Dance of Death
Saturday I was having a normal day, puttering about my apartment, being berated by my cats, playing around on line. At around one o’clock I got up, and my legs were like rubber, it was weird, I’d never experienced anything like it before. Denial of course immediately kicked in, and I decided I was just suffering from stress, and I ordered a burger from across the street and went to pick it up. I made it across and back a busy street, but it was scary. And in retrospect,stupid. After eating I decided to take a little nap, and hoped my legs would feel better when I awoke.
Nope. When I awoke an hour or so later I could still barely walk. I realized this could be very serious, I grabbed my cell phone and charger, stuck a key and a note under a neighbour’s door asking them to feed my cats if I wasn’t back that evening, and went outside. Even then, clinging to the building’s gate to stay upright with passersby staring at me, I still wasn’t quite ready to dial 9/11. I staggered into the furniture store on the first floor of our building, collapsed into a chair, and accepted my fate. I handed my phone to the concerned store clerk, and asked her to call 9/11. Minutes later I was surrounded by concerned EMTs, and a few minutes after that I was in the ER at Highland Hospital. It was the first time I’d ridden in an ambulance in 35 years. It was about as fun as I remembered it from the first time.
In Highland a couple of increasingly puzzled doctors examined me. My heart sounded fine, I didn’t have any obvious stroke symptoms, there didn’t seem to be anything to explain why my legs were rubber. After a couple of hours they decided I had pinched a nerve somehow, told me to stay off my computer chair for a few days, and come back if the symptoms didn’t improve. I was a little dubious, but along came a nurse and I staggered towards the hospital exit. The nurse watched me walk maybe twenty feet, if balancing on two rubber stalks as I careered down the hall can be called walking. Then she said “Did the doctors see you trying to walk?” Well, no, they hadn’t actually taken that particular diagnostic step. She took me back to the nurse’s station and asked some doctors there to watch me walk. I staggered passed them … and five minutes later I had wires attached to every part of my body as I was strapped to a gurney and wheeled into a giant humming machine.
24 hours of CAT scans, ultrasounds, blood tests, X-Rays, and various other tests followed … and the now team of doctors assigned to me still didn’t know what was wrong. Between tests I lay on a gurney in the ER listening to people scream as various medical procedures demonstrated the limits of human pain. I didn’t sleep well. And I still couldn’t walk. Monday morning they got me into an MRI, a far more unpleasant experience than I had imagined, and we finally had our answer. A one cm piece of my brain had died, I was now officially a stroke survivor. Even better, Sunday night they had finally assigned me a room and I was no longer living in the ER.
Monday and Tuesday I spent slowly recovering in my room, talking to my roommate, and still wired up like a Christmas tree. I learned a lot being there. For example if they announce a “Code Pink” over the PA, it means a baby is missing. And all the interior doors close and lock. And a “Code Grey” means a combative patient. There were several of both while I was there, I guess hospitals are as exciting as they show on TV. I’d be upset about being prematurely discharged, but it was an understandable mistake under the circumstances. I didn’t have any of the classic stroke symptoms, and I had confused the issue myself by thinking both of my legs had turned to rubber. By Monday I realized that my right leg felt fine, and likely had all along. It had just felt so weird losing the use of a leg that I’d thought both legs were malfunctioning.
I’m home now, slowly but surely getting better. And I’m lucky as a stroke survivor, my speech and cognition are fine (or as fine as they ever were,) and there’s every reason to believe I will make a full recovery. Well, most of me, the 1 cm part of my brain that died is going to stay dead. And I will be with me the rest of my life. I can’t help but wonder, does this mean that I’m now part zombie?
(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law, as its creator has been dead over 500 years. It’s a woodcut called “Dance of Death” by Michael Wolgemut in 1493. I’m the one laying helplessly on the ground. I chose it for many reasons, mortality has become a much bigger issue for me the past week.)