May is National Stroke Awareness Month. The COVID-19 pandemic is at the forefront of the world’s concerns at this moment, rightly so, and all the more reason to highlight how important it is to listen to your body when you are not feeling well or right.
As they say, life is what happens when you are making other plans.
It was Saturday, August 10, 2019 and my plan was training for my half marathon in October. I had just finished a 10-mile run at my favorite trail. I had been traveling a lot for work domestically and internationally. I had a million things to catch up on now that I was home for a whole week before I had to fly out again. I was elated to be home with my kids and my dog, out running on a beautiful sunny day, surrounded by trees and blue skies.
It was the bestest day. 🙂
I sat in my truck afterwards, like I always do. I drank the right amount of water, consumed my favorite gluten- and dairy-free Evolve chocolate protein shake, ate my banana. I was doing all the right things. I was happy with my run. I even posted this on Instagram:
Twenty minutes later, I drove to Whole Foods as I always do after a Saturday long run. It’s my reward – once a month I splurge on my favorite organic vegetables, fruit, salsa, and pre-prepared meals like grilled rosemary chicken. It’s nice to have someone else cook for me. 🙂 I had a craving for organic oranges that day.
I parked, put my glasses on, got out, and began walking toward the store entrance. The sun was so bright it hurt my eyes. I felt like I was standing in a lava lamp. The world shifted and morphed in goo. If you’ve ever had vertigo, it felt kinda like that. But different. Worse. Sickeningly worse.
I thought – oh. Maybe I put my glasses on too fast and the change in perception is making me nauseous. I went to take my glasses off. But nothing happened.
“My arm won’t move. That’s weird.”
I stood there in the middle of the Whole Foods parking lot in a lava lamp fog, my brain rummaging through the potential scenarios: Why is my arm not moving? Why can’t I feel my hand? Why am I not taking my glasses off right now? I immediately shifted into Mom/Runner mode: Am I dehydrated? Maybe I’m jet lagged? I did just get home from Dublin yesterday. Maybe I just need a nap. Do I think I can at least go in and get my salsa and organic oranges? I mean, I am here and all.
Something told me no. Hell no.
I struggled to walk back to my truck. My legs didn’t work right. I had just run 10 miles and felt triumphant, on top of the fucking world. Now I was struggling to walk back to my truck, .0001 miles away. I remember thinking: Wow. I guess I ran harder than I thought today.
But here’s the most fucked up part.
I prayed no one would notice me struggling. I was mortified that I would pass out or be otherwise weak and vulnerable in front of complete strangers. I could deal with a stroke. I would figure it out. I’m good in a crisis. But oh my God please don’t let anyone see me like this.
I made it to my truck. Through the window, I saw my phone on the center console, where I left it because I wanted to take a break from technology. I wanted to get inside as fast as I could, get out of this parking lot and get home. But I had locked the damn door. Which I almost never do, but did today because I wanted to be safe. Me and all my good intentions. 🙂
I couldn’t get my truck keys out of the tiny zip pocket of my smartly designed running shorts. I sunk to the ground next to my truck. I sat there on the asphalt and struggled with my left hand to fish the key out of the pocket. Something so simple had never been so difficult.
It took 4.27 minutes.
It took seven seconds.
It took a lifetime.
I managed to get the key in the lock with my left hand and crawled up into the seat, barely closing the driver side door. I used my left arm to pull my visor mirror down. The right side of my mouth was drooping. <Flashback of my dad’s face at 56 when he had Bell’s palsy.> I still couldn’t feel or move my right arm.
I’m having a stroke.
Again, I ran through the options in my head. Call an ambulance? Call my kids? Call my sister, who lived 40 minutes away? For something I knew but hoped was not really happening? Why ruin anyone’s weekend? I waited a few minutes to see if the symptoms would subside while I debated what to do. I began to get feeling back in my right arm and hand. I didn’t feel great but I felt better. The lava lamp feeling was gone. I decided I felt ok to drive home. Why leave my truck there so someone else will have to drive me back later and pick it up? And if I’m not having a stroke, and I just need a nap, how silly will I feel then for inconveniencing someone?
Now I know how ridiculous that is. I guess I was hoping for the better outcome. I am a cautious optimist, after all.
Here are the first two lessons:
Lesson #1: If you think you are having a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Lesson #2: Know the signs of stroke and think F-A-S-T. If you or someone else experiences these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.
There are more lessons learned, there always are. In part two, I’ll share what happened next and more information about stroke that could help you or someone you know.
Stay safe, everyone.