I had always been blessed with perfect health. I was in excellent physical shape, and sometimes I spent 2 hours a day at the gym. I had the world by the tail. I had two practice locations and was leading the band/worship team at my church every week. My career was in full swing. I felt invincible. That all changed on Monday, February 22, 2010. My life took a turn no one saw coming. I was only 37 years-old. I was in my prime–or so I thought
It was 9 o’clock in the evening that day in February, and I had just seen my last client of the day. I was eager to get home to watch another awesome episode of the TV show 24. When I got home, I grabbed something to eat during the first commercial break then sat down to finish the episode. During the last commercial break, I got up to kiss my wife goodnight in the bedroom then rushed back into the living room to make sure I didn’t miss the cliff hanger and a preview of the following week’s episode. I got just outside the bedroom, and all hell broke loose. At first I thought it was just a “head rush.” I was dizzy… very dizzy. So I lay down on the couch thinking this was a transient thing and waited for the dizziness to go away. It didn’t–and hasn’t all these many years later. The room started swirling, and I felt like I was blacking out, then coming back around, then blacking out again. All of a sudden, my head hurt like hell. My head throbbed with the most intense pain I had ever experienced. Then I broke out in a sweat and within seconds had saturated my jeans. Then came the overwhelming nausea. I felt like I was going to vomit a lung or something. I still had speech, so I yelled to my wife to call 911. Naturally she came into the living room and asked, “Why.” Then she saw the vomiting and the sweating and knew something wasn’t right. She made the call almost immediately after that. Soon I started feeling like I was going to fall off the couch, although I was lying firmly on it. It felt like I might fall through the floor even. When EMS arrived I couldn’t even rise up enough to get on the gurney. They had to pick me up to transfer me to it and then carried my down the 5 steps off of our front porch. I remember as they carried me out I saw my 12 year-old daughter crying. I think my son was confused about what exactly was happening. My daughter still remembers that night clearly, but my son said he doesn’t really remember much, other that seeing EMS carrying me out the door. Anyway, Karen had quickly arranged for a friend to stay with the kids, and she rode with me in the ambulance on the way to the ER. I later learned that my friend prayed with my children as I was on the way to the hospital. I continued vomiting and sweating during the ride to GMH, and once we got there a team took me right away and started assessing me. All I knew is that I felt intuitively like I was going to die. I felt almost sure of it. And in an odd way, that was ok. That didn’t frighten me, strangely enough. As the ambulance pulled out of our cul-de-sac, I could see out the rear doors and down the street. I remember thinking about my friend Jerry who had lived three houses down who had died of a heart attack a month earlier, and I figured I might be the next guy on the block to journey to the afterlife. I don’t remember anything else about the ambulance ride to the hospital…. It’s all a blur.
The hospital staff started assessing me right away, and I remember some talk about my experience that evening being a cardiac issue. They did a CT and lots of other diagnostics that night. I know they must have done a lot of stuff because when I got the bill for that ER visit, it topped $30,000. I remember a bunch of wires and medical equipment, and apparently my blood pressure dropped. I heard Karen saying something about it, and she started stimulating my feet and telling me to stay awake. I think she was afraid if I drifted off, I may not come back around. She is a nurse, and when I heard the urgency in her voice, I knew that I wasn’t the only one who thought I might die that night. Eventually, all the excitement settled down, and I spent the night in the ER being monitored. Around 4 AM I was taken to a regular room, but I couldn’t rest because of the head pain. At some point the floor nurse brought in some morphine, and I rested some after that for an hour or so. During all of this, Karen never left my side, and that brought me comfort.
As I learned later, Karen thought I was having a stroke the whole time–before we even left the house in the ambulance. But when the CT came back normal, she was baffled. At a later time, we learned that often strokes can’t be detected by a CT early on in the process. So assuming I had not had a stroke, treatment staff ordered a stress test and some other things–one of which was an MRI of my head and neck. The whole next day after the ER trip was spent trying to figure out what the hell had happened. By this time my speech was really sloppy, my vision was blurry, and I couldn’t walk. The dizziness was still very much a factor, and I was horribly nauseated, continually vomiting and dry heaving. In retrospect I did something that is now kinda funny. I got busy that Tuesday morning, when I wasn’t throwing up, calling clients to reschedule for the next day…. The next day!!! What I didn’t realize was that it would be 4 years before I was to see my next client. Can someone say “denial?”
Almost 24 hours exactly after my first symptoms, we finally got some answers and a solid diagnosis. The MRI showed I had experienced a bilateral, cerebellar stroke, and I still had a sizable blot clot caught in my left vertebral artery. In other words, I was a ticking time bomb… another stroke could be any minute. There was also some mild bleeding on my brain. I was alone when the doctor broke the news to me because it was late Tuesday night, and Karen had returned home for some much needed rest. The doctor who spoke to me used the term “infarct” and I had no idea what that meant. So I called Karen, and she explained to me that that meant I had a stroke… on BOTH sides of my brain in the cerebellum. It was shocking to hear the word stroke, but I was still in denial about the severity of my condition and its implications for my future. I wasn’t thinking about the future all that much. The pain and nausea in that moment was about all I could deal with. It was actually Wednesday when I started seeing past the denial. That’s when a rehab doctor came into my room for a consultation and said to me in a very matter of fact way that I wouldn’t drive for at least 6 months. And after that news on Wednesday afternoon, the bad news kept on coming.
The story continues in my next post.