On July 15, 2017, we welcomed our sweet daughter into the world. Lily Claire was absolutely perfect. Big brother Wesley doted on her and proudly announced his new role to everyone he saw. A few days later we went home.
A week went by and we were adjusting to being a family of four quite well.
Ten days later, I was blindsided by a piercing migraine. I couldn’t sleep all night. By morning, I knew something had to give. At the hospital, the CT scan of my head was clear, but my blood pressure wouldn’t go down. I was admitted to L&D with a diagnosis of late post-partum pre-eclampsia, a rare complication. Migraine & blood pressure meds, magnesium IV drip, and the dreaded foley catheter followed. I was sent home 3 days later on a barrage of medications.
I couldn’t stand noises. Light was blinding. I slept for 22 hours a day. I prayed…A LOT. Friends and family had rallied and brought us meals, took our son to church for us, and came to sit with Lily so my husband, John, could run errands or simply take a shower. It was a rough week.
About a week later, I started to feel well enough to venture out of my room. Lily was fussing in her swing and tossed her pacifier overboard. I bent over to pick it up and give it back to her. A bizarre sensation washed over me, much like a tingling or numbness from head to toe. I staggered to the glider and asked my husband take my blood pressure.
I reached over to take a sip of water, but my right arm wouldn’t work correctly. I started to tell my husband but my words came out jumbled. What was in my mind wasn’t what was coming out of my mouth. I froze.
He heard it.
He looked me straight in the eye from across the kitchen.
He didn’t even hesitate for one second.
He dialed 911.
He knew. And he acted FAST.
I was having a stroke.
I sobbed, knowing exactly what was happening and afraid for how far it would progress. You see, I am a nurse. I have been stroke-certified for the past 8 years. I have seen the best and the worst stroke outcomes. I have watched my patients, young and old, suffer from various complications of strokes, including brain death.
I was TERRIFIED.
I suffered a second stroke en route to the hospital.
“CODE STROKE ER ROOM 12”
That’s what they page overhead to activate a whole barrage of folks specially trained to assess, diagnose, and treat a stroke patient. A lot of it was a blur, but I still remember sitting there, having moments where I could and couldn’t speak and not knowing what would happen to me.
The CT scan of my head and neck showed a complete blockage of my left internal carotid artery. That’s huge. Half my brain wasn’t getting adequate blood flow because of this blockage. However, the brain vessels are designed with this cool roundabout (think: 10th street in Midtown by Kaiser’s) called the Circle of Willis. It allows blood flow from the right internal carotid artery to circle around and feed the other part of the brain. The human body is amazing!
The next day after the MRI of my brain, the neurologist explained to me that I had suffered a spontaneous left internal carotid artery dissection (the inner lining of the artery peels away, allowing blood clots to form as it tries to repair itself) probably during delivery and it had finally fully clotted off the artery when I had my severe headache onset. As it turns out, when I had bent over to give Lily her pacifier back, some of the clot had broken off and lodged in my left mid-cerebral artery, causing a stroke.
My husband knew what to look for because he knew about F.A.S.T.
F.A.S.T. stands for Face, Arms, Speech, and Time. It’s the acronym the American Stroke Association has developed to get the word out about the importance of assessing a stroke and getting immediate treatment.
Face: Face drooping. Have them smile…is it symmetrical?
Arms: Arm weakness. Have them hold their arms out like Superman…are they both staying up?
Speech: Speech difficulty. Have them say, “The sky is blue and the clouds are white.” Did it come out clear?
Time: Time to call 911. Don’t wait. Don’t let them talk you out of it. Don’t let them brush it off. Get help immediately!
A year ago today, my husband saved my life.
For more information on stroke prevention and awareness, please visit The American Stroke Association.
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