1999 was a scary year. I was a newlywed, trying to complete my degree and start a career in engineering, when something happened I did not expect. My legs felt…rubbery, although I had no trouble walking. I was tired and I rested. I did not want to go to my night class that evening – but it was Chemistry, which I hated, so I thought maybe this was just an excuse.
Thankfully, I chose to stay home. I went to bed early and studied in bed. No sooner did I crack my textbook open, then I got this odd feeling. My eyes started to roll up in my head and I could feel myself losing my ability to speak and be conscious. I screamed for Chris, and then blacked out.
I came to some time later, on a stretcher in my building lobby. I was confused and the EMT worker brought me around, loudly saying my name. I took a look at Chris and his face was so white it was green, and his hair was stuck to his head. So I looked at the EMT guy instead, who was trying to help me calm down – not hard since he was pretty easy on the eyes!
There’s a long story behind this but let’s just say that it took a week and serious series crisis – a headache so bad and so prolonged I could not sleep or hold down food – before I was finally admitted to a hospital, properly scanned and found out the problem:
I had a stroke.
That said, this particular stroke had a purpose. Three years later, my OB told me the results of the multitude of tests she had ordered: I had a genetic mutation and my brain commanded my blood to clot too quickly. It was easily managed with heparin and frequent checkups, but it probably saved me from having a stroke during or after my babies were born.
Anyone can be misdiagnosed and mistreated.
Here’s the strange part of my story: I was misdiagnosed. That’s because I didn’t have any of the indicators of a stroke: I wasn’t on birth control pills, I wasn’t overweight, I didn’t have a family history, I didn’t do cocaine. (In fact, I had a doctor flat out accuse me of being a coke user, yelling at me, to tell the truth for his diagnosis. Um, people with severe sinus allergies RARELY sniff coke!)
Instead, the hospital gave me a spinal tap, which kept me in agony for days to come, a cat scan, which came up clean and told me to have an MRI in 2 weeks. Mistake #1: not demanding a real diagnosis and a full MRI.
So it got worse.
Way, way worse.
6 days later, I had the worst headache of my life. I’m no stranger to severe sinus attacks, so I brushed it off. By the end of the night, my hubby put me in bed with 2 Extra Strength Excedrin. Yea, that was mistake #2! By the next morning, I was too sick to hold my head up. So we sought to find a doctor open on a Sunday and got lucky. He immediately had me go back to the hospital. Dad drove, messed up the directions and landed me in one of the best teaching hospitals in Long Island at the time. They immediately diagnosed a bleed and a block and started me on the right path to recovery.
Here’s my story:
What is a Stroke?
Simply put, a stroke is when blood gets into your brain or blood flow to the brain is cut off. Both can cause damage. There are two kinds of strokes:
- A “bleed,” officially called hemorraghic
- And a clot, aka ischemic
There are numerous causes of stroke. Some of the ones you can take steps to prevent include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Long-term use of birth control pills
- Excessive drinking
- Cocaine use
It can also be caused by certain artery diseases and by atrial fibrillation, which is a type of irregular heartbeat.
In my case, it was a genetic disorder that causes my brain to clot my blood too quickly. There isn’t much I can do about that except remain on blood thinners and monitor my blood every few weeks.
Anyone can have a stroke.
Strokes are no joke and for me, as the mother of 2 disabled kiddos, it’s not an option! I need to be careful with my health and maintain my medication to make sure my blood doesn’t get too think or clots.
This story has a lot of superheroes: my husband, for acting quickly to help me. The EMT guys, who got me to the hospital and kept me calm. (It’s terrifying to wake up helpless in your building lobby dressed only in your jammies!) The doctors, nurses, and therapists who got me through. My boss at the time, who made lots of allowances for who and when I came back to work. My OB, who figured the whole thing out and my entire obstetric/medical team who got me safely through my pregnancy and postpartum. And most of all, God, who allowed me to go through this ordeal, for the grander purpose of saving my life so I could have my beloved, and very much meant to be, children.
And all those superheroes are a big deal. Everyone loves them – kids all the way to adults. But our fictional caped heroes who wear masks do not compare to the real superheroes like these – and us! We are all superheroes in our own special way: mom, dad, grandparent, caregiver – the list goes on. And whether you know it or not, you have the opportunity today to save lives.
I want to raise awareness about Stroke knowledge, prevention, and what to do in an emergency. Stroke is the No. 1 preventable cause of disability – and sometimes they are preventable.
You don’t need superpowers to be a Stroke Hero.
You can be a Stroke Hero by controlling your blood pressure and other risk factors and by knowing F.A.S.T, the warning signs of stroke, so you’re ready to take action and help others know when and how to take action! I had a seizure and so there was no confusion that something was desperately wrong with me that day, or a week late with that extreme headache. But not all stroke symptoms are that obvious.
In fact, only 9% of us can identify all the letters in the F.A.S.T. acronym for stroke. When you recognize a stroke and immediately call 9-1-1, the person has a greater chance of getting to an appropriate hospital quickly and being assessed for treatment options like a clot-busting drug or clot-removing device.
How to spot a stroke F.A.S.T. (the warning signs):
- F – Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
- A – Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S – Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence like: “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
- T- Time to call 9-1-1 – If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.
These, however, are NOT the only warning signs. In fact, they don’t include my symptoms as well as these others:
- Severe headache
- Weakness in your extremities
- Seeing double
- Arm/leg falling asleep if you don’t have issues of poor circulation
- Temporary loss of vision
- Seeing double
If you know someone who could be at risk for a stroke, or even yourself – take the #StrokeHero quiz. It is fast, easy, and could save your life or the lives of people that you love.
While stroke threatens millions of lives, it is largely preventable, treatable and beatable- I’m living proof that you can get back to life with the right help and treatment.