Day 1: The Beginning

Stroke? I’m 34 years old and in relatively good health. I thought strokes were associated with the elderly?

Date: January 3, 2017. Time: approximately 4:30am. My wife and are asleep in bed in our D.C. row home.

Boom! An explosion! It jolted me forward out of my sleep. It’s pitch black. My head hurts worse now than it’s ever hurt before. I’m confused. I can’t see anything. Was this explosion inside our home? Was it outside our home? Is Crissy ok? “Crissy, where are you?” Are you ok?” I began yelling. I couldn’t hear anything except what sounded like a freight train in my head. The friction in my brain felt as if I was being repeatedly run over by that same train. I then remember screaming in pain several times about how bad my head hurt and some shooting pain in my arm. Crissy was awake and trying to calm and comfort me. I was having another one of what we thought was just a really bad migraine. All of this took place in about 10 seconds and I was the only one in any physical pain.

After nearly four hours of Crissy sitting by my side, administering medicine, placing cold cloths on my forehead, and trying to soothe my pain, the sledgehammer inside my brain trying to break through finally slowed down and I fell back to sleep. Rather than join me in getting a little rest, Crissy jumped into action. She called her best friend Sarina Raina (Sethi) because Sarina’s father is a neurologist and sought to see if he could help us immediately. I’ve long been a migraine sufferer –since about 10 years old – and my neurologist at the time had not been responsive to a bad rut of migraines in December 2016. Dr. Baljeet Sethi had us come in right away and told my wife my symptoms sounded as if I had a stroke.

We got into the car for the 45-minute ride south to Dr. Sethi’s office at the Neurology Clinic in Waldorf, Maryland. It was cold, but not frigid. I’m hurting. It’s too bright for my eyes intolerant of the sun so I'm keeping them closed behind my prescription sunglasses. I’m nauseous. I start focusing on one word and one word only.

Stroke?

I’m 34 years old and in relatively good health. I thought strokes were associated with the elderly? The only youthful person I'm familiar to have had a stroke is former New England Patriot linebacker Tedy Bruschi. Think what you want there about football, concussions, player safety, and strokes. I never had a diagnosed concussion nor a heart issue so the natural thought is what’s wrong with me? This is scary and serious. Ok, try to stay calm. You’re still in a lot of pain and medicine is simply masking it. You can’t even move your left arm, it hurts and it’s limp. Try not to let your head spin and let any anxiety creep into this situation that will only serve to make matters worse. Be as stoic in the face of fear as possible. Don’t scare your wife. We’re newlyweds. She doesn’t deserve this. She deserves a husband that can take care of her and not the other way around. As much pain as I was in, I could not evade the word "stroke." I began thinking about my paternal grandparents who each had their bouts with a stroke. The doctor’s appointment cannot come soon enough. It’s the one time I actually wish Crissy would drive like Danica Patrick.

Dr. Sethi said the physical symptoms were classic signs of a stroke: the pain in the head, the impairment on one side, the slouching, slurred speech, and inability to use my left wrist and fingers, and many more things he saw. He was very concerned about my inability to move my left hand, wrist, and shoulder - key in on this part as this is just THE BEGINNING. Unequivocally, Dr. Sethi told us migraines alone do not cause what was going on in my left arm. His bet was stroke. The only ways to confirm a stroke diagnosis versus learn of something else would be to order labs and testing: blood work, MRI, carotid doppler imaging, EEG, EMG, and maybe a few others I might be forgetting. I had my work cut out for me in order to find out what was plaguing me.

Dr. Sethi’s plan of action was to schedule the exams for stoke and begin treating with medications that could have dual benefit for migraine and/or stroke. The tests would be administered over a couple of weeks. He provided some samples and also prescribed Trokendi, a newer generation of both Qudexy XR and Topamax, as well as some new options to abort migraines at onset. Ultimately, my insurance, United Healthcare, only paid for the generic topiramate, but it worked to get rid of the migraines. Man, was that a battle, but I’ll leave the insurance companies be for now. Side Note: I’m proud to say at the time of this posting I’ve not had a single headache let alone a migraine since I began seeing Dr. Sethi.

As Crissy was helping dress me to leave the appointment, I remember feeling somewhat comforted knowing an extremely caring doctor, a friend of ours’ father, was tending to my care. Yet, I felt a pit in my stomach, not to mention my head still hurt and my arm hurt. I remember looking into Crissy’s beautiful blue eyes and my eyes welled up, but I didn’t cry. I saved it for the car ride home.

The trek back to D.C. began silent. I’m still not sure if it was because Crissy was being kind to me since noise increased the headache pain or if she was also in a state of shock. It was probably both. I always crave silence when going through migraine symptoms. Let’s correct that, I always crave silence for maybe that one time. With only the noise of the engine and the road, the same dark fear I felt during the drive to the appointment was back. I broke down. Tears were flowing with both physical pain and raw emotion. I felt powerless to change my health situation in that moment. I felt as if I had somehow failed my wife, my family, and her family. I worried I would struggle to hold up wedding vows to take care of my wife. What would become of my young marriage? What would all of this mean for my long-term health going forward? How would this affect my career short and long term?

Upon arriving home, Crissy helped me take the next doses of medicine and get rest for the challenging days ahead.

Beat CRPS.

Jason

2 comments

Glenn Zimmerman

Jason,
I just read the beginning and my heart goes out to you. Stay brave and stong. You are a fighter.
Call me anytime.
Glenn

Glenn, you’re amazing. You’ve been there for me since day one when this thing began. All of your calls, texts, and visits have definitely helped me fight. Thank you, cousin. You rock! Love you, man.

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