Diff’rent Strokes

28 08 2021

So these two nuns are walking through the woods, discussing high philosophy and ambling along the leafy path.

Around the corner a young man comes running towards them, wearing nothing but a smile and a pair of running shoes.

One of the nuns has a stroke, but the other is too slow.

So a funny thing happened last December.

Funny weird – not very amusing (a little like that hand-tooled vintage joke I remember from a 1980’s era Rag Mag from my youth).

There I was, painting the living room all wrong, under the studied guidance of Mrs E. when I found myself having to duck and weave to avoid the unseasonably strong sunlight coming in through the bay window getting in my eyes. By and large I was successful in placing the several window frame bars betwixt my eyes and the fiery nuclear holocaust we can “the sun”, and merrily continued painting the wall with undercoat. Mostly, even if I may say so myself, “staying inside the lines”.

Then as I turned to re-load the roller with paint, I was aware that my vision was a little off on the right hand side. That had been the side nearest the window, and I initially put it down to the temporary blind spots we get when we’re incautious and look directly at the sun. As I stood with my back to the window though, I became more alarmed as I realised my blind spot wasn’t clearing up after the few seconds one might expect.

It amazes me now to think back and recall that, being of a scientific bent, my first instinct was to characterise the issue fully. Not panic (I saved that for later), but to move my head around with hands up and test the nature of this phenomenon. In a nutshell, I could still fundamentally see (which was actually quite confusing), but the right half of my vision had gone. “Hard down” you might say. Anything to the right of my nose was invisible, but my brain was doing its best to fake that it knew what was there, so I wasn’t initially aware that that was the issue. (A bit like getting startled by a question in class when you’ve been dozing… No? Never happened to me either. Honest). So this was key, because I’d figured out I had the same issue with both eyes, 50% gone in both eyes, not 100% gone in the right eye.

A quick call to “first born” – now a fully in-harness practicing optometrist – by Mrs E., and the tentative diagnosis was “stroke”. If both eyes are effected, it’s likely the data analysis rather than the image acquisition, which would more likely affect one eye, or both eyes in different ways. The trick here was to call my own optometrist for an official analysis. This results in a referral letter which speeds things up later. By doing a “proper” eye test, including comparing images of your retinas with older photos, they can categorically exclude eye issues, further pointing the finger at “the noggin” and damage therein. (Downside is my insurance only pays for one eye test every 2 years, so I got dinged for this emergency re-test).

The most irritating part of the optometrist visit was the tech moving me from equipment room to equipment room by saying “follow me” – totally ignoring the fact that I could only see half of what was in front of me. This was made all the worse because they’d insisted on dilating me which makes your eyes next to impossible to properly focus if there’s more than a few photons in the room! I ended up shoulder-checking an expensive-looking (I think) wall-mounted TV which was on the right hand side and I hadn’t seen until it leapt out and attacked me. Thankfully it was well secured and didn’t fall down or crack. Probably.

By the time I was officially tested, my vision loss was restricted to the upper-right quadrant in both eyes. First born had tried to reassure me that my sight would return. Probably. Mostly. Though she hedged her bet by saying “there might be some loss of sensitivity”… er, OK, so not really, then?!

Essentially I now had documentary proof from an expensive bit of kit (with a crappy thermal till-roll printer from the ’90s) and a letter from a licenced optometrist that in her opinion I’d likely had a stroke or potentially a tumour and should be admitted to ER.

Vision loss top/right in both eyes

So, as expected, the letter got me straight in to ER with barely time to warm up the chair in reception, despite others having been there long enough to have taken root. One dear lady in the reception area was on the phone to a friend discussing her schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder and how she really knew when she was herself. Given my new introduction to brain damage, I found this accidentally overheard conversation frankly petrifying. What else might have come loose in chez Elephant?

Once into ER proper I had a few holes poked in me, a few vials of blood taken (I asked if I could have it back when they were done with it, which just seemed to confuse the poor phlebotomist who was plainly not used to dealing with Yorkshiremen) and an IV fitted “just in case it’s needed later” (it wasn’t, though it gave me hours of fascination watching the small amount of blood slopping about in the tube), blood pressure taken, ECG, etc.

After about 5 hours or so of sitting in a chair in ER while COVID patients were shuttled into “warm rooms”, I was taken for a CT scan, and about an hour after that a doctor told me I’d probably had a minor stroke. OK, so 6 hours to be told what I knew when I came in. Still, the experience proves the old adage that time heals all things. Over the space of those 6 hours my eyes had un-dilated (I’m sure there’s a more fancy word for it) and my eyesight had slowly returned. The only actual treatment I’d had was to be left quietly sat in a chair – don’t underestimate it!

At about 9:30pm, having successfully avoided any further painting and decorating for the day, I was prescribed some blood thinners and sent on my way with a promise I’d get a call from a cardiologist and the stroke clinic in due course.

So – no mention of whether I should be driving, when it’d be safe to go back to work (I’d taken a couple of days off because I was finding it hard to look at a screen for very long), or whether this was the start of something major.

Thank goodness the Internet is so full of (mis)information! Otherwise I’d have been short of possibilities to scare myself with…

Happy to say that several months on and nothing else has fallen out of the wheelhouse. Normal service seems to have been resumed.

Scary, but I was lucky, it was actually a transient ischemic attack (TIA) .

Take the symptoms seriously:

FAST Stroke Recognition
Experts use the acronym FAST to remind people how to recognize the signs of a stroke and what to do. FAST stands for:

Face. Tell the person to smile. Watch to see if their face droops.
Arms. Have the person raise both their arms. Watch to see if one is weak or sags.
Speech. Ask the person to say a simple phrase. Listen for slurred or strange-sounding words.
Time. Every minute counts. Call 911 (or your local equivalent) right away.

If you or someone with you shows any signs of stroke, don’t wait. Quick treatment is crucial to survival and recovery.

Call for emergency services. If the symptoms pass quickly, you might have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a brief blockage of blood flow to your brain that often comes before a stroke. Don’t ignore this warning sign.