Sunday, I wake up…feeling a little groggy. Vanessa and Rick seem to have been up a while. Bustling back and forth they look like they’re getting ready for something. Little Ava who’s almost 2 years old is clumsily stomping around the living room saying words that aren’t really words.
Vanessa casually says across the room: “Hey so Sunday’s me and Rick generally go and get lunch at this nice outdoor place then we do some walking around, it’s kind of our Sunday thing. You’re more than welcome to join us but no pressure if you’re still tired and just wanna lay low at the house:
I groggily respond “No, that sounds good, I’ll come. I’ll start getting ready now. Is there coffee?”
“Yeah coffee’s made, we’re thinking leave in like 15 minutes??”
I make my way over to the kitchen, pop open the fridge unsure of what I’m looking for. The light from inside the fridge seers through my eye like a rusted knife and a sharp pain runs through my skull. I squint. Vanessa notices “Damn, do you still have that headache?”
Ever since I got terribly seasick last Tuesday I’ve had a 10 out of 10 non stop headache…must have been from all the throwing up and retching for hours.
“Ugh well the headache has somewhat subsided, now it’s just any light I see, feels like a knife in my head.”
Vanessa has already walked into the bedroom, she probably only heard half of that sentence. That’s ok, wasn’t that important anyway. I pour my coffee. Sugar where’s the sugar…oh yeah, she keeps it in that Japanese sake jar with the rubber cap. Peel off the rubber top and spoon in a little sugar. Ahhhhh nice.
I make my way to my nice little guest bedroom. Me and Joey had another argument this morning on the phone. I wonder if he texted me anything since then. Reach for my phone…….nothing. wierd. Put my coffee down with the right hand that I’ve been holding it with and reach for my phone with my left. Strange. Nothing. Reach! Grab it! Nothing…a quick anxious pang rushes through my body. Why isn’t my left hand moving? Wiggle your toe…that’s strange. Again nothing. I sit on the bed…The room starts to feel like a bubble. Vanessa walks by and notices my flabbergasted look “Are you ok?”
The only response I’m able to muster is “I feel retarded.”
“Huh?? You feel retarded??”
“Yeah, my hand won’t do what I’m telling it to do.” I’m slightly out of breath now.
“Ummmm, that’s weird, has that ever happened to you before?”
“NO! no nothing like that’s ever happened before…I feel high, this is so weird, I’m looking at my hand and it won’t do what I tell it to do!” I end in a whisper.
I go to stand up, my foot feels numb. I immediately stumble to the floor as my leg gives way like a wet piece of wet spaghetti.
“Oh my God! Lily!” She shouts.
I sit on the floor.
“Vanessa I feel like I’m overheating, do you have cold water or ice?”
An icepack swiftly emerges along with a glass of ice water. I go to reach for the ice with my left hand but still nothing. Shit! What the fuck is going on?!
I improvise and grab the ice with my right hand and rub it on my forehead…ahhhhh that’s nice.
“I’m getting kind of nervous maybe I should Google this” she says.
I say “wait, my left side..isn’t that a thing? When your left side doesn’t work? is it a heart attack? I can’t remember.”
Vanessa calls to Rick: “Rick! I don’t know what to do her left side isn’t working.”
A moment later a cell phone is handed to Vanessa in the bedroom. It’s Ricks’ friend who is a fire fighter.
Vanessa starts quickly explaining the situation to him. I can’t hear his reply. Ava is in the room now. She’s rubbing her little foot on my left leg. it feels nice. Suddenly I realize I can kind of move my left leg again. I shout “I can move my leg! Look!” I start bending and straightening my knee repeatedly. “I couldn’t do that a minute ago.” Maybe I’m ok, I think. Perhaps this was just a bizarre occurrence, not to be read into. Don’t overreact.
Vanessa is following directions from Rick’s friend now
“Lily can you smile really big for me?”
I oblige and attempt to smile as much as I possibly can.
She says into the phone “No her smile looks pretty symmetrical”
“Can you lift both your arms over your head?” She says, taking direction from the cell phone.
“I can’t lift my arm!” I say panicking.
I improvise again. Grab my left wrist with my right hand and hold my hands over my head.
“Ok now hold them up.”
I let go of my left wrist and it falls to the floor like a brick. I hear a loud thump but I barely feel it.
I look up at her from my place on the floor. “What’s going on? I’m freaking out.”
Tears start streaming from my face. She looks scared also.
“Ok, Ok thank you so much.” She hangs up.
“What’d he say, what’s he saying???” I’m losing patience now.
“He thinks you should call an ambulance.”
“Ok, Ok, call, please call let’s call right now.”
Rick intervenes hastily “Call Vanessa!”
“Ok OK! what do I do, call 911?”
“Yes!” he yells back.
A moment later she has an operator, and is explaining that “my friend might be having a stroke. we are at” and starts rattling off her address, my name, my age, etc” The 911 operator asks me to do the same things Rick’s friend ask me to do.
“Smile real big, hold your hands up”
AH fuck! a few moments later, I hear the sirens..
“OK that’s gotta be for us.” I say somewhat relieved and still out of breath.
In a moment the bedroom is filled, 3 guys 1 girl, she’s opening a bag taking out instruments to measure my blood pressure and a man is squatting down directly in front of me at eye level. He’s looking at me intently in the eyes. Holding both my hands. “Can you squeeze both of my hands?”
I squeeze with the right and begin crying when I can’t squeeze the left.
“I can’t do it!” I say pathetically as the tears stream down.
“It’s ok, that’s ok don’t panic. They start asking me questions. Do you smoke? NO. Do you drink? Casually. Any drug use? NO not in years, They all look slightly confused. I blurt out about the intense headache I’ve had since Tuesday and the terrible seasickness. glances are exchanged back and forth.
“We think you should go to the hospital.”
“I have medicaid, will that cover it?”
I try to make a joke “Well than let’s use that government cheese and go!”
They all laugh a little.
“If you can’t walk he can carry you, one of them says while gesturing to one of the sexier fire fighters.
Looking the sexy specimen up and down I reply: “I won’t be mad at that.” Again a few chuckles.
It’s good to know that even in a dire situation I can still lighten the mood a bit.
Back of the fire truck, I climb in, thank god my foot works now.
“Miss we have to put the heart monitor on, we have to lift your shirt up do you mind?”
What the fuck do I care? I go tanning topless on the beach all the time.
“Sure, do whatever you have to do.” At this point I just want to be ok, it’s setting in that this is a real emergency and I can’t fuck around.
“Is Vanessa coming?”
The paramedics reply “She’s’ coming she’s grabbing some of your things.”
I see her walk by, and call her name. Another attempt for a cheap laugh, my shirt is up and tits are out I say “Hey Vanessa!”
“Spring break!, wooo!”
She laughs, I definitely caught her off guard. I ask the paramedic if I get any mardi-gras beads for this. He says I am having way too good of a time. Stretcher. Doors swing open, I’m laying down being rolled to the ER I guess. Suddenly I’m surrounded by people. What’s your social security number? I recount it and am secretly very proud of myself that I am coherent enough to recall it. I can’t be that bad if I can still conscious right?
“What’s your name?” “What’s your date of birth?” “Do you know what year it is?” “Squeeze my hands.” “Smile real big.” “How old are you?” “Do you smoke, drink, drugs?” A woman is shining a light in my eyes. “She has anisocoria” That doesn’t sound good and several of the doctors look alarmed.
I blurt out “I noticed my pupils were different sizes a few nights ago and I thought it was weird but I didn’t know what to do so I just ignored it.”
They ask me about the seasickness. Lily you reported going on a boat a few days ago and getting very ill, you reported a headache that wouldn’t go away.
“Yes! It was terrible, I got sicker than I think I’ve ever been, I was throwing up for hours it was terrible, and ever since that day I’ve had a non stop headache mostly on the right side of my head and around my sinuses, I’ve taken Bayer, Advil and nothing helps. My esophagus has been in pain as well ever since that day!”
Next thing you know I’m getting some sort of scan.
“Ok, Lily we are giving you a CT scan so we can get a better look at what’s going on in your head. We believe you’ve had a stroke. We need you to stay very still.”
Oh my god, a stroke?! How can this be? I”m 32! I’m healthy! I have no medical history. I feel the tears welling up in my throat, My hearts beating. OK just don’t freak out, be still, let them get the scans so they can help you. But how is this possible???!!!
The room is abnormally cold, I’m shivering and shaking now. Trying desperately to breathe deep and slow so I don’t move. Yoga breaths! Do yoga breaths!
“Lily we need you to not move.”
“I’m sorry! It’s so cold in here!”
“Can we get her some blankets?”
People scurry from the corner of my eyes, moments later blankets are being placed on me.
One of the nurses in the room mutters “I know. It’s like a penguin observatory in here.”
He’s right, how can I be still when my body is fighting against the urge to shiver and cry uncontrollably?
“Give her the TPA”
“Huh? what’s that?” I inquire.
“TPA, it’s a blood thinner.”
Interesting I think, an IV is being attached to me, bags of liquid appear.
“This is what we call the clot buster” the same guy says who made the penguin comment explains.
TPA TPA, ok remember that. I feel like I have to remember all of this, in case something gets fucked up, remember what they did, what they give you. All the while scans are being done and I’m intermittently being told not to move or to hold still.
“Ok, we’re all going to leave the room now, but don’t worry we can hear you on that microphone and we can speak to you as well. Try not to move.”
I look up and see a small round thing that looks like a speaker. People start to file out of the room. The last nurse out, turns and looks at me and says,
“Do you like Bob Marley? Just sing Three Little Birds to yourself. That’ll keep you calm.”
Of course I like Bob Marley! And that happens to be one of my favorite songs. Damn it! Why’d he have to say that? Just thinking of that song is making me want to cry but now that’s all I can think of. Indonesia, less than a year ago. I’m with Sarah, she’s got her guitar, we’re hanging out with some locals on a porch on an Indonesian island somewhere. She’s singing in her wonderfully soft folky voice and strumming her guitar. “Singing sweet sweet songs, melodies pure and true.” Tears stream, trying not to cry is as useful as trying to hold back a dam with a toothpick. “I said don’t worry, bout a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright” I’m now singing softly to myself, while the machine is recording photos of my brain. Tears streaming down my face, my body still riddled with goosebumps despite the blankets.
I attempt to move my left hand and feel my pointer finger wiggle, I start lifting my arm. To anyone who can hear me I say “I can move my hand! I couldn’t move it before!”
Moments later the young doctor who shined the lights in my eyes emerges. “That’s great, Lily lift both your arms, OK, close your eyes and keep them up for 10, 9, 8, 7, 6” “You’re responding to the TPA medication we gave you, that’s really good news! OK, Lily so we were able to get pretty detailed pictures of your brain and we can see where the clotting is.
What? Did she say brain and blood clots in the same sentence regarding ME? Oh shit well that’s the end of me I guess. I always heard about those young people who died suddenly and without warning. I always imagined that it could be me, so you have to appreciate every day and all that junk and so I always did just that, but as much as I knew it could be me I never really thought it would be me. I just thought I was destined for so much more greatness. Could now be my time? I’m supposed to go meet Heather in Thailand! Fuck…OK well I remember when my best friend Debra died, she talked to me from the afterlife and assured me that it wasn’t so bad, that in fact it was fun, she could travel instantly anywhere in the world, she told me how she went to see India and all these amazing places. So it’s ok, if you have to die you can see everywhere you wanted to see while in purgatory. You can even visit your friends and your family. Go haunt their dreams and try and communicate with them. Wow is this what I’m really thinking about right now? Yes, sure is. But the thoughts comforts me.
The young female doctor continues “We think the next steps we need to take are a bit risky but we feel is necessary to prevent you from having another stroke right now and to clear out any other blood clots. It’s not exactly an operation….”
Another doctor takes over, I can tell they are trying to act fast and explain it to me in a way I can understand. In the back of my mind I’m wondering where Vanessa is, I caught a glimpse of her earlier waiting in the hall and they told her she couldn’t come in the room. She was standing there crying looking helpless. I feel so bad! This must be so hard for her!
“Our bodies are like a highway” the other doctor explains “and all of our veins and arteries are connected. What we need to do is puncture an artery in your groin and we can use that artery to put a catheter in you and get closer to the site in your throat where the clotting is taking place. We’ve done this before and we can see in these scans exactly in your brain where the clotting is happening.”
I immediately start to panic: “Can you tell this to my friend also? I want someone else to hear this besides me, I don’t know if I can make decisions right now. Is this risky? What are the risks?”
The doctor calmly replies “Of course with any procedure like this there are risks but we know what we are doing”
The young female doctor cuts in suddenly in a very comforting voice “Lily they actually had to do this exact same procedure last week on a woman around your age and she was ok, it went well and we were able to help her!”
The skeptical New York side isn’t buying any of this bullshit. What’s their angle??
“In your professional opinion, do you believe I need to do this?” I ask.
He replies “Yes in my opinion the risks if you don’t do this would be much worse and we need to act fast.” he says intently.
Shit. I don’t like the idea of them puncturing a major artery…fuck but what are my options?
I turn to another nurse next to me, she has big greenish blue eyes, and lots of mascara on making her eyes pop, she has her face mask on so all I can really see are those wonderful eyes.
“Would you do this if you were me?” I ask.
She says without hesitation “Yes, if i were you I would definitely do this. You are in very good hands, I know this is hard but you don’t have to worry.”
“Ok she said yes, who has the consent form?!” She shouts.
A clipboard appears.
“Ok you just have to sign consent right here”
“I hope this is an astronaut pen” I say as I struggle to sign the paper on the clipboard as I lay on my back upside down.
Suddenly I remember I never signed the back of my ID card to be an organ donor “Oh my god, I never signed the back of my ID card, if something happens I want to be an organ donor!”
The blue eyed nurse laughs “Don’t think like that.”
“Well, just in case you know?” I say weakly protesting. I also inquire if they have a defibrillator to resuscitate me, to which she casts me an annoyed glance.
I manage to scribble something that resembles a signature.
I’m in a new room now. Yet I can’t remember ever leaving the last room with the cat scans…this room looks more serious, more like an operating room.
“I feel like I should call my mom.” Tears. Lots of them. The thought of my mother having to hear this news makes me start to sob. I can’t picture her all upset over me. Her in NYC, me here in Miami on a trip visiting a friend and now in the ER…this is crazy.
Through the tears I say “but I don’t want her to worry!” I’m crying hard now. “What should I do?!” In the back ground I hear “My mom would kick my ass if I didn’t tell her” And another random voice echoes “Yeah you should probably let your mom know.”
Sobbing I say “Can someone tell Vanessa to call my mom and to call Joey?” Joey’s my boyfriend, he’s in Fort Myers on the other side of Florida, 2 and a half hours away. I know he’ll come, he’ll make everything better. The nurse, yells over to someone near the door to pass on the message. Before she can finish her sentence someone says “Her mom? Yeah her friend already called and her other friend from fort myers. The nurse turns to me “OK your friend has already let your mom know and your friend from Fort Myers…Joey? He’s already on his way”
A wash of warm relief runs over my entire body. I immediately feel slightly better.
Nothing happens for a short while. People go in and out of the room, I just lay on the table. My head is taped down so I don’t move my head, it’s also still terribly cold in the room. I think to myself, well at least I don’t have any major regrets. I lived my life pretty full. I think quickly of some of the incredible places I’ve traveled. The great pyramids of Egypt come to mind, scuba diving in Indonesia, various beaches, holding a starfish. It’s like a little montage of my life. Breathe deep, yoga breaths, stay calm. 4 counts inhale, 4 counts exhale.
At once everyone starts to file back in the room. “Ok are we doing this?!” A doctor says commandingly. People seem to get into a predetermined place.
I feel a hand sanitizing my leg, a cold alcohol wipe perhaps? Not that I’m that concerned at this point.
A new voice says “Ok Lily we’re giving you local anesthesia but you’re going to feel some pressure on your leg. hmmmm Ok I can deal with that…a moment passes and I feel hot liquid all over my leg and between my legs…fuck, did I pee? No I didn’t pee…is that blood? They did say they’re puncturing an artery. Oh god, am I covered in blood? I don’t say anything just lay there, try and be still. Let them do their job.
I’m so nervous, this is so scary, I could die if something goes wrong here. I could die even if nothing goes wrong!
Sing to yourself, breathe, relax! “Rise up this mornin’
Smiled with the risin’ sun
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true
Saying’, (“This is my message to you”)
Deep slow breaths remember?
“OK Lily on the count of three, don’t breath, don’t talk, don’t swallow” “one” “two” Ok quick swallow and take a deep breath before three! “three” I hold my breath. I feel strange sensations in my head, hear a weird crackling noise in my brain…what is that? Its like how everything sounds when you’re underwater.
A few moments pass “Can I breathe yet?” I inquire still holding my breath.
“Yes, dear, breath normally” I let go a big exhale.
Tears still stream down my face. Fuck this is so hard. I can’t stop thinking of my friends and family. I keep repeating their names in my head like a mantra. Maybe if I can summon the magical power of all my friends I’ll be ok. I start meditating on all my friends who I believe have magical powers and pray to them for help and to give me healing and strength. Then I think of both of my dead grandfathers, one who just died a few weeks ago and my dead best friend Debra. Where are you guys? I think loudly. Aren’t you supposed to help me in times like these?! I’m annoyed now. But strangely I do feel like they’re present. Are they here right now or am I just a little loopy from the drug they gave to help relax me? Unsure. It’s ok keep meditating. I’m picturing Sarah singing, it’s helping a little. Joey’s warm strong hands, the pyramids, the ocean, the sunset.
Singin’ “Don’t worry ’bout a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright.”
Singin’ “Don’t worry ’bout a thing
‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright!”
“OK Lily on the count of three, don’t breath, don’t talk, don’t swallow” “one” “two” Ok quick swallow and take a deep breath before three! “three” I hold my breath again.
What are they even doing? I swear I can feel things happening in my head, I see strange shapes on the inside of my eyelids, like veins and scratchy drawings, looks like a Basquiat painting of shapes neon blue and pink. OK I need to pray, I need to think hard and pray. I take a deep breath
“OK breathe normally” I exhale.
“Dear Universe” I see psychedelic shapes and colors on the inside of my eyes. Something that looks like a plant or a seeds very colorful opens up to me, I begin to plead my case “look if it’s my time to go I understand that everything happens for a reason and you are all knowing and have a greater purpose for me, but I just feel like me being on this planet is such a good thing, like I bring so much joy and happiness to people and I’m really not ready to go yet. I want to stay on this earth and continue to spread joy and love”
“OK Lily on the count of three, don’t breath, don’t talk, don’t swallow” “one” “two” Ok quick swallow and take a deep breath before three! “three” I hold my breath.
The universe ponders this for a moment…I see the changing colors and shapes in my inner eye. Right then my brain feels so hot on the right side, and a rush of hot fluid rushes all over my brain. And the universe nods to me in approval, God decided I can stay. Oh my God, yes! It’s not my time after all! I suddenly feel like even though I am still in the middle of this procedure I will be ok, I am going to be OK! I was granted another chance.
Moments later they start disassembling things. the tape is taken off my head and a bed appears next to me. I’m lifted up on my sheet and moved to this bed. wow….holy fuck……what’s just happened.
“You’re going to be moved to ICU now” “You’re ok, the procedure was successful!”
Later on in the ICU I’m hooked up to an IV and given strength tests for my left side. All the nurses seem very impressed by my status.
The young female doctor, Dr. Ebong I finally learn her name, returns and explains “Everything went well, you reacted very well to the TPA we gave you. You seem to have recovered all your movement and strength on your left side. You are very lucky you called the ambulance when you did. Most people are not this lucky and have some sort of permanent damage or end up disabled. That word echoes in my ear. “Disabled” Me? I’ve always had the luxury of being healthy and energetic, traveled the world on my own, I can’t imagine my life if I were disabled. Every aspect would be different. It’s hard to imagine myself in that state.
“Time is everything with strokes, so its amazing that you and your friend Vanessa acted so fast. You know the stroke team here at the hospital is actually very excited. You were treated in record time. 21 minutes” Wow, 21 minutes, I feel there must be some significance with that number and text my friend who is into that stuff to ask him, he says yes something about the trinity and magic. She tells me this like I won some type of award, but I was just acting with common sense. Although there were some moments of hesitation, where I glanced at Vanessa with that skeptical look that says: no, this isn’t real right? This can’t be really happening could it? Are we overreacting? Good thing I ignored the urge to ignore it.
The rest of the week is an ubiquitous circle of doctors, MRI’s, ultrasounds, blood draws and mom, dad and Joey being by my side. I never thought this would be how my parents would meet him. I slowly let some of my friends know, all of them reacting with the appropriate level of shock and concern. I explain it: what happened, what I was doing, the boat, the possible connection.
It all just seems like a crazy freak accident to me. But a real one. I mean to have felt so frighteningly close to death…to know I’ve lived my life to the fullest, but still be absolutely terrified? Would I ever be ready? I hope I don’t have to be conscious for death when it does finally have to happen.
I’m told I’ll be on blood thinners for around 6 months. I’ll need to find a stroke neurologist in New York and do follow up scans to monitor the damage in my carotid artery in my throat, the one where the clots formed. They say it may heal naturally but it has to be monitored. I won’t be able to go on any 3 month or 6 month trips for a while, since I need to be here for appointments. It’s ok, I’ll wait. Hopefully Thailand doesn’t get more obnoxiously touristy than it already is in the next 6 months. And that’s that. The terrifying horror of this experience and the knowing how exceptionally lucky I am will always be with me now. I don’t have some renewed lease on life, because I already had a great appreciation for life before the stroke. If anything now I have a greater understanding on what little control we have. No matter what we do, what we plan or how we live, we are not in charge, the universe is in charge, God is in charge not us, all we can do is make the most of what we have and enjoy it while we have it.