Last Thursday, I learned how to slip past the crowded waiting room and slide straight into a bed at the Emergency Room. “I think I’m having a mini-stroke” does the trick quite well.
A few weeks earlier, I was sitting in front of one of the VA Medical Center’s Neuro Psychologists taking tests and answering questions for better than three hours as a result of expressing concern to my regular caregiver about grappling for words (a bad sign for a writer) and forgetting why I walked through one door into another room. That occasioned all sorts of activity, including this intensive interview/grilling/testing session.
In the midst of our "play time," a second doctor wandered into the psychologist’s room and started asking about some of the things on my medical record, one of which was a couple of episodes where my vision went spotty for 30 minutes or so.
This unknown doctor had reviewed my recent brain MRI and was concerned these episodes might be signs of mini-strokes. This prompted a warning from him that in the event of a stroke, I should get to the emergency room immediately because after three hours, the effects of a stroke are irreversible. (He didn’t tell me how successful they were at reversing them if I got there within the time limit.)
Soooo… when I had a vision problem on the morning that fated Thursday, I scooted on down to the ER where I uttered those magic words that had me flat of my back in the MRI machine within twenty minutes of passing through the ER’s admitting door.
After that, they plowed a ditch in my vein and planted one of those IV things (whether they needed one or not) and pasted a couple of dozen terminals all over my chest and sides for an electrocardiogram. (And don’t ever let anyone tell you they are painless. Maybe the test is, but removing those devils from your tender flesh certainly isn’t.) My blood pressure measured a whopping 188/61, but that was perfectly normal for someone being so manhandled. It had nothing to do with my medical episode, I’m convinced.
After that, a nice nurse came in and had me do ridiculous things like touching my nose and her finger and the like. When she had her quota of fun, an ER doctor appeared and had me do the same things all over again. Then nothing. And nothing. My three hours were running out fast and they hadn’t done a thing to reverse my condition unless playing pitty-pat with a nurse and a doctor was some sort of curandero medicine I wasn't familiar with.
Sometime after that crucial third hour had elapsed, two doctors walked into the room and announced they were from Neurology. Okay, maybe these guys could save me from becoming a living vegetable. Guess what? All they wanted was a game of pitty-pat, too. I guess word of my prowess at the sport had made its way around the hospital. At any rate, they excused themselves and said they needed to consult.
They consulted away the fourth hour, likely sealing my fate. Eventually, they returned and told me I wasn’t having a stroke.
“There’s a name for your condition, but it’s not a stroke.”
“What about my vision problems? That’s the fourth time that’s happened in the last 6 months.”
“Strokes are not the only thing that cause that.”
“But I wasn’t able to talk normally.”
“Yes, but if you’d had a stroke, you wouldn’t be able to call up the words you wanted. You were just mispronouncing words you wanted to say.”
“Strokes aren’t the only thing that cause that.”
“I couldn’t make sense out of the words I was reading at the time.” I tried to keep from sounding petulant.
“Yes, but you could make out the words. Probably wouldn’t have been able to do that if you’d had a stroke. Besides the MRI was negative.”
“Okay, so it wasn’t a stroke. What was it?”
“You had a migraine condition.”
“A what?" Was there too much scorn in my voice? "I didn’t have a headache. I never have headaches.”
“Yes, we know. That’s in the record.”
“But a migraine is nothing but a headache. A super-duper headache.”
“Not always. At any rate you can get dressed and go home. There’s no treatment required.”
I went home halfway convinced they were discharging me in the midst of a fatal stroke and absolutely certain I wasn’t having a migraine headache. But when I looked up Migraines on the internet, lo and behold, there it was. An Acephalgic Migraine (also called the silent migraine) has all the symptoms of a migraine minus the headache.
The kicker to the whole thing came when my youngest sibling (he was born minutes after his twin) called the next morning to update one another on family news. Naturally, I launched into the story of my ER visit. Before I even got to the end, he interrupted. “You had a migraine.”
I gasped in astonishment. “How did you know?”
“I’ve had them for years.”
“But I had no headache?”
“I don’t either.”
Son of a gun!
I don't know about you, but I've noticed of late that if I didn't have medical, dental, optical, and laboratory appointments, my social calendar would be mighty thin.
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