I’m back! Subtitle: What I now know about having a stroke (or three)

Back in mid-December, just as I was preparing to start thinking about maybe, possibly doing a bit of Christmas shopping, my body had another idea.

Glad to be back.

Glad to be back.

As you may have read in editor’s Sarah Walker Caron’s note to BDN readers, I ended up in Eastern Maine Medical Center for a few days. The diagnosis: I’d had a stroke. And as it turns out, it wasn’t even my first … or my second.

Docs there told me that they test results showed that this stroke was likely my third … not that I’d ever bothered to head to the hospital on either of the first two, mind you.

But today (much to the chagrin of co-workers who have already tired of my incessant “Let me tell you about the time I had a stroke” stories) I’m happy to announce that I’m back.

And eventually, I’m hoping to be better than ever.

In the meantime, I’ll strive to eat better, drink less, stop chewing tobacco, and conduct myself in a manner that is more apt to result in long-term success, rather than short-term death.

The latter, you see, was exactly the path I was on.

I know, I know. I’m a columnist. I get paid to get a reaction out of folks like you. How can you trust me when I say an outrageous thing like that?

Well, over the past few weeks, I’ve learned a few things. And in the interest in sharing my knew-found knowledge with others who’ve been skating down the same slippery slope, today I’ll share a few thoughts.

Feel free to clip this column and share it with your favorite uncle or brother-in-law, if he seems to be as half-assed about health matters as I was.

So, what did I learn?

First, I learned that everything you’ve ever heard about stroke symptoms, and how to tell if you’re actually having a stroke, is (at best) an incomplete list. It’s better to err on the side of caution, and not (as I did) visit Dr. Google and try to convince yourself that your stroke is a simple pinched nerve.

Your hand does not have to turn numb … It might only feel like your fingers are tingling. Your face doesn’t have to droop …. You might just be a bit ugly, like me. Your speech doesn’t have to be slurred, and you might not even lose the ability to walk.

You still might be having a stroke. Do yourself a favor that I wish I’d done: Stop trying to focus on how few actual stroke symptoms you’re having. Instead, seek help.

I did. Eventually. (OK, it took me four days, and I only went to the emergency room after my saint of a wife demanded that I do so).

That’s when I learned another cool lesson, though I DO NOT suggest you try this pro tip yourself: If you walk into the ER, and they learn that your blood pressure is 253 over 181, you will not be required to wait in any line for the rest of the day.

Another thing I learned: Don’t ask your nurse “What’s the record?” after a blood pressure reading like mine pops up on the screen. They won’t think it’s funny. Trust me.

I learned (several times, from several different doctors) that my lifestyle needed to change. All the dietary changes that can help reduce blood pressure are under way: Less beer. More fruit. Less salt and caffeine. And much more exercise is on tap. I also learned that I ought to visit my primary care physician more often than once a decade.

And I learned that people cared. Cards and emails have poured in, as have messages on various social media platforms. I appreciated them all. For those who took the time to reach out, thank you.

Some of you have already seen me on the street, or in the office, and are curious about my prognosis. Turns out, I’m a very, very lucky man. My doctors haven’t told me that I’m suppose to avoid any specific activity, and have turned me loose to live my life again.

I’ve still got a bit of tingling in my left hand, and on the left side of my face. Both seem to be diminishing each day, and I’m finding it easier to type with that affected hand each day. Typing, as you might guess, is a pretty important occupational skill for a writer. As of today, I’m writing a bit more slowly than I used to. A possible positive: That may force me to choose my words more carefully in the future.

I never had much weakness in my left leg, but have noticed that I’m lacking a bit of control when I try to super-specific things. For instance, last week I tried to go skiing, and found it a bit more challenging than it had been before. The leg, it seemed, just wouldn’t listen.

But other than that, I feel good. Many have asked me about that, and I’m happy to be here to say that’s the truth: I feel fine.

Now for the preachy part: That, of course, is why strokes sneak up on us. We feel fine. We’re convinced that there’s nothing wrong. And then, there is.

As I keep saying, I’m a lucky guy. Very, very lucky.

And while I’ve been telling you all kinds of outdoors and sports-related stories in this space over the past 20-some years, this may be the most important message I’ve shared.

Listen to your  body. If that doesn’t work, listen to your wife, or your family. You are not bullet-proof.

And people care.

Be well.

And thanks for welcoming me back. I can’t thank you enough.

John Holyoke can be reached at jholyoke@bangordailynews.com or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.