Where do I even begin? Life lately, particularly the last month, has been nothing short of a rollercoaster. March threw me for a loop and these last few weeks have been a harsh reminder that my health is everything and I’m not in fact, invincible.
The month started off with me experiencing an array of strange symptoms: fatigue, body weakness, back pain, headaches, unexplained vision changes, and cold night sweats. It went on for a few days before I finally decided to go to the doctor, who said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you.” I had blood work done, which was all fairly normal and nothing too worrying. I was defeated, wondering when I’d ever feel like myself again. Then, one week to the day that my symptoms started, something terrifying happened. Something I never thought could happen to me.
The Health Scare
It started with tingling in my face. It was a few minutes past 8pm on Thursday, March 10th, and I had just shut down work for the day. Before diving into things for L&I I had on my list to do, I sat down on the couch to scroll through my phone for a bit. All of a sudden, I noticed a sensation like pins and needles piercing the skin of my face. Within seconds, my face went numb. In confusion, I started tapping it to see if I could feel anything. I couldn’t. Dizziness washed over me and I threw my head into my hands. With my eyes closed, I began verbalizing the symptoms I was feeling to Adam, who was standing at our kitchen counter, reading something on his iPad. He walked over to me and noticed that my face, neck, and chest was all turning a patchy red. That’s when my tongue went numb. I looked up at the TV and saw the picture doubling and expanding. I cried out in fear at what I was both seeing and experiencing.
Adam immediately realized the severity of the situation and asked if he should call 911. I shook my head. I didn’t want to go to the hospital for a number of reasons: What if I was overreacting? What if my symptoms subsided and I didn’t get any answers from the doctors? I hate to even admit this, but the thought of work left to do that night and the next day crossed my mind. How was I going to cross everything off my to-do list if I was sitting in the ER all night?
Being the strong-willed person that I am, I wanted to prove to Adam – and to myself – that what was happening to me wasn’t that dire. I told him that I wanted to get up from the couch and try walking. As I spoke and heard my own words, I realized my speech was slurring. Adam was visibly concerned and frustrated with my stubbornness, but complied with my request. I put my hands in Adam’s and he guided me one step at a time. I fell into him, losing all sense of balance and control. That’s when he firmly said we were going to the hospital. I nodded, petrified with the realization that my body was not cooperating with what my brain was telling it to do.
As I made my way to our bedroom to get my things together to leave, my body became a dead weight and I fell onto our bed. Adam lifted me up and had me stand, putting all my weight onto him. That’s when I realized the entire left side of my body was experiencing paralysis. Adam propped me up against the wall so he could get my coat and shoes on. I voiced to him to get my slip on boots, the easiest shoes I had to put on. He couldn’t clearly make out what I was saying, as my slurring got progressively worse. It ended up taking minutes to get my left arm in my coat and left foot in the boot. It was then we had to go down three flights of stairs from our condo and walk to our garage. At this point, I questioned if we should call 911, but the ambulance’s medical costs floated through my thoughts. (It’s honestly sad these are things we as Americans have to worry about.) Adam ran down to the garage to get our car ready while I determinedly attempted to get down the stairs by myself, clinging to the rails with dear life. My brain screamed at my left leg to take the step down after my right, but it wouldn’t budge. I was going to have to go down each stair on my butt. With each stair, my body slammed down onto it, unable to control the force. Adam had me lean against him as we made our way to the garage and someway, somehow, he got me into the car.
As we drove to the hospital, I started to lose consciousness and wanted so desperately to fall asleep. I told myself to keep my eyes open as best as I could until we got there. Once we were at the hospital, I succumbed to my body’s physical alarms and knew I couldn’t physically walk. With difficulty, I stuttered to Adam, “I need a wheelchair.” Within minutes, I was rushed into the ER, being asked to do certain tasks like smile, speak, and lift my left arm and leg, all things I tried so hard to do but could barely accomplish. I was moved to a stretcher where I underwent a CT scan and then brought to an ER room where I subsequently vomited (something I rarely do).
An IV was then put into my arm and before I knew it, Adam was speaking to the neurologist virtually on a screen in the room. I could barely keep my eyes open and couldn’t make out what the neurologist was saying. I heard Adam then say, “yes, let’s do it to be safe.” What Adam was agreeing to was having tPA administered, a drug used within a few hours after stroke symptoms appear to break up a blood clot and restore blood flow to the brain. I would later find out the neurologist had recommended this because they didn’t know for sure if I was suffering a stroke or not. This also meant I would be sent to the ICU for over 24 hours to be monitored as there are risks with tPA, such as potential bleeding issues.
Within a few hours of being in the ER, my stroke symptoms lessened and I slowly began to regain my motor skills, though still was very weak. As I got settled into the ICU, Adam was told he had to leave the hospital since it was past visitor hours. I was scared to be alone, but I mustered a smile and told him I would be fine.
36 Hours in the ICU
The next set of hours were brutal. I had to go to the bathroom in a bed pan because I could barely walk by myself. I got an IV inserted into my other arm for a full potassium drip (which oddly was so painful), as my bloodwork showed I was low on potassium. The IV pain in my arms was magnified with any small movement I made. To make matters worse, my vitals were checked every 15-30 minutes which meant any kind of sleep was next to impossible.
The next day, I was a zombie. I can’t even tell you how many health professionals I saw. From nurses to doctors to neurologists to physical therapists and occupational therapists to a sonographer. Everyone continued to ask me the same questions over and over again. Can you tell me what symptoms you experienced? Have you been stressed? Have you suffered from consistent headaches and migraines in the past? How long have you been on birth control? What symptoms are you experiencing now? Can you lift your arm and leg? I was exhausted from constantly repeating myself and doing the tasks they asked of me. The only thing that got me through that day was Adam and my parents coming to visit and keep me company.
After a CT scan, heart echo, and MRI scan, I was told everything looked normal. But I didn’t feel normal. Something was off and had been off for over a week. Then came the diagnosis. I was told that what likely happened to me was caused by a migraine – a hemiplegic migraine with mimic stroke to be exact. My first gut reaction was shock, considering I had never experienced migraines in the past (that I know of). But after doing more research, the symptoms matched up to what I had experienced. They also expressed urgency in me getting off my hormonal birth control, given the risks of blood clots and potential strokes for people with migraines (which I did immediately). I was glad to have answers, but I left the hospital with many questions that no one seemed to be able to answer for me:
- Were all the symptoms I had experienced prior to this event my body’s way of warning me?
- What triggered the stroke symptoms?
- How could it be a migraine when I had never suffered from them in the past?
- Could my birth control have had anything to do with this?
- Is something like this going to happen again?
A New Health Journey
The next few weeks after the hospital proved more difficult than I had anticipated. My health scare left me suffering from debilitating headaches and migraines with aura. The night sweats lingered, interrupting my sleep each night. I was incredibly fatigued, sleeping up to 12 hours some days. My manager told me to take time off of work but I guiltily tried my best to keep up with my obligations and client work the best I could. (Looking back, I wish I would have listened to my manager and given myself that much needed downtime.)
Frustrated with my continued symptoms, I researched and researched migraines some more. I still had so many outstanding questions as to why now, why me, why these horrifying symptoms. I made appointments with my primary doctor (who ended up telling me I was “fine”) and two neurologists (who can’t even see me until May and July) to dig for more information. I reached out to other people in my network and ended up speaking to a trusted old friend in the healthcare field who took the time to listen to my story and understand what I experienced. After our conversation, I was more convinced than ever that what I suffered may have indeed been a mild stroke, which could have been caused by my birth control and then potentially a migraine that triggered it.
The thing is though, I’ll never know if I suffered a stroke. Many of the times, mild strokes can be difficult to see in CT images. Nothing showed on my MRI either, likely because the tPA had been administered 24 hours prior to me getting the MRI and would have flushed out any type of clots by then. The good news is that I’m feeling close to 100% like myself again. The headaches, migraines with aura, night sweats, muscle pain and fatigue have all diminished in the last week. The only changes I’ve noticed is that I sometimes confuse or stumble over words and may have a bit of brain fog, as I intermittently forget things.
All of this to say that I’m more confused than ever. I don’t have any definitive answers but I’m grateful that I’m okay and that I feel better. Still, I’m doing everything that I can to listen to my body and my intuition – rest, take care of myself, raise suspicions and ask questions. This health scare began a journey I never expected to go on, but it’s one that is unfortunately part of my story now. All I can do now is continue to advocate for myself to ensure this never happens again.
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Success Manager at Salesforce and has over 10 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.