Jean Kirshenbaum


It was the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend and we had gone to the movies. When we came home, I fell asleep quickly, and in a few minutes I woke up with a bad case of the hiccups. I asked Gary, my significant other at that time, to get me some sugar, which has cured my hiccups in the past.


"I can't understand you; you're slurring your words." he said. I repeated it, yet he still didn't know what I meant. He also noted that I had a severe droop on the left side of my face, announcing, "I think you're having a stroke," he said. "I'm going to call 911."


"Don't be ridiculous, I'm just groggy from sleeping," I insisted, thinking to myself that he must be losing his mind; after all, I was just 55. "If you call 911, I'm never speaking to you again," I hollered. That he understood. He hollered back: "If I don't call 911, you may never speak to anyone again!"


I tried to get out of bed, but I couldn't stand and fell to the floor. That's when I realized he might be right. He put me back into bed, called 911 and we waited. The paramedics arrived in just a few minutes and took my vital signs. I felt fine. There I was, lying in my leopard print nylon nightgown, being lifted onto a gurney by two strong young people. We directed them to take me to Abington's emergency room, about 25 minutes away at normal speed. Although I had had a horrendously painful headache for the prior three days-worse than any migraine I had ever suffered, I felt just fine physically. But I was beginning to get scared.


It was after midnight when we reached the ER. The staff contacted the neurologist on call, Dr. James Cook, who, it seemed to me, was there in a flash. In the meantime, I went to radiology for a series of tests, including a CAT scan, which showed that I had had a stroke. When I asked Dr. Cook if the stroke were mild or severe, without hesitation he answered, "Severe." (Now, of course, I knew Gary was right.) There was damage to two thirds of the right hemisphere of my brain. After explaining the risks, Dr. Cook administered Tissue Plasminogen Activator (TPA ). Amazingly, my symptoms disappeared. I was then admitted to the intensive care unit, where in the morning I suffered another stroke, and then spent the next 5 days being monitored. I also learned that the stroke had been precipitated by a dissection of my right carotid artery -- usually a fatal event.


Clearly, I probably wouldn't be alive to tell this story if Gary had not been familiar with the symptoms of a stroke. And if the hospital didn't have a stroke center capable of administering TPA and dealing with the event on an emergency basis. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Although the stroke has left me with fatigue and low energy, I am back on the tennis court and leading a near-normal life. Not knowing what the future might hold for me (would I end up an invalid from a second stroke?), I suggested to Gary that he may want to move on. He wouldn't hear of it. Four months later, after being together for 12 years, Gary and I were married in a small wedding at our home.






This article was originally published in "Touching Your Life," a publication of Abington Memorial Hospital, Abington, PA.



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