On September 12, 2012, I had a stroke caused by coughing too hard from an upper respiratory infection. I tore the inside of my left carotid artery which caused a blockage and formed blood clots. Strokes like this are rare (less that 2% are from this) but are the leading cause of strokes for those ages 35-50. I had and continue to have no other warning signs for strokes: no high blood pressure, terrific cholesterol numbers, never smoked, don’t drink.
It’s kind of an amazing thing to lose your words to a stoke. Mine was a minor stroke and I’m all too aware that it could have been much worse. It was bad enough having fully formed thoughts trapped in my head that I could not get out no matter how hard I tried for a short amount of time. But not recognizing letters on my phone keyboard was almost panic inducing. As many jokes as there are about auto-correct, it became my savior when I could barely remember how to spell or find the correct letter on the keyboard of my phone as I repeated out loud to myself the letter for which I was searching hoping to find it before the display dimmed. I was thrilled to recognize the word I wanted in the lineup so I could quit hunting and pecking among the 26 letters. My highly verbal college kid is the one who noticed the differences in my vocabulary and sentence structures as I was improving but it also indicated to her how significant the damage was in the early days; she just didn’t comment on it then.
The stroke happened as I was driving to church to lead a Bible study. (My sister wants to see the traffic cameras from the intersections through which I passed.) Two of them are major arteries in my city and somehow there were no wrecks and I ran no red lights. When I got to church, I was still walking but I couldn’t talk. There were church folks there who brought me back home thinking that I just needed to lay down. And when they gave me a pen to write where I hurt/what felt bad, the pen fell out of my hand and they knew I was having a stroke. They called 911. I got lots of attention. Firetruck, ambulance, and another vehicle, too. Lights and sirens to the hospital. CAT scan, “clot buster” medicine started within an hour of the stroke.
The neurologist at the hospital said he saw the blood clot in the lingual center and saw it dissolve. (The lingual gyrus is the part of the brain that recognizes words and plays and important role in dreams and vision.) He said there were some residual clots that would continue to dissolve but the one that would effect my words was gone. Since it was gone, my words would come back. It took weeks for the words to come back and my brain to process consistently at a speed close to my expectation, in fact, it’s still not multi-tasking and the endurance is not back. But I finally have most of my words back.