Learning the banjo (again) after a stroke – Part 1

I’ve not written about this anywhere until now. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about without another word. Others have no idea what has been going on over the past several years. I know it’s long over due, so here goes.

Friday morning, April 18th, 2014 I went to work as usual. At 8:20 am, I was just making my to-do list for the day, as is my habit. Maybe I’ll make a pot of coffee in a minute, I thought to myself. I opened the drawer to make sure I had some coffee. Great! I have some freshly ground from The Kaffeeklatsch downtown; now to go get water… Just then, I felt dizzy; so dizzy, yet not like I was losing my balance. Dizzy in a new, unusual way. Maybe 20 seconds went by. I then tried to put my to-do list in my shirt pocket, but my left hand wouldn’t make it there. It simply wouldn’t respond. My brain did not know where my left hand was! That’s when I knew what was happening.

I was having a stroke.

You’ve heard people say how your life flashes before you in times of great peril; how, in a fraction of a second, you make overarching judgments of your life’s worth and value. Is this the end? Am I really prepared to meet God?  Will it get any worse in a few seconds? What sort of pain and suffering will I encounter? That, combined with a sudden, almost existential, realization of everything minute and trivial surrounding you: is this really happening? To me? How? Why?! No!!!

True to descriptions, this thought process played out over the next one or two seconds, with reverberations of the same over the next ten seconds or so.

Stelling Red Fox Banjo

Then back to the reality of the moment: I needed help, but I was at work with no one especially close by. It was still a quiet Friday morning. My boss and only co-worker were in DC; only the people working a different contract were out in the rest of our wing of the building. But I couldn’t walk! I tried calling out, as best I could but to no avail – all use of the left side of my body, including much of my ability to talk was now gone.

Well, I had to do something. I thought of the absurdity of me staying at my desk all day until it was time to go home, as if that would fix anything. I did finally manage to scoot along the wall over to where Dorian was sitting in her cubicle.

“Hey Dorian… I’m fine, how are you? Umm…actually I’m not ok. Hey listen, I don’t mean to scare you or anything… but I’m having a stroke…”

Immediately, she and Jason helped me back to my desk, where we discussed the next step. It only took a minute to see we needed to call 911. I broke out in a cold sweat, the only real discomfort during that whole process. It seemed like a mere 10 seconds until I heard the paramedics approaching; a mere 10 minutes it seemed until I was tracing out the labyrinthine ceiling tiles of Huntsville Hospital, hoping for some odd reason to be able to remember my way out. As it turned out, finding my way out wouldn’t be necessary for quite a while.

After being wheeled into the neurological area of the emergency room, I was prepped for an MRI, or maybe it was a CAT scan. I have forgotten which came first. About this time, my wife and children arrived. Dorian had called them on my cell phone back at the office.

The first test didn’t find anything. It was obvious I was having a stroke but was it ischemic or hemorrhagic? The treatment is exactly the opposite for each, with potentially fatal consequences if misapplied. Time was wasting, though. If the stroke was being caused by a blood clot blockage – an ischemic stroke – then the application of the drug TCP within the first 3 hours or so could help tremendously in reversing the effects of the stroke. The results from the second test came back quickly – the CAT scan, maybe – I wasn’t terribly concerned about what it was called. It revealed that a tiny clot, too tiny for the first test to detect, had been found in a most critical location: my basal ganglion.

To be continued…

Part 2 Part 3

About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Software Engineer and part-time banjo instructor. My wife Miiko and I worship at Rivertree Downtown. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin and dulcimer at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play and teach Scruggs, melodic, clawhammer, and 2-finger styles. I'm also very keen on theology, being a Trail Care Partner with the Land Trust of North Alabama, photography, urban planning, architecture, astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, martial arts, and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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2 Responses to Learning the banjo (again) after a stroke – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Learning the banjo (again) after a stroke – Part 2 | Phill Gibson

  2. Pingback: Learning the banjo (again) after a stroke – Part 3 | Phill Gibson

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