This has to be a better year

Happy New Year from my family to all of you!

2011 started off great. In February I turned 50 and was spoiled by Mark, in his usual fashion. In April we took our big trip to Spain to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Many of Mark’s colleagues were shocked to know that he actually took time off from work. What a great time we had! This was something that we had planned for a long time, and Mark worked really hard to save up the money for it. We loved it so much that when we got home all Mark could talk about was going back. So he got right back to work and starting saving again. He worked despite the heat of one of our hottest summers ever, and through a bout of intestinal upset. He went to work even after he had his stroke. Yes, you read that correctly.

How did we miss the signs of stroke?

I know there is some misinformation out there, so here is the story of what happened to Mark:

Mark became ill with a bad case of diarrhea at the beginning of July. He blamed it on poor food handling at work and he thought it would be gone in the usual 24 – 48 hours. But he couldn’t shake it. He kept working and I believe he even came home early one day because he felt so sick. He had jobs lined up for a good while, and even had an interview for a TV series that was going to shoot in the fall. He was at home resting the weekend of July 16 – 17. He hadn’t energy to do anything and we were being very careful with his diet. He still couldn’t keep anything in. On the Sunday he went outside, in 40 degree heat (Celsius) to get some of his gear out of the garage for a job on Tuesday. He had already booked a doctor’s appointment the following day for his stomach issues. When he came back inside, after just 5 minutes, he told me he felt light headed and was going to lie down. The heat had been too much for him. I was off to pick up a daughter at the subway and was back home within 10 minutes. When we got back we found Mark lying face down on the floor in the kitchen. Mark had fainted, we assumed. There was some blood on the floor as he had broken his glasses and cut his nose. He was conscious so we got him up and to the couch. I put some ice on his face and gave him some water and a painkiller and assessed him for signs of a concussion. He didn’t have any nausea, or vision problems, just pain where he hurt himself and a headache. He was really angry that he had broken his glasses because it meant he had to get them replaced right away. He didn’t have an extra pair. He wore his prescription sunglasses the rest of the day.

Mark is the fainter in the family, not me. A fainting episode made sense because he had been weak, fatigued and most likely dehydrated from his illness. The next day Mark took his frames in for repair and a new prescription that was needed, but he had kept putting off because of work. This was going to take a couple of days, so he went to Lenscrafters and got another pair of glasses, with the new prescription, within the hour. He then saw our family doctor. He told her about his case of diarrhea that wasn’t going away. He was already losing weight. His face was bruised and cut so he mentioned the fainting episode the day before. She ordered a bunch of blood tests and stool samples.

Mark went to work early the next day. In the afternoon our doctor called me at home, and told me that she had left a message on Mark’s cell phone. She said she didn’t like the results of his blood tests and told me to pick him up at work right away and take him to emergency. He needed fluids. His white blood cell count was high and his hemoglobin was low. I finally got a hold of him on his cell, got him at work and took him right to North York General Hospital. Emergency wasn’t busy so they took him in right away and gave him fluids for 4 hours. He started to feel much better so they sent us home. We were still waiting for the results of the stool samples, expecting to hear that Mark had some type of parasite or infection and that would explain the blood tests results. Mark stayed home and tried to recuperate from the diarrhea. The doctor called to check on him and said to come back the next week for a follow-up appointment. So Mark continued to rest and eat the BRAT diet and drink lots of electrolyte drinks. Over the next several days he started getting headaches. This was probably because of his current weak state, we thought. Then he complained that his vision was a bit weird. Well, maybe his eyes were trying to get used to the new prescription.

Mark saw his osteopath on the following Monday morning, for his usual neck and back aches. He was having a pretty bad headache that day but he refused my offer to drive him. When he got home I asked him if he felt better and he said no, he was feeling worse. So I insisted on driving him to his doctor’s appointment a few hours later. By the time we got there he was in agony. He couldn’t even sit in the waiting room. The receptionist let him into an examination room so he could lie down. The doctor came in and told us that his stool samples were all clear, but they should probably be run again because sometimes it takes 2 or 3 tries to find a parasite. But she did not like the way Mark looked, plus the fact that I was the one speaking because he was in so much pain. She said to go right back to emergency. Something wasn’t right.

This time we had to wait 4 hours in the emergency waiting room. Mark was still in agony. I had to find a stretcher for him to lie on. During this time he managed to take a cell phone call about work, and made plans for this upcoming job interview. He finally saw a doctor who gave him a complete physical. He passed it no problem! But he barely answered the doctor’s questions. I did all the talking. She ran blood tests and determined that he wasn’t dehydrated. His white cell count was still high which meant he was fighting some sort of infection so he was asked to do another stool sample as soon as we got home. We were given instructions to give Mark one Advil with one Tylenol 1 for his headaches, more electrolyte drinks for his stomach and a prescription for a parasite called Giardia that the doctor assumed he had based on his symptoms. He was not given a CAT scan at either of these emergency room visits.

Shortly after Mark took the first antibiotic pill he got a little confused. He had no more than 3 of these pills because it seemed that each time he had one he got more and more confused. He was sleeping a lot and his stomach problems were not going away. I called the doctor and told her that Mark’s prescription was messing with his mind. My daughter and I researched the side effects on the internet and found that this could happen in some cases. The doctor said to stop giving it to him and if the confusion continued to get him to emergency right away. So we discontinued the prescription and Mark seemed more or less lucid when he was awake. The next day he couldn’t remember that he was sick, or for how long we was sick or that he had even seen his doctor or visited the hospital twice already. He was losing his short term memory! So – off we went to NYGH and right back to emergency where he was admitted immediately.

He was given morphine, fluids, had blood taken, was hooked up to telemetry, a lumbar puncture was performed and a CAT scan was done. I had to be gowned and masked because his diarrhea was still undiagnosed. Finally in the wee hours of the morning the admitting doctor came in tell me that the CAT scan showed evidence of a stroke. Actually, it was described as a ‘shower of emboli’ at the back of his brain. Mark had to have an MRI right away. He was given a room, in isolation, on the cardiology floor. I think I got home at 4 in the morning, exhausted and stunned at this turn of events. How the heck did Mark have a stroke? How did I miss it? How did our family doctor miss it? How did the EMERGENCY department of NYGH miss it?

What are the five signs of stroke?

Stroke can be treated. That’s why it is so important to recognize and respond to the warning signs.

If you experience any of these symptoms, CALL 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately.

Mark’s symptoms – vision problems, headaches and confusion – did NOT come on suddenly and were unfortunately masked by the symptoms of his gastrointestinal problem and his new prescription for his vision. They happened slowly over the course of 12 days. Mark is a healthy guy, with no risk factors for strokes. He is only 54 years old! The idea of Mark having a stroke never occurred to me. Mark fainting made a lot more sense. As the days and weeks went on, and after numerous tests were run, Mark’s neurologist and I realized that Mark’s fainting episode on that hot Sunday in July was actually a stroke. It was followed 5 days later by another stroke in hospital, even though he was on blood thinners. The rest of the story is in the archives on this site.

The only experience I’ve had with stroke was losing my grandmother to one when I was 18. She had a massive stroke that left her in a coma at the age of 80. She didn’t survive more than 2 weeks. It was devastating. I thought it was something that happened to only old people.

Please be aware of the signs of stroke. It can happen to anybody, at any age and as we’ve found out, the symptoms don’t always happen suddenly.

By the way, Mark’s diarrhea went away on its own. It was never diagnosed. We never found out why his white blood cell count shot so high those first few weeks of his illness. His body recovered from that and he is currently regaining his lost weight, slowly but surely.



Mark is now fully aware of his predicament. His recovery is really amazing but sadly he is totally aware of his limitations. He has been put on a low-dose antidepressant to help take the edge off. It’s just starting to kick in now. He has a great sense of humour when he’s with the girls and myself, but he also can get sad very easily, especially when it’s time for us to leave him at the end of the day. His memory is slowly improving, but he doesn’t remember the summer at all. Which is fine. He calls himself a ‘gimp’ but is determined to get back home. His personality is unchanged and he can be quite outgoing and sociable, calling the nurses by name and asking them how they’re all doing. His biting sarcasm is still there too. He is still Mark.

Physically he is getting stronger in his left leg. He can extend it, but he still can’t lift it. He is now moving the fingers on his left hand just a little. This is something he didn’t do a week ago.

He finally had his vision tested and each eye sees perfectly with his glasses, but how his eyes work together can’t be determined yet. He is having some problems with depth perception. The opthamologist was expecting much worse based on Mark’s neurology reports, so we are happy to know that his vision has been improving.

He wears a sling on his weakened left arm to help support his shoulder. He has lost the muscle mass in both shoulders actually. This is something we are working on every day, and in physiotherapy too. He needs to have the strength in his right arm and shoulder so he can eventually support himself to get on his feet. This will hopefully happen one day, but not too soon.

Right now the physio team is working on his trunk and ab muscles. He can now sit on the edge of a bed, and hold himself upright for 30 minutes, with some gentle coaching and reminders to activate certain muscles in order to balance himself. My big, strong guy is making a comeback!

He really enjoys having visitors, but I must remind you all again to check first just because he is now seeing three different therapists a week and he is on a schedule. Also, we like to take him out of his room as often as possible. He needs the change of scenery. We like to explore all the different areas of the complex and check out all the art.

Finally, Mark needs to ‘always be learning’! His brain is busy reorganizing itself, and the more he learns, or relearns, the better. We can’t always be socializing. We need to find the balance between chatting with visitors and jogging old memories (which is great!), and teaching him and helping him with physical exercise. Yup – it’s a lot of work. And I’m still so tired. But it’s so worth it.

This year is going to be a good year.

Thanks for all your love and support. It means the world to us, especially Mark.