Sunday, July 19, 2015

Medical Stuff

Nothing horsewords related today.  Instead, I'm going to talk use this like the personal blog it ultimately is, and talk about my life.  Unfortunately, this is the kind of post that needs to begin with the phrase "everyone's okay," which is ironically among the least-reassuring ways to begin a conversation man has devised.

If you're just here for ponies and fanfiction, feel free to skip this; there's nothing here you need to know.

On Friday, my mom had a stroke.

She's fine; remember, "everyone's okay."  There's a scale on which neurologists grade strokes, from zero (you aren't actually having a stroke) to 42 (you're basically dead already).  On that scale, mom's was a one; the mildest possible degree to which your brain can asphyxiate and die.

For the last couple of weeks, I've been getting up early to watch the Tour de France at my parents' house with mom; it's pretty much the only sport she has any interest in, and I love professional cycling (okay, mostly the Tour), so it makes for a nice month of early-morning family bonding.  On Friday, we watched the day's stage together, and she was her usual, gregarious self.  Partway through, Dad got up, said hello/goodbye to us, and headed off for work.  At the finish, mom was talking over the commentators, so I couldn't hear the name of the BMC rider who jumped Sagan for the win.  I hate it when she does that--but that's the price you pay for watching cycling with your mom, I guess.

After the end of the stage, she went downstairs to take a shower while I looked up some recap information.  When she came back, I asked if she wanted me to shut the windows and turn the AC on, since it was getting hot outside.  She couldn't answer.

She wasn't able to say any words at all.  At first I thought she was joking around, then that she was having an unusually early senior moment and couldn't think of the word she wanted.  It was several minutes before either of us started to worry, at which point I called the hospital and, after talking to a nurse, we hurried to the ER.

Well before we left the house, mom was talking.  She didn't have any other symptoms--no physical or motor skill impairment, no drooping eyes or lips, she could still read and understand speech just fine.  It was only her own speaking that she was struggling with, and she seemed and seems to stop having trouble saying any given word after she's used it two or three times.  The improvement was rapid enough that, on at least three or four separate occasions, a new neurologist would come in, ask her a few questions, and then say something like "well, it seems like it's gone away now, is that right?"  It hadn't; every doctor just asks the same few dozen questions to any stroke patient, and mom had gotten all of those answers down pat by then.

She's back at home now.  After running a battery of tests, the doctors think there's no real risk of any further complications, worsening of her condition, or the like in the near future; her treatment plan basically consists of a long-term regimen of blood thinners and what's hoped to be a short-term stint of aphasia therapy, which is expected to result in a full recovery.  If you're going to have a stroke, mom's stroke is inarguably the one you want to have.

The reason I feel a need to vomit this all over my keyboard is because it's terrifying to me, and right now I don't have anyone I can say that to.  My mom is a talkative woman, but she's not a natterer (except when I'm trying to listen to the commentators during the Tour)--she's smart, and witty, and I owe most of my vocabulary to her.  And right now, she has to pause every few words when she speaks, and she's has to struggle just to tell us simple things like "Let's not have sausage for dinner tonight."

It's terrifying because, even if the assumption is that she'll be 100% back to normal in a matter of months, this isn't what my mom sounds like.  She's a talker, but more than that, she's a discusser; she's someone you go to whenever you read an interesting article in the paper, or find a particularly clever (or mind-bogglingly simplistic) passage in a book, because she can help you pick it apart.  And right now, she can't do that.

Luckily, the words are the only problem--her thinking, reasoning, memory, and all the rest don't seem to have been affected in the slightest.  But in the time it took her to shower and get dressed, telling me what she thought of whatever asinine thing I happened to be running my mouth about went from her MO to an almost overwhelming labor.

I guess it's not the fact of that that's really terrifying.  After all, even if she weren't expected to recover any further, her current condition is hardly crippling.  At this point, she speaks well enough that someone who had never met her might not even know anything was wrong with her.  Certainly, the effect of the stroke was less than, say, the effects of a couple of sleepless nights with no coffee in sight.  But the suddenness, and the instantaneousness, of the event are what make it so frightening.  Mom didn't even know anything was wrong until she couldn't answer my question, and she didn't have any other symptoms of note.  If I hadn't happened to be there, how long would it have been until she--or someone--had noticed something was wrong?  In any case, sometime in those twenty minutes, her brain began to die.  And she didn't even notice until I asked if she wanted the AC turned on.

It also makes you question your assumptions.  Mom's not exactly young, but she's not exactly ancient, either (she's between AARP and Social Security, if that places her for you).  When something like this happens, you start asking yourself: what if it had been something more serious?  What if she'd had a heart attack?  What if the clot had lodged in some more immediately dangerous part of her brain?  I don't think more than a fraction of people are ever truly ready to lose their parents when it happens, but I've always assumed that I'd have both of them around for a few more decades at least.  That's still where the smart money is, of course... but it's hard to trust in that, right now.

But I don't have anyone I can say that to right now.  Certainly mom doesn't need to know that every time she pauses while speaking, it makes my breath hitch.  Dad doesn't need to know that, every time I say "full recovery," I can't help but mentally amend it with "but if..."  None of the various family and friends I've been talking to over the past couple of days should have to hear me panicking over something that I academically know doesn't merit panicking--especially since they don't know.  The whole point of calling them is to tell them everything is okay.  And it is.  But it doesn't feel okay.

But I guess that's the nice thing about having a blog where maybe two of your readers have ever so much as met you, and none of them know your mom.  I can say that to someone.  Even if nobody bothers to read this far down (I wouldn't blame anyone who didn't, nor anyone who skipped this blog entirely; I know I'm babble-typing, but in this case I care even less than usual).

To clear up a few things: I'm not planning to take a break from the blog; I'm trying to keep everything as "normal" as possible.  I've been trying to keep up my normal fanfic reading, though I haven't done much in the last two days despite trying several times; we'll see what I'm able to keep up.  The vacation is still a go; mom will be fine to travel, and the rest of the family wants to see her, obviously.  I've got enough guest posts right now to make it through the trip, but could still use a few more to help take the pressure off my reading buffer.

I'm not planning to talk about this again.  Unless you specifically hear otherwise from me, go ahead and assume that my mom is doing perfectly well, and is making a full recovery.  That's what we're all planning on, and I don't really feel comfortable talking about someone else's medical state in a place like this.  The only reason I'm posting this is because I feel like I need to tell someone.

So that's about it.  Normal posts and stuff on Wednesday, and--even if it doesn't feel like it--everyone's okay.


  1. Well, I'm glad everyone's okay. That's rough, though, and that's all I can really say.

  2. "Even if nobody reads this far down." Oh pshaw. Everybody here likes you, Chris. It's like a tiny little cult. Give our attention spans more credit than that!

    Anyway, sorry that you feel weird. I've never had a stroke, but my grandmother did once! And a heart attack! Ended up needing to get quintuple bypass surgery. I think the thing that made her the most upset about the stroke, though, was that none of the doctors would believe her when she told them she had one! She kept telling them, but the brain scans didn't show it, and the more they told her she hadn't had a stroke, the angrier she got. Turns out that the blood clot had lodged itself in a part of her brain that didn't show up well in the images. She was feeling pretty smug after the doctors came in and had to admit that.

    I had to move down and help her for a while afterwords; mostly for the heart attack and ensuing heart surgery (mostly mostly the surgery), but she's fine now. Everyone on her side of the family seems really difficult to kill. I felt kind of weird for a while there too though. It reminds me of the time my cat was walking around outside and ran into a baby skunk. She didn't know what the heck it was, and we obviously didn't want anyone getting sprayed, so we brought her inside, but even though she was trying to act cool, laying down all casually and whatnot, she still had this wide-eyed expression on her face. Every little sound caught her attention, and she didn't calm down until my mom set her in her lap and petted her for a while. That... last part doesn't really fit into the analogy I'm making, but the point is that after all the recent events I was left feeling wary. My usual daily distractions didn't seem to hold my attention like they used to, but I guess that's normal. Watchful eyes adjust to the dark until the shadow passes. I guess all I can say is that I hope both you and your mom feel better soon!

    Also I guess I could share a fun fact I learned about skunks after that day. Skunks, as it turns out, are in the same category as ferrets and weasels, so they have the same snake-y bounding motion to them when they run, even though their bodies are shorter. An example of said action can be seen briefly... here.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Chris. I certainly know what it's like to feel like you just need to tell someone, and I've been in a situation somewhat similar to yours. Keeping things normal is probably a good idea. Pretty sure that's a recommended means of coping

    Sorry I'm not good at responding to this sort of thing. Wish I knew what I'm supposed to say. The best I can think of is that I don't normally think about my mom's cancer anymore, even when the subject of carcinogens and smoking come up (she's not a fan of my habit). There's nothing to remind us about it — she was even able to have another kid — so it's almost like it never happened. Hopefully it'll be that way for you, too

  4. I know what you mean. We think parents are immortal, always there for us no matter how old we get. When my mom had her heart attack, it just about gave me one. (figuratvly) She's 92 now and still drives. Scares the heck out of me.

    My *wife* had a... well, we're not sure what it was back in early June. She couldn't write checks, because she coudln't figure out how to make the numbers associated with the name of the number. Only lasted a day, doctors scratched their heads, we attributed it to her crashing off her Red Bull addiction she had for school and are hoping it never happens again.

    She's only a year younger than I am. Now I'm worried. Sigh. I miss my feeling of immortality.

  5. I can't say I've ever been through anything like that, your situation or your mom's. I don't really know what to say.
    "Everyone's okay" is a good opening. At least it's far better than not including it at all. I'm very glad it's there.
    I hope being able to rant to us has helped some.

  6. Sorry to hear that, but glad to hear she's alright. I certainly know what it's like to seemingly needlessly worry about family with "relatively minor" medical problems. My dad has cancer--very mild, very slow-growing, relatively non-life-threatening, so much so that he isn't all that worried about it (he's getting it treated, of course, he's just very calm about it). But even if you know it's not at all a bad case, you still feel like you have to worry :<

  7. I hope letting us know on your blog helped you out some.

  8. I know how you feel. My grandmother had a stroke in January, and she's not the same. She's having a hard time remembering things now. She's much better than she was, but for a while, she didn't understand why people were over at her house doing things for her. She didn't realize that she'd been going for long stretches of time without washing dishes or doing laundry.

    My grandmother has always been a very intelligent, independent woman, and it's painful to hear her struggle to voice her thoughts now. She's been in declining health for a while, so I'm always worried when I receive a call from Kentucky that something bad will have happened.

    So my advice is to use your time wisely. Everyone has a finite time on this planet, so make the best of it. Do quality things with your mom, and anyone else important, really. Over time, that hitching will let up, and when she finally does pass, hopefully you'll be left with great memories.

  9. Glad to hear that it was as minor as it was. The randomness of the universe is pretty worrying sometimes. Glad us faceless internet audience could give you a target for your worried venting.

  10. It feels awkward to say "I'm glad" after reading a post like this one, but, well, I'm glad -- that your mother's stroke was a minor one and that everyone's okay, that is, though of course not glad that she had it in the first place. I know exactly what you mean about blogs like this providing an outlet that more personal places, oddly, often can't. I've used them that way myself.

  11. Being "...between AARP and Social Security..." myself, this is the sort of thing I do my best to avoid thinking about. I sorry it occurred at all, but if it had to happen, I'm glad it was only a 1 on the awfulness meter. Nothing like this is ever easy to deal with, and concerned friends can only help a tiny amount, if at all. Still... best of luck, and if good wishes count for anything, you've got mine.