The lighter side of stroke

A very mild stroke led to an astonishing revelation.

Brain scan (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Brain scan (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
An old Yiddish proverb warns that when things are going well, get ready for disaster. Alas, too often too true.
Seven years of diagnosed cancer. Now midway through ChemoFest IV. Prognosis good. Time for a stroke.
A very mild stroke, to be sure. But it did more than revalidate the proverb. It provided me with the subject of this column after half a dozen “Lighter Side of Cancer” numbers.
And it led to an astonishing revelation.
It happened at a predictably inconvenient time: Shabbat. I got out of bed, felt my left side go tingly and numb, got majorly dizzy and started seeing double. My wife, who knows a lot more than I do, said, “Throw some stuff in your backpack. We’re outa here.”
A few minutes later our dear friend, the Rebbetzin, sensing both a mitzva opportunity and a chance to dodge the morning service, drove us to the local Terem emergency facility. They took some readings, asked some questions, rammed an IV port uselessly into one hand, and got me an ambulance.
I wanted to go to my home base, Carmel Hospital in Haifa, but if you’re going to have a stroke, you can’t do much better than the neurology shop at the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya. Since I’d wanted to see Nahariya for some time, I consented.
The emergency room folks prepared me for admission “for observation.”
I asked a nurse to remove the IV port, which was dangling. She taped it down more securely.
At one point, lacing up my boots to go to the lavatory, I fell. My wife completed the procedure, but when I returned and tried to unlace them, I discovered that she’d double-knotted one boot. I never do. I also discovered that, when you’re already seeing double, a double knot becomes a quadruple knot, and spent an intensely frustrating few minutes trying to unboot.
I succeeded and was admitted in my socks, and five days of observation began.
Day One consisted of a quickie CT scan and an apparently ophthalmologic procedure which determined that my brain was in no immediate danger of exploding.
Then back to my room. My wife departed, in accordance with our 2011 agreement that, unless she’s really needed, no reason to waste her time hanging around, enduring ennui, enervation and other visitors. Israelis seem to regard visiting family and friends in the hospital as social outings. One Druse matriarch daily and nightly received young people and their elders by the dozen, chaotically.
“Doesn’t your wife love you?” was a question I’d fielded many times during ChemoFests I to III. “Why isn’t she here?” And I’d come to answer, “She’s an entrepreneur,” which usually ended the dialogue.
A couple hours after her departure, they fed us. I learned that, while lunches were excellent, breakfasts and dinners consisted of the same items, which might charitably be described as “white,” except for the four to six cherry tomatoes dropped into one corner of the tray. White bread, yogurt, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs, pudding, albino hummus. After a while, you adjust to the food, but not to the snoring.
I had two roommates, a Russian and an Arab. Both were masters at integrating the four basic sounds of music – toot, whistle, plunk and boom – into their snoring repertoires.
I concluded that while Russian snoring tends toward the earthy, Arabic snoring partakes more of the arcane.
The staff didn’t observe me much. I was stable and they doubtless had far more horrific cases to tend. But when I started gathering column material, I decided to try for a quote from the young doctor who was briefing me on my next CT.
“Everybody thinks I’m crazy. Will it show up?” “All we want is for you to get well,” she said, hurriedly and worriedly exiting, and avoided me ever after.
Some people just don’t understand how journalists work. Anyway, I apologized.
Nor did they think much of my own diagnostic technique, the Head Scratch Test.
I’m bald and shave the upper stubble periodically.
I discovered that when I ran my left hand over my dome, it seemed perfectly smooth, while my right hand indicated how badly I needed a scrape. Maybe I’ll write it up and send it to the Lancet.
They discharged me in the usual manner, in a group making hectic morning rounds. The head guy said, “Go home, see your family doctor, get an MRI and see a neurologist.” Four hours later, my CT disk and papers arrived. I noted that they’d declared my cancer in remission, but wanted me to keep taking my meds.
A couple days later, I gave my family doctor the disk and papers. He studied, then said, “You know, you’ve had a prior stroke.”
“I have? News to me. When?” “Can’t tell. It just shows up as an old stroke.”
“But I have to know when.”
“Why?” “I’m an American. I need to know which president to blame.”
The writer once again thanks the Israeli medical system and the state that makes it possible.