The Day of My Stroke, December 28, 1996

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by GE Gardiner

Three months prior to my stroke I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and given a prescription of 10mg of blood pressure medicine, which I was to take once a day. I cannot remember the name of the medication. The day-after Christmas, I took my family on a week-long ski vacation at slops located in western Maryland. During our journey to the resort, I realized that I had forgotten my blood pressure medicine. Having recently been diagnosed, I didn’t understand the seriousness of my condition.

December 28, 1996, was a warm day. The snow was beginning to melt. By noon, I felt sweat running down my back.  I unzipped my one-piece snowsuit and tied it to my waist.

I learned to ski in Norway, in 1965. Never a great skier,  I rarely fell as long as I skied on intermediate trails. Then something started to happen that concerned me. I began to have difficulty balancing myself on my skis. I cannot recall having a headache, just a lack of balance and a hot feeling that radiated throughout my body. It was lunchtime and I was hungry. The thought of skiing to the bottom of the steep slope seemed threatening. I decided to make my way to the top of the chair lift, then ride down with the other fainthearted novices. The upper end of the he chair lift was only about 30 yards across the crest of the mountain, yet getting there took some effort. Luckily, for me, it wasn’t far from the bottom the lift to the restaurant.

An ice cold coke felt good as it slid down my throat.  When I finished a slice of pizza, I felt as bad as I did on top the mountain. Something was wrong, I needed to see a medical professional. The distance from the restaurant to the first aid hut was short. I tried to walk, but ended up crawling most of the way. No one offered to help. The snow was so wet that everyone  focused on their own journey through the slush.

When I arrived at the first aid station, I asked the nurse to take my blood pressure. My explanation of not taking my blood pressure medicine,  for several days, made her frown.  She wrapped a cuff over my arm and began pumping it with air. Suddenly, she looked frustrated, removed it from my arm, and said it was broken. She retrieved another one and began the process over. Her eyes widened as she stared at the dial. My memory is not good, but I think I remember her saying that my blood pressure was 170/200. Then, with a somber look on her face, she asked the doctor to double check my pressure. He was busy helping a patient into an ambulance. After the doctor finished with the blood pressure cuff, he told his assistant and the nurse to get me on a gurney and into the ambulance.

I sat in the emergency-room at Garrett County Memorial Hospital, with my wife at my side, waiting for a doctor to return with the results of my CAT scan. We expected the doctor to tell us that I was dehydrated and needed some liquids.  When he approached us with the news, we were astonished. He stated that I had suffered a small Hemorrhagic Pontine Brain-Stem Stroke, but that it was in a critical location in my brain. He wanted to keep me overnight for observation.  My wife left to check on our children, and I fell asleep.

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Sometime during the night I woke to the sound of voices. There was a male and female doing something to me. My eyes were closed. The bright light from the emergency room shinned thru my eyelids and burned my eyes. I tried to move my fingers, but nothing happened. I tried to speak, again nothing happened. The nurse asked me a question. Her question went unanswered. I remember her saying, “is he faking?”. I felt pressure under my fingernail. “Dr., he’s not,” she exclaimed. Several additional voices became audible. Additional medical personnel were rushing into the room. I fell asleep or slipped into unconsciousness.  The next day,  I awaked with a full bladder.  My blurred vision cleared enough to see the bathroom. I sat up and placed my feet on the ground. As I stood, my legs buckled, and I began to fall. Someone caught me and the next thing I knew a male nurse was sliding a catheter into me. When a nurse said, “Stay in bed. You almost pulled the IV from your arm” I realized that I was in trouble.



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