It might have been different if I’d not been on a first aid course a few days before. Then I might not have thought ‘stroke‘ when my right foot and my right hand both started acting strangely. I had a good look in the mirror and my face looked okay. My speech wasn’t slurred.
That was Saturday night. Our wedding anniversary was coming up on Tuesday and we’d booked a short break away. I’m a volunteer on the Strides for Life programme the Irish Cancer Society devised for recovering patients. That means a 30 or 40 minute walk on Monday morning. I did find it surprisingly difficult keeping up with the patients but my foot seemed to be behaving itself. Driving to our holiday destination 150 km. away was a different story. My right foot kept drifting off to the right. And then I had to sign the register and fill in my name, date of birth, address, phone number and vehicle registration. I struggled to form the letters.
Tuesday I decided to phone our local doctors’ surgery to get an appointment for Friday morning. By Tuesday night, with storm Ali making any idea of sight-seeing hopeless, we decided to cut our holiday short. Back home Wednesday afternoon I rang the surgery to see if my appointment could be brought forward. At 3pm I was explaining my symptoms to the doctor. He spent 20 minutes trying out various tests, after which he decided that a CT scan might provide some answers.
“The best way to get it done straight away is to go to A&E. Go there first thing in the morning, before they get too busy, and give them this letter.”
I’m seen quite quickly and, after triage, I’m taken to a cubicle and hooked up to a heart monitor. Two different doctors carry out the same battery of tests before I’m taken to radiology for a chest x-ray and the CT scan. Another doctor comes and repeats the same tests. He tells me the CT had not showed anything significant. The consultant will be round soon to discuss my case with me. By lunch time I’m told he wants to do an MRI. This has to be booked in another hospital. It is too late to organise today.
The best way to get ahead of the long waiting list is for him to admit me so that I am an in-patient. I might get an appointment for Friday but it could be after the weekend.
That’s how I ended up in hospital in a five-bed ward with 4 very sick people, feeling a complete fraud. I’m given a meal in the afternoon and a snack in the evening. Because I’m a new admission and have not pre-ordered a meal I’m given a fry up: two sausages, a rasher, black and white pudding, toast and butter. I tell one of the nurses that I smell a conspiracy: the medical profession is always telling us such fare is bad for us and yet here they are feeding it to me!
There is a nurse allocated to our small ward full time. All 4 of the other patients are seriously ill. One in particular, Michael, needs constant supervision and one or other of the nurses is sat by his bed most of the day and night.
Friday morning I get seen on the consultant’s round. We discuss my symptoms and do the tests again. He spots my arthritic fingers and calls for more blood tests. He says he will put me on aspirin to thin my blood plus something to counter its effect on my innards. And, as an extra precaution, statins for my cholesterol.
One of his team returns shortly afterwards to take the bloods. I have a cannula in my right arm where they took bloods yesterday and which has been left in for the MRI team to inject dye. She can’t use that – something to do with the blood being contaminated with whatever is injected via the cannula. “But nothing has been injected yet,” I protest. To no avail; I have to offer up my left arm.
Then a physiotherapist arrives to do another assessment. In the afternoon I am told my appointment with the MRI team is at 10:30 Monday morning. So I’m here for the weekend, occupying a bed in our supposedly overstretched hospital system, getting 4 meals a day and constant attention, when I could be at home. All in order to by-pass an appointments system that means, as the consultant put it to me Friday morning: “If we send you home you would wait so long it might be too late.”
The MRI, when it happens is an interesting experience in itself. Certainly not for the faint-hearted or claustrophobics. Superficially like the CT in general appearance, it is larger and, whereas the CT takes just a couple of minutes, I’m in the MRI enclosure for at least 15. Throughout that time you are subjected to a strange sequence of loud noises. Tapping on a tin drum followed by loud buzzing like someone revving a high powered motor bike – 5 or 6 taps followed by the same number of revs. That sequence is repeated several times then you get the pneumatic drill for what seems like several minutes. A series of clicks and clunks is followed by a repetition of the above, not necessarily in the same order. What it all means, in terms of what the machine is actually doing, I have no idea.
All this takes place after I have been taken by taxi from my local hospital to one about 30 km away. Back to my bed some 2 1/2 hours after I left – just in time for lunch, in fact – I only have to wait a couple of hours before the consultant brings the verdict. I did, indeed, have a mini-stroke caused by a tiny clot forming in one of the capillaries in my brain. He says I will now be on aspirin for life, to keep my blood thin, with the pink pill to protect my stomach from the effects of the aspirin. I have my heart monitored over night and have to provide a blood sample before I eat anything tomorrow then I can go home.
I guess I owe our local cancer support centre, who organised the first aid course because I’m volunteering on that walking programme for their clients, and the man who delivered it, a debt of gratitude. I could quite easily have ignored those minor symptoms – indeed, I very nearly did and at times through this last weekend felt I was wasting valuable resources that could have been put to better use.
The moral of the story? Never ignore your body when it is trying to tell you something and, of course, learn the signals it sends and what they mean.