My Stroke (Part II)

When we last visited, I had presented the portrait of a 57-year-old man who brooded about  heart attacks, cancer and diabetes,  but who ended up surprising the living crap out of himself by having astroke! (For what it’s worth, one of my home-state senators, Mark Kirk, had a nearly identical, right-side carotid, dissection stroke.)

I noted in my previous post  that Dr. M the attending neurologist at the time I was admitted to the ER, informed me that a tear in my right carotid artery had triggered my stroke, but Dr. M reassured me that he anticipated a complete, or at least, near-complete recovery.” He further reassured me that based on the data regarding dissection strokes, the odds of me suffering a second stroke was remote.  After my huge sigh of relief, I recall telling Dr. M something along the lines of, “Well, if I had to have a stroke, I guess this was the best kind of stroke to have.”

Now, let me try to put his reaction to my little show of bravado into truly meaningful context: Purely by the luck of the draw, Dr. M was the neurologist assigned to Evanston Hospital ER duty the day of my stroke. He and I quickly developed an easy rapport and I was both flattered and comforted when he asked if he could take me on as one of his patients. Ultimately, I would regret placing my fate in the hands of this witty, twinkly-eyed, somewhat-disheveled  man (whose reputation as a “stroke doctor, I would soon learn, was legendary. But I can attest in hindsight that no pronouncement was (and is) so true than Dr. M’s  muttered response — “Actually, there’s no such thing as a ‘good stroke,'”

I was discharged from the hospital three days after my stroke, and was eager to return to the Jewish Child & Family Services Therapeutic Day School to resume my teaching duties.  For my part, I felt invulnerable. I felt like I had dodged a bullet. However, Suzanne was considerably less sanguine about my prognosis, persuading me to take the rest of the week off. expressing no sympathy over my argument that I had never missed a day in the nearly four years I had worked at the day school.

The following Monday I  was back in the classroom pontificating about my stroke to those  students who weren’t surreptitiously playing World of Warcraft  on their iPhones. Somewhat to my chagrin, however, my fellow teachers seemed less than awe-stricken by my highly detailed account of my life-altering experience and how I had caught a chilling glance of my own mortality, etc., etc,

Indeed, in those halcyon days following my stroke, I felt like I was living my life with an intensified sense of purpose. “Okay,” I would periodically say to myself, “Now at least I‘ve come face-to–face with my wake up call –- not a heart attack, not cancer, but a stroke. Who would have figured at my age? So, yeah, I get the message. Time to get serious about my salt, sugar and cholesterol intake. Time to maybe step up my exercise regime. And, for sure, time to make an appointment for the sleep lab. (I  suspected, as did my wife, that I suffered from sleep apnea, a condition linked to increased risk of stroke.

Yet, post-stroke life didn’t seem markedly different than life before the stroke. Suzanne was worried sick, of course. “Maybe we should hire somebody to cut our grass, she asked me a couple of weeks after my stroke.

“I’m not going to pay somebody to do a job I actually sort of enjoy,” I snapped back. She nearly had a panic attack when I announced a shortly thereafter that I would be driving solo to southwestern Wisconsin to hook up with a couple of fishing buddies. I pulled of that trip without incident.

Not even the recurring “fluctuations” that I started experiencing within a month of my stroke caused me undue concern. Dr. M had cautioned me back in the hospital to be aware of two significant post-stroke complications. The first complication is the risk of post stroke depression.  No surprise there.

The second complication is the tendency of a stroke victim’s body to respond to illness, extended fatigue or high levels of stress by “reenacting” stroke symptoms. “You might feel like you’re having another stroke,” Dr. M explained, “but in reality it will  be your brain,  ‘misfiring,’ so to speak, After all, it’s still reeling from the major insult it sustained.” The symptoms will be short-lived, he added, and they will affect the identical parts of my body affected by my stroke. Of course,” Dr Munson added, “if you experience new symptoms, or you have the same symptoms and they don’t’ go away after a short time, or they intensify, you must come immediately to the emergency room.”

With the benefit of hindsight I should have asked questions, specifically, how long is a short time? Can you quantify “ intensify?”

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