Subtitle for this would have to be: I Didn’t Expect to Have a Mini-Stroke at 42
What’s funny is that I have another post already titled the same, but it’s about something in my past that feels so completely irrelevant and unimportant now, given how the past few weeks, and more specifically, days, have gone.
Things that I read or learned about, even just a week ago, that had me so very frustrated and feeling misrepresented and wanting to address, now feel like such fluffernutter-sandwich-level of things to even be concerned about.
To catch anyone who isn’t friends with me on Facebook up – I had an experience at the end of December that was, much more unsettling than I’ve let on. Thankfully, I had friends and my husband, and urgent care practitioners who all encouraged me/made me sign documentation that I was forgoing an ambulance (but would be going directly to the ER), to get the help that I needed.
Mothers are the last people to seek help.
I sat through a meeting, unable to lift the coffee cup to my lips or answer a question without feeling like I was desperately trying to make my brain and mouth form the words. I thought I was dehydrated. I thought I just needed to eat something more.
When Vinnie was driving me to the ER, I remember telling him, “I feel silly. They’re just going to tell me I had low blood sugar.”
This is why we need a community.
Because I didn’t just need to eat something. I was young and healthy…and having a Transient Ischemic Attack.
And these are just some of my journals in processing this, in the weeks after, as the doctors and I are all putting things together, though from very different places.
The corner of our kitchen by our stove has been a cluttered and overwhelming disaster zone, growing over the past year. Every new gadget, new serving dish, homeless pot lid, or too-lazy-to-find-a-home-for-it cookie sheet, would find its way to the overcrowded wire rack shelves, or more likely, the floor. This was, of course, because our cabinets have also become a disheveled mess of random disorganized chaos. Need a saucepan, good luck. There are some in there, somewhere. (Need a lid, check the heap beside the stove) Need a juicer? A broken food processor or any of its’ many parts? How about a Pink Panther-shaped baking sheet (bought on a whim from Savers, because, why not?) it’s back in the shadowy recesses there, too. Just dig.
Sometime in the blur of coming home from the hospital and coming to terms with the unknown last weekend, I ordered an island. I suppose when you are coming to grips with the fact that you can’t control your own heart, being able to fix *anything* – even just the corner of your kitchen – becomes incredibly appealing.
It wasn’t supposed to arrive until next week, but by some happy twist of fate, it showed up Tuesday afternoon, and as I tucked myself in for the night, Vinnie came home from his long day, popped in his earbuds, and sat down with the piles of pieces, staying up so very late, building.
Yesterday, the morning roads were too icy for the Thrive homeschool group to run, a group that I had been looking forward to – if only to keep my mind occupied for the hours leading up to my first cardiologist appointment. And so, instead, of puttering around, anxiously waiting for 3 o’clock to arrive, I brewed a huge pot of coffee, and Evaline and I tore our little kitchen apart and put it back together, better.
We Marie Kondo’d the heck out of our cabinets and drawers, took multiple trips to the dumpster out back, and high-fived each other after each heaving toss of kitchen clutter into the abyss. We pulled out the bottom drawer of the stove and scrubbed it to the point of unrecognizable, scrubbed the floors, the walls, moved spices from cabinets to the island drawer, made a special bread baking section, arranged everything to be just right for prepping and cooking right in that little nook, formerly known as a disheveled disaster.
I had told Vinnie he didn’t need to put that island together late on Tuesday night, that it wasn’t that big of a deal. But, I’m so thankful that he did.
My appointment was also good, in terms of it being no news is good news. We set up the necessary additional tests and appointments to move forward to resolving why I had the TIA, which will hopefully mean I won’t have them anymore. And, as I came home to my busy household of kids doing homework, practicing trumpets, getting ready for first Drivers Ed classes, I tucked myself away in my new little space and made them all fish and chips, quietly, and thankfully.
We fall back asleep like this, sometimes, when the gray days slush together. An arm over my shoulder and covers pulled tight after the alarm has sounded.
My son wants to tell his math teacher that not everyone needs math when they grow up. He tells me how he wants to tell her about his mother, who couldn’t do the simple pre-algebra problem on their whiteboard, but is super successful in her own rite. Runs multiple businesses and supports her family, has won awards, and has written books.
At the moment, I feel more or less a lump.
Children make better mirrors than ourselves.
On Putting Off
I’m diving lately, into work, into cleaning and cooking, into running and crunching and lifting, into Amazon and Wayfair, couches and loveseats and throw pillows, into vacation plans, or basement finishing, into salt and pepper shakers, paper towel holders, into almost literally, anything.
Anything to not surface, to think only about new and shiny and hopeful. My phone chimes and I quickly Swype away the calendar reminder for my Transespophogeal Echocardiogram. Now, where are my sneakers? And let’s load the washing machine while I’m on my way to the basement anyway. Sourdough starter, let’s work on that, but where is the glass container I wanted to use? Amazon, can you send me a new one? It’s Monday, let’s meal plan, or day-trip plan. Look there’s the sun, finally, after a morning of silvery gray skies and so much murky sloshing and splashing under car tires rolling past our house.
It’s January and everything is new and aching with potential. Under the snow in our backyard, I see the frame of our garden bed and think of the seeds from last summer, sleeping patiently in the cold wet earth, hidden away until their time, until everything is just right.
What a gift to be so still.
Tests results were in an email that I opened in the early hours of the morning. It was four AM and I couldn’t sleep, so I stood in the bathroom and dove headfirst through so much medical lingo and jargon, skimmed blood tests results for anything marked in red. A blood deficiency or disorder that causes blood clots, the heart monitor report that there were some irregularities..
I put off looking at the TEE results until the end, by which point I was so bewildered by what else I’d found that I was almost ready to simply embrace the confirmation that I have a PFO and a floppy, hypermobile atrial septum aneurysm. Yes, please..
But then there were other notes, the other comments made, discoveries found. Ascending aorta with significant plaque – descending and transverse, as well.
This afternoon, another email, opened on my phone while running errands for work. Report cards. F in math for one child, and in the middle of the fluorescent-lit aisles of Walmart, I knew there wasn’t going to be an argument to be had, not today, not ever.
I’m forty-two and have no idea what is going on in my heart, in the very blood moving through my veins. No idea if, at any point, it’s going to pitch a little fit and kill me. Any form of mathematics or if my child can solve an equation for x is incomprehensibly unimportant to me.
Instead, I want to listen to her tell me about how she felt about conversations she had about feminism in her classroom this afternoon, while she’s perched in the new living room chair that she loves because it looks so classic and so futuristic at the same time. I want to hear all about, the posters that inspired her in another class, or how she’s sad for her musical director because the forecast is calling for snow in three days – the day they are scheduled to rehearse (and they haven’t managed to have a single one yet.)
Also, in the Walmart email delivery, I saw that my son had straight A’s, again. But, he worries too much about such things and I didn’t want to make something like a seventh-grade slip of paper that highlights a single semester of classroom learning be the only reason he feels praised. Like letters on paper should be able to determine our esteem, our worth, or how we feel at the end of a soggy, gray, February day.
So we sit on the sofa and giggle about his project on Djibouti and he asks me for advice on what he can draw to represent our trip to Romania on his art homework. Mountains, I tell him, and ask, remember driving through the Carpathians? Remember how high the gondola took us over the treetops in Busteni? And cows. Draw those wandering cows outside our pensione in Arefu, and bread. My goodness. Draw the bread.
(Yes, I also tousled his hair and leaned down to tell him “I’m proud of you, always, and I’m happy that you’re happy with your report card,” with a little motherly nuzzle.)
I woke up this morning, far too early. And I’m going to sleep now, much later than I thought I would. But tomorrow, there will be another day waiting. And there’s so much more to consider.
Such as – how will I fill those hours in between waking and laying down, then.
My hours today were filled.
In many good ways – in the woods, with teenagers laughing and hurling snowballs. With fires built from scavenged kindling and chunks of wood chopped down in the summer and now turned cold, with kids sharing lunches and spending time in nature, with work that feels like being home. My day is ending and the scent of the fire is still lingering in the strands of my hair.
Before all of that, when the world was still a little groggy and everyone was leaving for school or work commutes or sipping coffee from thermoses en route to whatever their day would hold, I was sitting in a waiting room with a collection of elderly folks waiting for a doctor appointment.
And, hours later, I have a feeling that neurologists and cardiologists have an ongoing bet to see who can be the most right in the diagnosis for events that impact both the brain and the heart – two organs that work so intricately together. (Or, at least, it’s a hunch that makes this process feel more amusing to me, so let me have it.)
My cardiologist, weeks ago: You have a PFO with ASA, BUT we need to cover all of these bases, including getting back the Zio patch results, scheduling a TEE, meeting with the neurologist, and getting bloodwork results, before we can decide anything.
But, also…here is what we use for a PFO closure, see how simple it is?
And, he shows me. It’s non-invasive, a long slender tube, with an almost a flower-like-looking blossom that opens when it’s in place, and that is what is left in the heart to seal the closure. In a few months’ time, heart tissue to grow over it. I instantly think – yes – that looks pretty, you can plant that in my heart. It looks as peaceful as a peony.
Cardiologist: It is very low risk, and for someone so young and in such great health, especially low. We just need to do all of the work to make sure that we’re covering everything.
My Neurologist* this morning: Okay, so, tell me what your experience was.
I explain, again, all of it. Honestly, bored of it by now, the only parts I enjoy retelling are that I managed to eat two Boca Burgers by leaning down to meet the food on my plate like a dog, (while still assuming I couldn’t lift a fork because I was low on blood sugar), or the moment when the contrast MRI went wrong at midnight and I was an overtired mess with a bicep that looked like Popeye momentarily.
Neurologist: Okay, so, you’re young and very healthy, and it’s really not common for someone like you to have a TIA. Now, we know they found a PFO, but…there *is* a possibility that it could be something neurological and *not* the PFO that caused it. And, we should explore that, because, there are* risks* in getting a PFO closure, it *is* surgery, which always carries risks with it, and getting the closure can actually cause strokes.
This goes on for a bit, and then we do basic tests of my neurological abilities, everything is fine. We discuss my history of migraines, which have, thankfully become far less frequent.
Neurologist: Okay, so, sometimes when I have a migraine, I get a little confused and there can be symptoms that mimic a TIA, though that wouldn’t explain the weakness in limbs.
Me: I have had migraines for decades, but never with anything other than a visual aura.
Neurologist: Okay, so just to make *sure* it wasn’t a migraine experience, maybe a full panel of blood work for things that could cause clots.
Me: Oh, they did that right before I left the hospital.
Neurologist, going to the computer: I didn’t see it earlier…hold on…
Me (Pulling it up on my app on my phone, the one that I was reading in detail at 4 in the morning): Yeah, it’s there. And there was one thing, in particular, that was flagged as red that might be interesting to look at?
Neurologist, eventually: Oh. Yes. So…that *would* be indicative of a clot, either in that the blood was drawn too soon after the event, or something otherwise. So, let’s redo just this and one other panel that they didn’t do, just to confirm things.
Me: …Sure, that sounds great.
Neurologist, handing instructions before I go to the lab: And we’ll have your cardiologist set up a follow-up with you, too.
I look down at the papers in my hand:
Diagnosis: TIA, PFO with ASA.
Follow up: 2-months after closure procedure
Stay tuned, I guess.
In the meantime, I’ve given more blood, and I’ve given myself several high-tier writing aspirations with rapidly approaching deadlines.
And, to be honest, I’m more looking forward to staying tuned to how those turn out.
*referred to me by my cardiologist**
** Both of these doctors are wonderful and I have nothing negative to say about either of them. I appreciate how well they both listen to their patients and I’m so thankful to be where I am in the midst of this.