by Rev. David Strickler
It may not have been an unusual Sunday, either in the morning or afternoon for that unparticular day: I don’t recall much about August 22, 2004 sifting back through layers of memory. That day, that month and that part of the year does indeed have some type of unfamiliar vibe lurking behind the appearances of its chronological settings. In fact, I don’t recall much about the daylight settings other than the fact that at that time period of my life it was a normal workday for me. Most of my recall seems to surround around the darkness. That would make sense because the lightning struck me at night.
I am not referring to lightning in the ordinary sense of the word. I am referring to a metaphorical sense of lightning striking. Sitting here writing this, I’m still struggling to find any sense of what had occurred during the afternoon on that Sunday. All that day, even to this day, seems to have been obliterated or buried from any sensible recollection. But I do vividly remember lying in bed, having retired for the night, staring into the darkness at the window curtains in front of my bed.
It seemed almost as if it were any other night, except for my usual routine of reviewing the day’s events in backward sequence. Not surprising, details appear to be missing from my recollection of that day into night. That is until the memory of a squirming, agitation yanking my body out of bed to go into the bathroom, turn the lights on and look at myself in the bathroom mirror, for no conceivable reason whatsoever. Then, reviewing that motion, that whole process again of looking at myself, but thinking, “Why do I have the bathroom light on?” Why am I staring at myself in the mirror? Shaking my head, I turned the lights off and headed back to bed.
However, going back to bed, It didn’t stop there, the uneasy restlessness continued with finding myself monitoring my body fidgeting around in bed and I couldn’t quite seem to get comfortable. This was a sense of uneasiness ‘from out of nowhere’ with no apparent cause I could pinpoint. My legs were so restless. Before I knew it I was once more up again turning the lights on over the bathroom wall mirror just staring at myself all the while wondering what the hell was going on? Now there was some sort of inaudible humming sound with tiny electrical sparks that felt like ants crawling up my legs.
All I could think of was, here comes another night of difficulties in getting to sleep but that rapidly turned into a pause producing a growing concern. I began wondering if something was wrong. What was I picking up on? My attention was immediately cast to any family or friends. Maybe I’m picking up on a strong signal of distress from someone, I thought to myself. No sooner had I invoked the thought process above, when right under my nose, my body was getting up out of bed. Yes, I did state that correctly; my awareness was of actually lying there, watching my body getting up out of bed.
Here I was again for the umpteenth time, turning on the bathroom light and eerily seeing the reflection of myself staring back at me as if to say, “Are you paying attention yet?” It was almost as if another probable me was looking at me from the other side of the conjunction between our realities trying to get my attention. Now ordinarily I wouldn’t consider that type of thought strange. Those of you who know me understand when I say that. Small whirlings and vibrations felt like they were going on inside me, taking place like Jonathan Winter’s Maude Fricket might vocalize, “all over my body.”
What’s Going On?
Staring at myself or the reflection of myself in the mirror, whichever you prefer, I didn’t see anything out of place; my color didn’t look bad, my pupils weren’t overly dilated and appeared reactive nor was the room was shrinking while my body was growing, I did not see any horns or antenna coming out of the backside of my head. It was clear to me, however, that there was something wrong. In retrospect, I left the bathroom vanity light on and walked back to my bed and sat on the edge of the bed, with my feet on the floor, moving both knees up and down in a rapid pace with pressure placed on the front part of my foot, something most parents will tell their children to “stop doing that!”
Absorbed in assessment, discerning the nature of the moment, whatever you care to call it, is the closest approximation I can give you, because any thoughts after my body walked me back to the bed to sit down were completely absent. Instead, I was listening, watching, pondering my next move, or rather, my body was assessing, watching, listening and subconsciously considering its next move. I can’t say that I was frightened. It was in a heightened state of awareness, a form of hyper-vigilance familiar to me through spiritual tools and exercises; some taught to me, some I discovered then used with consistency throughout my life. To put it another way, something was up and I wanted to know what that “up” was.
Immediately after I invoked wanting to know what was up, I shifted into a complete Observer mode, watching my body’s consciousness move into action without hesitation. Translated that means my body was walking to the phone, picking it up and making a phone call. Further translated: the distress signal I was picking up on was ME.
Mentally galvanized and without any thought I found myself launching into action. I was instantly cognizant that I wouldn’t call Dianne first, because she lived further away from me. I called my friend Christine who lived a few doors down. She answered almost immediately, even though she was a bit surprised at my call, she was her usual polite self and asked me what was up. I told her to call Wendy and Glen to tell them she was taking me to the emergency room at Paradise Valley Hospital (now the Abrazo Scottsdale Campus) to which she said with full alertness, “What?” I repeated myself, to which she responded “I will call Dianne.” I stated no, I would call Dianne, just get the car and hurry up please.
Since Dianne lived further away, and it was likely that she was just getting ready to doze off, this meant it would take longer for her to get to me. She answered my phone call; I told her to meet me at Paradise Valley Hospital emergency room, to which she replied, wanting to know what was wrong. I told her I wasn’t quite sure what was wrong, but something was wrong; I didn’t break any bones, I wasn’t bleeding. But, something was wrong, my body was nagging constantly at me. So, I had called Christine since she lived closer. She could respond more quickly to take me to the emergency room at Paradise Valley Hospital. Dianne told me okay and she would see me there as soon as possible.
Just as I ended the call with Dianne, Christine rang my cell and told me she was in the car waiting in the parking lot down the north-south walkway to my apartment. Everything was feeling even stranger. I found myself rapidly locking the door to my apartment and heading to car. I found myself wondering if this was a false alarm was I going to the E.R. only to find out there was nothing at all going on? But there it was again, that subtle inaudible humming vibration making me question again what was going on. I walked fast to Christine’s car.
Christine asked how I was doing; I said I think I am okay and am having doubts about going to the emergency room. Christine said no matter, I needed to go and check things out. Getting into the car, we then left the apartment complex through the north gate to get on Greenway Road. There was little traffic at this 9 p.m. ‘ish hour. Things were starting to feel even stranger as I was talking to Christine and we approached the 40th Street intersection which we had to turn left on to get to Paradise Valley Hospital on the corner of Bell Rd and 40th Street.
Lightning Struck Unexpectedly…
Approaching the light at the intersection as I was talking to Christine, I remember having a odd sense of immobilization and said, “Oh, my!” There was a flash as if ‘lightning struck’. ‘Bam,’ I felt myself free falling forward realizing I was about to lose consciousness. Next, there was this boing-snap sound inside my head between both my ears. Everything then quickly went from live to black except for the small ball of light condensing to a point. I was looking at the blackness of space within, some apparent last thoughts as I was losing physical consciousness. I do not know how long I was out but I did feel a hand on my chest pushing me back into the car seat. I remember hearing, “Boss, Boss are you okay, can you hear me?” I was opening my eyes as I was hearing this.
I think I felt the car moving rather fast. I said, “Wow, that was a trip, I went away, so that is what it feels like to blackout? I feeling lost somewhere between here and now. Christine asked me to describe as best I could how I was feeling and what I was sensing when all of a sudden, wham, bam ‘lightning struck’ again. I told her for the first time in my life I had some direct understanding of what a candle feels like. Christine asked me what I meant, and I responded by telling her my face was melting. It wasn’t my entire face mind you, it was the left side of my face melting and feeling as though it was going to slide off. All I could think of was a) I now have empathy for melting wax and then the startling awareness of b) my body was in trouble and c) I was glad to have gotten in the car to go to the hospital.
With great relief in seeing the driveway of the hospital leading to the entrance of the E.R. while failing to heed Christine’s words, I opened the door of the car while it was moving, somehow putting one foot in front of the other nearly ‘levitating’ with haste into the E.R. entrance. Making it to the admission’s desk, I felt strange with how the admitting nurse was observing me. I told her I had people coming behind me and I felt I was in trouble.
The admitting room nurse was asking me some questions while I reached for my insurance cards, telling her my address and I was 45 years old, having lost consciousness in the car on the way here explaining to her this has never happened to me before. Christine came in behind me; the nurse asked her if my face had always looked that way, she told her no, and told the nurse I had said my face started melting shortly after I regained consciousness in the car. I couldn’t answer the admitting nurse’s question as to what day it was; she said she would be back quickly. They took me into an adjoining room and took my blood pressure which was some ungodly rate of 230-50 something over 170 something. They asked me if I could walk and saying yes, I nervously followed the next nurse into the E.R. room.
Health care professionals started swarming around me in a dizzying blur. All I wanted to do was to go to sleep, but the doctor who introduced himself asked me to please keep my eyes open. I was placed on a gurney which was followed by needles and IV bags being hung around me. To my relief, Dianne suddenly appeared around my treatment room curtains alongside Christine.
I found solace in seeing Dianne, to my relief she arrived. Dianne could look calm in a hurricane and this is not fiction, it is fact. Dianne and I had gone through Hurricane Andrew in August of 1992 in Naples, Florida. She’s always been my secret sure-rock of stability where I’d temporarily lost my psychological footing. I told her I felt strange. She asked me if I was in any pain and as usual, she nails a novel question to me by asking if I was in any pain. Come to think of it, I wasn’t experiencing any pain. Wow, what a trip! Something was incredibly wrong yet I wasn’t feeling any pain. There wasn’t any experience of fear either.
Next came the MRI’s and CAT scans. Between the flurry of dialogue against the curtain of non-dialogue both inside and outside my brain-space-conversation process, I knew my organism was in genuine danger and I was content with my decision to seek out competent health care professionals. They were working fast to ascertain what was happening inside and to my body. After the flurry of blood work, radio diagnostics and small conversation with those around me, I was beginning to feel a huge pause, not in a threatening sense but in positive anticipation, if it can be called that; I stared at the ceiling while listening to the heart monitor waiting to discover what was wrong with my body. Am I going to lose my organism? But there wasn’t even a sense of “impending doom.”
Time to Know…
The attending room physician came armed with two nurses at his side asking me how I was doing; I replied that there was no pain but something was wrong. He gave me a summary of the tests with little segue and finished by saying the indications were likely that I was suffering from an ischemic stroke and based on their investigation he said I was a candidate for Tissue Plasminogen Activator, otherwise known as TPA or PLAT. He also stated that I was within the four hour window to be able to use the TPA that helps by dissolving the blood clot and reduces the damage done to the body from lack of oxygen. Of course, there was then the obligatory litany of a long list of side effect citations. I responded that I needed a minute to think about it and talk to my friends.
I Must Choose…
Geeze, damned if I do and damned if I don’t, I remember thinking. Knowing my sensitivities to drugs it was like being handed a possible death sentence. My hesitation did not go unnoticed in the treatment space. The young nurse gave me five more minutes for my decision, reported to the attending physician and then came back watching the clock. Am I running out of time, I thought; this looks serious from my horizontal point of view. I expressed my concerns about the side effects of the TPA to the young nurse; she told me even though I couldn’t see it, at the moment, the after effects of a stroke cause much damage if left untreated. She grabbed my hand and said, “Sir, if you were my father in this bed I would plead with you to take the TPA.”
Man oh man — I could tell from the compassion and concern in her voice that I need to pay attention because my situation was serious and could get worse. So looking back at the Angel speaking through her, I agreed to the TPA treatment and she appeared to give a sigh of relief. The situation suddenly moved even faster. Clipboards appeared out of nowhere for me to sign, giving consent to the treatment and of being advised of the side effect of the treatment. She Proceeded in giving me give the TPA treatment with the physician watching. I could feel it moving through my blood vessels; the next thing I recall happening was tingling in my head and on the left side of my face. My friends were watching me with a recital of ‘Oh my god!’ To their astonishment, my face was unmelting. I was watching the doctor try to restrain a smile of thankfulness on his face.
Not Going Home…
I was feeling much better and asked when I could go home. I was then informed I was being transferred to a facility that could monitor and further my treatment. The doctor was transferring me to Barrow Neurological Institute via St Joseph Hospital and Medical Center for Emergency Trauma treatment in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. The doctor said I wouldn’t be airlifted because there wasn’t a helicopter available, so I would be carried by ambulance. Things got blurry a bit into a flurry and hurry at this point. I thanked my attending room physician and the angel that spoke to me through my attending nurse.
Suddenly, I found myself being loaded into an ambulance with the continual question of how was I doing? I thought I heard the voices of my friends and the ambulance attendants discussing streets. Off we went, as I watched the street lights above me with some occasional talk with my ambulance attendant. She told me that I had to be observed for a 24-hour period after this type of stroke treatment.
Out of the rear the ambulance doors I could see the streetlights go by like a string of pearls in the dark Phoenix Arizona night sky holding just a few small grayish white clouds. For me at least it seemed to be taking a long time to get to St. Joseph’s Emergency Trauma Center. Now for some reason I was experiencing flashbacks of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lorain, Ohio that I used to work at in the late 1970s; I must admit I was feeling a bit of a synchronicity if nothing else, from the flood of memories of working that job. It seemed to take a bit of getting into the hospital I do recall being amazed at the large volume of people filling the emergency room center.
Rinse & Repeat…
A male nurse showed up to ask me to repeat the whole story again of the evening by remarking “I know you already said these things time and time again, but I need to hear them directly from you.” As an aside, even up to this point in time there was still no pain. After I had given the intake nurse the details, Dianne and Christine arrived; how the hell they ever found me I don’t know, the hospital was huge. Still, I felt pretty good, as I told them, a bit strange but I felt pretty good; there was no pain, like getting struck by lightning with no pain and no burns.
Then the process started, the whole process of CAT scans and MRIs and becoming a human pincushion, it was another repeat segment of the prior hospital admission questions at Paradise Valley. Leaving out the hypnotizing details of the CAT scan and an MRI visitation, next thing I knew someone was telling Dianne and Christine that I was at being admitted to ICU for further observation. Apparently, I wasn’t going home yet.
After getting me checked into ICU, which I shared a room with one other individual who didn’t appear to be conscious. It was dark in there, although there was window; I am almost certain I recall the moonlight coming in through the window. My nurse’s name was David, he wasn’t the only one, but he was the one who introduced himself amidst the flurry of team of nurses who were checking in on me at various points. One thing he stated was that they were not going to let me go to sleep. He informed me that they would be checking on me with some rate of frequency that proved unsettling for me, because all I want to do was to go to sleep.
Some hours later I was eating a cinnamon flavored paste, absolutely ungodly as far as the texture was concerned; I never had eaten Vaseline before, which was close approximation to what the stuff was, but they were preparing to do an echo-cardiogram which meant they were going to slide a tube down my throat. The only thing that caught my interest was they were going to knock me out, which meant I might get a little bit of sleep. Whatever they used to knock me out was wonderful; looking back at that I could of used that stuff post stroke.
It was later in that day’s evening, whatever that day was, that they were transferring me to the stroke ward at Barrow Neurological Institute which is in the same building. My nurse Dave followed me there and informed me that they would finally let me sleep, although with frequency they would come and shine a light in my eyes and ask me questions that hopefully I could answer. I kind of dozed off in and out, when I didn’t have the eyeball light shining on me, only to hear people visiting the patient next to me.
This really caught my attention; I heard the patient’s age was 45, that man was the same age as me at the time. His whole left side was paralyzed and he couldn’t talk. When the family left the room later that night I asked my nurse why I didn’t end up paralyzed like so-and-so; he told me it was because I got treatment in time. I don’t know the man’s name, but my blessings of healing went out to him and his family; that was burned into my memory just like my biological sleep clock was burned into a new time zone.
I met the team of doctors that morning who were getting ready to let me go home. They were talking about some sort of blood tests to be done on a yearly basis and just at that moment my personal physician called me to see how I was doing; we chatted for a few seconds and I asked the one of the male doctors if they would repeat what they had just said to my physician who was on the phone with me. They said that would be no problem at all; they talked for about 5 to 10 minutes I think. I got my release papers and instructions and had to see my personal physician within the next couple of days. I was happy to get out of there alive.
So yes, I made it home and it is here I will truncate the story. It was a few weeks later that what I would call bruising started to show up in my neurological system and physical body. The first striking event: I couldn’t tell which direction sound was coming from! The pain was setting into the left side of my body. I couldn’t see in the depth of three dimensionality that I could before, everything had the appearance of being more flat. I could feel light hitting my skin for example from headlights; I could not take the lights in the store, and I was suddenly possessed by the will to walk. I forced myself to walk every day around the parking lot. The strangest thing of all was I couldn’t stand or walk on a slanted surface without falling over.
Looking back, I think I was becoming frightened at the possible prospect of not being able to walk. The pain was getting to be excruciating on the left side of my body and the pain in my head, the constant headaches, just wouldn’t go away. Of course my physician set me up with a regimen of medications to assist me with the spasticity I was experiencing with my body, but the stroke was beginning to leave its mark in my life and within my organism. All of a sudden I couldn’t remember things; I could no longer do simple math & most distressingly, the photographic (eidetic) recall that I had was nowhere to be found and I felt lost in a series of details. I have a memory of sitting in front of my speech therapist who was astonished that I actually knew I use to be able to add/subtract, calculus which was familiar was gone (to this day) never mind the tears rolling down my face in having those awareness’s.
While attempting to vacuum the carpet by myself one day, I came into this dark realization of the lack of energy in my vehicle, my physical body, and the immense fatigue it was experiencing: I couldn’t breathe after vacuuming a 2 square-foot section off carpet. I had even noticed many cognitive functions had changed and left water running in the bathroom while setting a towel on fire on the kitchen stove to name a few too many things I’ve done post-stroke. To make a long story short, I talked with my physician and requested some rehab. I also requested a neuropsychiatric evaluation, which may help some of you who are familiar with my tweets to understand why I have questioned the cognitive capability of people out there are in various professions. The neuropsych test is painless and it is a fascinating discovery of identifying limitations.
For Whom It May Concern…
So yes, lightning struck me, in the form of an acute stroke, irrevocably changing my life and my relationship with the organism of my body that I operate through, in tandem with my brain and its remarkable capabilities. I am putting this story down since it was only a few weeks ago that it was the anniversary of this event in my lifestream. Why am I writing this? To hopefully give anyone the wherewithal to get their ass to the emergency room if something is going on that you don’t understand, whether with your physical self or your mental self.
There are parts of this story I have left out for the sake of brevity, but I have hopefully included enough of the necessary details to give rational people a chance to realize, that in order to exercise a window needed to reduce paralysis in this type of medical event that strikes like lightning out of nowhere, they should act by going to the Emergency Room. This helps themselves with their body more instead of playing macho man or macho woman Russian roulette in experiencing an unknown threatening circumstance.
This was an expensive trip that, thankfully, I could take on because of the fine health insurance at my disposal. I have a great many thanks to the people who study diligently in their fields who were able to specifically assist me in my moment of medical crisis. Strokes are confusing and still are to this day but I do know something for sure; strokes affect not only the patient; the stroke also affects everybody who is connected to the patient. The lightning strikes everyone to some degree.
Strokes change people, and I am thankful that I had a group of loving support around me to assist me in this part of the journey of my life with this medical event. Even the people who were in rehab with me in occupational, speech and physical therapy I still remember and feel inspired by their drive to move forward. A moment of special thanks to my Stroke Rehab Team of Therapists below:
2005 October 14. Left to Right: My Speech therapist, Occupational therapist, then Me, and then my Physical therapist
11 Years Later
I would like to take a few moments to address the invisible injuries that can easily happen with head injuries. With any head injury there is an increasing possibility for brain injury and the INVISIBLE problems resulting from it may not be entirely visible to anybody. I look completely normal to people who merely look at me, but my personality has changed, my ability to do things have changed, the stroke has rendered me disabled. ‘My Brain Hurts’ is a normal event for me now — more on that in a minute. Hell, it took me six years to be able to play guitar again viewed right here or here . I tire easily and frequently, I lose focus after 10 minutes, my sleep schedule has been turned into a backwards, afternoon shift of not being able to fall asleep until 5 AM. To top it off, it took another 11 years for them to find the location of the stroke inside my brain. The final kicker? The pièce de résistance is? Get this, I caught wind through the grapevine that a small few thought I was faking it, because “You look fine!”
What I’m trying to say is brain injury is not something to take to lightly; anyone who is had a family member affected with a brain injury, whether it be a severe crack on the head, a stroke or various other ways that head traumas can produce a brain injury, don’t expect the person to respond the same as prior to the injury: they may not even be close to what you recall as “normal” for them anymore. Please, don’t think that all they gotta do is go out there and do it; don’t push them to do things like they did before, because that’s just not going to work. They have been irrevocably changed for this lifetime and need support and understanding as they adjust to a new life.
Cristabelle Braden has produced some excellent videos to easily help those who do not understand the invisible injuries that can happen from head injuries. Braden speaks a truth known to those of us with brain injury when she states, “The experience of a brain injured person is very different.” I am posting links to her wonderful videos, within this paragraph, for those who would like to gain a better understanding this type of injury affecting 1.75 million of us annually. Braden covers in her short videos such as “I forgot…” – The Frustration of Forgetting after Brain Injury! or thinking + auditory overload topic dealing with cognitive fatigue “Thinking Makes Me Tired!” or her most important video “You Look Fine!” – The Real-Life Struggle of an Invisible Injury – TBI Awareness.
So, seek medical advice, seek psychological and psychiatric advice about TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder therapy such as EMDR therapy. Learn about what’s happening to either yourself or the person whom you love who has brain injury. Why? Because they are forever changed and it is very unlikely that they will ever be the same person that they were before the event, so be flexible and don’t place expectations on them; instead place the expectations on yourself to learn about what’s going on. It’s not the same as working through a cold; it’s more like running into a wall that you can’t see every five or ten minutes and no matter where you look you can’t seem to find it.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death, accounting for 17.3 million deaths per year, a number that is expected to grow to more than 23.6 million by 2030. 1 Stroke 2 is a leading cause of serious long-term disability. You can help by learning how to identify a possible stroke. Whether it is you or a loved one, whatever the relationship, be informed and ready to make adjustments in your life because a new chapter is about to start. When this type of lightning strikes it, will affect you and those around you, ever altering not only the victim of the trauma, but the relationships and interactions with in all aspects of life.
Someone once asked me what it was like to live in the world after a Stroke. “Simple,” I told them, “Take a mirror without a frame. Now drop it on the floor in front of you and then use those fragments to negotiate the world and any number of your thoughts.” He looked at me wryly and said, “Boy, I am glad you told me you don’t drive anymore.”
~ Rev. David Strickler
Copyright © 2016 by W. David Strickler
- Mozaffarian D, Benjamin, et. al., “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – At-a-Glance.” Health. One Brave Idea, December 17, 2014. http://www.onebraveidea.com/submissions/ucm_470704.pdf. ↩
- “Stroke Facts | Cdc.gov.” Health Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed October 15, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm ↩