Tuesday, 25 October 2011

My stroke.


Last Monday 17th October, at about 8:30am, I was sitting at home when I felt dizzy, and suddenly numb on the left side of my body. The dizziness, and the numbness came in waves and I hoped it would subside. After a few minutes of this, though, I started to worry. Although the symptoms were particularly strong in my arm and chest, I didn't think I was having a heart attack, because there was no pain. In fact, it felt quite pleasant. My father had had a stroke in his early sixties, and I knew that a generalised hemilateral effect was likely to to be something neurological. So, I called my wife and we decided to call NHS direct.

They took me through some questions, again ruling out heart attack, and sent an ambulance. By the time the ambulance arrived (only a few minutes later), my symptoms had subsided. As the paramedics went through similar questions, I began to feel a little fraudulent. They took me to the ambulance to check my blood pressure, and temperature, and wired me up to an ECG machine. The ECG and temperature were normal, but my blood pressure a bit high. The paramedics offered to take me in to the Royal Sussex County Hospital, for a check over.

On the way, my symptoms returned, and were much more intense. I felt dizzier, and the numbness was more widespread, and more intense. It seems likely now that this was a stroke, and that the earlier attack (about an hour had passed) was a TIA or "mini stroke". So, somewhat amazingly, I was already on the way to hospital when I had my stroke - if that's what it was.

On arrival at the hospital, I was assessed pretty quickly, and a stroke team assembled around me within about 15 minutes. I scored one out of twenty-five on some scale or other, according to all the prodding, poking and various other tests. Not high enough to justify administration of thrombolytic drugs, but had I required them we were still well within the three hour schedule. While being prodded and poked, blood samples were taken, and afterwards I was sent for a CT scan, and then taken to the stroke ward.

There, I was assessed again. I was told that I'd be in overnight, and then taken away for an MRI scan, and ultrasound scans. The ultrasound scans showed that my carotid arteries were nice and clean. I got to see them live, and that was quite cheering. I think they were particularly looking for build up of fats at the point where the common carotid artery branches into the internal and external carotid arteries.

Back on the ward, I was further cheered by being offered a choice of six different vegan meals! When the meals came, they were piping hot, and reasonably tasty. Not haute cuisine, but certainly way above my expectation. And, they had soya milk for my breakfast Weetabix. My bed had a sea view, and I was set to stop for the week. That is, until the night shift started!

I don't think anybody got much sleep that night. One patient seemed to think we were all police officers being subjected to some horrendous illegal experiments. He was threatening to throw furniture around, and ordering nurses to -variously- attend to his every whim, or leave him alone. Fortunately, he never made good on any of his threats. The nurses were amazingly patient throughout. The shouty man calmed down when the ward got busier in the morning; perhaps because he had more to think about than his own fantasies. Unfortunately for the nurses, another patient took great exception to being dressed, and whacked one of them pretty hard. She had to go to A&E with a suspected broken nose.

I had a load more bloods taken in the morning - about six vials. I learned that these vials come vacuum filled, so they literally suck the blood out of you. I was seen by a consultant, who was satisfied that I was fit to discharge. Still numb all down the left side, but with some sensation returning to my hand, foot and lower leg.

Yesterday, I returned to work. But, today I had more MRI scans - two head scans and two neck scans. They included MRAs, looking at blood vessels, and one used Gadolinium contrast agent. That was a total of an hour, inside a machine so noisy that it was a bit like being stuck inside a giant dial-up modem.

Now, I'm getting used to life, still trying to work out what this means. I feel like I'm carrying a stack of phone directories under my arm, and it's uncomfortable to lie on my previously preferred left side. I think I'm tiring more easily, and my arm seems to get painful when I am tired. I think I have a full range of movement, and haven't lost any strength. I may be a bit more grumpy than I was, but my speech seems normal, and Tories and John Humphrys still make me cross.

And, I love the NHS! The nurses, nursing assistants, porters, doctors, caterers and technicians, -and my wife- were all really professional, kind and attentive. One of the paramedics waved at me from his ambulance as I walked through Lewes at the weekend!

30 Oct - edited to correct spelling of John Humphrys' name.
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