I Had a Mini-Stroke and What Happened After
Why I'm Writing About the TIA
In September 2007 I had a mini stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA - the medical term for a mini-stroke) which was shocking for me and for family and friends. I had no reason to suspect that I was in any danger of cardiovascular problems.
I was even more shocked by what followed six months later when a specialist surgeon told me the condition I have is inoperable and incurable.
When it happened I quickly realised I was having a mini stroke and knew I needed medical attention. I didn't know anything about the tests and treatment I would have once I was taken to hospital and got the official diagnosis of a transient ischemic attack.
I thought long and hard before writing this. It's about my health and it's something I never discuss except with those very close to me. Writing about my own experience might help someone else, though.
What Are the Symptoms of a Stoke? - And Why is Quick Medical Assistance Important?
- Stroke: Spot the Symptoms
This page from Britain's National Health Service lists the symptoms of a stroke and explains why speedy action in getting medical help is vital.
I Had a Mini-Stroke - Also known as a TIA
In September 2007 I was visiting my best friend, Sylvie, in Bournemouth, for a few days. It was breakfast time and I was eating cereal when a crumb went down the wrong way and I started to choke. I coughed and coughed and finally was back to normal - or so I thought.
Sylvie was looking at me and said, "Are you all right?" I said I was but then she said, "Your mouth is crooked." I looked in the mirror and the left side of my mouth was drooping and I was drooling slightly. Sylvie also told me that my speech was strange. That was all fairly alarming.
The next thing I noticed was that I had no feeling in my left hand. I dug my nails into it. I got Sylvie to dig her longer nails in but I couldn't feel a thing. That was even more alarming.
Well, some parts of my brain were still working because I immediately thought that I was either having a stroke or a mini-stroke. Panic seemed to be a reasonable response but probably not very useful so I said what I thought to Sylvie. She said she'd already thought that but didn't want to worry me by saying so. She then phoned 999 (the emergency services number in the UK) and within a few minutes an ambulance with paramedics was outside the door.
They talked to me briefly then took me to the ambulance where they immediately put an oxygen mask over my mouth and nose. They then examined me, took my blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and my pulse. They also went through my recent medical history.
I was then blue-lighted to hospital. Thankfully, Sylvie came with me.
See What Happens During a Mini-Stroke
This video is one in a series of videos from Edward Hospital in its Heart & Vascular Health Video Education Series describes and illustrates what happens in the arteries and brain during a TIA.
How to Recover From Brain Injuries - Read the advice and true life experiences of others who have done this
These two books relate the real life experiences of two people who had to fight their way back to normality after brain injuries just as many stroke victims must do. Their stories are inspirational and distressing in places.
This is the true life story of a survivor of traumatic brain injury and how he coped - his successes and his frustrations.
See the Symptoms of a Stroke
In Hospital Getting a Diagnosis
I was pretty sure it was a TIA
I was taken straight the hospital's A&E (Accident & Emergency) department on a wheeled stretcher. Again, they tested all my vital signs and blood sugar. I was kept on oxygen.
Over the next few hours an ECG (electro-cardiogram) was done and all the vital sign tests were done again pretty much hourly. I was examined by two doctors, the first was a junior doctor and then by a more senior one. It was a comfort that the consultant wasn't interested in seeing me. It's always bad news when the most senior doctor in any speciality thinks you are worth seeing.
I was taken to the hospital about 11am. By 7pm I was feeling fine. My mouth was pretty much back to normal as was my left hand and speech. By 7pm I wanted to get out of hospital. I don't like hospitals - they're full of sick people.
When the junior doctor came back, I said I wanted to leave. He said I'd have to speak to the other doctor. Two hours later, after much moaning to the nurses that I wanted to leave, the more senior doctor arrived. He said he wanted to keep me overnight. I said I'd be better off at my friend's house because I found the hospital stressful. He then did all the checks again and additionally told me to grab his hand with my left one and squeeze as hard as possible. Big mistake! I have very strong hands and lift weights. So I did what he told me to do and squeezed as hard as I could which made him shout. Of course, I apologised although I was only doing what he said.
The doctor checked with Sylvie who had been with me for the whole day. She was an absolute star and I'm so glad she's my best friend. She said she agreed I'd be better off out of hospital because I'd get stressed if I stayed. The doctor said I could go as long as I was back in A&E by 8am the next day for more extensive tests.
I agreed and off we went in a cab. The next day Sylvie came back to the hospital with me. The nurses greeted us like old friends and laughingly told me I was a troublemaker which I took as a compliment.
Very quickly I was taken for an X-ray of my heart and lungs and then for an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of my brain. I had to go back again the following day to see another doctor. He was the one who told me it was a mini-stroke or TIA. He also prescribed blood thinning drugs to get from the hospital pharmacy and to start taking immediately. He gave me a cd containing the brain scan for my own doctor.
The picture above is from the British Government's stroke awareness campaign.
When Brain Scientists or Doctors Have a Stroke or Brain Injury - They have a unique insight into what is happening
These two books are tell of the experiences of a neuro-anatomist and a doctor who both suffered brain injuries and had to fight their way through to a normal life. Both women have a unique insight because of their expert knowledge denied to lay people who suffer strokes or injuries to the brain.
The author is an expert in the anatomy of the brain. She had a major stroke affecting the left side of her brain. In her book, she shares the insights she gained coupled with her expert knowledge of what was happening in her brain.
See an MRI Scan of Someone's Brain - Strange but interesting to look at a living brain
I Have Further Tests
These were to look at the cause of the TIA
When I returned home, I saw my own doctor and he made appointments with the hospital for me to see a consultant (the most senior doctor in any specialist department).
First I saw a neurologist who then said I need an ultra sound test on the carotid arteries in my neck and she said she would arrange for it. I would get a letter sent to me and my doctor with the date and time of the appointment.
I waited and waited. In the meantime I was seeing my own doctor monthly. I had been diagnosed with diabetes about five years earlier. Luckily, I wasn't insulin dependent (and I'm still not) and controlled my blood sugar levels with diet and pills. My blood pressure was also at the high end of normal, which is bad for anybody with diabetes. Because of this I was already taking several drugs and since the TIA, my own doctor wanted to monitor me more closely. I mentioned to him eventually in around March that I hadn't heard about the ultra sound test. He said he'd phone the hospital. Within a couple of weeks, I received a letter with an appointment at the beginning of May.
When I attended the hospital for the ultra sound test, it seemed to go on for ages and the technician seemed to spend an awful long time on the right side of my neck. Eventually she asked me to sit on a chair and wait. She came back to say she'd been looking to see if a doctor was free because she had noticed something unusual. Unfortunately, she couldn't find a doctor so she told me to go home and somebody from the hospital would phone me. She took both my mobile (cell) phone and landline numbers.
We live about 40 minutes drive from the hospital and we were about halfway when my mobile rang. It was the hospital with an appointment for an MRI scan for the following week and with a consultant exactly one week later. That alarmed me. They hadn't given me an appointment for months and now they couldn't wait to give me another two and so quickly.
I had the MRI scan but I'd had one in Bournemouth so knew what to expect. The only difference was that the first one was scanning my head but the second one was on my neck and the sides of my head.
Arterial Vascular Disease - Sometimes overlooked in women
- Arterial Vascular Disease Underdiagnosed, Undertreated In Older US Women
Arterio-vascular disease has often been considered a disease particularly prevalent in men. Now it has been recognised that women are at great risk of the disease too, particularly after the menopause.
Bad News from the Tests for the Reason for the Mini-Stroke
Blocked Carotid Arteries
The following week I saw the consultant. He was a calm, quietly spoken man. He told me I had stenosis in both carotid arteries which means a narrowing. He said that the right hand carotid artery was at least 99% blocked all the way up to the base of my brain and the left hand artery was about 55% blocked.
He said that because the blockages were in so much of both arteries, they were both inoperable and any attempt to remove them surgically would probably cause a serious stroke.
My mind literally went blank for a few seconds. I wasn't surprised by the blockages. I'd guessed it was serious and probably a blockage because of the speed I'd been given the two appointments. I wasn't prepared for the blockages to be inoperable.
He went on to say that the best thing that could happen would be if the right artery blocked completely because there would be less chance of it causing a stroke if no blood was going through it.
After that there wasn't much else to say. I came out of the hospital and sat on a seat outside in the grounds for about 15 minutes. My partner had driven me to the hospital and I was supposed to phone him to find out where he had been able to park. I needed to assimilate what I'd just been told, though.
The funny thing was I thought, 'Oh no, I can't die before the London Olympics in 2012.' I love watching the Olympics especially the athletics events although I also enjoy seeing some of the less often seen sports like archery and badminton. Then I realised that I might not see the Beijing Olympics that summer if I was unlucky.
I knew this wasn't helping so pulled myself together and phoned my partner. He was disbelieving when I told him. My policy is never to lie to myself so I discounted much of what he said but I did it gently because he was in shock too.
How I am Now
Still living with the possibility of another stroke
Now, in 2014, I take my medication and feel reasonably well. I know my limitations and don't push myself so hard that I get symptoms of the problems with my carotid arteries.
Overall, I've come to terms with the fact I could die at any moment and feel surprisingly calm about it. I fear a serious stroke leading to major incapacity more than dying. I would want the machines turned off if the alternative was living with no quality of life.
I am a total non-believer. I think it would be great to believe in God and the afterlife but I've never been able to do so. I believe that it really is "earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes". That's OK, I can live with that. I've said that I would like a non-religious funeral and to be cremated. I'd prefer to have my ashes scattered rather than stored in an urn.
I had my 60th birthday in November 2008 and I am now officially retired. We have also moved to 'sheltered' flats (apartments) with a manager on site. This means there are alarm cords to pull if anything nasty happens, like a stroke for example. People also notice if curtains (drapes) remain closed when you would normally be up and about.
I get tired more quickly nowadays. I'm not as strong as I used to be. I can't lift anything too heavy and I can't get the lids off hard-to-open jars. When I go to the library, I usually spend about 30 minutes choosing books. Now I have to sit down for a few minutes several times so it takes much longer. The blood doesn't seem to reach my head on the right side and my right eye is deprived of blood so I can't see properly if I stand up or walk for too long. I can walk for about 20 minutes before I need a break. I also get lightheaded if I'm on my feet much longer than that.
I don't like shopping anymore and going to the library turns into a bit of an endurance test but I don't want to stop. I want my life to be as normal as possible. The other thing I notice is that my short term memory is not good. I've started carrying a notebook to write anything important down. I think I always know when I've forgotten something (how can I be sure?) and usually will remember it again eventually. I try not to allow myself to relax about forgetting on the basis of 'use it or lose it'.
This has been very hard for me to write. I hope that it will help anyone else in a similar position, perhaps knowing they have a condition that could kill them at any time. It is possible to live contentedly and meaningfully. Perhaps the important things are to find something you want to do and to achieve a level of calm without lying to yourself about your condition.
Above: Picture of me with my back to the camera taken on Bournemouth beach with my dogs in about 2004.
I've Seen the London Olympics 2012 - And Enjoyed Every Moment
I said above that one of my first thoughts was that I didn't want to die before the London Olympics. Well, I didn't!
Although I couldn't go to see the Olympics in person, I did spend most of the 16 days watching it on television. I loved every moment - helped by the fact that Team GB (Great Britain) did so well.
Take Part in a Poll on Strokes and Mini-Strokes - Either Personally or With Someone Close to You?
You can tell from the Guestbook on this page that many people have experience of strokes or TIAs (mini-strokes) either directly or because someone in their family or a close friend has had one. How about you? Have you had a stroke or TIA or do you know someone close to you who has? Share your experience by taking part in this poll.
Have you or someone close to you had a stroke or mini-stroke?
Learn about Strokes and TIAs - Information is Power
Scary as strokes and mini strokes (TIAs) are, if you or someone close to you has one or is in danger of having one, it is important to learn about them. What they are, how strokes occur and the chances of recovery. Also, it's vital that you have information about how to recover from them both physically and emotionally. These sites contain useful information on the subject.
- Stroke - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic
More detailed information from the Mayo Clinic on symptoms of a stroke and the causes.
- Basic Information from the UK National Health Service
On this official site you can learn about types of stroke, who is at risk and prevention of strokes.