Four weeks ago, I woke up and felt incredibly fatigued. It hasn't been unusual in the last six months. I had a baby, after all. I don't recall having my usual dream this particular time, but it could have been lost somewhere in my subconscious. I kept falling asleep every time my eyes closed, regardless of what I was doing--watching t.v., sitting in the car on the way to church, waiting for the teens to finish a sentence as I was volunteering with them during the service, while eating my Nachos Supreme at lunch.
Our house was trashed from a typical weekend of parenting. Dom was pushing hard for us all to get up and start wiping off the gooey hand prints from tables, fold the laundry forming peaks in the dining room, and pick up the infinite tripping hazards strewn all over the floors. No one was terribly motivated, but I felt a migraine coming on.
The whole morning I had been in a fog. It was hard to come up with the right words to express myself. Earlier, I spent a full 25 seconds trying to stall for the word "formula" while talking about following preset patterns in literature. Eventually, reading became too difficult--even trying to decipher Facebook statuses was making my brain feel like a useless pool of jelly. During lunch, the family was watching the "Left vs. Right" episode of Brain Games; I was totally killing it in a game similar to the concept in this video:
I confessed that it was my newly acquired superpower of not being able to read that got me the lead. Dom had a seriously puzzled look on his face and suggested we go for a family walk. Two houses down on our trek, I felt deliriously happy. The grass was the most beautiful shade of brown, the sun was casting a halo of euphoria everywhere I gazed. My children looked like little glowing beacons. What was I just doing? I glanced to the stroller that I was pushing, up at my husband and son ahead of me. I'm going for a walk with my family.
We cornered the block and headed toward our mailbox. It was Sunday, but we rarely remember to get the mail every day. What am I doing? Oh, I'm going for a walk with my family. My stride slowed a bit. I'm taking a walk with my family. A few more steps. What was I out here for? The kids zoomed past me, racing for the mailbox. I am on a walk with my family.
My hips felt tight. I pushed forward, still looking around the neighborhood in its new glow of blissful light. I am taking a walk with my family. I am taking a walk with my family. Something was wrong and I was finally queuing into it. My left leg was feeling a bit sluggish--not heavy, but it seemed to be running it's own pace compared to the rest of my body. Whatever foot was attached to it, it certainly couldn't have been my foot, bent inward and refused to straighten. This was my nightmare coming true.
Dom! The thought was there but the words wouldn't follow. Again, I tried to call for my husband but only a breathy sigh came out. Finally, after coaching my mind and vocal cords to collaborate, I was able to meekly stutter it out.
He immediately shuffled me into the car, buckling our kids' tiny, terrified bodies into their car seats. Michael was holding back tears as he asked where we were going. After three attempts I was able to answer, "Hospital." Dom was speeding South down Highway One, telling the operator on the other end of his cellphone "I think my wife is having a stroke."
Tears were plopping onto my cheeks as I thought This is really happening. Is this REALLY happening? Dom hung up and grabbed my thigh, "It's okay. You're going to be okay." I heard him say we were only ten minutes out from the E.R. and we were better off driving ourselves than to wait for an ambulance. Ten minutes? Isn't that too long? I'm going to stay like this. I'm going to get worse. My eyes met the windshield, the outside still looked surreal. I am going on a walk with my family. No, that wasn't true any more. I am going to the hospital. Staying grounded was priority. I am going on a walk--No. I'm going to the hospital.
"Ask. Me. Quest-ions." My demand was in a slow, deliberate cadence. I was able to name my children by their first and middle. There were more that I aced, but I don't recall the specifics. In my fuzziness, I just remember thinking about how a mother could ever forget the names of the babies she made from scratch. And then I felt a pang of dread in my stomach because that might just be what was happening to me.
A nurse greeted us at the entrance with a wheelchair and helped drag me up the three steps to sit down. I survived the staff inquisition, all with my one word sentences and hand gestures. I passed the grip test. I could swallow. And eventually my head CT showed that there was no indication that a stroke had occurred or if a tumor was present.
Sitting on the bed, the pace of my words came back to normal as time passed. I felt drunk, but at least I could express that verbally now. The doctor on duty seemed a bit perplexed at my symptoms. After his initial examination, he explained that it was likely anxiety related.
Once everyone left and I was wearily laying on the bed, completely exhausted, I started crying. I felt as though this whole ordeal was my own mind's elaborate practical joke against myself. Thinking that I put my family through such panic over nothing was agonizing. After being able to explain my symptom progression and disposition for migraines, the doctor said it was likely a migraine equivalent. Since I hadn't felt a headache through any of the fit, it was a rare event.
I've since followed up with a neurologist (who looks incidentally like the portrait of Edgar Allan Poe printed on my tote bag) and has sent me for multiple MRI scans of my head and neck. I've been cleared of any clots, tumors, lesions, or other scary diagnoses. His only concern was that my motor skills were lacking in my examination, which ended up being a combination of sleep deprivation and a misplaced disc in my neck from (what was likely) an injury that happened when I was 16 and ended up to catching a color guard flag toss with my face instead of hands. He was on board with the migraine theory and has recommended physical therapy for the old marching band injury.
I'm trying to control my stress levels, but it's difficult being home alone with three kids. And sleep is number 1 on my wish list, but breastfeeding an infant doesn't let that come easily. Handling the depression just makes it all 1,000 times more difficult. So I'm living task-to-task, partaking of the sweet moments as they come.