I never thought I would have a stroke. But on a Saturday night in early December 2022, alone at home but with my pets, I was watching a strange movie on TV, when I suddenly began to feel light-headed, like I was going to faint.
I sat up on my sofa and breathed deeply, fighting the urge to slip into the darkness of unconsciousness. I knew that I couldn’t blackout as I didn’t know what was happening to me.
Then I felt nauseous and threw up what can only be described as something looking like very liquid coffee grounds, dark brown and granular. Then I threw up again. I tried to stand up and I couldn’t. I had lost all strength in my legs.
“That’s not normal,” I said to myself.
I called my cousin Kim and said with a noticeable slurring “I just threw up and I feel like I’m going to pass out!”
I then called 911 and asked for an ambulance. “Help is on the way!”, the operator said after taking down my address.
Within five minutes firemen were knocking on my glass front door. With no power in my legs to stand up, I had to drag myself across my living and dining room floors to open the door for them.
“Do you always sweat this much?”, asked one of my rescuers after they sat me upright on one of my dining table chairs.
“No, of course not!”, I snapped, irritated at his seemingly dumb question.
“Do you want to wait here to see if you feel better?”, asked another fireman as they took an EKG of my heart.
“No, take me to the hospital!” I replied.
The white and red lights of the ambulance swirled around as I was rolled out to it strapped down on a gurny, with only my underwear and socks on.
Once I was strapped into the ambulance, and the rescuers decided which hospital they could take me to, we sped off, bumpily, through the streets of Houston, sirens blaring, to St. Luke’s Hospital in the Medical Center.
In the ER a doctor asked me what had happened and performed some tests on me. “Can you touch the tip of my finger, and then touch the tip of your nose?”, the doctor asked, holding up one of his fingers in front of my face.
I struggled to take my index finger and touch his fingertip, but my right arm swerved all over the place, and found it very difficult to connect.
The doctor immediately sent me to have a CT scan of my brain. Within minutes he was showing me black and white images of my brain, one of them showing a darker area.
“See, that’s the stroke you just had,” he said, showing me the screen of his phone, multiple images of my brain filling the screen, like some perverse Andy Warhol portrait.
“Do you agree to have an injection of a powerful clot-busting drug?”, the doctor asked me, stressing that it would go to work quickly and that time was of the essence.
“Yes I do,” I said.
The doctor administered the injection, and within a few hours I was already improving, my speech less slurry and my coordination better.
But I was still recovering, so they took me to the ICU where they could keep a close eye on me, and start administering the blood thinner Eliquis to prevent another stroke happening.
The nurses who took care of me were wonderful, especially the Filipino ones, who chatted with me about the Philippines and brought me graham crackers and vanilla puddings as snacks.
Houston is a cosmopolitan melting pot, attracting people from all around the world. I had a male nurse named Kennedy, originally from Nigeria, and another nurse from Tanzania.
After the initial shock of having a stroke wore off, and I felt assured that I was in good hands, I began to worry who was going to feed my two dogs and three cats. I messaged Kim and asked her to feed them, and to let my dogs out in my back yard. Thankfully, she agreed and took good care of my furry ones.
On my third day in the hospital, a senior doctor came around with interns and watched them as they asked me questions about how my stroke had happened.
After they had finished quizzing me, the senior doctor said: “You’re on the young side of old to be having a stroke. We need to find the root cause of of your stroke before you go home.”
Later that day I was finally taken downstairs on a bed to have an echocardiogram done. As the technician spread gel on my chest, she began moving the wand on my chest, sending waves into my body, and taking pictures of the images that it produced.
Near the end a doctor took over, instructing the technician to push saline solution through the access in my hand. He then squeezed my upper right arm and looked at the screen to see if any bubbles were produced in my heart.
Nothing was said to me at that moment. I was taken back to my room and waited for the doctor who said I would be discharged that night, to return and tell me the results of my test.
The dinner service came at 5:15 pm, and still no sign of the doctor. So I ate my meal and waited. Finally, at around 7pm he came rushing in saying that I had a patent foramen ovale (PFO) in my heart. He said it was a small flap opening between the two chambers of the heart that every baby has in the womb. The opening usually closes on its own before birth, or shortly thereafter. But for one in every four persons, this opening never closes.
Most people do not realize they have the opening, and may never find out, unless they suffer a stroke like I did. The opening is where the blood clot probably formed and traveled to my brain, causing the stroke, explained the doctor, practically running out of my room without calmly discussing treatment options with me.
I was a little surprised that the doctor had dropped this bombshell, and then ran off! But I was relieved that at least we now had a reasonable explanation of what had happened to me and why.