When my brain went on strike

2011-10-28 00:00

TEN years ago I was diagnosed as having had a mild stroke. But I was only 31. How could this have happened?

Strokes are affecting younger people­ and I was a statistic. Thankfully­ for me I was extremely lucky to have few side effects.

I was a migraine sufferer, and migraines­ had been a common feature­ in my life since the age of 18. But they had been increasing in frequency and intensity over the years. As they were in the family — my mom and grandmother were also sufferers — I had just learnt to live with them.

But when I had a headache that seemed to last more than three days I started to get slightly desperate. I had tried my usual cocktail of drugs — headache pills, anti-inflammatory tablets, icepacks, a chemist migraine cocktail (a vial of tablets to be swallowed together). But still the throbbing ache on the side of my head would not go away.

At the time I was working for myself writing and hosting murder mystery dinners. I had to organise these events for people who wanted something different for their birthday party or corporate events. It could be stressful at times and a nagging headache was not helpful at all.

I was on my way to the bank to deposit a cheque and I remember standing at the counter looking at the deposit slip. I was looking at the space where the date was required. For some peculiar reason I could not decipher­ what was wanted. Was it day, month, year? Was it year, month, day? My head began to swim. I wanted to cry.

I felt so stupid that I could not figure out how to fill in the date. Then I could not remember how to fill in the amount. I took my cheque and the deposit slip to the cashier and asked her to help me fill it in. She looked at me strangely.

I knew something in my brain was not working as it should, but I figured it would sort itself out.

I booked an appointment with my doctor for later in the day and he did a few general tests and could not see anything definitive. He believed I was feeling odd because of the migraine medications I had taken.

That night I went out to host a murder mystery party. At one point in the evening I said to my husband: “I can’t stand anymore. My leg has gone lame.” We finished the evening and I thought I had a pinched nerve in my spine. I had to drag my leg to the car.”

At every point I believed everything would be fine. The next morning I began to speak in riddles. Apparently I began to mix words up.

That is when the alarm bells rang and I was sent straight to hospital. I had had a stroke.

A computerised axial tomography (CT) scan revealed that I had suffered a carotid artery dissection. The main artery leading into the brain had torn or splintered. This can result in an embolism or clot.

It is an injury commonly caused by severe violent trauma to the head and/or neck, sometimes in a car accident or in an assault. The dissection had caused a clot to go into the brain, causing some damage, the size of a R5 coin.

A 10-day stay in hospital ensued and I was treated like a pincushion as my blood was constantly tested to make sure it was thin and that the clot had disappeared. I was extremely lucky. Apart from slight muscle weakness and a problem with balance, I was basically fine.

The doctors blamed an earlier visit to the chiropractor for my condition. Some doctors believe that violent neck manipulation can cause this type of injury. But others say that it could have been due to post-natal complications. My daughter was only eight months old when it happened. The jury is still out.

I felt lucky because I managed to emerge alive and relatively unscathed with a fresh appreciation for life.

Since the stroke I have found the right medication to help me control my migraines. I no longer have three migraines a week, but I do have to take warfarin (blood thinning medication) for the rest of my life because my blood has a genetic disposition towards clotting.


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