I don’t remember feeling scared when I was having a stroke, even when the paramedics were loading me into an ambulance at our home. Because of the pandemic, my husband, Greg, and our three kids had to stay behind.
But the weight of that moment really hit me several months later. My son, Nicho, and I had just seen an ambulance go by.
"That reminds me of you, Mom," Nicho said. He told me he was scared when the ambulance came for me. When I asked what specifically frightened him, he said, "Just them taking you away."
I am one of the lucky ones. I am so thankful that I have made a good recovery from my stroke, and today I have no apparent after-effects.
But I know it could have been a very different outcome. I realized that Nicho was right to be scared that day. It’s something I often think about and feel extremely fortunate for such a positive outcome.
A hospital selfie
How it began
My stroke journey started in January, 2020. I was experiencing some numbness in my right arm, right leg and right side of my face. At times I had trouble speaking. I knew what I wanted to say, but it took extra effort to get the words out.
I wondered about stroke, but I had no risk factors or family history, and I thought I was too young at age 50.
I went to emergency, where I had a CT scan and electrocardiogram, but nothing showed up. I had a follow-up appointment with a neurologist, who thought my symptoms were related to migraines.
Meanwhile, my life as a stay-at home mom of three was as busy as ever, including regular tennis, pilates and trail walks with our dog, Shaq.
Then the symptoms got worse.
I was going for lunch with a friend when I felt my leg buckle and my face twitch for a few seconds. The next day we were hosting a dinner party when I started having trouble speaking. I told Greg at the time. But again the symptoms went away. I arranged a follow-up appointment with the neurologist.
Fast-forward to March 24. Because of COVID-19, our spring break plans had been cancelled. Greg had just started working from home and of course our kids were home too — Nicho and his sisters Ava, 16, and Grace, 13.
Around 12:30 that day, I was working in the garden with Grace and Nicho. I suddenly started seeing stars just before I collapsed.
The COVID-19 situation was a blessing at that moment, because everyone was home.
Grace ran to get Greg. I couldn’t talk but was just saying, “na.” I had no muscle control in my arm and he says my face looked frozen, almost blank.
Greg had seen the Heart & Stroke TV ad showing the FAST signs of stroke. He said my symptoms fit exactly — it was affecting my face, arms and speech. He was certain I was having a stroke. He called 9-1-1.
In some ways, the COVID-19 situation was a blessing at that moment, because everyone was home. On a typical weekday I would have been alone.
Diagnosis and recovery
After a CT scan and an MRI, doctors confirmed that I had had a stroke. I had actually had a few of them leading up to March 24.
I was admitted to Vancouver General Hospital, where I spent the next 10 days. Due to COVID-19, I was not allowed any visitors. Thank goodness for Facetime and texts!
I had three more CT scans over the next few days as the doctors tried to figure out the cause of my stroke. Their working diagnosis is that it was caused by a tear in one of the arteries in my neck.
After 10 long days and a lot of Netflix, I was discharged from the hospital. I was elated to finally be going home! The love and support we received from our family and friends and beyond has been very humbling.
I’m extremely lucky, but I recognize the importance of being vigilant and recognizing the signs of stroke.
I’m grateful for so much — all the doctors, nurses and front-line workers at VGH… including the porters! I received excellent care. Our stroke care in BC is world-class.
We’re also grateful to Heart & Stroke and the BC Government for the public awareness campaigns they’ve delivered. It’s so important to know the signs of a stroke and to call 9-1-1.
It’s a lesson my family will never forget.
Adrienne and her husband Greg shared their story at the Heart & Stroke Virtual Gala on May 29, 2020.