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My Stroke and I

My back was against the wall, my spine pressed against it. Then my right leg slowly gave way, and I slid gracefully into a crumpled heap. No actor in a gangster or western movie ever surpassed that performance. And with good reason. This was not staged. No script writer had written in directions. No camera was rolling. I was alone.

What was happening I did not know. There was no pain. My legs, both of them, just wouldnít work. Somehow I managed to maneuver into a sitting position on the floor, again with my back against the wall.

It was early morning, and as I looked at the pajama-clad legs in front of me I felt plain silly. How long I stayed like that I canít say. Maybe half an hour. At last one leg regained its ability to move, and I crawled across the floor to a sofa, and using my arms dragged myself on to it. There I stayed, and there I recovered, or so I thought.

Something had happened to me, something new. What it was I did not know. But at least I knew enough to realize I should let a doctor know about it. Trouble was his office didnít open until nine, and as my legs grew stronger and stronger, and I was able to stand and walk about, the sense of immediacy grew less and less. I could wait until nine.

When nine oíclock arrived I Ďphoned the doctorís office and pleaded urgency. And got a mid-morning appointment. Lucky me! Even luckier, he diagnosed a TIA, a new term to me, meaning trans ischemic attack, a minor eruption that usually precedes a major volcanic quake that, in everyday language, we call a stroke. "Take two aspirins a day." And I went home rejoicing.

Within hours rejoicing turned to uneasiness. Again something didnít feel right. A friend drove me back to the doctorís office. He was gone for the afternoon. By this time my speech was starting to slur. A nurse hurried me into another doctorís office. Then she ran to get the result of a cardiogram test ordered that morning. As I sat in the new doctorís office, my mouth began to dribble.

Throughout this period I was fully aware of what was occurring. When the nurse came back, the new doctor ordered me to hospital for overnight observation. I telephoned my wife to let her know. I think I tried to downplay what by then had become my fears.

My fears coincided with the end of that afternoonís working shift. Placed in a wheelchair I was rushed to the adjoining hospitalís admissionís office. No one was at the desk. My wheelchair person's shift had ended. She had to leave. She placed me in front of the admissionís desk, promising someone would soon be there. There I stayed. I felt abandoned.

Eventually someone did come. There were forms to fill out, computer databases to be checked, insurance benefits queried, and a hospital form to be signed. It was then that reality struck home. All my life I had made my living by the pen. But when I tried to sign the form, all my fingers and hand could produce was a horrible scribble. "Donít worry about it. As long as we have something in writing!" Then, and only then, was I officially admitted as a patient.

All this had taken time. All this had taken energy.

The lady then phoned for an orderly, and wheeled me into a small unoccupied waiting room.

And it was there my wife found me. I remember her coming into that room, where I sat alone and unattended, and that is all I remember of that day in November 1977 when I suffered a stroke.

When I became conscious next day in hospital, I had lost the use of my right arm and leg. I had also lost the ability to speak.

I am grateful to some very wonderful health professionals, male and female, doctors and nurses, at the hospital to which I was transferred a month later. Thanks to a dedicated speech therapist, I soon recovered my voice. Now, almost four years on, thanks to physical rehabilitation therapists I can walk with the aid of a cane. My right hand still refuses to hold a pen, and my arm has very limited mobility, but I am alive and my brain is relatively unscathed. At least I like to think so.

I have learned two valuable lessons from my experience, and I gladly share them with anyone who may be faced with the threat of stroke.

1. Call an ambulance and go directly to your hospitalís emergency department. If you arrive on a stretcher, whatever else happens, you will not be left sitting unattended in a waiting room.

2. When you regain your voice, your family, as before, will decry your singing talents.

The End


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