July 22, 2019
The temperature was close to 100F when we arrived at the scruffy, unairconditioned gym in King of Prussia, Penn., Saturday, where our son Michael was to compete in a local Olympic weightlifting competition. Our daughter-in-law, Dr. Caroline Beebe, a veterinarian, decided it was time to take Sandy to the ER.
Sandy’s blood pressure shot up last week after some difficult dental work. On Thursday she went to the family doctor, who prescribed a new blood-pressure medication. She fell asleep on the drive up to Pennsylvania Friday. When she awoke she had no feeling in her left arm. The numbness passed quickly, but later returned. Saturday morning she was tired. On the ride to the gym her vision was blurred. When we arrived she couldn’t walk for a few moments. The numbness in the arm returned. Caroline and her mom, Mary, an RN, drove her to Bryn Mawr Hospital on the Philadelphia Main Line.
The ER staff checked her vitals, conducted a CT scan, and gave her medication that calmed her. She felt better; the feeling returned to her arm. An internist examined her. He said he suspected that she may have experienced a transient ischemic attack or TIA, a “mini-stroke” that blocks blood flow in the brain for a short time, then resolves without injury.
Early Sunday morning her left arm went numb again. She went through a second CT scan. She regained control of the arm. A neurologist came by the room, conducted some reflex tests, and mentioned the TIA. She then underwent an MRI, which looks more precisely at brain function than the CT.
That afternoon the internist reported that the MRI revealed that she had suffered a small stroke, more serious than a TIA, but not serious enough to cause injury to the brain. A cardiologist then examined her heart function. He advised that the MRI data showed that she suffered a partial blockage of a blood vessel in the brain. Fortunately Sandy didn’t lose brain function. He explained that she would be examined by a neurosurgical team, who would determine whether the blockage should be resolved with medication or a surgical procedure.
He emphasized that her condition was the best that could be hoped for following a stroke. Caroline and Mary knew Bryn Mawr is a major center of excellence for the treatment of strokes. Had Sandy landed at a hospital without Bryn Mawr’s level of expertise, her stroke could have caused serious brain injury.
Later that afternoon a nurse conducted a more complicated reflex exam: hold legs upright for 10 seconds, follow my finger while looking at my nose—that kind of thing. She aced it.
So we will be in Pennsylvania a few more days, maybe a week, revising our life-in-the-fast lane schedule somewhat. Bryn Mawr, home of Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, and Haverford Colleges and next door to Villanova University, is a cute, interesting place, even when it’s 98F. The hospital treats the big names of Philadelphia sports—the Phillies, Eagles, 76ers, Flyers—and local industry big shots. You need a password to call the hospital about a patient. We just walked in, though.
Sandy is a trooper. We came north for the meet and to celebrate her birthday (66), which we observed when she awoke in her hospital bed. Michael and Caroline picked up a huge hunk of chocolate birthday cake, which she and I wolfed down after they left. We and the hospital staffers all got a huge chortle when they asked for her date of birth.
So while she’s having a hospital birthday, we celebrated other blessings: 41 married years and pretty good health for most of them, four great kids. We talked to all of them in their various corners of the world: Costa Rica, South Carolina, Colorado. They’re on board with the future.
The docs stressed that they didn’t rush the testing and exams because they knew she was stable. Caroline and Michael explained that across the wide range of types of strokes, she was at the best possible end. What she went through is treatable by the Bryn Mawr stroke team. The postscript is: understand the healing, and gets started with it, get through it, learn from it.
Meanwhile back at that blast furnace-like gym. Michael finished first in his session, lifting 191 pounds in the “snatch” and 265 in the “clean and jerk.” Didn’t get it from me.