Mind Over Matter

This is what I remember: It is Saturday, March 2, and I am seated in the back of an ambulance wearing a cocktail dress and heels, staring up at two paramedics who are trying to explain the reason I’m there is because I just displayed stroke-like symptoms while emceeing the Alzheimer’s Association Gala in front of a large crowd and I need to go to the hospital.

Tears are streaming down my cheeks because I don’t understand – can’t understand – what happened, what is happening. “But am I making sense to you now?” I cry. “Can you understand my words?”

They can, but they couldn’t before. That’s why I need to go to the emergency room, they say, as they administer a few tests, including checking my blood sugar and blood pressure, in the back of the ambulance.

I refuse and beg them to let a friend come pick me up instead. I just want to go home. I don’t have time to be sick. I’m just tired and have been working too much. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.

At home, I curl up on the couch in fetal position when I realize I know my newest dog’s name starts with a Z but I don’t know if it’s Zach or Zeke (it’s Zeke). I remain there for most of the weekend, willing myself OK.

On Monday, I go to my general practitioner, Dr. Catherine Hammond, who conducts various blood tests and listens to me describe the symptoms: a stroke-like episode on stage, continued forgetfulness, an inability to articulate thoughts like usual or find the right words. She orders an MRI for the next day.

It is now Wednesday morning and the phone rings. Dr. Hammond tells me my blood tests looked great – I begin to breathe a sigh of relief – but the MRI shows abnormal “spots” on my brain. She’s scheduling an appointment with Norton Neuroscience Institute.

That night I talk to a friend about my concerns – I’ve yet to call my family; they live out of state and I don’t want to alarm them – but by the morning, I can only recall that I spoke to a friend. I can’t remember which one.

On Friday morning, I meet Dr. Zacaria at his downtown Norton office. He’s read my MRI and wants to admit me to the hospital that afternoon for a battery of tests that could take several days. I look out the window, trying to find a way to slow things down. “Dr. Zacaria,” I say, looking him in the eyes, “have you seen this weekend’s weather forecast?”

He looks at me quizzically. “It’s supposed to be sunny and warm – finally,” I continue. “How does Monday work for you?”

He smiles. I think he thinks I’m kidding. I’m not. What I don’t say – can’t say – is I’m terrified. I’ve had what appeared to be a mini-stroke in front of 400+ people, have spent the week in and out of three different medical offices and was now being asked to step out of my busy, frenetic life with the possibility that going into the hospital could change it irreversibly.

It wasn’t rational, it certainly wasn’t smart, but if you really knew me, it wasn’t out of character. I was taking control in the only way I knew how: I would follow his orders and be admitted, but not until I was ready.

I left Dr. Zacaria’s office after promising I’d call 911 if I had any alarming symptoms and would check-in to Norton Brownsboro Hospital on Monday morning.

I pulled out of the parking garage and drove for a few moments before veering right to the side of the road. There I sat for at least 20 minutes, shaking and sobbing.

Then, that was it.

No more crying, no more pity parties. I was going to enjoy the weekend for everything it was worth, tie up a few loose ends and tackle whatever was going on in my brain – but not until Monday.

I called home and informed my mother, a retired nurse, of what had transpired over the previous six days. Despite my protests that I was fine, Mom insisted she and my oldest sister, Jennifer, would arrive in Louisville on Sunday and stay until I left the hospital.

I spent most of the weekend outside with my three dogs enjoying the sun in between time spent working and packing.

On Saturday night, I posted a candid, lengthy status update on my Facebook pages with the photograph of a healthy brain. “This is my brain,” I wrote. “At least this is what my brain should look like, but this week I found out it does not.”

I detailed what had happened at the gala, explained my current symptoms, was honest about what felt like “a dense fog” that seemed to inhibit my ability to communicate normally and expressed both gratitude to be walking, talking and writing but also shared my bewilderment and fears.

On Monday, I checked into Norton Brownsboro, a beautiful hospital on the East End I referred to as “The Spa” both because it lessened the gravitas of where I was and because my sister had brought my 3-year-old nephew, Grayson, with her and Mom.

Over the course of three days, I underwent numerous tests to rule out as many medical conditions as possible. Then, a couple weeks later I went back for a cerebral angiogram.

Recently, I returned to see my Neurosurgeon, Dr. Tom Yao, so he could go over all of my results and what happens next.

They’d found an aneurysm in my right carotid artery, which sounded scary, but it’s tiny and didn’t have a thing to do with the episode I had and will probably never cause me harm. We’ll keep an eye on it over the course of my life, but I was not to worry about it, Dr. Yao said.

Everything else had checked out just fine and there was a chance the episode, which only lasted a short period of time, was the perfect storm that resulted in an electrolyte imbalance or a seizure of unknown origins. Sometimes, things happen just because they do.

But, Dr. Yao, said as he showed me my brain in 3D, the “spots” – also known as “lesions” – remained. Looking at them on the screen was both unnerving and empowering. We didn’t know what they were, but they also didn’t look so menacing.

Oftentimes, Dr. Yao explained, people have lesions on their brains that are nothing but irregular spots that don’t have any effect. In fact, if the majority of people got MRIs, chances are we’d find most of us have them. I likened my spots to the birthmark on my knee, it’s an irregularity on my skin, but it doesn’t hinder me in any way.

I go back to Norton in early July for another round of MRIs to ensure the lesions haven’t changed in size or shape or multiplied. If they have remained the same, the doctors will determine how often I will need to have them monitored. I refuse to think about what happens if they change.

“You can choose to worry about what might be. Or you can go live,” Dr. Yao told me one day after I’d become particularly tired of being a “test dummy” and just wanted a concrete answer.

He was right. I could waste time worrying about the what ifs, or I could take his advice. “I’m talking to you as a person, not a doctor,” Dr. Yao said. “Go live.”

Contact Angie at angie@voice-tribune.com. To participate in the Norton Neuroscience Expo on Saturday, June 1, call 502.629.1234 to register. The free, community-wide event  includes breakfast and lunch and valuable information for anyone affected by a neurological condition, such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders, and chronic headaches.

  • Angela Cox

    Glad to hear that you’re taking Dr. Yao’s advice.

    Peace and Blessings to you…

  • Steve Sprague

    Angie, you are now permanently in my prayers, my friend. Now, like the doctor said: “Go live!”

    Steve

  • Janet Summers

    Beautiful article,heartfelt. Keep on enjoying life and all its miracles. Prayers and blessings for good health.