Stroke through Post-stroke

After the nurses assembled around me they pinned me down and pulled out a needle.  The shot did not fully knock me out but it took the fight out of me.  I remember several people rolling me down the hall.  They rolled me into another room and transferred me to a hospital bed.  People were all around me working franticly.  I remember someone cutting my jeans off with scissors.  Someone else was hooking up my air supply and somebody injected me with something, which I later learned was Heparin, right below my belly button.  A middle age doctor started talking to me in English with a heavy French accent.  Every five minutes he would ask me to touch my nose with either hand.  The first few times I could do it with no problem.  Each time thereafter my arms grew heavier and heavier until I could no longer move.  I was half asleep and very confused.  I did not ever pass out and was ALWAYS cognizant of EVERYTHING going on around me.  I had a breathing tube down my throat and another tube that went into my lungs to remove the fluids that were quickly building up.  Someone then threaded a tube down my nose for feeding purposes.  Also, my hand was pricked and an IV line was started.   I HAD to be in a unit equivalent to the American ICU.  People were swarming around me rattling off French and did not leave until mid-afternoon when I finally stabilized.

I was living a real life nightmare.  I could not talk, I thought only because I had a breathing tube down my throat (I did not find out that I had permanent speech loss for three weeks), nor move.    I could see and hear and understand everything going on around me.  The only movement that I had was eye movement.  Later, I would learn that this is called being locked-in.  I could understand bits and pieces of what was being said about me.  I had been in France several times and this trip had just started its third month.  I could understand the French language much better than my speaking skills.  What I picked up was scaring me to death.

Immediately after my stroke I could not speak.  While I was in the hospital in France, I had a tube down my throat because my lungs were constantly filling with fluid.  I thought that this was obviously the reason that I could not talk.  Also, I knew that there was a small diameter tube threaded into my nostril, through my throat and into my stomach.  I was awake when they put the feeding tube down my nose and I was angry because it was so uncomfortable.  The doctors put a breathing tube down my throat, too.  I could imagine how I must have looked and I did not like it one bit!  I was ticked off because, in my mind, all of these tubes were unnecessary.  In my mind, I could still eat and breathe on my own.  I was angry that they had forced me to submit while they did all of these things to me without my permission.  Let me tell you the story of why the breathing tube was removed.

On the second day after my stroke, I was woken up early when a gurney was wheeled into my room.  I had no idea of what was going on.  The attendants seemed to know what they were doing and occasionally muttered something in French to each other.  Keep in mind that I was cognizant of EVERYTHING going on but did not have the ability to move anything below my nose.

The attendants transferred me to the gurney, made sure I was covered with a blanket and they guided me out of the room.  They push me out of the room and made a sharp right turn past the nurse’s station.  We went a few more feet and made a sharp left.  We rode down a long corridor and then I lost my bearings.  It is not easy to lay flat on your back on a fast moving gurney and remember where you are going.  Your only point of reference is the ceiling.  I could not even turn my head.  I just remember the halls being poorly lit with individual light bulbs.  The hospital had the feel of being something out of WWII.

We made a couple more sharp turns and then went into a narrow elevator.  We obviously were going down because I heard the whine of the elevator and felt the downward movement as we dropped several floors.  We I could hear the doors open and suddenly I was moving again.  Several dozen ceiling panels passed, as we must have moved straight forward a short distance and then we abruptly stopped.  I heard a male and female voice speaking softly in French and then my gurney was pushed into a small dark room that had a bright light coming from the center.

I was very confused about what was going on.  I had no idea of why I was moved from my room or where we were now.  The only voices that I heard were speaking French and nobody had even tried to tell me what was going on.  The next thing I know I was being transferred to a narrow bed.  Again, I felt myself being covered up with a blanket.  The next thing I saw and felt was a plastic mask being placed over my mouth and nose.  The room went completely dark in seconds and I remembered nothing of what happened next.

I woke up back in my room still on the gurney.  The gurney was positioned parallel with my bed, as if they were about to transfer me back to bed but had suddenly been called away.  I opened my eyes and looked around the room.  The windows must have been open.  A hot breeze was coming across the room.  The hospital had no air conditioning.  In this hospital that meant that every window was ALWAYS open.

I was not in pain but I could feel something hard on my throat and could feel gauze on my neck.  Had I been operated on… without me knowing about it?  Yes!  The bastards had given me a tracheotomy and did not even have the decency to forewarn me!  I was immediately livid with anger and frustration.  I was in disbelief.   What kinds of people were these?  They just gave me a tracheotomy and did not say one word to me about it?  I was also upset that they would leave someone in my condition unattended?  It was almost as if they did not care how I felt.  It made me feel violated!  I had been warned months ago about the French disdain for Americans.  Was this what I had been experiencing all along at this hospital?  My French friends at work were terrific and were generally warm.  The French people at the hospital were cold and unfriendly.  What was next?  I was soon to find out.

Suddenly, a figure walked in and I immediately noticed his black suit and white collar.  I almost fell off of the gurney, figuratively, of course!  My immediate thought was that he was there to administer my last rites.  I could not believe that this was happening to me!  I just knew that I had just had a stroke and was in VERY bad shape; I must be getting ready to die!  To be continued ….

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Anatomy of a stroke – part 4

I lay back down in my bed and was there for another two minutes when I had to throw up AGAIN!  This pattern continued all night until after 6 am.  I would lie down for two minutes, maximum, and be back at the sink for 10.  I finally dozed off at around 7 am but was woken up by a lady dropping off my breakfast.  They gave me a cup of tea and a couple of plain cookies. I was moving very slowly and took my time finishing breakfast.  I was hungry but I was tired of throwing up so I gingerly ate my two cookies and only drank half of the tea. 

There was movement in the emergency room so I poked my head out of the room and asked for directions to the bathroom.  I started walking the halls trying to remember which way to turn.  I was marveling at how old the building looked when I found the toilette.  Toilettes are unisex in France so I did my business while looking over my shoulder and then headed back to my closet.

Actually, I started feeling pretty good.  Have you ever been sick and finally make an appointment with the doctor only to get there and you are suddenly not feeling sick anymore?  That is how I was feeling.  I cannot explain it but it was like I was spontaneously all better.  I just wanted to brush my teeth, take a long hot shower and crash for a couple of hours.  No sooner had I made it back to my room when a hospital attendant poked his head in the door.  He was there with an old beat up wheelchair and motioned for me to sit down.  Off we went down the hall making left and right turns.  I had no idea where we were going but wherever it was we were making good time.

The attendant made a sharp right turn and skidded to a stop in front of a long cylindrical machine.  I was to have an MRI.  Finally, they did something to me that made sense.  What was strange, though, was that no doctor ever came to see me.  I had no idea of who was treating me; I guess Doogie ordered the MRI when he was on duty the night before.   The MRI took about an hour and then speed racer whisked me back to room.

I was not there very long when they came and got me again.  This time I was taken through a maze of corridors and small and dank elevators.  I was pushed into a private room and told that I would be staying for the weekend by a nurse who was waiting for me.  My room was very plain but it was a REAL room.  It was about 15′ x 15′ and had a REAL bed in the middle of the room.  Also, there were nightstands on either side of the bed and one of them had an old black dial-up telephone sitting on it.  The walls looked like they were painted concrete block walls that went to the ceiling.  The window was opened and a warm summer breeze was flowing in.  Actually, my room was very comfortable.  The nurse spoke some English and told me that lunch would be there shortly.    The nurse was French but she spoke English well enough that we could have an intelligent conversation.  She had a French nurse uniform on, which was a loosely fitting light blue and white dress with a white scarf covering her hair.  She looked like a combination of nun and gypsy.  Immediately, I felt secure knowing that she was my nurse.  I felt a big sigh of relief as she introduced me to my room.  She showed me how to call in case I needed her.  This was REALLY weird because I had to use the telephone to contact her; I did not care, though.  Also, she informed me that the doctor said I could take the hard neck brace off.  Thank goodness!  I could not stand how awkward that hard plastic neck brace made me feel.  I was feeling human again, happy that I was not feeling abandoned, like last night, and glad that someone knew that I was alive!

It was almost noon when my lunch arrived.  I absolutely love French food.  Not only was this meal well balanced but the roll and fruit were fresh and delicious.  I was taking a nap when my two buddies knocked on the door and walked in.  These were the same two guys who were with me in my hotel room when I had the TIA episode last night.  They both immediately started teasing me about how bad my hotel room smelled from my puke fest last night.  They told me that the hotel maid had to leave the door to my room open along with the windows.  We all had a good laugh about the poor person that had to clean the bathroom.  I forgot to mention earlier that because I was drinking red wine with my dinner and that everything that came out of my stomach was red.  Sorry, I told you that my story was not pretty!  Anyway, what was funny about this was that the walls of my hotel bathroom were covered with red throw up, which made the clean up even grosser!

I made a list of what I needed from my hotel room and asked them to go get my stuff for me.  I wanted to spend my time in the hospital working.  I had some very important things for the aircraft we were working on and it was my job to verify that it would receive certification from the French FAA.  I had nothing but work on my mind.  There were so many tasks in various stages of completion and I could not afford to get behind in my work.  While they were gone, I decided to take a shower, shave and brush my teeth.  Here is another different thing about French hospitals.  The French hospitals do not supply towels.  If you need towels you are expected to bring whatever you need from home.  I did not find this out until my friends had left.  The nurse must have felt sorry for me and gave me some clean linen to use to dry myself off with.  I only had to wait about 45 minutes and then they were back.  I dismissed them immediately because I had a date with a hot shower.  They brought everything I requested, my briefcase, clean clothes and shaving bag that had all of my toiletries in it.

Oh, another strange thing was that the hospital was so old that the rooms did not have bathrooms in them.  If you had to relieve yourself you had to walk down the hall.  The communal bathroom also had communal showers.  Honestly, I was not really surprised.  The French are very casual about displaying body parts.  After all, their beaches are topless and the commercials display bare boobs all the time.  They even have a pornographic television station.  So I hurriedly took a shower and got myself cleaned up.  I was feeling absolutely marvelous.  It felt so good to get all clean and freshened up.  I returned to my room and spent the better part of the day working out of my briefcase.  I went to bed early.  To be continued…

 

Anatomy of a Stroke – part 2

 

The first signs of my stroke happened on Friday at around 6:00 in the morning.  I woke up before my alarm.  The room was spinning out of control; REALLY spinning!  It was not like being dizzy but it was definitely vertigo.  The closest analogy that I can give you is that it was like being on a speeding circular carnival ride except that I was not moving; the whole room was doing the moving.  My head was killing me so I decided to sleep in and tried to bear the wild ride.  Luckily, the vertigo stopped after about two minutes.  This was an extremely frightening experience because I had no control whatsoever of the rapid spinning.  I had had a TIA and did not recognize the symptoms.  

I finally made into work around 8 am.  My neck and head were killing me all day.  We knocked off work around 8 pm and headed back to our hotel.  There was a group of about eight of us over there from work.  We usually did everything together and decided to meet for dinner around 9 pm.  We met at an outside café and I had a tasty dinner of entrecote and frites, steak and french fries.

I had just finished eating when the vertigo struck for the second time.  It was probably about 11 pm on Friday night.  It scared me to death.  Everything around me was twirling wildly.  I asked one of my colleagues to help me back to my hotel room.   I only had to walk about 100 yards but the muscles on my right side would not work.  I was walking like I was totally drunk.  Finally, my friend put my right arm over his shoulder and almost carried me to my room.

I was in my room for two minutes when suddenly things took a turn for the worse.  I was scared to death that I would collapse all alone in my room so I called my buddy and asked him to come to my room, ASAP!  I had not even hung up the phone when the twirling got so bad I could not stand it any longer.  I am talking about extreme vertigo!

My stomach started churning severely.  My mouth suddenly became all juicy.  I knew these were the symptoms of having to throw up.  It was over in a second.  I had made a mad dash for the toilet.  The bathroom was literally two steps away.  I made it to the threshold of the bathroom entrance when my entire stomach contents erupted through my mouth!  The wonderful entrecote, frites, salad, two glasses of wine and the delicious hot fudge Sunday all spewed out of my mouth with the force of a fire hydrant exploding.  Sound gross?  Well, it was gross!  I think I hit every wall in the bathroom.  I have NEVER thrown up so violently in my whole life!

Just about then, two of my buddies came flying through the door.  Both of their faces were panic stricken when they saw me.  There was no doubt in their minds that something serious was wrong with me.  One of them scrambled for the phone and yelled for the front desk to immediately send up a doctor.

The doctor arrived about 20 minutes later.  By this time it was almost midnight.  The doctor spoke little to no English and all of our French comprised of ordering food at restaurants.  We could order dinner really well but beyond that our French stunk!  The doctor made me lie flat on my bed while he took my blood pressure.  If I remember right it was like 160/100.  I know now that is not terribly high but he still looked very concerned.  He had seen the catastrophe in the bathroom.  He knew something serious was happening with me.  He waited 20 more minutes and then took my blood pressure again.  It was unchanged and he grew more concerned.  I made sure he understood that I had a bad case of vertigo.  If I remained very still the room would not spin.  If I was perfectly still I was okay but any movement and the room started twirling.  The doctor called for an ambulance.  I was scared out of my mind.  What was happening to me?  To be continued…

 

 

 

Count your blessings!

Have you ever looked back, since the time of your stroke and tried to count your blessings?  I tried to count every blessing and there have been so many I was truly amazed.  I know I could not remember every one.  REALLY, my life has been blessed in so many different ways.  I will try to recount some of them and let you decide.  Okay? 

My first blessing actually happened about a year before my stroke.  We own a Cape Cod style home and we were debating whether to move and buy a bigger home or to just build an addition on.  We love our wooded lot with the stream in the back, our neighbors are fantastic and our location is perfect so we decided to stay and add an additional room.  Well, boy did that turn out to be a blessing in disguise.  I had my stroke a year later and you would not believe how much that room came in handy!  We have a bedroom and a bathroom on the first floor.  Now, with the family room we had just built I would have a room to hang out in all day.  We put my computer in this room so between this and the television set I was in good shape; everything that I needed was on the first floor. 

I had my stroke in Toulouse, France while on a business trip.  Several weeks before I left, I received an insurance package at work.  One of my options was to select a long-term disability plan.  It was very inexpensive so my wife and I decided to get the 60% plan for $16 per month.   Well, two months later I had my stroke and became permanently disabled.  I do not know what we would have done if we had not chosen that long-term disability insurance.  We would receive 60% of my salary, non-taxable!  We could not believe it.  There was another blessing! 

The next of my REALLY big blessings happened when I had my stroke.  Nobody would have ever realized how unique it was to have a brainstem stroke instead of an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke.  My brainstem stroke was massive and devastated me and my family.  Brainstem stroke could not cause more overall destruction to the human body.  The key here is that it may have caused havoc on my body but cognitively I was 100%.  Sure my emotions were off balance, at first, but my intelligence was unharmed. 

At first, we did not know what hit us!  Like I said, my family was totally devastated.  What emerged from me cannot be explained by anything except a major blessing.  Let me explain further and you will understand. 

I was discharged from the Army in 1980.  I only went in the service for the GI Bill.  I made the cutoff date for the old benefits package by TWO weeks!  That meant that the federal government would pay for me to go to college for 10 years.  Why this is significant is because I received a BS degree in business and it took me all of 10 years to finish school.  I graduated two years before my stroke.  Had I not had an education in business and not understood the mechanics of the business environment I could have never started my non-profit organization.  I needed so much of a business understanding to make my non-profit flourish.  This was another blessing in disguise; EVERYTHING was starting to add up! 

I am almost finished, two more blessing before I tell you about my coup de grace blessing.  All of my physical abilities were totally blown out.  I could extend both of my arms and legs but there is nothing functional about that, although, it did help me to assist with transferring, another blessing.  The real blessing was that I could move my head side to side and up and down.  My head control was fantastic!  This would greatly lend itself to my next blessing. 

About one month after my stroke, both of my hands swelled up.  They must have been at least double of their normal size.  Apparently, I was sleeping with my hands on the bed by my sides.  My doctor said that this was causing my hands to swell with fluid.  He suggested placing pillows under them to keep them elevated.  Sure enough, about three weeks later my hands were back to normal size.  The odd thing was is that the fingers on my right hand were permanently bent at a 45 degree angle at the middle joint.  My little and ring fingers were kind of limp but my middle and index fingers were rigidly bent. 

You are probably wondering why this would be a blessing?  Well, let me explain the coup de grace blessing, which will hopefully tie all of this together for you.  On a whim, my wife moved my computer from my office downstairs to our new family room upstairs shortly before I was discharged from the hospital.  I could not move ANYTHING except my head until four days before I was discharged.  My head was still jerky and my arm had only slight movement.  This all changed after I came home.  I do not remember my fingers being able to move at all yet.  Within three months I was sitting in front of the computer.  My head moved wherever I wanted and the middle finger on my right hand could make a clicking motion. 

I knew exactly what to do because my cognitive skills worked perfectly.  I purchased an infrared headpointer and could move the cursor anywhere on the screen.  I tried several on-screen keyboards and then found the best one out there.  I could now type anything I wanted.   I use my right hand to click the mouse.  Every other finger is way too weak to click the mouse except my middle finger that had swelled and then became bent and very rigid. 

I was now ready for action.  Nothing could stop me from carrying on.  I feel extremely fortunate that I have obviously been so blessed!  What is wild is that the blessings keep coming.  The visions that I receive when I want to do something would probably be scoffed at if I tried to explain them.  Believe what you want, though, the blessings, visions and inspirations are VERY real.  My accomplishments cannot be challenged.  I am not bragging about myself.  Seriously, I do not feel ownership for anything that I have done.  The real credit goes to my close relationship with God.  On the computer I am not disabled.  Wait; let me count my blessings, first! 

I purposely did not write about all of my blessings.  There are way too many to count.  All I can say is that I could not have done anything unless I had a true relationship with Jesus Christ.  He is the reason for me creating my website and forming my non-profit organization.  I am truly blessed more than you will ever know! 

Hello world!

I am the President & CEO of The Stroke Network, http://www.strokenetwork.org/.  We are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  We have existed on the Internet, since February of 1996.  Our mission is to provide on-line stroke support and information.  We were the first on-line stroke support website on the Internet. 

My last picture  This is one of the last good pictures of me before my stroke.  I am definitely not 36 anymore but this picture has significant sentimental meaning to me.  This was the end of an era, a time when me and my family enjoyed our simple life and laughed easily.  This was when I did not mind getting my picture taken. 

Anyway, I was an aerospace engineer for a major corporation, Martin Marietta, until I had a massive brainstem stroke in June of 1994 at age 36.  My stroke damaged nine of the 12 cranial nerves, which affected most of the motor skills.  I am now effectively quadriplegic and cannot talk.  Luckily, none of my cognitive skills are damaged. 

My situation has and often can be a nightmare for me.  I consider my circumstances healthier than most able-bodied people because I have been forced to leave the corporate battleground.  No more do I face the daily stresses and headaches that corporate life can bring. 

I have developed a close and loving relationship with God.   I tend to focus on God’s plan for me and have started an on-line stroke support community for all of those that cannot attend a local stroke support group.  To combat the deep seated feelings that tend to rise I keep myself extremely busy.  I believe that God has a plan for me and I am living it with His help.  I definitely could not do what I do and have done without Him guiding me every step of the way. 

 I type by using an infrared headpointer to move the cursor and can click the mouse with my finger.  I use an on-screen keyboard to type.  Without my cognitive skills, my excellent head control to move the cursor and the ability to click just one finger I could have never created my websites or written 99% of the web pages, including founding our non-profit organization. 

 I am truly blessed! 

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