How I Nearly Died

While I’m telling stories, I don’t think I ever told this one.

Four years ago, I woke up and the right side of my body was dead. Couldn’t move it. Couldn’t feel it. My right lung wasn’t working. Vision was weird in my right eye. Confused. I sleep on the right side of the bed. I couldn’t get out of bed. Flopped around like a dying fish. Tried to yell for help for a while. Which would not have immediately done me any good because nobody was home at that precise point. Someone came home ten minutes later. Breathing was becoming interesting at that point, but I managed to make enough sound to summon help.

I was helped out of bed. I was fully aphasic at that point. Two minutes later, I was fine. Very weird. But I thought, shit, I better go to the hospital, right? I was clearly still confused, because it didn’t occur to me to call an ambulance. I packed a bag and went to the hospital under my own steam. Checked in at the counter, gave them a full report of the experience, and sat down to wait to be seen. Sixty seconds later it happened again. It took three people to wrestle me into a wheelchair and transport me into the room. I was conscious but aphasic and the right side of my body was dead. Five minutes later, I was compos mentis enough to understand that I was being conveyed to the Acute Stroke Unit.

I was there three days.

On the first day, I was told I’d had a massive stroke.

On the second day, they told me it was a trans-ischemic attack, which was explained to me as an early warning for a stroke.

On the third day, they told me they had no idea what the hell had happened to me, because there was no trace of stroke or TIA and you can’t cure a stroke by standing up, and so they named it a Miscellaneous Neurological Event and sent me home.

Now, fifteen years previously, I’d had what they believed to have been a high blood pressure event (although it turned out at least one visiting doctor thought it was a brain tumour and had told my partner to call him if I was still alive in the morning) that rendered me mostly unconscious for some six weeks. So, yeah, this wasn’t the first time I nearly died. This one did give some clarity. It’s not high blood pressure, it’s “massively fluctuating” blood pressure, in tandem with acute hypertensive stress and some physiological fluke wherein the pressure surge or drop happens across a cluster of nerves that control or affect a bunch of stuff in the right side of my body. Basically, if my stress reaches a certain point, it trips an Off Button.

“You’re young to have hypertensive stress this bad,” said the consultant.

“Hi, I’ve been a freelance writer for twenty-five years,” I said.

I’ve had a few brushes with it since. And, frankly, the last couple of weeks haven’t been great. Anything that smells of threat or crisis, the numb patches start appearing and I get vertigo and blurred vision. But, so far, I haven’t needed to be back at the hospital for more than a day, so we live in home that we have the procedures to calm it until it’s fully understood.

I remain a source of frustration to doctors, because they can’t figure out how the mechanism works. Until they do, all I can do is carry the meds that’ll save me if I can get to them, and try to avoid stress.

Hi, I’m a freelance writer and producer who works in television and comics. How do we think that’s working out?

So that’s how I nearly died, that time. Hopefully the next one will be nearly too.