Stroke - Mark Y.
Denial can be a dangerous thing, especially when it’s about your health. Falling into the trap of denying the warning signs of illness can happen to anyone, even to an experienced health care professional.
That’s what Good Samaritan Hospital recovery room nurse Mark Youngblood RN, 55, learned on a spring morning, when he got up early to go to the gym before work. Somehow Mark knew he was feeling different than he ever had before, but he told himself everything was OK. And his wife Linda, also a nurse, agreed.
As Mark began getting on his workout clothes, he wasn’t able to use his left hand to put on his sock. The arm felt numb all the way up to the elbow and he couldn’t control it. He and Linda decided he had simply slept on his hand wrong.
“When this kind of thing happens, you want everything to be OK. You don’t want to recognize it might be a warning sign of serious illness,” recalls Mark. “And you can’t necessarily trust your loved ones, because they don’t want to admit it either.”
Mark didn’t go to the gym that morning, but returned to bed. Later, when he got up, he noticed the next warning sign. As he took a swallow of his morning coffee, he couldn’t feel the sensation of heat on the left side of his mouth. Still, his denial continued.
He headed for work, the symptoms seeming to get better. Fortunately, Mark works at a hospital with a top notch Comprehensive Stroke Center—because his denial was soon to end. After caring for two patients just out of surgery, he happened to see the hospital’s Stroke Program Coordinator, Tony Fitzgerald RN. When Mark recounted the morning’s experience, Tony lost no time in sending him directly to the Emergency Room.
“That’s when I started crying, because I knew something was not right and I was going to have to face reality,” he said. “It was a very surreal feeling. I’ve called stroke alerts and identified patients with stroke before, but I never thought it would happen to me.”
A brain scan confirmed what Mark had been denying all morning. He had suffered a stroke. A blood clot had entered his brain, blocking one of the blood vessels. The blockages deprived the brain of some of the oxygen it needs to function, and this caused his symptoms.
The doctors started him on medication to help stop any further clots from forming. He spent the next week in the hospital as his medical team worked to determine what had caused the stroke and how they could prevent it from happening again. More surprises were in store.
The source of Mark’s stroke was a blood clot blocking a vein in his right lower leg. This was unexpected because he had no pain, redness or swelling in the leg. Just as surprising, doctors discovered a hole in his heart, which had been undetected his entire life. Both of these conditions increased Mark’s chances of having a stroke.
In his case, a smaller clot had broken off of the clot in his leg and traveled to his heart. The hole allowed the clot to travel from the right side to the left side of his heart. From there, it moved to the brain. This occurs in only 1% of people with a hole in their heart and a blood clot that travels into the heart.
Mark was off work for seven weeks. He was fortunate that the problem resolved on its own without the need for more aggressive intervention. Nevertheless, he was comforted by the knowledge that, if he had needed clot busting drugs or another special procedure, the experienced Stroke Team at Good Samaritan was ready to perform these procedures at a moment’s notice.
Now, Mark is back to work full time with no restrictions. He continues on anticoagulants to help avoid another stroke. Once the blood clot in his leg is completely dissolved, he will make the decision about having surgery to close the hole in his heart.
“I’m happy to share my story if it helps someone else with their denial, so they will admit something is wrong and seek help,” says Mark. “When you know something about your health is terribly different, act on it. Learn the warning signs of stroke and, if your symptoms match some of these signs, get to the hospital as soon as possible. Minutes can make the difference.