11:00, Saturday morning. I’d finished frying an egg, was headed to the office to finish a poker article I was on deadline for. As I walked across the room, my 6-year-old asked me a question. A second later I was standing with arm stiffened hard against the wall, holding my entire body’s weight to keep me from falling on top of her as my wife quickly dragged over a chair.
I’m a big man by any measure, 6’ 4”, but for 30 years I have battled with weight. Indeed I saw a wonderful clinical hypnotherapist just last week to get my hands around eating issues and making healthier choices. At 136.4 kilos that day or 299.2 pounds, sitting behind this screen every day for hours on end writing and covering the election, my body just sent out a clarion warning call. I’m listening so you may see a few more Reprise articles in the coming weeks on the UK Progressive.
11:01. As I sat wondering what the heck just happened, I’d just experienced my body not responding to the numerous mental counter-compensating commands it has given thousands of times before to stop the fall and right me. Instead, I was tipping over like one of those dynamite imploded cement smokestacks.
I always meant to exercise more and this is why I went to see Simon. Why is it, I asked him, that I know the right things to eat, the value of exercise, can be positively gun-ho for a short period (maybe a week) riding the stationary bike or walking, yet seem unable or unwilling to make the changes needed?
11:04. I sat in a stupor behind my son gathering myself and helping him to read dialogue boxes on his favourite Disney Club Penguin website. The only problem was the words I was reading clearly in my head were not forming in my mouth.
As Dorret ran back and forth into the room I began to wonder if the dots were somehow interconnected. I’d been dog-tired during the campaign, stayed up until 4 or 5 each morning and then racing over to the BBC for post-debate analysis on a shower. At 51, I should be able to do that kind of iron-man stuff, right?
11:06. I retreated to the couch and lay there for a moment, feeling tingling sensations around my head and neck and not sure what was going on. My wife ran back and forth to computer Googling stroke symptoms and up came TIA or Transient Ischaemic Attack. It sure looked to her based on what she reading like I was having one. She kept asking me what I was feeling and I kept saying I do not know. She said we’re either calling 999 (911) or going to Casualty at Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend. By this time I was frightened enough not to fight her.
Now I’m the classic rescuer personality. When things go pear-shaped, I take charge and lead the family to safety, thinking nothing of myself. So sitting in the passenger seat, despite being something I can count on the fingers of one hand this entire year, was foreign to me and besides feeling helpless as this unfolded, the male ego was now suitable bruised. I should have been able to drive myself to the hospital was how I saw it. Yeah, I know…
11:30 on the way to Casualty (the ER) we were stopped at a light and I could see my right hand but not feel it. I tapped it and moved my fingers with complete ease but could not feel it.
This could be the first time I began to cry. Now I was really scared. I‘d seen that French movie The Diving Bell and The Butterfly where the man paralyised with stroke viewed the world through one good eye and the doctor was about sew it shut because he could not communicate only to find out he could communicate and write using that eye. So if there ever was a reason to say something to my wife, like don’t let them do that to me, I will find a way to communicate with you no matter what, ran through my head.
11:50ish I’m sitting in a wheelchair being wheeled immediately into the triage corner. There events become a blur. I feel leads for an ECG being placed, blood pressure cuff, temperature taken, lots of questions being asked… but I’m loopier and more out of it by the second.
I was completely terrified by this point. It was like an outer body experience, there but not really there. I kept asking for my wife who they sent around the corner to wait.
From here the timeline gets lost. I remember the nurse, lovely gentleman named Rod Gouveia, talking with me about the USA and the Philippines and I realised we were having a cogent, lucent conversation with lots of little details as he tried to find a vein for blood. He missed twice and the pain each time was excruciating, (yes, I know, if we men had to do the childbirth thing the species would end) by the time Dr. Michael Jos found the vein in my hand with an IV Heparin lock, I was fully back in the room.
Whether it was pain or irritation, it did the trick and it was a very noticeable moment. I remember saying to him, “wow, I’m back.” Rod earned the nickname Dracula but it was a good thing as it helped.
Off to X-ray for a chest X-Ray and then placed in a Casualty side room, the next few hours were spent repeating this story over and over again, answering questions and conducting a number of neuro-muscular tests that included movement, and feeling the sensation of touch.
Dr. Huw Williams gets a shout out as he pulled out a series of ghoulish looking testing devices and Dorret and I were feeling more confident that I passed each test with flying colours. That left the equally wonderful Dr. Kate Windsor to then explain what she thought happened and why she was referring me to the hospital’s stroke specialist. In the meantime a possible TIA meant I was unable to drive on my UK licence as if I were to have a repeat incident and it resulted in an auto accident there would be no insurance coverage at all.
So, I’m sittin’ by the phone and waitin’ for the call to have a scan and carotid artery sonogram feeling very grateful to the NHS and feeling the need to warn folks about this silent potential killer that many ignore.
Gentlemen, I’m speaking to the macho, I’m OK group out there, if this happens to you, run, do not walk to Casualty. This article features a series of medical facts from the wonderful website Patients.co.uk and everyone would be wise to pay attention. Ladies, you already take better care of yourself than we do and please listen to and pay attention.
I’ve already heard from two Facebook friends about their experience and it was very different from this. Know the signals and seek immediate medical attention. If this reaches one person then we’re making progress. Please though pass this along to your various lists, TIA is serious and not to be ignored.
The doctor is not God, you have to take a role in understanding your situation and symptoms. Keep explaining and adding things in, he/she will know what is trivial or not, your job is to give them enough information to make a proper diagnosis so ask question after question. It’s your health and body.
I will keep a running series going when the scans happen with the hope of a clean bill of health very soon. I lost 2 kilos this week, will make a new appointment with the Dietician and am very serious this time. This is one first person story I will do everything in my power to complete to help all.
Denis Campbell is a US journalist based in the United Kingdom. He contributes to newspapers and magazines, is a BBC Radio election commentator and publishes the daily e-magazine The Vadimus Post from the Latin Quo Vadimus – where are we headed and do we know why?
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