I need to be serious for just a minute. I know this sounds like just another ‘Viral Phil’ stunts, for retweets. But this one was real. So bear with me for a bit, so I can unburden myself and tell this story, if only for my own sanity to allow myself that it really did happen.
Before I start, I need to also say that I was very fortunate (at least so far). There are people all other who are in far worse shape, dealing with illness or permanent disabilities, who have 100 times the strength that I could ever endure. This is not a ‘woe is Phil’. This is just my story.
Wednesday, February 6. Wednesdays are a ‘basketball day’ for me, where I’ve been playing for 10 years or so with a group of 20–30 rotating guys to play pick up games at my local YMCA. Six A.M. for an hour and a half, maybe two hours with we go long. Then I get ready for work, maybe some twitter inspiriations (!), and head to the office. I had lunch around 11:30 or so, and drove back to the office but not before wasting some texts with my friends, then into the office a bit before 1 P.M. That’s when everything went hay wire.
For some reason exiting my elevator, I noticed my right arm was numb. No feeling…not asleep, like when you feel tingling, just no feeling at all. I was holding a folder that holds my note pad in my left hand, and tried to press the keypad on our door with my right. Understandibly, I was not doing a good job pressing the correct keys. I didn’t think so at the time because I knew the numbers, but I think in hindsight I was also pressing the wrong combinations. My hand started acting on its own a little bit, like something swaying in the breeze almost. I tried to readjust, thinking I’ll hold the folder in my right, but that was a mess too. Our entry doors had a glass partition, but instead of trying to get someone’s attention my way is ‘something isn’t quite right, but I don’t want to cause a scene and I don’t want to be in front of these windows’ — so I walked down the hall with the solid doors at the end of the office where no one could see me flailing around.
This part was sort of it’s own dark comedy of errors. There’s still a keypad, there’s still a completely numb right arm, there’s my folder in my left hand. I know I can’t function the keypad. I try to switch arms again, except the folder drops right out of my right hand. I pick up the folder off this floor with my left, then again decide to switch it to the right to hold on to while I operate the keypad with my functioning left. Folder drops again. I go to the floor again and pick it up with my left…etcetera, etcetera…all the while still unable to operate the door. The only thing I could think of that closely replicates this one-man show I was performing outside the door were the two-man group of Laurel & Hardy, who would often utilizes bits of comedy mastery featuring tit-for-tat with a prop.
Mercifully, a co-worker heard someone fumbling at the door. He opened, and let me in. I still had my faculties somewhat and acted as normal as I could and walked around the corner to my office. It’s probably a little after 1 now, but not completely sure. I was sitting in my chair trying to compose myself for just a bit. I was dizzy now, and the arm sort of beckoned me waving in front of my face, as if to taunt me. I fell on the floor. “Oh shit,” I thought. I couldn’t get myself upright, just sort of slumped behind my desk. “Maybe someone won’t see me,” I hoped. My other co-worker across the hall saw me sitting there behind my desk and came other to see what was wrong. He knew something was wrong, even though I was still sure I’d snapped out of it. I couldn’t speak to him. Others came to help. I couldn’t speak to them. I could say maybe 3 or 4 words — I think I said “this is crazy” over and over. I couldn’t say anything else coherent, could make any words. My brother came and was there. Now my right eye was blind. There was another co-worker of my office that I couldn’t see until I looked far to the right. First she was there, then she was invisibile. Minutes later the ambulance came. The EMTs tried to get what information they could, but I could offer nothing except nonsensical and incomplete sentences. We were going to Grady, the best trauma center in the world.
Traveling down Atlanta traffic is always treacherous. The traffic is snarled almost around the clock in downtown, and Grady Memorial Hospital is located on the bend of the downtown connector. We were there in roughly 10–15 minutes.
Grady is an old hospital that has been in essentially the same location since the late 1800’s, with just a few incarnation with new additions and buildings, although the big block still remains of the 1960’s era buildings.
Grady can also be a rough place. Gun shots, stabbings — those are all part and parcel in the Grady ER. But if you’re having a traumatic event, there’s no place you want to be.
In 2010, Bernie Marcus and the Marcus Foundation opened its doors to the Marcus Stroke & Neuroscience Center in Grady Hospital in order to start a facility that offers elite, complex care and a team of the best doctors, and I was going to need them.
The ER is clogged with patients. I remember a security guard at the door who was required to run a wand for a metal detector on me before I was allowed in (presumably for weapons that were on the patience being brought in). There was a sea of gurneys, maybe 15 or 20 people that the EMTs were required to weave in an out of the crowded halls to get me to a trauma center.
My brother was there. My wife had made it there right when I got there. I couldn’t talk to her, but seeing her eyes in my eyes, and her hand on my hand made feel reassured. They were rock steady in the chaos of activity.
Initially two doctors were assesed the damage. They would ask, and I could understand, but I just couldn’t make sense and say the words. They had gotten hold of my phone, to try to determine a time line and when did I first have the symptoms. Apparently I showed one of the EMTs the weather on my phone. I can’t imagine why this information would have been important except maybe I felt they wanted to know it was warm weather (80 degrees?). More likely I was trying to communicate somehow but just couldn’t get the phone to function. The second bit of information the doctor had ascertained was this tweet:
Very useful, I’m sure. Again, with the pleasant weather. This tweet happened at 12:09 P.M.
The other clues were going to be his texts. This could have become an unmitigated disaster, because my texts from my closest friend can be less than appropriate. Fortunately for me, I had only recently texted this to my buddies:
Rather benign, all things considered, but still must have been pretty confusing to the doctor in charge. My timeline from the inception of a stroke offered no help.
Next was a CT scan. I’ve been in one before, but they can be claustrophobic sometimes. I felt like I was still able to communicate with myself in my one head, and just tried to stay serene while the minutes past. Everybody else knew by then what was wrong, but I still didn’t know.
Then we were on the way to surgery and I had two clots on the left side of my brain, an ischemic stroke.
There were two problems.
One, because of having active inflamation due to having active Crohn’s disease, normally they could have given what’s called a tPA (Tissue Plasminogen Activator) shot which would act as I heavy-powered blood thinner to dissiminate the clots, but because of this I could do this. Second, the other option was to go through the femoral artery and grab the clots. Unfortunately these were too far to reach. He would have to do the same thing except run the length of the artery as far as he could and blast them with the tPA into the brain only hoping that would disintegrate as much as he can.
(Side note: Catheters aren’t that bad. To be honest, if it were cool to have around, they can be pretty handy. I’ll tell you if you ever have to have one, don’t worry about it. Nothing to be worried about and all the free bathroom breaks you want. The really uncomfortable part is your lack of manicuring, so to speak, since they will have to go into your groin and the femoral artery and are going to have to clean up that mess beforehand. Live and learn, people.)
The neurosurgeon had four big monitors that had my dye-injected brain on the screens. I could only see the monitors too by gazing to the left, even as my head was firmly strapped down as well as both arms.
While everything else wasn’t working, in my head I could still form the words and images. I would pass the time in surgery as long as I could, thinking random things just to pretend I’m taking my mind off of what’s happening. Mostly, though? I would think of my daughters and my wife. I would say there names in my head over and over. First name, middle name, last name. I wanted to be sure I would not lose those names of all three.
Forty five minutes or so and I was done. But not without a humiliating suppository before they let me go, a sort of cherry on top….geez.
Wednesday night in my room. Nursing seemed to be questioning me non-stop. “What’s your name?” “What date is it?” “What’s your birthdate?” I struggled with each. I definitely couldn’t say the date, and the birth day was tricky to. Words that made any coherent sense were hopeless.
In my head I would practice, so that I could say it by repeating it aloud. I would even try to write it on paper, but it would be words that wouldn’t make sense to what I was trying to convey. Not any needs I had, just trying to try to converse.
For some reason I remembered a friend of my daughter had won some award in Middle School that I had seen posted. I worked really hard to tell my wife that little bit of info that meant nothing really, but in the end it got all the more confusing as I had to start with the little brother’s first name, in hopes that I could pull together the string to get to his sister’s name, and last name. Couldn’t do it.
With some hope, by the end of the night, I would be able.
Thursday however would be the break I needed. I was remembering the date. I was more conversive. I’d read the white board over and over, just trying to read (but even still I might see the word “fall” but say “heaven” — a weird word to mix up). I was able to perform strength tests in both arms and legs.
In all, I’d probably see around 10 or 11 doctors, neurologists, cardiologists who saw me over the course of the day, not including nurses, PT, occupational therapists, all who took the care to make sure of my well being and that includes both doctors I saw when I was initially brought in to the ER.
Thursday afternoon, my friends were texting me, trying to lighten the mood.
By 8:30 P.M. Thursday I was moved out of Neuroscience wing and into a general hospital room due to my improvement.
Looks nice, right?
Unfortunately once you’re out of your cushy ‘single’ of the Neuroscience wing, you are now in a “semi-private” room. My roommate was “Mr. Harden” I’ll call him.
Mr. Harden had a lot of issues. He yelled a lot. He would mess his bed. He would pull out his IV’s. If he finally did go to sleep, his breathing was so upsetting you were sure he was going to die soon.
Because Grady would not let women stay in rooms with women, that meant my wife had to go. My unfortunate brother stayed the night with me that we were fortunately able to get maybe the only recliner on the floor, and at 6'8" it wasn’t going to be comfortable for him at all. Still he endured the night terrors of Mr. Harden and his blaring television.
My wife came back Friday morning. She has a compassionate soul for people, and will talk to anyone who wants talk and will do anything for anybody. I knew this would be a mistake, as Mr. Harden now had his own crazy ear to bend. He finally learned how to slowly pull the partition down (when he wasn’t in his straps), so he could talk to my wife to get him turned over in bed, or take him to the bathroom (which he wasn’t allowed), any number of tasks for her. My wife ended up being his liason in getting the nurses for every whim and requirement (somebody stole his bag of Cheetos from the nurses he suspected).
My ‘reprieve’ from Mr. Haren was one more test — an endoscopy to look at the back of my heart. In essence you have to swallow a big viscous goop of lidocaine, then swallow down a wand into the esophagous. It’s not quite as awful as it sounds, actually, and at least I got some peace and quiet.
The final tests were cleared and I was released Friday night.
My nurse, Gray, clearly exsasperated by Mr. Harden over the last hour, made SURE he brought me a wheelchair so he could roll me down and get some relief. I said “hey, if you want to take the circuitous route, burn off an hour and take your time it’s okay with me.” He bent over laughing and grabbed me around the neck. Gray gave me a tour around the grandiose lobby that now exists, showing me all the old museum pieces and articles — one that included Margaret Mitchell who was apparently a big benefactor to Grady Hospital. She sadly died after being runover on Peachtree Street, and didn’t recover from her injuries.
Finally my wife was waiting. We picked up my kids from my in-laws and we all went home.
Unfortunately, there will always be risks with me going forward. I can’t promise tomorrow even. But I can tell you I am happy, I’m as well as I can be, I have my family and my friends for at least some more days. Love you all.