I have been told that the first thing I should say when I tell y’all this is that I’m fine. I can walk, talk, type, read, and so forth with no issue. I’m still here, kicking and screaming my way through this timeline. So don’t worry, k? Okay.
Last Thursday night, I was watching a movie with my roommate. A normal Thursday, normal movie. I was eating twizzlers and taking photos of my cat being a goober. I remember lying down and it gets a bit fuzzy from there. The movie was just at the climax and my roommate is talking at me, “Are you ok?”
Of course I’m ok, now get out of the way, movie.
They ask again if I’m ok, and apparently not liking my response, they try to get me to reply again. They turn off the movie and try to get me to sit up. They keep asking if I’m ok, but of course I am. Why wouldn’t I be?
I see panic start to grow in their expression and they look something up on their phone. They curse a couple times, then dial 9-1-1, keeping their eye on me as I watch the entire process bemusedly. It feels like I’m floating, detached from reality. Sirens from the fire dept down the street echo strangely through the apartment, as they always do when the trucks go by. But this time they stop out front, for me.
I figure at that point something has happened. I have no idea what and tbh I’m mostly annoyed because I’m just tired. Maybe I’ll feel better if I go to bed, or better yet, nap here on the couch. My roommate runs downstairs to let the fire crew in and I close my eyes, maybe a little nap until they get up here.
A bunch of old grumpy fire dudes tromp in. The oldest and most grizzled keeps trying to talk to me, but he’s being rude, so I turn my attention to where my roommate is trying to show them my meds. The firemen keep asking if I’m on cocaine or if I’ve taken anything weird. Of course I haven’t, but for some reason when I say that, no words come out.
The grumpy old firefighter keeps trying to get me to stand up and get off the couch. I try a couple times but only manage a sort of weird wiggle. I frown, confused. Typically my body works better than this. I hear my roommate tell them for what has to be the fifth time that no, I haven’t been doing drugs. The fire guy in front of me begins to look increasingly grumpy and to be honest I’m kinda over his attitude.
When the paramedics arrive, I get the impression they’re annoyed they had to climb up to the third floor no elevator apartment. But the EMTs look even more annoyed that the firefighters are still trying to get me to get myself off the couch instead of getting me downstairs. As they physically move me off the couch and steer me into a stair chair, my brain finally stops fighting the realization that something very very fucked up has happened to me. As they try to center me on the chair and strap me in, the paramedics keep urging them to hurry. I close my eyes and take a breath.
Ok something weird has definitely happened. I decide that I’m gonna let them do what they need to do until someone tells me what is going on.
With that attitude in mind, I also decide to just enjoy the ride as they physically carry me out of the apartment and down the stairs. I start going in and out of consciousness, coming to with each landing and door. I don’t remember them bundling me into the ambulance.
A CT scan. A concerned-looking nurse asks me questions. I answer every time. The nurse asks again, “Honey you have to tell me, what’s your name?”
I tell her. She shakes her head and looks at someone to my right, “She’s still unresponsive.”
Other nurses rush around. It seems like the firefighters forgot to tell them who I was. “I guess we will have to hope her roommate shows up with her ID or something.” I hear one say to the other. I close my eyes.
When I open my eyes again, my roommate is there and talking to the nurses. A doctor stands in front of my hospital gurney bed thing. He nods at something a nurse tells him and then looks at me. “I need you to raise both of your arms.”
Okiedokie. I raise both my arms. The doctor shakes his head and I follow his gaze to my right arm, which has somehow managed to defy my order and lies flat on the bed at my side. I look at it again and do the raising command. It once again refuses. I sigh and use my left hand to raise it, knowing that’s not the point, but hey, maybe it’s funny. I catch the doc starting to chortle before he puts his professional face on and asks, “Do you know what happened to you?”
I shake my head, sneaking a glance at my roommate. They look back, their expression grim. I look at the doctor and try to speak. Again, nothing comes out.
“You had a stroke and we administered TPA, which has started to clear up the clots, but we are not sure if there are more clots, so we are observing you to see if you improve. Do you understand?”
I nod, but from the look on his face it isn’t as successful as I want it to be. A stroke. Ohhhkay. Not what I was expecting.
“You are doing better, Vivian.” My roommate smiles. I smile back, or try to. The nurses ask me more questions and although I try to answer them, and do answer them in my head, it feels like there is a block between my reality and the one everyone else is in. My roommate meets my gaze and asks me, “You understand us, don’t you?”
I not and try to say something, gesturing with both hands. A mumble and a left handed gesture comes out. “That’s better than you were doing earlier!”
The nurses ask me questions I try to answer and as the next hour passes, I slowly regain my speech and gesture. Eventually they transfer me from the ER to the neurological ICU for 24 hours of observation.
Turns out 24 hours of observation means being tasked every 30-60 minutes with raising both arms, one leg, then the other, say these words, read these phrases out loud, confirm that you can feel this and that? Oh and describe what is going on in this dysfunctional kitchen scene picture. Got really tired of that picture, to be honest.
Close to a week later, I am starting to notice changes, differences. It’s strange, being completely sober and realizing just how incredibly tenuous reality is. Every time I sense something different, I ask, is this a new issue or have I always done this? Food tastes different. The world feels different and perhaps slightly skewed.
Before they released me, the neuro doc told me, “I want to make sure you understand that your roommate saved your brain.”
Sure as fuck understand. If they hadn’t recognized the signs and called 9-1-1 as quickly as they did, the clot could have done serious and hardcore damage. The time window for intervening in a stroke situation is so incredibly narrow that if I had been alone that night, I would have been fucked. Turns out you don’t know when you are having a stroke. At least for me there was no sign, no hint. No burning toast smell, sorry folks.
(cover image h/t BarrowNeuro.org)
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