I woke up, groggily aware that I was in the hospital. The gravity of the situation returned immediately. Oh crap, I am in the stroke ward of the ICU. Eventually I was told that my family from Wisconsin was on the way. My best friend was on the way too. Life in the ICU was a mixture of drama, uncertainty, waiting, and helplessness My stroke was the result of a blood clot in my brain stem. I was paralyzed. In medical slang, I was “locked in”. I could move my eyes. I could hear. I could feel when touched. And I could feel pain. But I could not move anything below my eyes. My brain was foggy but I was fully aware of what was happening. I was on a respirator, I had an IV. And I was hooked up to a bank of instruments that monitored my blood pressure, heart rate, EKG, and oxygen level in my blood. Eventually a feeding tube was inserted through my nostril, down my throat, into my stomach.. And I got a catheter. This was a depressing and unimaginable situation.
A stroke occurs when blood flow has been interrupted to the brain. This is due to either a blockage due to a clot, or a blood vessel rupturing. Each stroke is unique. The severity of the stroke depends on the location and the length of time the brain has lost blood flow. My stroke occurred in the pontine area of the brain stem. The brain stem controls involuntary functions of the autonomous nervous system. This includes breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, equilibrium, swallowing and many other rudimentary functions essential for life. The brain stem is also the gatekeeper between the brain and the spinal column, hence my paralysis. I waited passively as the nightmare unfolded. I was hoping for a quick recovery, but that wasn’t meant to be.
My best friend Mike arrived first. He ended up staying in the hospital, day and night, sleeping in the waiting room. And he hated everything about hospitals. The heartbreak and drama were too real. He had recently lost his father after a lengthy stay in a hospital.. My mother and father, my brother Kevin, and god-daughter Abbey showed up next after an ardurous flight from Wisconsin. My brother Bruce was soon to follow.
Meetings with the doctors followed, though I was not there. I had a feeling of helplessness. I felt like my life was out of my control. I was dependent on the kindness of family, friends, and strangers I hated to be helpless and a burden. It was decided that because my clot was in a difficult location in my brain, surgery to remove it was considered too risky But I was going to have surgery to get a traech and then surgery to get a feeding tube.
I was feverish. I was sweating and always felt hot. The ICU was kept very cold and everyone else was freezing. But, not I. Also, I noticed when they changed out my urine bag, the urine was a dark brownish color. The most pain I had in the ICU was the plastic mouthpiece for the respirator.The problem was that my tongue was always getting smashed between the hard plastic of the respirator and my teeth Since I could not talk or move my tongue out of the way, this was like torture. I remember the great relief I felt when the mouthpiece was inserted in such a way that it did not crush my tongue. Eventually I was taken off the respirator. The doctor was surprised I could breathe on my own. This was a good sign.
On day 6, Dad, Bruce and Abbey returned to Wisconsin and Mike returned to Austin. My mother, and Kevin remained behind. Now it was time for my operations to begin. The first was the traecheotomy. It is a procedure where an incision is made in the neck to create a reliable airway. I was wheeled into a small operating room. The staff gathered and chit-chatted among themselves as they waited for the doctor. I remember an anesthesiologist, and I believe two nurses being present. The doctor arrived, more chit-chat, the anesthesia started and I drifted off…..When I awoke, there was a foggy re-entry to reality. Oh crap, here I am again. I was desperate for this bad dream to end. I tried to move my arms, but nothing . They remained limp at my side. I was bummed out. I was hoping for a miracle, but I wasn’t aware that one was happening.
The next day, I had a feeding tube inserted in my stomach. Basicly the same procedure as the day before…chit-chat, anesthesia, drift off, oh crap. The feeding tube would provide a way to give me nourishment other than an IV. After the stroke, I had lost the ability to swallow.
I had made some progress. First I could faintly move my index finger, the next day, the finger next to it and eventually rotate my wrist a little. It was small and slow progress, but it was progress.
The next step was to decide which hospital to go to next. My mother and brother chose the one where they could spend the night with me in the room. They made the right choice. I will call it Hospital B. I had been in the ICU ten days. Tomorrow I transfer to Hospital B.
Thanks to the staff at the ICU, especially my doctors and my two favorite nurses, Lauren and Ramel. Their job is a difficult and stressful one.