At the third stroke …

Last Wednesday morning — just a week ago — I was sitting quietly at my dining table writing morning pages as the early sun streamed into my little living room. My ritual pot of tea and candle accompanied me.

Suddenly, the world went silent and I dropped my pen. That’s strange, I thought, tilting my head to listen for familiar morning sounds — birdsong, my neighbour in her kitchen, a faint hum of traffic from the highway. Perhaps a few seconds passed, or a couple of minutes, before I finally detected a single bird call and, faintly, the hum of my fridge motor.

And then I realised my body was feeling weird in an all-too-familiar way — sickeningly weak and unstable. I could barely stand up to stagger to my bed. My thinking was confused in that immediate post-stroke way: is this really happening? if I ignore it, will it go away? who should I call? my daughter? an ambulance? if I eat breakfast, might I suddenly feel okay? But I knew — I was having another stroke. My third in less than three years. Dammit!

I called my daughter who swung calmly into action, calling an ambulance and rushing here herself. The manager of my retirement village came and sat on the side of my bed, feeling my wild, fluttery pulse, listening calmly to me swearing. I was so pissed off! Furious! Not afraid. Just so damn angry that my body was once again tipping my already compromised life upside down.

The paramedics took it in their stride. Such earth angels, these people who choose to do this work. I was, apparently, their second stroke that morning. And it was only 8.30am.

Oxygen, lights, sirens all the way to the too-familiar emergency department of my local hospital. Urgent nurses, registrar, neurologist. Now they’ve allowed Annie and her boyfriend Matt to come in. Information gathering, decision making. Cannulas — two, because the first one wasn’t properly in and hurt like hell. CAT scans.

I am not a candidate for the much-vaunted clot-buster wonder drug, and in any case, there’s no clot to bust.

By late afternoon, I was in a bed in the stroke ward — the exact same one in which I spent nine days two-and-a-half years ago.

Over the next three days, I received excellent care. The MRI/MRA scan showed nothing significant in brain or neck — as usual. And a pattern emerged: the neurologist, who had listened intently to me and to Annie, posited the likelihood that strokes two and three were caused by a brief, radical drop in blood pressure which deprived my already damaged brain stem area of blood flow for a while.

At least were finally getting answers, which is a small comfort in the wild, confusing, distressing scheme of things.

My son flew in from interstate, and together the three of us discussed my future. One of the therapists had suggested I might not be able to continue living alone and caring for myself; suggested I might need to move from my self-care retirement unit to an aged care hostel. But I’m just turned 63. My wonderful children and I worked out all the ways I can be supported to continue living in the home I love.

I was hooked up to monitors that showed my wildly erratic heartbeat was returning to its more usual occasional weirdness. But my blood pressure was often ridiculously — dangerously — low. Medications to raise it would put me at risk of a catastrophic bleed to the brain.

Because there was nothing further the doctors could do besides monitoring me, we spent all of Friday persuading them to let me come home where I would have both my children staying with me and caring for me for the entire weekend. Eventually, once they knew we had GP and specialist appointments in place for the following week, they agreed to let me go.

The walk to and from the car, though very short, was excruciatingly slow and difficult for me and my walking stick — but I’m so happy to be home in my own bed.

This week I’m settling into my newly rearranged life which is, for now, spent almost entirely in bed. I’m propped up with my laptop on a pillow in front of me. The GP has added one more medication, to prevent narrowing of blood vessels to the brain.

The sun has just risen high enough to stream in through the window to my left and I can see rooftops, treetops and clear, pale sky through the window in front of me.

I’m lucky. While I’ve lost more capacity for walking and for sitting upright and standing, I know/hope/trust that with conscientious exercise and physio support, I’ll regain some of that. My cognitive impairment is no worse than after the first stroke, and that’s a huge blessing. And I now know enough about the social isolation of being housebound to, this time, boldly ask friends to visit and phone regularly.

My children are extraordinary and wonderful. As well, I have had a couple of years to learn which friends I can rely on, and they’re a huge comfort and ongoing support. I can still write for short stints, although getting this post together has taken a couple of days. I can read in short, slow stints, and watch movies on my laptop, and crochet.

The fact is, we none of us know what each moment might bring, and I have a renewed sense of appreciation for being right here, right now.

It’s a glorious winter day. I’m in my own bed in my own home. I love and am loved. The physio will probably come today. There is much to be grateful for.

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19 Responses to At the third stroke …

  1. Penny says:

    OMG – of course you were swearing, Des! I was totally Penny-the-potty-mouth while I read this post. Your brain stem is stupid and dumb and I don’t like it. (3yo reaction) upgrade to adult – is there nothing that can be done to repair the damage done, or is this just the new par for the new course going forward? I’m grateful you’re still here and that you’re still being your fabulously articulate self. Mouah to you, darling Des.

  2. Pamela says:

    Oh, Desney, Desney, Desney….You leave me speechless with your (beautifully measured and balanced!!) description of that terrifying morning. What a way to discover more about your condition… It’s so difficult to respond to a posting like this, you know. Everything I can say seems trite, patronising or just bloody self-centred. Suffice to say I stopped dwelling on my small and very trivial problems for a while and thought about life in the big sense. So here is lots and lots of love beamed down from Brisbane. Enjoy those birds in that pale sky. Pamela XXX

  3. Brett Cameron says:

    It was so lovely speaking with you yesterday Desney. My heart goes out to you. You have such a beautiful soul with so much to give to a world that is crying out for such kindness. And yet … The physical being is letting you down once again. Have strength and courage and continue to shine your light.

    Blessings … Brett

  4. DK says:

    All my medications optimised, Pen so yes, the new, revised version of my life … Physio and walking will rebuild some strength and stamina, but I’m glad I have a comfy bed and fabulous views xoxox

  5. Rachel says:

    Des! You are so very inspiring. Little bit speechless really. Loves xx

  6. Bill says:

    Oh no. Desney what a terrifying time – I’m so so sorry this has happened yet again. A big ray of hope is that your writing remains beautifully clear and poignant. We are thinking of you and sending love and good wishes for your recovery. You are such an inspiration. Bill xxx

  7. Alison Healey says:

    Dear Desney,

    Thank you for writing of your experience. It’s a privilege to read it. I pray you regain your strength fully and soon.

  8. Mark Quisumbing says:

    Dear Desney,

    I have been reading your posts for at least 2 years now and found them to always be inspiring and uplifting. When there was no post after March, I wondered and was sadly thinking the world had lost one of its ‘bright’ lights. To read while having the stroke, you were still considering options, like brekkie and being pissed off I found bold, funny and frightening at the same time. It also means that there is plenty of Life and Spirit there. Thank you for sharing your experience and I look forward to your next post.

  9. Devastated to hear this Desney. Thank goodness it wasn’t worse. Wishing you every positive thought possible XXX

  10. Laura Mooney says:

    Oh Desney. So nice to read your blog again but wishing the trigger had been a different one. Can picture you propped up in bed with your laptop and taking in the view of the sky you have so often photographed. Feel sure you will be at your little desk again before too long – physios will have their way.
    Probably not quite appropriate but I can’t help thinking about various possibilities to raise your blood pressure. A visit from Tony Abbott perhaps? That might make it dangerously high. Daily visits from Jehovah’s witnesses? Possibly too mild. A radio tuned to to Alan Jones? No, life has to be worth living. Construction on a new Meriton high rise apartment building commencing next door? But not if it blocks your view. A neighbour getting a small dog that yaps continuously. Now that might work. Don’t worry – I’m on to it…xx

  11. Raelene Allen says:

    Dear Desney
    Don’t get to look at Facebook much, life is so fast, but I’m glad I saw your post this morning. I love the way you’ve witnessed what’s been happening so calmly and with such an intelligent gaze. You’ve taken us into an experience we may never have glimpsed otherwise and it’s so reassuring. Inevitably, the body deteriorates – we know that – but to face it with grace and dignity, and with expletives! – is wonderful. And to know that we can face such challenging events without panic is even more precious. I’d love to connect by phone if that’s possible. Can you text me your mobile number?
    Raelene xx

  12. The human body..! Thankfully we live at a time of some medical advancement and I guess we can have some confidence in that. I do hope they keep you well, Desney. Our world values your thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit. xx

  13. Angie Moore says:

    Desney, I am deeply touched by your courage and capacity to find beauty in the world, when life is so difficult. I look forward to seeing you when I move in a few week’s time. Hopefully, by then, you will feel up to a visit from me, duly armed with cakes! Much love – Angie

  14. minnie biggs says:

    Dear brave Desney, that you can write so vividly about your moments, a gift for all of us, that we may have such awareness at every moment, swearing included, hang in there, you are great! with love, Minnie

  15. Jennifer Sweeney says:

    Sending my love… And the smell of biscuits xox

  16. DK says:

    That will be lovely, Angie xx

  17. Uplifting; inspirational; courageous, are the only words that come to mind, Desney!
    With a spirit and attitude like this, you will not only triumph, but defeat the old foe; you’ll see. My thoughts and warm wishes are with you, and I have included you in my prayers up here, in my lofty attic in the mountains. In friendship; Gabriel

  18. lisa Heidke says:

    Dearest Des,
    So very, very sorry to hear this.
    You are an inspiration…always thinking of others even during this very trying time.
    I will be over to visit once my wretched cold has gone. You don’t need me spluttering over you!
    Sending you much love, light and positive vibes.
    Lisa xxx

  19. Susan says:

    Devastated. Me – not you. You just get on with it, as you have always done … and crochet. You are awesome -in its original sense. I hope to visit soon if that’s OK. Maybe with Hungarian cheese. Love from both of us. Susan and Stephen

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