Monday, November 12, 2012

I had a stroke and here's my experience

On August 20th I experienced a stroke but didn’t know it.  This is my story.

I was watching television and suddenly part of my vision disappeared.  There was no pain.  I have had migraine headaches in the past.  They typically include that a small portion of my vision is obscured and I “see” a small aura of bright light around the edge of my vision.  My migraines will generally last about an hour and then everything returns to normal.

This time I thought that that was happening again, but there was no aura.  This experience had more of my vision field gone.  My “headache” was not going away.  I went for a walk thinking a little fresh air might help.  When I crossed the street I could hear cars, but I couldn’t see them.  I would have to turn my head further to get the vehicles into my vision.  Since I had not experienced any pain, I felt no need to contact a doctor yet. 

The next day, the vision had cleared up.  The lower right portion of my field of vision was just gone.  It’s hard to describe.  It wasn’t black or white or gray.  It just seemed not to be there, but I knew it was supposed to be there.  I tried to read, but the end of each line wasn’t there.  I was starting to get a little more concerned and expressed it to my wife, but still didn’t pursue the issue medically.

Finally, Wednesday morning there was still no change.  I decided to call my family doctor’s office – and knowing my doctor is not in on Wednesdays – and asked to get in first thing Thursday morning.  The nurse asked my symptoms and after describing them, she arranged for me to see another physician that afternoon.  She said this new physician was just getting her practice started and these symptoms sounded like something that she specializes in. 

My daughter was my chauffeur for the afternoon.  The doctor went through a general exam, similar to what my regular doctor puts me through for my annual physical.  She was trying to look deep into my eyes (best way for me to put that) to look for any damage.  Since my eyes would not stay stable enough for her to see, I was sent to an ophthalmologist.  She also scheduled me for a MRI brain exam for Thursday morning.

 After a good dose of drops to dilate my eyes, I went through the eye exam.  The ophthalmologist found no damage of any kind to my eyes.

The next morning I spent 45 minutes in the MRI.  I also had a dye put into me to help highlight my brain on the film (although the film was only in black and white).    After waiting another 30 minutes for a doctor to read the results, the receptionist told me that my first doctor wanted me back in her office to talk with me. Well, this was not good news.  So my wife drove us back to see her.

The doctor started off by telling me I had experienced something with a really long name – in laymen’s terminology - I had had a stroke.  She said it was a very small one on the back of brain on the left side in area that controls vision.   She proceeded to check me out again to see if there were any apparent residual effects from my stroke. 

My youngest brother had passed away about 6 months earlier and there had been no definitive cause of death.  I had found him dead in bed.  There was the possibility that whatever caused his death might be hereditary.  So, back then I had an ultrasound on my heart.  It was determined to be just fine.  Now the family doc had an ultrasound done on my carotid arteries in my neck.  A-OK there.

No apparent physical lingering effects, although my vision was beginning to return.  When I would read a line of print, at least I could see some of it.  It just looked like a poor quality ink jet print.  So the doc put me on a low dose aspirin and a minimal diuretic. My next visit would be to a neurologist, but I would have to wait for insurance approval first.  The first, middle, and last instruction I had from the doctor was clear – another experience like this I was to head to the emergency immediately!

Well, that Friday evening I suddenly experienced very blurred vision, but it was in a different area of my vision field.  So off I went to Parkview North.  Again, no pain.  By the time I arrived there I was already started to feel better.  After 3 hours of nothing – other than the vision clearing up – the ER doc arranged to get me into a neurologist ASAP after Monday. 

I got in the next Tuesday to see the neurologist.  He took a look at my MRI films again and confirmed the diagnosis.  He started looking at some other issues in my health history.  His concern centered on my snoring.  Sleep apnea has been linked to a possible cause of strokes.  So a couple of weeks later I found myself wired at a sleep center to record what I do while I sleep. I also had another heart ultrasound that examined my heart in more detail.  The results indicated moderate sleep apnea.  At that point I also asked the neurologist further about my earlier MRI results.  He showed me the spot on my brain where the stroke occurred.  He said I ‘was very lucky.”  That hit me with a lot of impact.  So, the result now is that I started sleeping with a CPAP, a device that forces air into my breathing while I sleep to prevent me from suddenly stopping breathing. 

I reflected on the fact that my father had experienced a major stroke in his early 40’s and he was a chronic snorer.  I suspect that maybe this is how my brother died.

All of the tests that I have experienced have returned as normal, except the sleep apnea.  Of course, I still need to lose more weight.  The doctor said I could be taken off the CPAP if I lost at least 40 pounds.  That does give more incentive.  More time on the treadmill.

I never would have thought of myself having a stroke.  I was always expecting the widow maker heart attack.

I write all of this as a warning to others that could be susceptible for something like this also.  Get yourself checked out.


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