Whenever we meet new people one of the first questions they tend to ask is ‘what happened?’ Nathan has a few noticeable physical impairments which tend to make people look whenever we’re out and about. He uses adaptive equipment to mobilise out in the community, either getting pushed in a wheelchair or using a single point stick. So we expect these queries and looks. It’s something we’re slowly getting used to.
Nathan got hit on the right side of his head and neck whilst at work. At the time of the injury it only appeared to be a superficial wound on his ear. However in the emergency department waiting room he experienced a 15 min episode of slurred speech and left sided weakness, in particular facial droop. His ear got stitched up and he was cleared to return home. Whilst asleep that night he experienced symptoms which resulted in waking me up and finding him unresponsive and unable to move his left arm and leg. Surprisingly, he was still able to communicate with me but he had no awareness of the situation. He was taken to a larger hospital by ambulance where they immediately took him in for CT scans. He was diagnosed as having had a stroke due to a traumatic carotid artery dissection. Left untreated, it caused a significant right middle cerebral artery territory infarct.
He was monitored overnight and, in the morning, his condition worsened. He was required to undergo a decompressive craniectomy to relieve pressure in his brain, which had begun to swell. He was also put in an induced coma. The next day his condition worsened and he required another surgery to evacuate a right extradural hemorrhage.
He was monitored in the intensive care unit for a few days and upon waking up from his coma, we learnt the full extent of his impairment. He had left side hemiplegia – complete paralysis of the left side of his body. At first, he could only communicate by squeezing my hand. One squeeze for yes. Two squeezes for no. As he stabilised, he was transferred to the stroke ward and assessed and treated by a team of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. Several days after waking from the coma, he was able to speak again. Luckily, despite being left-handed, it seemed that Nathan’s language centre was on the other side of his brain and was unaffected.
Nathan doesn’t have many memories of his time in ICU or the ward, which is probably a good thing. Everything happened so fast but my memories of the night remain clear. Could things have gone differently? Sure. It hurts to think of what could have been done to prevent this, but we don’t want to dwell on the past. We have to pick ourselves up from this life-changing event and learn from it.
The main thing to learn from this is just being aware of the symptoms of stroke and acting F.A.S.T. If you feel something isn’t right, trust your gut instinct. Your life and health, or that of someone you love, depends on it.