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.