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. He thought my symptoms were related to migraines. That made sense to me, since I have suffered from migraines since I was a teenager. I felt relieved to have a diagnosis.
Meanwhile, my life as a stay-at home mom of three was as busy as ever, including tennis, pilates and regular 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 started to twitch, but that only lasted for a few seconds.
The next day we were hosting a dinner party when I started having trouble speaking. I told my husband, Greg, at the time. But again the symptoms went away. I had a headache after that that lasted for days. I arranged a follow-up appointment with the neurologist.
Fast-forward to March 24. By this time, the COVID-19 crisis was moving from a precaution to the pandemic phase and many things in our lives started to change.
Our spring break plans had been cancelled. Greg had just started working from home and of course our kids were home too — Ava, 16, Grace, 13, and nine-year-old Nicho.
The COVID-19 situation was a blessing at that moment, because everyone was home.
Around 12:30 that day, I was working in the garden with Grace and Nicho. Grace had gone inside to get some water when I suddenly started seeing stars just before I collapsed. Nicho said I tried to push myself up but couldn’t, and just sat on the ground.
I was conscious, but I couldn’t speak. Then I heard Grace say, “I’m going to get Dad.”
FAST signs of stroke
Greg hung up on his conference call and came running. 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.
Despite the pandemic Greg wasn’t thinking about any risks in going to the hospital. Later, he said: “I have a lot of confidence in our healthcare system, particularly the critical health services. So it wasn’t something that I was concerned about at that time.”
And 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.
At the hospital
When I got to the hospital. I wasn’t in emergency for more than five minutes before being whisked away for a CT scan. After an MRI, the 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.
The last I saw of my children was when I was loaded into the ambulance. The last I saw of Greg was when the nurse told him he could not come in to see me in emergency. Thank goodness for Facetime and texts!
For the first 36 hours I was not allowed to sit up. I was woken every couple of hours to have my blood pressure, temperature and blood work taken.
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 an arterial dissection of the carotid artery.
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 that I do not have any apparent lasting effects from the stroke, but I recognize the importance of being vigilant and recognizing the warning signs.
I’m extremely 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.