids into a pony-tail with a Scrunchie when you can't judge how much, or how little pressure you're using - I broke plenty of 'em as I tried!).

Not only that, my fingers seemed to be doing crazy shit as well!  It was like my left hand had forgotten its "home row" duties as I tried to blog (I'd learn why later).  Posts became few and far between and pretty-much reduced to half-videos, half -text.  I certainly couldn't type as fast as I had on that old Underwood I'd learned on in my high school "Business" class back in the '70s. Hell, I'd even written "Baber towels" on the grocery list on the fridge that Sunday!

So I called my doctor and made an appointment.  After giving them the particulars that led up to the numbness, I was told, "No Mrs. C. - you gotta go to the nearest ER" (a civilian hospital, right across the highway from the doctor's office.  Gratitude notwithstanding - ain't networkin' grand?)!

I didn't even think about going there though.  I called the husband at work, and told him what they'd said.  He said, "Okay, I'll come take you."  Fifteen to twenty minutes later, we were headed to the military treatment facility about 20 minutes from the house (keep Baldwin and "Stupid Me" in mind as you consider the time allowed to nonchalantly elapse from the time this shit happened, to the time I got to the doctor).

They took my ID card and checked me in, giving me a red folder and a wheelchair (thanks to the husband piping up that it looked like I was dragging my left leg a little).  I sucked my teeth and shot him a, stop-making-it-seem-worse-than-it-is look.  I told the admittance clerk, "No thanks, I feel fine!" And with the exception of my numb hand - I did.  But they insisted, telling me that someone would be calling me soon.

Not long after, I heard my name, and the husband wheeled me over toward the voice.  I said, "Well, that was fast!"  The nurse said, rather  matter-of-factly, "You have a red folder."  I looked at the husband and we simultaneously scanned the waiting area, realizing there was a rainbow of colored  folders.  He turned to her and asked, "What does the red folder mean?"  She said, "That we have to see you right away."  And with that, my history and vitals were immediately taken.  Then she said, "The doctor will be in to see you shortly."

And he was.

After I repeated the symptoms again, he ran me through a battery of, "Now let's see what's going on with you" tests - looking in my eyes with that little light, and having me push and pull against him with my hands, arms, legs and feet.  Contrary to the husband's left-leg-dragging observation, I'd lost no strength in any of my extremities but, when he started poking me with a pin in various places, I realized I couldn't feel it on my left forearm, left thigh above the knee, or on my left ear.  I tugged the earlobe and could feel it.  I don't know why, but I asked the husband to squeeze it.  It hurt like hell and I pushed his hand away, saying, "Not that hard!"

The doctor turned around and said, "You felt that?"  I told him I did.  He said, "Hm-m-m-m. Let me call in someone from Neurology."  He turned to the computer, typed something in, then made a call.  In what seemed like seconds later, in came a kid who looked like he was younger than some shoes I had in my closet.

He read the notes on the screen, conferred with the ER doc, then they turned back to us and said slowly, "Given its's been three day since you experienced the numbness, along with the apparent sensory loss you've experienced - we think you had a stroke.  We have to admit you.  We want to get an EKG, an echocardiogram, an MRI and a CT scan right away." 

I vaguely heard "stroke," but I certainly heard the admit part.  Shocked, I blurted out, "What?!  I can't go into the hospital!  I'm driving to South Carolina this weekend!" - (as with many other things, Maxine and I, are more alike than we are different on this road trippin').

And that, indeed, had been my plan.  Not only did I need a break from the men in the house, my five year-old, "road dog," Blanca did too (the youngest son's nearly two year-old Pit Bull puppy gets on her last nerve!).  She travels well, eats when I feed her, goes when I stop for gas, doesn't whine about what music I listen to, nor how high or low the AC is, and she appreciates the breeze when I roll all the windows down to smoke!  What's not to love??

I wanted to:  a) spend some time with  my brother whom I'd not seen in a very long time; b) catch up on all that had been going on in the city since the last time I was there (and it was plenty); c) visit with folk I'd not seen in a long time, and meet some new folk about whom the brother had told me some interesting stuff;  d) dig into some family history on the "Island" with my aunt who'd been a part of the "Great Migration" north to New York,  and had moved back home after she and her husband retired. 

Shit!  I had plans!

I thought to myself incredulously (like my pack-a-day-smokin', no-exercise-gettin', gained-20- pounds-in-six-years behind was somehow immune) - "Me?  A damned stroke?!" 

Looking into a nearby mirror, I saw no discernible, Sister-Gemma effects on my face (the first thing my brother asked me when I told him I wasn't coming - she'd been the sixth grade teacher in our Black, Catholic school who'd had a stroke that none of us ever forgot.  It had twisted her lip and dragged down one side of her face).  And besides the left-hand numbness, I really did feel fine.

I'd not been in the hospital for anything serious other than having my sons and an appendectomy (I have to tell you, I re-e-e-ally hate hospitals!).  Well, this is probably TMI, but lemme take that back.  Gotta keep it honest and, I'd like to note how the continuing war on women's bodies by men, has barely changed.

When the second son was being born, I wanted to be sure he'd be the last.  I told the doctor to make that happen while he was in there.  He said he couldn't do that - not without my husband's permission, who was standing right there, holding my hand and swaying dangerously, back-and-forth (so much so, the nurse had to ask him if he was going to be okay - watching a C-section'll do that to you, I'm told)!  And no, you didn't mishear me.  In 1984, while I was on active-duty, I needed my husband's permission to do with my body, what I wanted.  Annoyed, and with neither literal, nor figurative swaying, I just turned my head toward him - he said, "You have my permission." 

Five years later, I had to have emergency surgery to remove an ectopic pregnancy that could've taken my life.  The tubal ligation during the C-section had failed.  And because I was on active-duty at the time it was done, I couldn't sue for malpractice - due to the 1850 Fere's Act (now you know there were no women involved in drawing that up!).  In 1999, I decided to make sure that would not, could not happen again - so I was also briefly hospitalized once more for that.

Five hospitalizions in  55 years - and never for anything remotely related to a stroke.  Hell, until I packed on that 20 pounds, I wasn't taking any medication at all, except for a daily multi-vitamin!  But even after that, I only received an admonition to lose some weight, stop smoking and take a low-dose, blood pressure pill (which I admit I wasn't taking everday like I was supposed to; I just hate to take pills is all).

Still not quite believing it, I thought about my independent, road trip-lovin' Mama (who, on May 17 incidentally, would have been 78 years young,  had she not died 16 years ago from colon cancer - one of the perfectly curable cancers when detected early; she hated doctors and hospitals).  Her death was the very first time my mortality had ever crossed my radar.  Right after the funeral, I came home, got my financial house in order, formed a living trust, got my first colonoscopy (of several since),  had a complete physical and mammogram (repeated annually), getting the thumbs-up on everything (except the smoking - again).

Each time, I'd promise to try to quit - and each time,  it was like I'd not made the promise once I walked out the door.  Hell, I'd come a long way, Baby! (for you younguns, that was the Virginia Slims commercial eons ago, that told women that smoking, somehow signified, their acceptance in the heretofore, male-dominated world.  And many of us believed it (just callin' it like I see it).

Back to the future.  I stayed in the hospital three days.  It was like an episode of "House" everyday - fresh-faced residents, trailing the not so fresh-faced Neuro and Cardiology guys around, piping up with their ideas of what was going on.  They switched my blood pressure medicine to a different kind (same 5 mg dosage) and added an 81 mg, Bayer aspirin-a-day to my regimen. 

During evening rounds the second day, the horde came in, ran me through the same "Push me-pull you" and pin-pick tests.  Then I turned on my laptop to try and document what they had to say.  Because I was still somewhere between "shock and awe," I wanted to remember as much as I could.  Fresh-faced Neuro-guy advised the MRI/CT had shown, that for some unknown reason, a clot had been "thrown up" into the right side of my brain (which tells the left side of the body what to do - hence my confusing "B" for "P") - resulting in the stroke.
Stupid Me (feelin' agitated):  "What?! Don't you even know why?!"
Fresh-faced Neuro-guy (smugly chastising):  "Had you not waited three days, there might have been some kind of "acute intervention" we could have done to stop it.
Stupid Me :  *crickets* 
Then, Fresh-faced Neuro-girl advised that the echocardiogram showed I had a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO), a congenital condition with which at least 20% of the population is walking around that normlly causes no problems.  When I asked her what that was, she told me "Oh, you don't need to know all that, we just call it a PFO."  I looked at her like she'd bumped her damned head, saying, "No, I do.  I've got two sons.  If it's congenital, they might need to be aware of the particulars." 

She elaborated.

After she was done, I said, "If the clot more than likely passed through the PFO as you say - why not just close the PFO?"  Fresh-faced Neuro-guy said that wasn't something that they did there.  "So what do you do?" I asked, more than a little ticked. Along with continuing the current blood pressure medicine, he dropped the aspirin that they'd had me on since I came, switching it to a blood thinner and adding  Lipitor.
"Why the Lipitor?  I don't have, nor have I ever had high cholesterol?" I asked.

"It's just a preventative - against clots." said Fresh-faced Neuro-girl.
"Since I've never had a problem with cholesterol, can't I continue to control through diet?" I asked.

Fresh-faced Neuro-girl looked at me with a surprised look and said, "Well, uh, most people can't control it that way."

"Does that make any sense, given what I just said??  We all don't have a 24-hour fried chicken diet you know!" I shot back instinctively. (Yeah, no - I'm not nice when I sniff condescension).

The blood thinner thing threw me as well.  My Mama had been on Coumadin - uncomfortably - until she died.   When I asked about contraindications and side-effects, I got that fast explanation, like at the end of a Cymbalta, or Yaz commercial on TV.

I went on to explain my aversion to taking a handful of pills (which is probably why I ended up there in the first  damned place - not taking that one blood pressure pill in a timely manner everyday!).  I said aloud to no one in particular, "People always talking about the pushers on the corner - doctors and hospitals are the biggest pushers on the planet!"

Well that hit a nerve!
"Mrs. C., this is the normally accepted protocol for what happened to you, along with advising smoking cessation.  And pharmaceutical companies are not allowed on the premises."  I laughed and said, "So you guys are making all this medication you want me to take - right here, on-site?"

I shook my head and said sweetly, "Okay, I know you won't mind if I get a second opinion right?"  Until then, I'll just stay on the same blood pressure medicine and aspirin protocol you've had me on since I've been here.  Any idea when I'll be going home so I can start working on that?"

Fresh-faced Neuro-girl piped up, "Of course we don't mind.  But Cardiology said they have to do a TEE ( Transesophageal echocardiogram) just to make sure about the PFO.  That's why they've had you fasting all day - they'll have to sedate you.  After that, you'll probably be discharged.
I looked up the TEE when they left and said to myself, "They sure will have to sedate me for that!  But no one ever came to get me for it (starved the whole day for nothing!).

The next morning, the horde came in and said that per Cardiology, the first test was enough to definitively say the hole in my heart was there. I told them I'd be on the aspirin and blood pressure medicine until I could wrap my brain around all this.  They told me to stop smoking and discharged me later that evening with follow-up appointments for Neurology, Internal Medicine and Cardiology a couple weeks later.

In the interim, I looked up the side effects of the blood thinner (not good and additionally, you have to be always be near a Coumadin clinic so they can monitor your levels and adjust your dosage as indicated.  It all seemed pretty, low quality of life/ball-and-chain stuff to my mind.  I know, I know - considering the alternative, I shouldn't complain. Again, Baldwin's right).

I kept my appointments and everything looked fine.  After more "push-me, pull you," pin-pricks, and looking in my eyes - the not so fresh-faced head of Neurology was pleased I could not only feel the pricks on my left forearm and thigh, but hot and cold temperatures on the whole hand as well.  He laughed saying, "No more holding it over flames!" And with the numbness now localizedin the left palm, the fingers seemed a lot less like "Thing" on the Addam's Family over there. The negative?  I was still smoking.

Internal Medicine, equally good. I'd lost six pounds (from worry, I'm sure), good cholesterol was good, and bad cholesteral wasn't bad. Blood pressure  - perfect (I'd not missed any of those little suckers since)!

Cardiology, ditto.  The perky, fresh-faced Cardio-girl asked me if I wanted a consult with the head of the department about - closing the PFO!  Turns out, it was something that they did there. {smdh}  Closing the PFO has its own issues/side-effects, but I'd like to at least have all the information so I can make an informed decision, so I'll be talking to him this week.

Look, I posted all this for a few reasons:
  1. Mr. Baldwin was right - "Most of us...go through our changes in a similar state of shock. ”  I implore you not to be "Stupid Me."  If it feels like something is wrong, something probably is - check it out!  (And I can't lie, the smoking's still kicking my behind - even after all this!)
  2. Ask your healthcare provider any questions you need to, and then ask some more.  Remember, they are not the final "Decider" - you are, and most importantly
  3. Don't waste time!  Next to reading, there's nothing I love more - than writing.  When I realized I couldn't write, I thought about all my procrastination (still got a shit-load of drafts sitting, but since I've gotten better, I'm earnestly working on them through slow-typing and Dragon Naturally Speaking - which only recognizes my voice when it feels like it!).
I think about the many little things I've, for some time now, taken for granted.  I'm not doing that anymore.  I also think about how I've tended to take on other people's problems/issues as my own - not doing that anymore either!  Now, the sense of urgency in my life is palpable and - Shit!  I got plans!


The Fabulous Kitty Glendower said...

Deb, I read here this morning and been thinking about you all day. Is clot anything but a dreadful word? Girl you got to get it together. I can take the weight, the extra weight, and the weight that may come when you give up the cigs, but those cigs, those cigs have got to go. And you are so right about self-advocacy. I know how they thought you were dumb. Then how benevolent they were to give you one here or there all the while thinking they are smarter than some ol dumb patient. I got news buddy, I have never met anyone who didn’t think they were smarter than me, so some shiny new intern ain’t doing nothing but reinventing the wheel when they come along with their condescension. I just hate that you are sick and while you are sick you have to actively prove that you are not stupid. And you can best believe they have been conscripted by the big pharmos, they preach the tenets without even thinking about how they do it without thinking. I know I am cynical, but I am here to tell you there is no true altruism in medicine. They are assholes, assholes that you need, --bastards.

Deb said...

Thanks for "thinking about me all day" Miss Kitty. :-D And yes, clot IS exactly that!

This was why your -

Self, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

- "came at the exact right time for me" the other day.

And I know - "...those cigs, those cigs have got to go." That's where the "courage" part comes in. It's been such a reallylong time, Kitty! I can attest that these damned legal cigarettes are THE worst (and most profitable for them) addiction in the world! - which is why it f*cks with the "wisdom" part so much.

"And you are so right about self-advocacy. I know how they thought you were dumb."

I just hate being told I have to take more of their "legal" drugs (while I try to combat the effects of their other legal drug), whose side effects could require me taking more of their "legal" drugs and then, I don't get to have a say, in how drugged-up I want to be!! And you're right, Big Pharma's taught them so well they just seem like little automatons spewing forth.

"I just hate that you are sick and while you are sick you have to actively prove that you are not stupid."

Thanks woman. Well there's that, and other things as well. Pretty stressful time right now.

"I know I am cynical, but I am here to tell you there is no true altruism in medicine. They are assholes, assholes that you need, --bastards"

Cynicism? Uh-uh, truth (it sucks to finally realize that, but there it is, staring you in the face), and I'm right there with you. They don't give two shits about what is best for you. And yes, they are also a "necessary evil" in my book, so I have to weigh everything they say very carefully.

I'm trying to get busy changing ALL "those things I can" Kitty, some will be easier than others so I'm working on those first (achievable goals give one a sense of accomplishing something I'm told!) - then hopefully, the hardest will be easier. I'll keep you posted, and thanks again for thinkin' 'bout me.

Asabagna said...

Sis Deb, a spellbinding and spirit felt post. I am glad to know that you are well and more than on the road to full recovery. I was amused at times at your "spunk" in dealing with the doctors... you're similar to my wife in that way! lol! smh!

Life is indeed short (for the good do indeed die young... for they never live long enough) and we need to cherish everyday and live it to the fullest. I always tell my wife when she asks at times if I'm not going to bed "I'll sleep when I'm dead!"!

Stay positive and know that I am a better person in knowing you, even though it's only in this cyber/blogging world.

Blessings to you and your family... and to Blanca as!

Deb said...

Asabanga...Hey! Thanks, Man and yes, I'm doing much better.

"I was amused at times at your "spunk" in dealing with the doctors... you're similar to my wife in that way!"

Had a "spunk"-filled appointment with the head of Cardiology yesterday about closing the PFO (Brava to your wife!She's right on the money in being her own, best advocate!). :-D

It was productive, and I'm weighing the conversation carefully before I decide. After all my questions, I got a pat on the head for wanting to be an "informed consumer." I gave him one right back saying, "Seeing as it's my life we're talking about, it sure is good to know that some of you doctors here realize it's your job to make sure I am one!"

"I'll sleep when I'm dead!"

Too funny! My Grandmama and Mama always used to say that exact same thing (my sons say it now too!). Good advice, I say, because life IS too short!

"Stay positive and know that I am a better person in knowing you, even though it's only in this cyber/blogging world."

I shall - and thank you for that. To my mind, that's a big part of what having lived should be about! :-D

"Blessings to you and your family... and to Blanca as!"

Same to you, Man (kiss them babies for me!). As for Blanca, she's right here at my feet, passed-the-hell-out! I tell you, of all of us, SHE, is definitely rolling in the blessings! :-D

Off to finish that post we talked about...

Marsha said...

Deb C.,
Now, you listen to me woman! I had a similar episode, blood pressure shot up to unbelievable levels, started meds, was told I was in "stroke zone," and to cut back on salt, (natch) cut back too much, felt like I was having said stroke and that the meds weren't helping, ended up in ER. As soon as I walked in they sat we in a wheelchair and too me straight into the saline/BP/EKG, etc. routine. No stroke, but seizuer zone from no salt. Anyway, had a buncha tests the MRI and all that crap, and told you gotta have salt and potassium especially on BP meds. Anyway, as soon as they told me about the stratospheric BP, I STOPPED SMOKING!!! THAT DAY!!! THAT MOMENT!!! YOU HEAR ME???? Yes, it was hard, but you've done harder. That was around the first of last year, haven't had a cigarette since. Completely changed my diet (mostly veggies, chicken, fish, whole grains, no cheese, little dairy, eggs/butter VERY sparingly, no fast food, convenience food, refined sugar, flour, etc.) about 6 months ago, and started walking half an hour (about 1.75 miles) a day. I'm almost 45 pounds down and about to head out and get my walk on now. I gripe about it EVERY TIME. But, as much as I hate it, I hate doctor visits, pharmaceuticals and the ER more. I'm glad you're okay, and you better stay that way!!!!
Luv ya

Deb said...

Still workin' on it Marsha (it was great talking to you the other day) - luv ya right back!

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