A Sherpa guides me to the reality of a stroke


I don’t remember the names of doctors or nurses, although they were offered. Forgive the social faux pas – I have suffered a trauma of the brain.

One woman doctor (whose name I knew later) offered me a chance at a lottery. She was doing research on giving oxygen to stroke victims, and would I like to play? Sure. (I mean shake the head yes, since there isn’t body language for “sure.”) Choose one number at random. No oxygen. That’s my losing lottery number in this game called life. And now they would ask me series of questions about how I felt while I was in hospital and I would always be on the “no oxygen” side. Somehow I feel cheated. On the face of it, wouldn’t you rather have the essence of life rather than a great big nothing?

I’ll have to check the results of the research.

 “Doctors find giving oxygen to stroke victims reverses symptoms”  – I’m expecting the headline to read.

One thing that Amoret brought me in hospital was my first set of pyjamas. This may not sound like a big deal, but I haven’t had PJ’s since I graduated to long trousers. T-shirt and underwear did it for me.

(There was one time when I first got to Louisiana State University in the Sixties that I stayed with friend at the outdoor pool – the pool was outside, we slept inside. But it was so hot, that at night we used to go swimming au naturel and run to the beds and hope we fell asleep before we dried off. It didn’t always work.)

I say a pair of pyjamas, but really it was just the bottoms. I wear a T-shirt on top. The pyjamas are a light grey with white and black vertical stripes, and black tying strings. Cotton. I’d mention the brand name except that the Office of Fair Trading is cracking down on celebrities who mention brand names in blogs and tweets as a way of product placements and getting freebie stuff. (Florence & Fred at Tesco)

The whirling coterie of doctors and apprentices came upon me again to explain the next test I’d be entered in. It was an X-ray of veins in my neck and for the time they explained what I had: they thought it was an ischaemic stroke when something blocks an artery that carries blood to the brain, and this test would tell them the extent of the stroke.

I get a wheelchair for trip to the test, a myriad journey through hospital corridors so complex I expect piles of corn to a reward us at least, such is the rat-like journey. I am given a Sherpa guide for the journey. He nods to other Sherpa guiding wheelchairs, gurneys and ambulatory patients through the arteries that make up this giant. In some ways it is an allegory for my internal system – if something were to block the arteries of this hospital the Sherpas and their patients would pile up and it would make the building walk with a slant to the right and talk gibberish.

Outside the Vascular Studies Unit, his mission accomplished with no blockages, I am abandoned by the Sherpa to sit alone with my thoughts. I have the admission ticket in my lap. I wait, in the hospital time zone, a few minutes. In the real world, close to an hour. Another side effect of the stroke is that I don’t mind being kept waiting – that is I’m easily entertained by my own thoughts and not swearing revenge for time wasters.

(On a recent visit to a surgeon this month at the same hospital [for a kidney stone operation that came empty] the appointment had been re-scheduled three times by the surgeon. I was kept waiting nearly 30 minutes when a nurse called my name, showed me into the consulting room and said the doctor would be with me shortly. I asked how long “shortly” would be. Well, the doctor is running behind you see…possibly 15 minutes. I took out my letter showed the appointment time – 11 am – and said he had rescheduled three times so I guessed the time was convenient to him. I’m waiting five minutes and then I’m gone I told her. He showed up in 4 minutes. I guess the effects of the stroke are wearing off.)

I laid still for the X-rays as they invisibly penetrated the skin of my neck to reveal the extent of the damage underneath and I don’t remember whether I saw them there or later, but there was a black line, as though the clear flow in the vein on the left was coloured in with a black marker pen. Half of the blood flow from my neck to my brain is permanently blocked.

It was the bleakest sign yet of the reality of my stroke.

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