Peter David Has Stroke on Vacation; Some Thoughts on Stroke Recovery
I have been unsure whether to talk about this, because the news hit very close to home and every time I think about it, I tear up.
On Sunday, noted comic writer Peter David posted that he had had a stroke that affected his vision and caused him to lose control of the right side of his body.
Long-time readers will recall that my husband KC had a mini-stroke almost four years ago. Every time I hear news like this, I start shaking, because I realize how much worse KC’s situation could have been, and how very lucky we were. The worst symptoms he ever had were a slight loss of control of his left hand and nausea-causing vertigo; his walking, vision, speech, and thoughts were never significantly affected.
During the year after — we were told that, at his anniversary checkup, that he’d recovered about as much as he ever would — he slowly regained most of the use of his hand. He considers it about 98% of what it was, now, and it mostly gets weak when he’s overtired or stressed (so in a way, it’s a warning sign for him to relax). At the beginning, the most frustrating thing was him trying to relearn to type, since his hands were slightly out of sync. He’s only ever been a two-fingered typist, but during his recovery, he’d wind up capitalizing the second letter of words, for example, because he wasn’t hitting the shift key quite when he thought he was. He also had the weird quirk of repeating small words, so I’d have to edit out where he said things like “while I was reading the the comic”.
The most important thing for him was working with a good physical therapist, as he discussed in his column about the event. Luckily, he already knew one, that he’s worked with before on a shoulder issue, so he had a solid relationship with someone who knew how he used to behave. There were exercises for fine motor control and flexibility, with his hand, and the therapist was happy to have KC participate in the process. For instance, since KC’s a game player, KC suggested that he could try playing Operation with his left hand, which would give him instant feedback, and the therapist thought that was a great idea. It was important to find things that KC would be likely to keep doing, since insurance only covers so much, and he was only going to keep improving with plenty of work on his own.
Kathleen David has shared more of the background behind what happened at her blog. My heart goes out to them, because this is a terrible thing to happen on a vacation. When you go to an emergency room, so much of what happens is pot luck anyway, based on who’s on call, and in our experience, the experience and comfort level with the doctors can vary greatly. They often don’t tell you things unless you ask, and my role was to constantly ask “what happens next?”, since they’d just leave us there without much information. I don’t blame them — hospital staff are very busy, and they’re used to all the terms and processes they deal with daily — except for one doctor, who kept giving me the “don’t worry, little lady” approach. That’s all magnified when you’re away from home. It’s so important to get a doctor you’re comfortable with and you can trust.
More importantly, don’t wait when you have signs. It’s so easy to write off a bad headache as a migraine, fuzzy vision as fatigue, and other stuff to flu or stress. No one wants to be seen as a hypochondriac, making a big deal out of nothing — but fast treatment counts. And it may take the medical team some time to figure out what, exactly, is happening. With KC, we actually went to the emergency room twice, because the first day, they attributed his dizziness to sitting up too quickly and waiting too late to eat, which was entirely plausible. It wasn’t until the symptoms worsened on the second day that he was admitted. Bless KC for keeping me informed, both then and now about how he’s doing, when his hand acts up, and so on. It’s scary, but having something happen again would be worse.
As we all get older, this is likely to happen to someone you care about. There are some basic tests you can do to try and figure out what’s going on. If you’re with them, have them talk to you. Check that they’re not slurring or sounding strange. Can they speak the right words, the ones they intend to use? Are their features symmetrical? Have them smile and frown to make sure their eyes and both sides of their mouth react similarly. Have them grab your hands, hard, to check their grip strength, and whether it’s about the same on both sides. Can they walk without seeming unbalanced? Can they see ok? A stroke is a very scary thing, but it’s also recoverable, these days. I hope the Davids have as happy an ending as possible. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.