6 September 18th, We Move

The doc came by today and told me that I may be one of the most motivated patients she has ever seen. All I have to say to that is, “NO SHIT SHERLOCK!” Pardon me for the colourful description but who wouldn’t want to make things better if they have a choice? I guess I know that it is all up to the individual mind involved.

All day locked in the same room, being told to rest and then having people coming through all hours of the day and night, the constant drone of a recirc system, a roommate that has hacking fits (I know she can’t help it), etc. What’s more is being told to work on getting better but not allowed to move without help that doesn’t come right away (not their fault either), or being given a walker and then not allowed to use it because they think I am too unstable and they freak out. Now before you tell me I need to understand them, I DO!! But this is after I have spent a number of days doing lots of stuff for myself up until I got admitted. So there you have it.

This morning, I took matters into my own hands and did “exercises” in bed and found if I concentrated hard enough, I can grip with my left hand, and I can move my left foot and leg much more than I thought. Apparently if I keep working those things a lot, I will rebuild those neural pathways back really quick. They like that I am showing this much improvement since I got here.

For those of you who aren’t bored and just skim read my posts, or any other of your posts, thank you for keeping me in you prayers. And for the love and light from those who don’t believe in prayer. I love you all!

I told the medical staff here that they have a week to teach me what I need to do because I have no intention of hanging around here and moping. Let’s see if God honours my willingness to take help and instruction by providing speedy recovery. In any case, this is my path, so I walk it rocks and all.

Later the same day

They’re shipping me to rehab and I’m say’n’ “YES, YES, YES!!!,!”

The new part of Kelowna General is the Hilton! The room I was in overlooked downtown Kelowna with Dilworth Mountain in the background. Bright, clean rooms and clear hallways with less stuff in them. And no one sleeping in the hallways. Now rehab, it is very much like descending into the pit! The staff in rehab are no less friendly or skilled, but it is a much darker, dirtier looking place, with so much stuff in the hallways. Bins of dirty clothes and coves containing weigh scales and countless banks of drawers with hospital clothing. Weird conversations are able to be overheard as you pass each room. Sometimes frustration or self pity can’t contain itself in privacy, if there is such a thing in a place like this. Although the view out the window of my room was a parkade, at least the HVAC system wasn’t loud enough to wake the dead.

5 The Long Roll To Lock Up – The Start of My Facebook posts

From this point on, these are the words I wrote on Facebook while I faced my days with the knowledge that I didn’t suffer a “mini-stroke”, but a full blown stroke. I’ve added details to finish off the thoughts I had started, or details I left out that actually made me think. I will also be adding in “posts” that give more details so that the posts are connected. The new details and the additional posts will just be woven in. So without further ado…

September 16th

I just want to fill you in on what happened today. The day included a trip to the neurologist to find out more about my situation so I could get proper help with recovery. Instead I got a shocked doc who wondered why I had been sent home. Instead of getting immediate answers to things, he admitted me to the hospital for a billion tests in order to find out more. There is still hope for decent recovery, but there are many questions to answer. 

So here I am, incarcerated in room 606a being served puréed food because my tongue looked a little crooked when I stuck it out. (For those who don’t know, I am significantly tongue tied and my tongue has always looked gobbled). So not to complain, but I don’t do docs and hospitals well. I know they are all here to help so I harbor no ill will. I know this will shed light on what will make me better. But it feels like prison, especially because I was at home eating real food, walking around my own house and showering by myself in my own shower up until this morning. Now they don’t even want me to walk down the hall without help let alone eat solid food.

For those looking for inspirational sound bites, this is as close as you’ll get: I know this is the path set before me, and easy or hard I will have to walk it. There is no escape and I see that. I want quick recovery, and you may pray for that, please. For all the pain and discomfort of this life,I know it’s more important to know God as the sustainer in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. I will ask to get out of this brokenness, yes. More important is God walking with me through it. I know He heals, but I also know He understands my affliction.

Tomorrow I start with the tests to find out exactly why a 52 year old had a stroke and what it will take to keep it from happening again. Plus all the hard work of gaining back what I lost.

Goodnight everyone.

September 17

(MRI at 11:30 this morning. YAHOO!!!! That means “relaxing” drugs while they nuke me.) Earlier today the nurse came in and more or less out of the blue asked if I was claustrophobic. I told her no without thinking, but it turns out they ask because the MRI machine requires that you are moved into a really tight tube. For those that don’t like tight spaces, they give drugs to relax the person and make the process easier. Once I realized that they were offering me drugs that would chill me out and relax me in a way that was 1) legal, 2)supervised and 3) in a place where if anything went wrong, I would be well taken care of. So I told the nurse the next time that I saw her that I felt I needed the drugs. They ended up giving me the drugs. And it was awesome!

The hospital is lots of waiting. I know that I’m not the only person that they are taking care of. It doesn’t make it any easier to wait. Since they are playing catch up and trying to figure out how I happened to have a stroke, I go from one test to another. Constant drawing of blood, Kidney tests, tests for sleep apnia (even if you aren’t sleeping well at night you can develop heart problems and high blood pressure), carotid arteries, and anything else they could think of which could have contributed to my stroke. The day was a series of trips, being shuttled by hospital staff to different labs and test spaces in the bowels of the hospital, down hallways that only staff knew. If I would have had to try to get to all my appointments and tests, it would have been exhausting. Instead I would have people come in, I would lumber into a wheelchair and they would take me off to my next meeting. Sometimes I would be parked in hallways with no one visible or audible, and they would just leave me there, telling me that someone would be along shortly. And sure enough, all of a sudden a person would come out of some doorway, or appear at the end of the hallway and walk all the way over to where I was.

It’s a surreal experience, being the focus of all that’s going on around you but feeling like it’s happening in some sort of weird movie! Ir’s really not a movie you want to watch. It’s more like a dull horror film.

4 TIA No More

The day started out like any other, except for the fact that today we were going to find out more about my condition, and what I needed to do to recover. That’s what we thought anyways.

We drove down to the clinic across from the Kelowna General Hospital. I wasn’t walking very well, so Sharon dropped me off by the entrance door and went to park. There was no more humor in me. I was doing my best just to drag along at whatever pace I could muster. It was a nice fall day, and as I sat waiting for Sharon to join me and go in, I can’t say I remember feeling anything special about anything anymore. I remember it being difficult to find a comfortable position on my seat. The car was parked and Sharon joined me. The greatest comfort I had was with Sharon by my side. But that was the only comfort at that point.

The elevator took us to the 2nd floor. The doors opened and in front of me was a great hallway, which seemed to stretch as I looked for the nearest door which could be the office of the doctor I was there to see. However, it seemed that I had to walk to the very end. Or so it seemed.

The receptionist was not at the very end as it turned out.

3 Home Sweet Home

Making the best of a confusing situation. If I’m here, let’s look around and see what I got.  I was told to come back to the TIA/Ministroke clinic on Friday. Since I had been showering, dressing, eating, and walking around the house by myself up until this point, it was “make the most out of what I had left” time.

This is an eye opener to look back on, but it helps me process how far down I had gone. Take a look.

We still can’t figure out what the doctor was thinking in sending me home, and many of the other health care people can’t either. They all gasp or raise their brows when they are told I was sent home like this.

2 The Price Is Right

The beginning scene of my very own Stanley Kubrick movie featured a curious character who entered the waiting room. I’m sure she had a purpose for being there. She had to have a purpose there! To show up at a hospital waiting room for anything else other than to get health care help is so contrary to my mind that the thought has no ability to be even allowed. But this character, a lady who appeared to be in her late 50’s had come in to our area of the waiting room looking for a remote control for the televisions that were up on the wall of the waiting rooms. Neither of them were on, but she was determined to find a way to turn them on! And fortunately, she was no discriminator of persons. She made sure that everyone was invited into the search for the remotes, regardless of their apparent malady. I’m not sure the lady with severe abdominal pain was really up for the search, or the disruption.

No remotes! Anywhere! No matter. Televisions can be turned on and channels changed with buttons on the body of the TV. But it’s not straightforward for everyone to figure out. Our waiting room companion was just such a person. Buttons that don’t work can be assisted with smacks to the side of the TV. Questions about the process don’t have to stay in the mind. They are even better when muttered as though a curse out loud for all to hear. What could be so important that the TV needed to be on?

Thankfully, there are always plenty of staff standing around doing nothing in an emergency waiting room, and one such nurse saw the critical problem that needed to be solved.  She came over and assisted our new waiting room companion with finding a way to get the television going without the use of the remote. A chorus of angels sang as the apt nurse pulled it off! TV on! Channels changed! Just in time for a new car!

How excited we all were when everything happening on the television was repeated by our new friend. With enthusiasm. Her concern was evident as she repeatedly asked in a loud voice if the TV was too loud. And don’t worry, the downtime between exciting drama was filled with arcane personal questions of anyone who was near.

I didn’t realize then that the waiting had just started. After the confirmation that I had a stroke, I didn’t get admitted… I got sent home. Cut loose. There was an appointment for the end of the week set up, at the TIA clinic. There was supposed to be an assessment at that appointment, and more information would come. But no admission.

1 Admission

The Monday afternoon when things started revealing themselves, there came an admission. My admission to Sharon. I told her that I thought something bad was happening. I told her of my symptoms and I used the “S” word for the first time. The fear that had been solely mine to this point was now shared. I could see it walk across her face and stomp the “everydayness” of the moment right out of her. Her response was immediate and expected. “Let’s go to the emerg” right now!” What does a man who hates going to the doctor say to that? Of course you know! I told her the plan was to go to the emergency in the morning. It was a very un-Christmas like silent night.

After the night of somber second thought, the morning of discovery came. For some reason, Sharon didn’t want me to drive to emerge on my own. My constant companion of 30 plus years had to come with me to find out what was going on. More evidence had arrived on Tuesday morning. Weakness on my left side made walking slow, and my back uncomfortable. But I was still able to walk myself across the parking lot into the emerg. There was no rush, no hustle, no real reaction to me describing my symptoms. Maybe it was because I didn’t show any traditional symptoms strongly enough. In looking back on it, maybe I should have put on my best hypochondriac.

Things from this point took on the hallmark of my life from that point on. Slow motion. I waited for the CAT scan, I waited for the doctor, I waited for any kind of information. All the while, my speech became more difficult, and my left side was falling asleep. Finally the doctor met with us to do some final confirmation tests to make sure that I had had a stroke. At that point though, he was calling it a TIA or ministroke. That almost makes it sound cute, like a box of Kellogs ministrokes that go good in a bowl for breakfast. But it was a hidden monster inside my head that was chomping through precious real estate. At least the doc gave me a blood pressure pill and sent Sharon and I to the waiting room once again. There was a CAT scan in there somewhere as well. I’m sure of it. They had to confirm that there was damage. No one needed to convince me anymore. I could feel the strength draining from my arm and leg on the left side. From there, it became my own personal version of a surreal and twisted Stanley Kubrick movie.

The Beginning Of Things

Finally! The parking lot. I had made it all 5 kilometers back. And although I felt like I had just gone on a substantial hike, everything was feeling pretty good! A man can convince himself of almost anything that doesn’t include picking up after himself. In the moment, I had come to my very own personal conclusion that everything was alright and in fact I would be able to handle the upcoming hiking trip. No problem!

The task of driving myself, my son, and the new kid back home started without a hitch. Well, other than the fact that I had sweat so hard in my shirt and even though it was fresh out of the laundry, I smelled like a bag of rotten onions, so I was focused on doing everything with my arms down as close to my side as possible. Every time I would raise them a little, my eyes would start watering from the fumes comin’ out of my pits. It’s not very often I have pits that smell so bad that they could gag a maggot.

Thinking back, although I’m freaked out when I think of it now, my fine motor skills were starting to be affected. As I was trying to drive with my arms down to avoid what I thought would be a small personal embarrassment, I noted that my steering was choppy…jerky. It wasn’t Mario Andretti for sure. My motions were mostly normal, but there were signs that I can only see in retrospect. As we drove and during drop off of our passenger, I remember now that my voice seemed hoarse, and my words were choppy too. But the regular recognized signs of something else were totally absent. I was for all intents and purposes a walking time bomb. The slow slide down had started, but no one, not even I knew.

Once we got home, there was the regular chatter about our experiences of the day as our family dug in to one of our standard health food suppers (hot dogs). When your wife works at a bakery, there is always a chance to have the freshest of hot dog buns for putting some freshly smoked hot dogs into. They are so good! Other than the feeling I had which I keep describing as tired, I don’t remember any other issues. I do know that I showered and went to bed early. It’s the thing to do, after all…..when you’re tired. I had passed the window of opportunity to use  the new miracle clot busting drugs that can totally reverse the symptoms of stroke without the slightest clue that anything like that could have been happening. You already know what I blamed for anything that could have passed for a symptom. And I was looking forward to a good nights sleep to shake off the feeling.

Morning came. Sharon (my wife) had gone to work at the usual early hour and the boys had gotten up to go to school. I drove myself to my clients house to install some landscape lights. What else do you do on a work day? I climbed the ladder to work on the wiring and mounting of the lights on the house by the front door. It completely got past me when I was clumsier than usual. I honestly couldn’t make the connection at that point, and I’m not talking electrical connection. That happened. Seeing my clumsiness as an effect of a stroke is the connection that didn’t get made.

My client came over to where I was working, and as had been the case throughout the summer during the big landscaping job I had been involved in, he had questions for me. He asked, and the impact of what had been happening silently inside my skull came to light. I swear that I’ve never worked as hard on any Friday night (some runaway wine tasting shall we say) to make my words understandable. My words were slurred, even though I pulled out all stops with muscling my words into existence. I was slurring! Immediately my mind recognized what could be happening. If I would have had a mirror, I’m sure that I would have been the color of ash again, because the fear had cracked open and was dripping down on me like a broken carton of molasses.

As the fear oozed in and began to choke me, I switched it off in my mind and hastily made an exit plan. The phone rang, and I struggled through the call, with a demanding customer pushing me to act right away on the issues they wanted me to solve for them in that moment. Normally I would have seen that as business as usual with that customer, but in my crisis of that moment, I used placating words to push the issue off, and not be stressed by the demands. More questions from my customer, which I answered with as few words as possible. Pack up my gear. I had to go.

Knowing that there would be ongoing demands on me if this thing that was happening turned out to be something that would hinder work, I ran a couple errands after I had dropped the service van off at home. Some friends had asked me to take a look at a basement suite for their son to move into while going to school. I decided I couldn’t blow off my promise to do this for them. Thankfully, the vendors of the suite were a very gracious little old Italian couple. I’m sure my speech sounded like I was speaking with a strange accent. I knew I was slurring, but they seemed to understand what I was saying and it didn’t phase them. I even came away with fresh garden tomatoes and clusters of grapes. I walked through their garden while he talked about his batches of homemade wine.

While my mind raced to the realization of what the possible problem was, I was no longer tired. I had eyes as big as saucers. Scared like a cat dropped in a room full of rottweilers. I had no idea how this would turn out. Unaware of this at this time, I was further along than the erasing drugs could be used, but less than 24 hours. And no where near the bottom of the hole I was falling into.

I Get Knocked Down

For the first time in my adult life, I was disinterested in trail food! It always tastes like a chef poured their heart and soul into it when you eat it on the trail. But the lunch I packed for myself may as well have been chalk with a side of mould. I lost interest after the first bite, and rationalized any further attempts at eating with the perennial favorite, “I don’t need it anyways”. At least I was distracted from how exhausted I felt when it was suggested that someone in the group take out their campstove and light it. After the attempt didn’t go so well (I won’t say failed, because it really wasn’t a complete bomb), thoughts turned to the trail back to where we came.

I remember the thought process in my mind. I still had no idea the damage that was being done in my skull, with no outward signs whatsoever. Whenever I’ve been faced with any huge task and either didn’t actually have an option to get out of it or didn’t give myself that option, I’ve always done this. It’s like the slow winding up sound of a big engine droning to life. It’s like the calling to all corners of my mind and very being, saying “we shall never surrender!” In total Winston Churchill fashion. All the extra bits of personal fibre are roused from their slumber and called to action. I “mustered”. And it wasn’t so bad. Besides, there was no need to think anything was wrong. Like the Black Knight on the bridge in Monty Pythons Holy Grail, I had had worse.

The hike back was quite straight forward. In fact, I was proud of myself for having less trouble with the downhill grade than my chaperone partner. He had suffered an injury a few years back and needed to be cautious on his feet. His devastating physical injury was one of those very noticeable from the outside injuries. It took a long time for him to heal, and involved major surgical work. He had stumbled on a previous hike, so I understood why he was being cautious. Still, I would have beat him back to the parking lot if it would have been a race. By now, it seemed like I had gotten my wind back, and I was even finding an old familiar pace. Nothing was wrong except that I was out of shape, and that made me very tired.

The Outtrip To Die For

There was no way I was going to let my out of shape old body hold me back from going on this camping expedition!

Our boys were in grade 11, and a part of their schools heritage is a camping trip for the grade 12 students into the backcountry of our national park system. Although the trip is affectionately called the “Lake ‘O’ trip, meaning Lake O’Hara, close to Lake Louise, Alberta, the truth is that with around 140 students participating there is no way that they could flood just one small area of the national park. So there are groups of 8 students with 2 chaperones in many different areas.

The area I was to be chaperone was on the “Ball Pass” route which went up to Egypt lake. Stunning scenery…once in a lifetime chance to spend with at least one of my sons. The other was put in a different group, and that was okay. There are plenty of amazing hikes in the Rockies. Since we had been given maps and information about our routes, I knew that our first day would be a tough slug, climbing almost a kilometer vertical over 12 kms of trail. I was not in shape, but I had been out hiking with small amounts of weight in my camera pack, as much as I could find time and muster the will for. I wanted to prepare. And in fact, the chaperones were responsible for “practice hikes” to discover issues, weed out non committed participants, and get to know the group so we could prepare for what may happen on the actual outtrip. We had hiked a small day hike as a group before, but on September the 11th, I found myself on what was to be my last outtrip with my group.

Filling backpacks, lunches and a last minute add on to our group took up my morning. Finally the drive to the rendezvous point brought us all together as a group and we set out for a hike to go to the peak at about halfway on our trail up Okanagan Mountain. The hike was similar to what we would be encountering on the first day of our trip, so this was a really good sample trail to pick. As expected, the group of kids took off like a shot. The boys seemed like they had to prove how well they could handle the physical exertion of the hike; the girls trailed after them with resolve not to let any boys show them up. The 2 of us chaperones were the fallbacks. Slow and steady wins the race. And for the most part, I was the very tail end. Admittedly, most of that tailing was because of how out of shape I was, but there was a part of me that has always liked the vantage point of the last on the trail. Besides, if anyone would see a cougar, it would be the one at the tail end as the cougar jumps on your back and bites your head. I’ve always loved wildlife sightings.

Our plan was to walk until noon. We had left at 10 o’clock from the parking lot, and lunch seemed like a good break for us at the top of the trail. As we came to the top, where we knew we were going to stop, I lagged even further behind. An overwhelming feeling of exhaustion came over me. It was like a wet, cold thousand pound blanket. After years of determination to push through as much as I could and never give up, I found the strength to walk the last few hundred yards where the group had perched on a rock outcropping to enjoy their lunch. I dropped my backpack onto the ground, looked for a smooth place to sit and let gravity pull me into a resting place. I felt as spent as ash, and maybe that was my color, but no one commented or noticed. That whole lunch break, I had no idea of the damage that had begun to happen inside my skull, damage that I wouldn’t discover for some time to come. Tired was the only thing I felt. So very tired.