It’s hard to imagine that only seven months ago I broke both of my legs. Driving home from work one night I blinked, and the next thing I knew I was on my back in an ambulance with several very …
It’s hard to imagine that only seven months ago I broke both of my legs. Driving home from work one night I blinked, and the next thing I knew I was on my back in an ambulance with several very panicked first responders hovering over me.
For almost a year by that point I had been seeing a neurologist. I had been having strange episodes of dizziness and aphasia, which I learned is the term for an inability to understand or express speech. For the first few months they seemed little more than slight spells of unease on my feet. They were often over by the time I’d managed to grab a sip of water and too short to even register as something I should be worried about.
I can still clearly remember the first time I thought to myself, “oh, this is a problem.” I was a bartender and server at Longhorn Steakhouse when it all started. I loved my job, and my natural charisma and openness made me good at it. I was standing in front of a table, one of five in my section that night. Four adults, charming and kind in their own right, were placing their orders as I answered questions and clarified their desires.
As one of my guests ordered their ribeye, medium rare with a side of mashed potatoes and a Caesar salad, I felt a wave come over me. It began like the others. Seemingly just a touch of dizziness, until suddenly it wasn’t. I felt my tongue lock in place in my mouth. My vision swayed in a way it hadn’t before. I opened my mouth to ask if the guest, a lovely woman with long blonde hair, would like to add a side of onions and mushrooms to her steak.
My tongue wouldn’t move. For a moment my entire mind became frozen in panic. I became unsteady on my feet. My hand continued writing effortlessly, as the man sitting next to her began telling me his order. He had no idea I was locked in a state of confusion and terror. My face betrayed little hint of what was happening behind my eyes.
Then it was over. Perhaps 20 or 30 seconds after it had begun, my mind cleared. Suddenly I felt fine. I smiled again as I clarified his order and completed writing down the orders for the rest of the table. I walked to a computer to put their food in, but I knew something was different.
I made an appointment with a neurologist the next day. While I had been ignoring the signs of something being wrong, I knew that this couldn’t be ignored.
You see, when I was 11 years old I had a stroke. On Valentine ’s Day of 1998 I was going about my day at a scouting event when I threw everyone into chaos as I fell to the ground. I recall my face feeling numb and tingly, the sounds of the world becoming fuzzy and distorted and finally everything went black.
I woke about ten minutes later just before the ambulance arrived. I tried to rip off my coat because, even though the ground was covered in snow and the breath of the people around me filled the air with plumes of steam, I felt as though I was on fire. I spoke and could tell that I wasn’t okay. My voice sounded fine to me, but the look on my father’s concerned face told me it wasn’t.
You’d think that story would go somewhere, that doctor’s would have found I had a rare condition and treated me, but it didn’t. I spent the six or seven years of my life seeing neurologists, doctors and being put through every test they could think of. Nothing came of it. As far as anyone could tell, I was fine.
So, when more than 20 years later I found myself flush with fear over losing my ability to speak, I actually chose to look into it rather than ignore it like so many would. I had learned long ago that problems with the brain aren’t to be trifled with, especially when you have a history like mine.
I went to the neurologist and began a whole new series of tests. It had been years since I’ve experienced an MRI, but there I was feeling claustrophobic and uncomfortable as powerful magnets spun around my head with horrible clunking sounds. It showed nothing.
The episodes began to happen more often. Occasionally, they would even leave me so weak that I would have to sit down for a minute before they cleared. Whatever was happening was only getting worse.
Next up was an EEG. For 24 hours I lived with wires glued to my head and hanging over my shoulder before crawling down my back to the recording device on my hip. Again, nothing.
My neurologist told me that despite the increase in occurrences, until we “caught one on tape” there was little that could be done diagnostically.
It took her a few months of arguing with my insurance before they’d approve a 48-hour version of the same test. Another EEG unit was attached to my head and for two days I dealt with the discomfort of feeling the little glued on wires pulling at my scalp. This would be it, and I’d have my answers finally. Right?
Unfortunately, no. Though I was now having anywhere from two to six episodes of aphasia a week, catching one in action proved more difficult than expected. After all, it wasn’t at all uncommon for me to go days at a time without any symptoms. All I could do was live my life and hope they didn’t get worse. Until it did.
While waking up in an ambulance was scary, the fact that I was clearly in shock made it easier. I couldn’t even feel the massive trauma of two dislocated ankles and a shattered right knee. The way the first responders were holding me down to stop me from moving gave me a hint that it was bad, but in all honesty I wouldn’t really know just how broken I was for another day or two.
It was worse for my boyfriend Doug. When he came home that night and my car wasn’t there he was surprised, but not yet scared. Doug called me. I didn’t answer. He knew that was odd for me but not impossible. Maybe we had a miscommunication. Maybe I was at his place and he’d just gone to the wrong house.
A 30 minute drive from Warwick to Woonsocket later, he started to get worried. I had worked late tonight, maybe I had just gone out to grab a drink with co-workers. Not something I do often, but it was definitely a possibility worth exploring.
He drove to our bar, Miller’s Crossing, the place where Doug and I went on our first date and where everyone from Longhorn ended up after work. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t anywhere. This is when he became sure something was wrong.
I was in a hospital bed trying desperately to remember his cell phone number. You see my father’s phone is always on silent while he’s asleep and his landline has been turned into little more than a telemarketer trap. Getting a hold of him after 8 p.m. is almost impossible, and yet his was the only number I could remember correctly. I’ll never forget that kind nurse, who used her own cell phone, stayed with me while I called number after number desperately trying to make sure the man I love knew I was alive.
Eventually, I found a way through the telemarketer trap that is my father’s house phone. He answered groggily while I begged him to call Doug. He did, though he needn't have. Doug found me all on his own. He had already been calling hospitals and was on his way to my bedside as he received the call from my father.
I’m doing well now. I can walk again, but I have a limp. I can’t drive again yet. Can’t take the risk of me losing consciousness at the wheel and causing problems for more than just myself this time. Doug stood by me through all my recovery. I don’t know that I could be here without him. I’m going to marry that boy one of these days.
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