Diary of a Stroke


i am home after three days and two nights in the hospital. my right arm is working at about 15 percent capacity after my suffering a stroke monday night. that explains the absence of capital letters. remember the lives and times of archy and mehitabel by don marquis? you will understand why i identify with the cockroach archy, who typed on marquis’s newsroom typewriter at night by hopping from key to key but of course was unable to operate the shift key. thus no words were capitalized in archy’s writings. i am typing with my left hand only and thus have archy’s restriction to lower-case letters. since i’m working on a computer and not a typewriter, apostrophes are available to me, though they weren’t to archy. a literary cockroach, c’est moi.


Progress! I can peck with the index finger of my right hand, so the shift key is within my command. Adopting the positive attitude that doctors, nurses and therapists have been prescribing, I now think of my little ischemic stroke as an incident of growth. My right leg and arm are suddenly about three inches longer than before. Heavier, too, which accounts for the foot always catching the edge of the stair it’s trying to mount. Obviously, the right hand with the fork will have a hard time hitting my mouth, which has changed shape.

It is the morning of the fifth day since the wee embolus detached itself from somewhere and flew upward into my cerebral arterial tree. I was alone in the house, my wife being away on business. I had gone to bed early. I woke for a bathroom visit and discovered something was amiss with my right leg and arm. “Must have slept on it wrong,” I thought. “It will clear itself up.”

I’m unsure about the succeeding events. I broke two drinking glasses at different wake-up times. I couldn’t seem to get them up to the kitchen counter before they slipped from my grasp. One glass I had used to take analgesic PMs, foolishly thinking that sleep would rectify my mystery malaise. Those pills were a major mistake.

I awoke again in the wee hours still refusing to admit what was happening to me. I had had some cholesterol and hypertension problems, but they were under the control of prescription drugs. Seeking activities to avoid unthinkable reality, I dressed and lurched downstairs to the garage to put out the recycle baskets and garbage can for the early morning pickup-a chore I’d forgotten to perform the previous night. I had to lean against the wall of the stairwell going down and coming back up. The right leg and foot were not performing well. I attempted to sweep up the broken glass in the kitchen. My right arm couldn’t work the broom.

Keeping busy, I hauled laundry downstairs to the machine. I kept dropping items during my labored descent, leaning on and sliding down the staircase wall. Upstairs once again, I tried to brush my hair, but my right hand and arm wouldn’t cooperate. Finally I brought the cordless phone to my armchair and sat down to think.

I read carefully the telephone book’s warnings not to dial 911 unless it was a true emergency. By this time it was 6:30-not so early that I would seriously disturb anyone, I thought insanely. I unlocked the front door, sat back down in my chair, and dialed. I was embarrassed at the difficulty I had enunciating that I thought I might be having a stroke. Minutes later the paramedics were in the driveway along with a fire engine. The crew worried about getting me down the slippery outside stairs and into the ambulance. I hoped the sirens hadn’t wakened my neighbors.

At the hospital, blood pressure off the map, I grew weary of telling people what month, date, and year it was; who was President, and how many fingers they were holding up. I politely and accurately responded to their inquiries wondering why they couldn’t answer those questions for themselves. When evenings came along, I turned on the TV so I could feel similarly superior to the candidates on Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. They sent me home the third day.

Stroke plus one month.

My thrombosis was not massive. I am recovering with a speed that seem undeserved given my idiotic refusal to accept what was happening and my eight-hour delay in calling the paramedics. Sure, I knew about strokes, but I had had no headache, no loss of vision, and being alone there was no opportunity to discover my inability to speak clearly. I have much to be thankful for.

Everyone should learn about stroke symptoms and treatment of the various kinds of strokes. A drug called rt-PA (recombinant tissue-plasminogen activator) can virtually wipe out the effects of a stroke, but the patient must get to a hospital within 90 minutes of onset. (Recent medical developments have extended that time limit.) Tests will determine whether one is a candidate for rt-PA. I waited too long and may spend the rest of my life with problems that could have been eliminated by this miracle clot-dissolving therapy.