The vision on my right side disappeared into blackness.
This past Monday morning, as I came upstairs from the basement with an armload of clean clothes, the entire right side of my vision disappeared, while at the same moment, an excruciating pain shot through my head, creating the worst possible headache one could ever imagine. As I reached the kitchen, I glanced at the clock on the microwave and realized that I could see only the hour—nothing to the right. Turning my entire body toward the right and looking out the left side, I was able to see the time—8:14am.
Apparently my younger son is right—I’m an under-responder. I thought perhaps I was having some sort of migraine, although I’d never actually had a migraine before. I’ve had so many issues with my vision ever since I got toasted by LASIK in 2001 that I’m accustomed to visual oddities. I took meds for headache and went about my business. I asked my friend to pick me up for our lunch date, given the lack of vision, which seemed to be returning by millimeters, and after lunch, we ran a couple of errands. By 3pm, I was home and ready to rip my brain out of my head from the pain. I took more Fiorinal, laid down for a bit, and when the phone rang a little before 4pm, I was happy to hear from my ophthalmologist returning my earlier call.
“This is not a visual issue. You need to call your neurologist—RIGHT NOW.”
Hung up, called my neurologist immediately. “You need to go to the ER—RIGHT NOW!”
I grabbed my down vest, my keys, phone and wallet, and eight hours after onset, I jumped into the car and off I went to the ER a mile away. I should have known after I walked in and explained my symptoms that something was very wrong, since despite a waiting room packed with groaning, moaning, unhappy people, they shuffled me back right away. I waited another hour until someone could see me.
“We’re going to take you for a CT scan in a minute, hon.” Off we went.
“We’re just getting a room for you now.”
Wait, what? “Are you admitting me? Why?” (Apparently, I’m not that bright.)
“We’ll just need to do some more tests in the morning. We’re going to give you some benadryl that will help you relax, and then we’ll get you upstairs once your room is ready.”
The minutes ticked by. Nearly three-and-a-half hours after my arrival, a kind soul came in and asked me if I wanted anything. A dry turkey sandwich quelled my hunger, and soon after, I went up to the fourth floor.
Hooked up to an IV and heart monitor, and with additional benadryl and the promise of further tests in the morning, I fell into a fitful sleep, interrupted by lightning striking in the left side of my head. Thankfully, my vision had recovered.
In the morning, I underwent a brain MRI, a carotid MRI with dye and an echocardiogram. And then I waited. An inedible lunch came and went and I waited some more. The afternoon dragged on with texts and calls from friends and family asking about me. Worried about my cats, I really just wanted to go home. An inedible dinner arrived (roadrunner, mushy carrot, mushier peppers) and I waited for someone to come and tell me what was going on.
Since I had arrived with nothing at the hospital, I called a friend to ask a favor—please bring my chargers and tablet, and a few personal effects. Once those arrived, I was able to brush my hair, change my undies (thank goodness!), and reconnect with the outside world—nearly human.
Around 7:30pm, I overheard chatting at the nurses’ station right outside my door. “Here’s what we’ve got in the pod tonight. 24 is a stroke, 26 is…..” I was 24. And that is how I learned I’d had a stroke.
An hour or so later, the hospitalist came to talk to me. That’s a thing now, doctors contracted to the hospital through a third party, who only care for hospital patients, running up your hospital bill with out-of-network providers.
H: “So, you’ve had a stroke. I’m putting you on Lipitor for cholesterol.”
Me: “Umm, no. Not taking it. I was on Lipitor for several years and it ate up all the muscle mass in my arms and legs. It took me a year of rehab to recover.”
H: “Well, your cholesterol is a little high.”
Me: “I’m taking cholesterol meds now, just not a statin.”
H: “They aren’t strong enough.”
Me: “Whatever, I’m not taking a statin. You may note that the patient refused medication as indicated.”
Thankfully, the neurologist on call arrived to rescue me.
N: “I see you’ve had a very small stroke. Your cholesterol is a tiny bit high. Are you taking meds? Any family history of stroke?”
Me: “Yes, I am on meds, but I confess to not having been vigilant about taking them regularly. I will do better now. And yes, my father had a stroke in his 70s. He recovered well.”
According to the neurologist, I had a tiny stroke; it’s nothing to worry about; it’s not likely to happen again; it appears to be a bit of an anomaly, since my carotids, my heart and my brain, except for the tiny area of the stroke in the left occipital lobe, are clear and unaffected. My diabetes, regardless of how well controlled, and a family history of stroke increase my risk. Not unexpected, but what I learned next stunned me.
Most often, vision loss of this sort with a stroke is permanent. MINE RECOVERED. Sheer luck.
The ongoing, horrid headache now presented the only obstacle to my release. Another night spent in the hospital, another breakfast—but this time, I was smart. When the dietary aide arrived, I asked her politely for a hard-boiled egg, coffee, cranberry juice, and some dry rice chex, rather than the usual disaster. (Not much you can do to ruin them.)
By noon, I was home, still had a headache, but didn’t care. I fed the cats, took some Fiorinal and aspirin, enjoyed a wonderful lunch my dear friend brought for us, and then I took a nap.
I slept like a rock last night (for a change), woke up with only a slight headache, and by 8am, was in the dentist’s chair getting a tooth capped. Life is good—and once again, I’ve been blessed by a “stroke of luck!”
P.S. I’ll be following up with my regular neurologist and my internist next week, and with the ophthalmologist later this month to check for any loss of visual fields. All is well.