Saturday, June 9, 2018

Don’t Freak Out but I Had a Stroke


Yep, that’s what I have been saying to people lately.  I look the same but, yes, I had a stroke.  Not a TIA but a small stroke.  My episode in March now appears to have been a TIA.

I am okay and I am very, very lucky. 

The stroke was an Ischemic Stroke in the right side of my Thalamus and caused the whole left side of my body to go numb.  A week ago, I had a couple of episodes like what happened in March (slight tingling in my hand and face but not bad) just before my whole left side numbness. 

My new home office decor
I knew this was a problem so Rach took me to the ER and I was seen immediately.  The hospital started their stroke alert protocols and put me in a room.  They did a bunch of neurological tests and I didn’t have any weakness; I was able to read, talk, touch my finger to my nose and to the doctor’s moving finger and saw all the fingers she held up.  I know these neuro tests as Robert goes through them all the time at his appointments but it was very surreal having to do them myself.

My only symptom was that I had numbness and tingling (kind of like my left side was asleep). 

After passing everything with flying colors, they didn’t think I had a stroke.  Stroke alert was cancelled but they ran some blood work and did a CT scan just to be on the safe side.

They still didn’t think I had a stroke. 

I only had the whole left side numbness.  (Let me tell you how odd it is to have half your forehead feel numb!) 

The doctor had no idea what the issue was and suggested it was possibly a panic attack caused by stress.  Yes, I have a lot of stress in my life but I haven’t had a panic attack in years and I have very specific triggers for them. 

I knew this wasn’t a panic attack but also know that stress does weird things to the body. 

I didn’t know why I had numbness, the doctor didn’t know but it seemed reasonable to think this wasn’t a stroke.

So we left the hospital.  We all thought the numbness would be gone by morning. 

When I woke up on Sunday, my leg numbness was gone but I still had the numbness in my left arm and face.  My face felt like I had a Novocain shot from the dentist except without the drooling. 

The ER doctor called to check on me and became concerned that I still had numbness. She ordered an MRI and, as luck would have it, there was an appointment later that afternoon.  I’ll take it! 

Rach went with me to the MRI (poor girl was so worried about me and I hate worrying my family!).  I tried to convince the radiology tech to show me my scan but he refused. I pulled the “I won’t know what I’m looking at” ploy (even though I have seen enough of Robert’s MRIs to know if mine was normal or not).  He must have seen right through that so I left without seeing my scan.  Oh well. 

The next morning Richard had a third skin graft surgery so Robert and I drove him to the hospital and got him settled in pre-op.  Robert and I waited with him doing his word search book and me answering emails from work.  I called to set up an appointment with my neurologist and found out he had scheduled a phone appointment for me so I waited for his call.  He was on vacation but had been answering my emails and was on top of monitoring what was going on with me.

He soon called and told me what happened Saturday night was, in fact, a stroke. 

You mean a TIA? 

No.  You had a stroke.  

Believe me, hearing that is enough to practically cause another one!

He told me I needed to start on blood thinners immediately and he wanted me to take a “load” dose of four pills then one a day along with the aspirin.  He also increased my cholesterol medication and told me to go to the ER if I have any other symptoms. 

He called the meds into the hospital pharmacy since I was already at the hospital and I took Robert to get them.  The pharmacy was up a hill so I set Robert in the shade and told him to stay put.  He joked he would go to France.  Funny guy.  I’m worried about my stroke and he is cracking jokes.

Probably the best thing for me. 

I called Rach, a couple of friends, Other Brother and realized I couldn’t even tell Richard yet because he was still in surgery!  After taking the meds and talking to everyone I started feeling numbness in my leg again and freaked myself out. 

Since the doctor had said to go to the ER if I had any other symptoms, I walked to the ER, pushing Robert.  I called Rach for me and Richard’s brother, Jimmy for Richard.  Jimmy was actually at the same medical facility at his own doctor’s appointment so he came over to check on Richard while I went to the ER.  Rach met me at the ER and ran between me and Richard to update him when he came out of surgery and to keep an eye on me. 

Robert sat in a corner of my room and contentedly worked on his word search puzzle. 

I explained to the doctor what was going on and he was very reassuring.  He explained that it was unlikely I was having another stroke since I just loaded up with blood thinners.  He called the neurologist on call and ran more blood work and did his best to keep me calm.  He ordered a heart monitor for me and, after a short while, I was able to leave and visit with Richard in the post-op room. 

It was quite a day. 

I’ve since seen a stroke specialist who ordered more tests, more lab work and answered all my questions. I’m waiting on all the results but, in the meantime, I need to watch my diet, exercise more and reduce my stress. 

Reduce my stress. 

After the year I have had, I am ready to do just that.  Yes, it is cliché but I am going to say it:

This was a wake-up call.

My neurologist said I am very young (why, thank you!) and in otherwise good health.  She sees no reason why, with lifestyle changes, this will not be a one-time thing. 

She even said that my residual numbness in my hand and face and the occasional leg numbness will most likely go away eventually.  I would love for the numbness to go away but, right now, I am using it as a constant reminder that I need to make changes. 

I am very motivated to do so and am very grateful the stroke was a small one.

Note to Universe: Close call with a semi?  Stroke?  Got it.  Message received.  Loud and clear!  (And thank you for not adding dribbling to the face numbness – that would have just been piling on.)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Trouble Seeing Miracles in a Challenging Year


This has been such a crappy year (and, yes, I realize it is only half-way over!).  I am wishing so hard it would be 2019 that I actually have written that down when dating a document or logging Robert’s vitals. 

2019 cannot come fast enough. 

Anyone who knows me knows I do not like to be negative or whiny or mopey or depressed or wallowing in self-pity but I have seen all of that in myself this year.  To make matters (and my mood) worse, I kick myself for not immediately seeing the “bright side” or the “miracles” in a situation (or several situations, also known as 2018). 

Sometimes life is just a crapfest.

Caregivers know this yet we get kind of stuck in a bad mental cycle.  As one of 44 million caregivers, I know there are others with much worse situations than mine.  That feeds into my mindset that I “should” be able to be more positive.  Not to mention I am a positive person and get frustrated when I lose that piece of myself. 

Caregivers also know how difficult it is to continue to talk about everything going on.  I get tripped up when people ask me if things are going better.  No, not yet.  They really aren’t.  We have a lot going on and some of it is not better.  I want to say things are better and HURRAY life is looking up but find myself apologizing for things not being better!  Holy cow, sometimes things are not getting better; much of what we deal with are chronic conditions that are not going to get better. 

Sometimes life just sucks.

When things are really terrible or continue to not be better, co-workers and the cashier at the grocery store don’t want to hear that.  Even some family tires of the near constant updates of hospital stays, non-healing wounds, seizure clusters, surgeries and whatever else might come up.  Ongoing crap makes people uncomfortable. 

Sure, to the cashier and some co-workers I will say everything is fine (ha! Isn’t that the standard line for caregivers?)  To friends and family, sometimes the best I can muster is “things are stable.”  And that’s only if they are!  That could be for the hour, the day or, if we’re lucky, for a week. 

Who wants to hear that?  People want to hear that you are better!  Life is on the upswing!  We want roses, puppies, unicorns and rainbows! 

Believe me, that’s what I want to say.  I really do want things to be excellent and happy and carefree! 

For caregivers (and I would venture to actually say “for anyone”) that isn’t always possible.  Not all the time, anyway.

Sometimes life piles on. 

It has taken me a lot of extra effort to be able to see that, yes, we have had many miracles in the midst of this challenging, difficult, crappy year. 

Our miracles?  We have had plenty. 

Just this year, Robert has been in the hospital multiple times for the flu, pneumonia, sepsis, a respiratory virus and a five day video EEG study which turned into a week-long stay when his seizures caused aspiration pneumonitis.  He could have succumbed to sepsis or gone into status epilepticus but Robert pulls out miracles all the time.  This year has been no different.

Richard has had two skin grafts and an intrathecal pump replacement, broken finger and expects to have another skin graft this summer.  Richard’s initial skin graft was mostly successful and it is only the last 10% that we’re trying to get healed.  His leg pain has diminished greatly and that, in itself, is a miracle.

Carol has been hospitalized for pneumonia and a fall and has been teetering on the edge with extremely low blood pressure, a wildly varying pulse and water retention and an INR number that jumps around more than it should.  She has lived with us since last November and having her around has been its own kind of miracle.

Even our nineteen year old Shih Tzu has had a couple of strokes and, at one point, didn’t appear to be able to last through the night.  She has recovered and is back to her feisty ways.  A miracle is the only way to describe that feat.  I am convinced she still hates me but miracles can only go so far. 

Throw in my own emergency room visit and follow up appointments and scans for TIA-like symptoms and then getting side-swiped by a semi-truck and I have much to be grateful for.  Adding an aspirin and cholesterol medication to my daily regimen has stopped the scary stroke symptoms and the whole semi-truck incident is nothing short of a miracle itself.  Robert and I had no injuries and my car is still drivable.  You would never guess from the damage that it was caused by a wayward truck driver.  Volkswagen (and our angels) for the win!   

Despite finally being able to see and appreciate the miracles, my stress level is at maximum capacity.  All these situations come with a lot of expense, more doctor appointments, more medications to track and take up a great deal of time. 

Call me a wimp but I am ready for a break. 

I know that for things to change, I need to make changes.  That is not to say Robert’s seizures will stop or Richard’s leg will magically heal because those are things we do not have control over.  What I can change is what I do for me so I can better handle the stress of this difficult year.  Even the phrase “self-care” makes me cringe sometimes but I know that’s exactly what I need.  Getting a pedicure with my daughter doesn’t stop Robert’s seizures or Richard’s pain or a truck from driving into my lane while I am still there but it does give me an hour to recharge, laugh and get some pretty toes and relaxed feet. 

Planning a cruise with Richard for our 20th anniversary is not going to take away the stress of whether his leg is ever going to heal but it will give us some time to focus on something other than the day to day doctor appointments, upcoming surgeries and caregiving responsibilities.  (By the way, our 20th anniversary was last year but caregivers have to be flexible.  In our minds, it is still our 20th anniversary celebration!)

Even seriously considering a schedule change at work becomes more of a priority for me in order to reduce my overload of stress.  I cannot continue to beat myself up for trying to successfully work a difficult job and be a compassionate caregiver and feel like I am failing.  When I am losing patience with actual nice people at work and at home, something needs to change. 

I cannot lose who I am because of the stress of a difficult year and being an impatient, cranky madwoman is not who I am.  Change must happen because I am not going to lose myself to worry and stress.  

It might take a miracle for change to happen but sometimes we have to create our own miracles and that is my plan for the second half of this crappy year.

Bring on the miracles!





Thursday, April 12, 2018

Juggling, Teamwork and a Little Hope

My IT guy at work juggled three oranges at work the other day and made it look pretty easy.  (I then told him to get back to work.)  I have tried to learn to juggle but I am not quite coordinated enough. The juggling I do involves caregiving, medical appointments and various emergencies. 


Caregivers are experts at this type of juggling and sometimes even while we work. 

Thankfully, Richard helps with juggling our appointments.  We have a loose division of duties: he takes his mom to her appointments, I take Robert to his, Richard goes to his own and I go to my own.  (Hopefully, mine will be short-lived.  My MRI results came back normal(!) and I only have a follow-up with the neurologist. Then I’m crossing myself off the appointment list!)

Family!

We have pre- and post- surgery appointments, wound therapy, neurology, epileptologist, GP, pulmonary, ENT and cardiology appointments.  There’s pain specialists, physical therapy, lab work and x-rays when something is not quite right (like suspected pneumonia or artificial knee pain).

With the regular appointments and even ER visits or hospital stays we somehow manage to keep on track.  (It helps that Richard, Carol and I coordinate our calendars to be sure we all have the same information.) 

Sometimes we have to call in extra help, though.  Richard’s brothers, either Mark or Jim, will take Carol to her appointments if they conflict with one of Richard’s appointments.  Rach jumped in to take me to the ER so Richard and Carol could stay home with Robert and has stayed home with Robert while I pick up Richard from the hospital. Mark and Carol jumped in to help with Robert when he was sick and I needed to take Richard to get staples out of his leg.  

In other words, we juggle.

And we are very lucky. We are extremely fortunate to have the support of our families as I know many caregivers do not have that option. 

I am extraordinarily grateful to our family for their help and, while it is difficult for me to ask for help, sometimes I actually do it.

Robert has a VEEG (video EEG) coming up next week which requires him to be in the hospital for five days.  It also requires someone to be with him all the time.  As in, day and night.  To be clear, I am talking about all 24 hours in a day.  For a week.  And, we have to be alert and awake the whole time in order to push a button when he has a seizure.

I do tend to take on a lot but even I realize neither one of us can stay awake all week.  Heck, I don’t even think it would be possible for just me and Richard to do it.  (Although, that was our initial plan.)

I texted Other Brother for help.  I explained the situation, told him I was making a schedule and asked if he was able to come up to be with Robert for a shift.

“You mean like through the night?”

I know.  It’s a big ask.  It would be nice to have an extra relief person so Richard and I weren’t doing the whole week.

“How long are the shifts?  Are there any food or bathroom breaks?”

I gave him more info about how the whole thing works, logistically.  Of course, I am just going off of the booklet the hospital mailed us – I haven’t actually done this before so don’t know how it will actually go.  I mean, does the nurse come in and poke us if we accidentally doze off?  Does the guest chair trigger alarm bells if there’s no movement for a few minutes?  Or does it just spring us out of the chair to wake us up?

After ribbing him for all of his questions (as only an older sister can), Other Brother offered to take two of the overnights which was a huge help. I thanked him profusely!

“Can I take a laptop?”

Oh crap. I thought for sure this was a deal breaker. 

Um, no.  No laptops or phones.  We can’t have the signals interfering with the monitoring equipment.  I did suggest long bathroom breaks if he had to use his phone . . .

Carol and Robert share a special bond
I created a schedule for the three of us and sent it to Other Brother.  He reviewed it with his wife who suggested he stay in a hotel for a few days so he’s not driving back and forth on no sleep.   He can do his shift, sleep in the hotel, drive the hour or so back to home/work and then repeat it the next day. (Good thinking!)  Other Brother revised the schedule, adding another overnight shift for him with even longer hours.  What a wonderful surprise and such a huge help!

Carol is planning on holding down the home front and doing laundry and caring for the dogs while Richard and I take turns at the hospital and I try to go into work for an hour or two.  In fact, she feels ready to move back to her own home but is postponing it so she can help us out. (We wish she wouldn’t move home but that’s a different story.)  Rach and Matt are planning visits to the hospital to check on us and to the house to check on Grandma.  Mark even offered to take a shift but he recently started a new job and I don’t want him missing work on our account. 

We are very lucky indeed!

We all see the value in the VEEG and know how important it is for Robert to have this testing.  This is a step toward getting the Neuropace for Robert which seems to be a very promising treatment for him!  Robert’s new neurologist thinks he is a great candidate for the Neuropace and thinks this could significantly reduce his seizures.  If that happens, he might even be able to reduce some of his meds.  Can you imagine?! 

Everyone is willing to pitch in because we all see the possibilities of this new device.  We see the hope.  We see Robert’s fervent wish and prayer to be seizure-free as close to possible as we’ve been. 

This is truly a team effort of juggling to support each other.  That is what family is all about and I am so grateful. 



Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Four for Four


Well, that didn’t last long.  Three of the four people in my household were hospitalized at least once since December.  A couple made two visits. 

Now it’s my turn. 

“You?” 

That’s been the refrain in my household too. 

Yep, me.

I had to start my own folder
 A little over a week ago I started feeling numb on the left side of my face, tongue and hand while I was getting Robert ready for day program.  It happened a few times so, of course I thought what all caregivers would think, I’M HAVING A STROKE!!!  And, just as many caregivers would react, I waited to see if it went away.  I mean, we’re busy! We have people to care for! 

(I did stick my tongue out to see if it was lopsided and also looked to see if my face was droopy but everything looked fine.  I was just tingly!)

I went to work (yes, I went to work; stop yelling at me).  Only after it happened a few more times and I told my best friend about it and she yelled at me to call the doctor or she would take me to the ER did I actually call the doctor.

I really tried to get an appointment that day.  I certainly didn’t want to go to the ER!  I talked to an advice nurse who said he would send an urgent message to my doctor and someone would call me back.  He also said if it happened again I should go to the ER.

It happened a few more times at work while I waited for the doctor to call me back.  I dreaded wasting hours in a crowded room with sick people only to be told that I was stressed.  I know I am stressed!

The doctor didn’t call so I went home. 

(Now is the moment all of you can yell at me for not immediately heading to the nearest emergency room.)

Carol made us all a nice dinner; I got Robert in bed and changed.  Then it happened again: numbness on the left side of my cheek, half my tongue and my left hand.  I took my blood pressure and it was extremely high.

At this point, even I (being the most obstinate caregiver on the planet) decided I should go to the ER.  I walked into the living room and told Richard and Carol in one sentence that I was having numbness on my left side and that I should go to the ER.

Both of them looked at me and said, “You?!” 

Yep, me.

Once I told them this had been happening all day, their looks changed from confusion to a combination of worry and anger. 

Life is complicated right now so since Richard had just had his second skin graft surgery and was on crutches, Carol can’t/shouldn’t drive (although she offered) and Robert needed someone home with him, I called my daughter. 

I explained what had been going on and told Rachel I needed a ride to the ER. 

“You?!”

Yep, me. 

Rach picked me up and we drove to the hospital, both kind of in shock that I was the person having a medical problem.  On the way, we talked about how I will probably hit our deductible of our high deductible health insurance – and it’s only March!  She assured me I didn’t have a brain tumor because we already have one of those in the family and the odds of two of us having one had to be astronomical.  We talked about her work, my work, Richard’s leg, and everything else we tend to talk about with a few laughs thrown in (because that’s what we do). 

In between topics, I apologized profusely for taking up her Friday night.  She wouldn’t hear of it but we both were convinced we’d be in the ER all night long.  Throughout the entire ordeal, Joelle (the best friend mentioned before) and Richard texted to find out how it was going. 

We checked in upon arrival and marveled at the empty waiting room.  We immediately were escorted back to a couple of nurses.  They checked my vitals and weighed me, laughing politely when I told them I had very heavy shoes on.  My blood pressure was very high but I wasn’t that concerned since I was very stressed out that I was having a stroke.  Then I stressed that I was going to actually cause myself to have a stroke because I was so stressed out. 

It is no fun to be in my head with Worst Case Scenarios swirling around.
 
We were then led into another waiting room (D) which was packed.  Ahh.  Everyone is in these back rooms – I am sure A, B and C were also packed.  We found one seat which Rach insisted I take while she pulled up a kid’s chair from the kid’s activity table.  Good thing Rach is little!

While discussing how this was going to be where we waited for hours, we were called back to see a doctor.  He had me repeat my symptoms then gave me a short neurological exam.  I was intrigued to be the one doing the exam since I am always the one watching Robert going through the exercises.  He ordered an EKG, lab work and a CT scan. 

Oh, this must be where we will have to wait for a while.

Nope.  A nurse immediately came in to conduct the EKG; another nurse followed and drew my blood who then took me straight to radiology. 

The longest wait was after all the tests and that was only for an hour.  We saw the same doctor who told me everything came back normal.  Phew!  The thyroid test was the only one that hadn’t come back yet so I thought that might be the problem.  I was advised to follow up with my regular doctor in a few days.

Rach and I thanked the doctor, paid and made our way home.  We were shocked we were in the ER for a total of two hours!  It was the shortest ER visit I have ever experienced (whether as the patient, caregiver or concerned family member)! 

Since that visit, I have continued to experience the same symptoms so I visited my General Practitioner who ordered an MRI and put me on a low-carb diet.  He also started me on low dose aspirin and wants me on a high cholesterol drug (which I am resisting but he made me shake on it. I suppose a deal’s a deal.).  I only have borderline high cholesterol but he wants to cover all his bases. 

I started the low carb diet which is making me very cranky.  I mean, seriously!  Who can live without chocolate, cookies, cake, muffins and iced chais?   Oh, and caffeine.  I was off caffeine for a long time but started up again during all the hospital stays.  I thought that might be the cause of all this too. 

The MRI is done and now I wait for my appointment with a neurologist to get the results. 

I still can’t believe I am the patient now, navigating this healthcare maze.  It feels like I am being sucked into a system that revolves around appointments, tests, waiting, medications and more appointments.  And I can’t even do it with my go-to comfort food or caffeine! 

It has been a stressful few months so I am actually hoping that stress or caffeine is causing these symptoms.  I still can’t believe I am now the patient.

Yep. Me.