Part I: Am I Having a Stroke?

 Initially, I started to put soup in my mouth and it all dribbled out onto my shirt. I tried to take a sip of water and again, it dribbled out onto my clothes.

I knew what I wanted to say but couldn’t actually say the words as I looked at my friend with fear in my eyes. My entire right side-face, arm, leg were numb and weak. I couldn’t even hold the bread I was eating and I watched it fall out of my hand. I walked to the mirror and saw I could only smile on the left side of my face. My friend encouraged me to take a deep breath.

Fear and panic flooded my body as I recognized “these are stroke symptoms” but rationalized “probably are caused by something else” underneath the fear I felt a deep sense of peace and calm that everything was going to be ok. Surely in a relatively healthy 35-year-old, this couldn’t be a stroke. Maybe my blood sugar was low from fasting that morning or I was dehydrated. Maybe a migraine starting in a strange way.

As I laid down and breathed slowly function returned, I could speak, albeit slowly, but requiring intention and great focus. I left there thinking “there’s no way that was a stroke” and went about my day. Still cautiously watching and made a neurology appointment for the following week.

            Intuitively, my body kept telling me “something is wrong, you need to be seen sooner” and so blessed with a good friend who is a neurologist discussed with her who encouraged me to go be seen sooner in the hospital. I was admitted for vigorous testing of both my heart and brain. Truth be told I was born with a hole in my heart called an ASD (Atrial Septal Defect) that is an unclosed hole between the top two chambers of my heart. This was closed 12 years ago through a simple procedure requiring only a groin stick and has been monitored with no issues for years. Had this not been closed I would have been at higher risk of stroke but since it was closed shouldn’t cause this kind of problem.

            So there I was, a physician sitting in my hospital bed awaiting all the tests-blood, heart imaging, brain imaging, blood vessel imaging. My mind was going a thousand different directions trying to piece together what it could have been and how it could have been prevented. My mind raced from diagnosis to diagnosis and as a physician, I didn’t have the choice to close the WebMD search that was going on in my head, I have it all memorized. But somehow, I stayed so calm, I kept breathing deeply and able to stay so present-something I never would have imagined within my realm of possibility. And even as I waited I saw my first lesson-let go of control. I had no control over this situation, I couldn’t figure it out and knew it was possible we would never figure out what it is or caused it. All I could think is “this is not in my control, there are lessons here and I’m open to stepping out of the fear and learning them”.            

            We all have the choice to sit in fear or say “what can I learn here? What can I allow for and can I see my fear and love it? Can I acknowledge that it is uncomfortable to be in this unknown but let it be unknown?”