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It feels strange to write these words. At the age of 34 years I had a stroke. I have gone back and forth with sharing all the details of that day but if it helps just one person to notice the early signs or what to expect then I would be so happy. You may require a stiff drink to read about the day, which I highly recommend! I would like to also add that this a very rare event, I was very unlucky. Stroke is still up there in effecting so many Australians so it’s worth educating yourself about it. Here is my story of the 27th of October 2016 when my families life was turned upside down.
When I woke on the Thursday morning at 6am I did not feel great. It wasn’t the usual tiredness from our active 2 year old finding his way to our bed, but rather visually I wasn’t great and I thought I was going to vomit. The previous night I had seen some spots out my right eye and my sore neck on my right side from a nasty cough a few weeks ago had come back but I had put it down to not eating enough and trying my thing at a bit of exercise!
After devouring a piece of toast hoping it would fix me up I went back to bed for an 1 hour as Mason was still sleeping. When I woke I felt OK again and got ready for work. As it was when Jed was away at his job in South Australia I dropped Charlotte at a friends place where she plays before being dropped at school and drove the 20 minutes into town. I then dropped Mason off at child care which is only a few minutes drive from work. Mason wasn’t his usual happy self so I let the girls know that I was going to the GP at 9:30am to get myself checked out so they could call me if he was still not happy.
I drove around to work at the Hamilton Hospital where I work for Bendigo Radiology as a radiographer. I was rostered in CT and my first scan of the day was ironically what I needed, a CT of the neck and brain vessels. After I had completed the scan child care called to say Mason was still not happy, oh the joys of being a mother! I left work at 9:15am to pick him up and take him to the GP with me. I was still feeling OK and chatted to the girls about Mason. I lifted him up and reached down to pick his bag up when the most unexpected thing happened.
I could no longer stand up and slid Mason off while I collapsed to the floor. Everything on my right side had gone numb and I was unable to talk. I tried desperately to get up but it was no use. As the girls came rushing I knew everything that was happening, I suspected I was having a stroke in particular a posterior circulation one. They quickly realised that it was very serious and called 000. As the ambulance arrived I tried to turn on my left side as I could feel myself about to vomit. It came on quickly and there was nothing I could do about it. A second ambulance crew was called and I was lifted on to the stretcher as Mason’s cries became quiet as he was happy playing outside.
The quick trip back to the hospital had my mind spinning why!! I was a non smoker, a normal weight, blood pressure always good, why oh why was this happening to me. As they wheeled me around to the CT scanner I felt awful for my work colleagues, I knew whatever was found it would not be pretty. I had only been at work 1/2 hr before so it was going to be a shock. As I waited a couple of minutes to go in the scanner they put a cannula in my left arm and then it was my turn. I knew exactly what was going to happen, a non contrast brain scan followed by an angiogram of my neck and head vessels. I couldn’t believe where I had been working a hour before I was now the patient.
At this point it’s probably worth mentioning the Florey protocol that has been established at the Hamilton Hospital only recently. It pretty much meant for us as radiographers we had to clear the CT scanner if a patient came in. At times it was hard when working on a full list for the day but at this point it was saving my life.
After the scan I was wheeled around to ICU where the Medical Registra did an assessment of all I could do and not do. It was during this time I was told I had a basilar artery clot from a right vertebral dissection. Those words struck so much fear in me as I know that the outcomes for this type of stroke are not great. Normally they would try to immediately thin my blood but with the dissection this would have very high risks. When they wheeled the screen in I knew it was to chat to the neurointerventionist on call at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Apparently I was very vigorous with my pointing at the screen as if to say just get me to that guy! He confirmed my thoughts that I need Endovascular clot removal and for this to occur I needed to be flown to the RMH as quick as possible. Strokes are extremely time sensitive and by the time I got there it would be just in time.
Oh the waiting for the helicopter to arrive was excruciating for everyone involved. My sister and my Dad along with his partner had come reassuring me that our kids were taken care of. They were desperately trying to get a hold of my husband in the middle of the SA desert. He normally has phone service but I knew this day he was on a special job where he didn’t have mobile coverage. I still remember a lovely nurse telling me don’t worry you will be back at work before you know it! I knew this was a possibility but we still had a way to go.
I was wheeled out to the waiting ambulance past the staff including my work colleagues at 12:20pm with a trip in the road ambulance to get to the helicopter. A lot of things were going through my mind and I realised this was going to be my first ride in a helicopter!! Something that I’ve never got around to and always wanted to. Dad was coming for a ride with me and even took a few photos of it all. All the ambulance staff were amazing and took such great care of me. We lifted off at 1pm and as the Grampians became more distant I hoped and prayed that I would make it back home to see them again.
The helicopter ride was spent with me losing more and more sensation on my right side. Visually I wasn’t great and all my attention was on breathing. I don’t even remember nearly hitting a wedge tailed eagle, apparently we took a bit of a dip! The 1 hour trip seem to take forever but definitely better than the 3.5 hour trip by road! As I heard through the headphones that we were coming into Melbourne I silently let out a yell of joy. We landed onto the helipad at the RMH and I was quickly wheeled down to the angiography suite.
I remember the lovely nurse saying I had a bra on and I’m like just cut it! She could see I was trying to help and was so nice. A couple of minutes later I felt a mask come over my face and being told to take in some deep breaths. It was at this stage I realised I was being intubated! Slowly the gas helped me off to sleep, I had no idea how or when I was going to wake up.
The next minute or what I thought it was, I woke up in angiography recovery. It was now around 5pm, how time had flown! That time must have felt like forever for my family and for my poor husband flying back from his work. Once I had worked out what had gone on I realised I could speak and use my right side. This moment will be forever etched in my memory, nothing in the world could beat it. My neurointerventionist, Dr Rick Dowling, came to see me and was happy with what he saw. He even let me know I was going to make it to my sisters wedding in 2 weeks time! Words could not describe the feeling of that moment, when I realised I would live and that I wasn’t permanently disabled. Disbelief is one word but also utter joy at being given a second chance at life.