When I saw this, I cried. The strokes I've had were like this, but not. Now, the story of my first TIA.
First of all, what is a TIA? A TIA stands for a Transient Ischemic Attack which is a neurological event with the signs and symptoms of a stroke, but which go away within 24 hours. Also called a mini-stroke, a TIA is due to a temporary lack of adequate blood and oxygen to the brain. TIAs typically last from 2 to 30 minutes and can produce problems with vision, dizziness, weakness or trouble speaking. I have had two of these "cerebral incidents."
Brain scan of a stroke
The Story of Stroke Number 1
It was a Monday in June of 2007. I don't remember specifically what I had been doing that day, but by remember what my life around that time was like, I can guess. I can guess that around 10:00 am, I woke up. I put on my pink bikini, grabbed my floaty silver pool lounger and a tall cup of iced tea and I went outside to my apartment complex's swimming pool. Most of that afternoon, I'm sure, was lazy in-the-sun time, reading a book and taking frequent dips in the cool water, sipping sweet iced tea.
My boyfriend, who I was living with, worked 3rd shift at the IBM plant, so he slept most of the day.
Around 6 pm, he woke up. I had come in from the sun about an hour earlier and I'm sure I made dinner. My boyfriend and I were talking to each other and I remember, very clearly, sitting on my futon in our front room and feeling my stomach get queasy. From the look on my face, my boyfriend asked if I was all right. I shook my head no. I felt strange. It was a feeling like all was not right with the world, that the stars had somehow fallen out of their normal celestial patterns and something was most definitely wrong in my world. I sat there, trying to figure out the origin of this feeling, my hand on my churning stomach, trying to decide what to do.
Then, I could no longer escape it. I was up off the futon in a shot, darting for our small bathroom. I leaned over the toilet and proceeded to vacate everything in my stomach. Of all the times I can remember throwing up, none have been so heart-wrenching as this. My body was completely beyond my control and spasmed with the force of my sickness. My eyes cried.The only thing I felt was what could only describe as the suffering of all people, everywhere. No soul was left out of this feeling; victims of wars, pain and sickness coursing through my body, through my mouth and into the waiting toilet. Never have I had a heartbreak like the heart-sick-pain I felt, then.
When my body was done being sick, I moved to the side of the toilet and sat down on the floor. Tears still streamed down my face, I laid on the brown tile floor. So tired. Then, there were sounds behind and above me. Deep string bass-like sounds. I turned my attention toward the origin of these sounds. I was terrified when I saw what was making them.
This creature was standing over me with an orange-red halo around the opening that the sounds were coming from. It took me a moment to realize it was not a creature or a monster, but a human creature. I sat up, the bass sounds low, smooth, comforting. I looked down at my body, my legs. I puzzled at them for a moment, too. As I looked at them, I had no concept that they were attached to "me." The realization that I was in a human creature form, too, came to me quite suddenly.
The orange creature reached two parts of his form out to me. I looked at them. Strange, alien, spindly protrusions, lined from where the outside of the form had creased. Hands! The halo-human had hands! I raised parts of my body and looked at them. Hands! Hands that didn't look like his, but hands, none the less. I had hands, too! I put my hands into the hands of this waiting haloed-human. "See?" I thought. "The same!" He still made this low bass-like sounds, but I didn't trust him. I knew he was a separate entity from me and did not know what he wanted or what he was doing in this space with me. Here.
There? Here? Where am I? These questions rushed through my head as the pulled me to my feet. Feet! I can stand! I can propel myself by use of these long spindles attached to me down there. Oh! They're attached to me! So that's what they're there for.
I am up higher, now. I can see closer into the halo. I see orbs in the center of his face. I seem to be able to communicate with this other human-thing through those. His orbs look like they're scared. Why does he have fear? I'm the one who doesn't know where it is! More low, soothing sounds. He reaches over and uses his hands to pick up an object. Another spindle. Spindles of hands grasping a different colored spindle. Plastic, cold and strange. I'm afraid. I don't know what he's doing.
He takes the colored plastic spindle and grabs a tube thing from a support-thing. He squeezes stuff out of the tube-thing onto the colored plastic spindle-thing. It's blue and it shimmers. He raises my hand and puts the spindle thing into it. My hand grasps it. I hold it. It's cool and pale and I notice the differences of texture, color. Pink. Blue. I look into his orbs again, his eyes. I ask him in my thoughts, "What is this?" My lips do not move. He takes his hands and guides mine, putting the colored plastic spindle in my mouth, against my teeth.
There is a taste, a sensation and it scares me even more. It's foreign and shocking and I jerk the colored spindle out of my mouth. I look at the orange human and, again, he guides the spindle into my mouth. He moves the spindle around on my teeth. The scritch-scritch inside my skull is horrible. More low tones. I grit my teeth and the creature seems to be encouraging me to do this. He turns me to face something else. I see my reflection. It startles me and then I'm puzzled. So this is what my form looks like. I recognize myself and my own face, then. I finish brushing my teeth almost purely by muscle memory. My body almost reflexively spits into the sink, turns on the faucet and rinses the toothbrush. I marvel at how the form I'm in seems to be remembering how to do this ritual.
I walk out of the space I'm in, into a larger space. It looks familiar. I see another supporting structure. I remember it's soft and that I can go there and try to figure some things out. I walk to this structure. It's blue and purple and green and soft. I flop down onto it.
No. Now, I can't breathe. Breathe! I have to breathe! I turn my head to the right on my pillow, allowing myself to breathe. I turn my body over and lay there on my bed. Soft. Comforting. I close my eyes, but there's wetness still coming out of them. The top of my form is wet! No! This does not feel comfortable. I take a corner of a sheet on my bed and dry my face. Better. Feels better.
The orange human came back. I had forgotten about him. I didn't see him leave. Who is he? I know he's a "he," now. He makes those low sounds and I can understand him, again. "Do you think we should call your mother?" he asks me.
Mother! I have a mother! Yes! My name is Bri.
I have a father, too. A childhood! A history! A past!
All those things that make up an identity, I have knowledge of, again. I have friends and ex-boyfriends and teachers and mentors. It all comes flooding back to me. I cry, again. I know who the man is, standing in front of me. I know he lives here. I know that he shouldn't cause me pain or hurt me.
"Where's your cell phone?" he asks. I think. Phone. Phone. Remember phone! I think and think and I put a word to an object in my head. I think more and remember where it is. I say, "It's in the . . . " and I can't remember the word for the object.
I've got a picture of it in my head. It's small. It's the color of my favorite flower. It's shaped with four sides. It can be opened. It holds things that I need often. It hangs over my shoulder and I can take it with me.
I know he's talking to her into that box, but I admire the miracle that allows him to speak to another being over 1100 miles away. He hangs up the phone and turns to me. "I have to go to work. Are you going to be okay?" "I don't know," I say. "My stomach feels weird." "Weird like how?" he asks me. "My stomach feels like Saturn." No, that's not right. I try again. "My stomach feels like . . . Saturn!" I know that's not the right word but it's the only one I can come up with to describe how my stomach feels. I say, "I know it's the wrong word, but that's all I have and that's what we're going to have to go with. My stomach feels like Saturn." He says "Okay," hesitantly. He tells me to call him at work if anything else happens. I agree to do so and he leaves.
For the next eight hours, I sat there in my apartment. I realize that the feeling of my stomach being Saturn was actually the word "hungry." I watch movies on DVD. I don't know what else to do. I lay down on my bed. Blue, green and purple softness and I sleep. In the morning when he gets home, he comes into the bedroom and I wake up "How are you doing?" he asks and I tell him that something was really wrong and that he needs to take me to the hospital. We get in the car and drive the the Emergency Room.
The doctors admit me and there are so many machines that get hooked up to my body, I forget what they all were. They take pictures of my brain and put stuff in my veins that makes me feel warm all over. They tell me I had a stroke. I remember it as a "transient schemetic attack." Later, I learn it's called a TIA. Transient Ischemic Attack. Common name: partial stroke.
The doctors said it happened because I had been on birth control pills unchecked for the prior 12 years. I was just another statistic. My boyfriend takes me home and calls my mother and tells her what's been happening. He tells her my diagnosis. She doesn't believe him. In fact, she reacts the same way as if he'd told her that I'd stubbed my toe on the coffee table.