01 December 2010

A Couple of Weeks in March

I seem to have a blind spot on the left-hand side of my head, not the right just the left. All my life and I'm 62 when writing this, I have hit my head on the left-hand side. Overhead cupboards, low doors and tree branches have all been targets for my left cranium to home in on. However, the worst of all have been motor vehicles. During our lives, we have had cars, station wagons, utilities, 4-wheel drives, vans and a light-duty truck. No matter what the the vehicle, I have continually hit my head while getting into the driver's side. (Much as I tried, Ellen always refused to get her licence.) The kids grew up to a continual refrain of words they were not allowed to use, as my head banged its way through life.

Consequently on Thursday, 23rd February, 2006 when getting in the car to go and do the weekly shopping, the act of hitting my head was not exceptional. However, I did hit it harder than usual and was quite dazed, sitting in the car for some minutes before driving off. The shopping was done and when I came home, I never thought to tell Ellen about it even if, as shown below, I was still able to remember it. I certainly didn't realise that it was going to put me in hospital for the first time in my life.

The next week or so produced a range of symptoms that something was wrong but incredibly I just saw them as strange curiosities rather than something to be concerned about. On one occasion, using the lever to raise the footrest on my chair took about three minutes while at the same time a large part of my right hand was sort of numb - "that's interesting" was my thought. On the Friday before my major symptom presented itself, loading the car with our goods to go and do the markets saw me thoroughly exhausted in a way that should have raised alarm bells. I do twenty minutes on my treadmill most mornings and that same morning saw me unable to continue after five minutes. As Ellen was going to the doctors that day I went too on the basis that I was feeling a bit run down. The doctor (not our usual GP) did all the usual checks but could find nothing wrong and just prescribed a general tonic, Accomin Vitamin Supplement.

The next morning (Saturday 4th March, 2006), we were up getting ready to go to the markets. Ellen had some Aspirin prescribed for her the previous day and she asked me to read the instuctions from the box. Well, it was here that things really went wrong. For about 10 seconds, I knew what I wanted to say but literally couldn't. Finally the words came out and in my head they sounded slurred as if I was very drunk but Ellen says that they were entirely unintelligible. She asked if I was having a stroke to which I shrugged my shoulders. She said she was ringing for an ambulance and I agreed by nodding.

When the ambulance arrived, my speech seemed to have returned and I was able to talk to the officers. I was able to walk OK and off we went in the ambulance to Wyong Hospital. My memory of events from then are a little hazy. I do remember having a catscan and an X-Ray. Apparently I had some Weet-Bix and about three sips of coffee before being put on "nil by mouth", and being told that the doctors at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney had viewed the catscan (they sent it down to them by email) and said I needed to go there straight away. By chance there was an operating slot available to me and so I was transferred by ambulance to RNSH. I vaguely remember waiting at reception (Ellen says for about two hours while my scrambled memory says half an hour, that's how good my judgement was), being asked a large number of questions after getting into intensive care and generally not really knowing what was going on. The one question I was continually asked with it taking a number of forms was, "Did you hit your head?", "Did you have a fall?", "Did somebody punch you?". No, No, No was my continual reply. I had totally forgotten hitting my head.

I remember Ellen being there and Scott and Sonia but not much else. Then I was in the operating room, they asked me to climb off my bed onto the operating table which I did. I lay down and then the mask was coming over my face and that was it. Apparently I went into the operation at about 4 o'clock. Ellen's unsure what time I came out as she was not allowed to see me for awhile but she and Sonia were eventually allowed into intensive care at about half past seven. I really don't remember much of them being there except that Sonia got me some crushed ice and they helped me drink a cup of coffee through a straw because I was not allowed to sit up. In fact I had to stay on my back for about a day because of the drain in my head. Ellen and Sonia left to go home about 9 o'clock and I was probably transferred to the step-down unit at about 10 o'clock.

The upshot of the problem was that when I had hit my head, the force was so great that I had torn the outer layer surrounding the brain (called I think, the meninges) and that the blood from this was accumulating, forming what was sort of like a giant blood blister. Apparently if this hardens and forms a clot it eventually penetrates the brain with all sorts of disastrous consequences from severe strokes to death. My operation was a procedure to clean up and repair the damage and to insert a draining process whereby all the excess fluid is drained out so that the "blood blister" doesn't form - hence having to stay on my back for 24 hours for the drain to work. A warm vote of thanks here to neurosurgeon Dr. Little and the team which worked with him for the expert and neat job they did in the operation.

Once the drain was out I became a part of the normal observation procedure. It was at one of these obs on Tuesday that an extraordinary (to me) thing happened. The nurse had just taken my blood pressure, temp, etc. and was writing the details in the chart. I was sitting on a chair beside by the bed when I suddenly exclaimed "Oh!". She turned around enquiring what was wrong. It was very strange, the memory of hitting my head had just come back and it had done so with a force which caused the exclamation. It was all there in "technicolour". She very quickly recorded the details. Doctors later said that the memory loss was not unusual and that it often did come back.

From then on I had a fairly normal recovery process. Ellen decided to stay at Sonia's place at Gosford. She and Sonia came down by train on the Sunday and then Ellen came down by herself on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The phone service into the hospital was a very useful tool allowing a large number of relatives, both mine and Ellen's to ring while quite a few also came to visit. I was really surprised by the number of contacts and gratefully say thankyou to them all.

Thursday 9th March was discharge day and Scott and Sonia arrived to pick me up and drive me home. We came back to their place where we had lunch and then Sonia drove Ellen and me back to Buff Point. Adventure over - or so we thought but it was not to be. It would be great to be able to sleep in my own bed again and after watching a little television I went to bed, feeling very good. However at quarter to five the next morning I awoke with a strange feeling in my right hand and right foot. One thing I had learned in hospital was to stop and observe my symptoms, so I waited as the feeling (even now I don't have an appropriate word for it) moved about first up my right arm to the elbow and then also up the right leg to the knee. It continued to move around these limbs for awhile but then it started to happen in my left hand. My brain injury was on the left so any consequences should be on my right side only. I shouldn't be getting effects on my left and the feeling was starting to get much stronger. I decided it was time to wake Ellen and did so. She rang Wyong hospital and talked to them and they said I needed to be got in there as quickly as possible, so she called the ambulance again.

By the time the ambulance had arrived, it was about six o'clock and Ellen still hadn't eaten and her diabetes was starting to spin her out. I had never seen her like this before and was really concerned, so I insisted that she stay and have her food while I go to the hospital alone. We arrived at Wyong and into A & E again where coincidently I was placed in the same bay as the previous Saturday. As a nice touch the nurse who had been my attending nurse the previous Saturday recognised me and came and had a talk to find out how I was getting on.

The same observation process began although this time I had brought the catscan and report which RNSH had given me to give to my GP for them to look at. RNSH was contacted and they ordered a new catscan which was done even with the nine staples and one stich still in my head. Apparently this revealed nothing new so they decided that the problem lay more in the convulsive area, probably arising in the settling down process following all the previous trauma. Wyong was not the appropriate hospital to dispense this treatment and so another ambulance transfer occurred to take me to Gosford Hospital.

Friday was spent mainly getting to know the other three blokes on the ward although I was visited at about five o'clock by two doctors who went through the identical assessment procedures as those done at Wyong. Their view was for a continuation of the medication (200ml Epilum) until the neurologist saw me and "given nothing much happened on week-ends" this would probably be Monday. As it turned out Dr. Sturm did drop in for a flying visit on Saturday morning where he increased the dosage to 500ml. Over Friday, Saturday and Sunday the symptoms gradually lessened and finally disappeared. They removed the stitch and four of the staples on Sunday and then removed the other five staples on Monday. They also gave me an EEG on the Monday with the preliminary results being positive.

My cousin Margarette had just recently moved to Gosford and on Saturday she went and picked Ellen up and they came in to see me. Sonia also came in to take Ellen home and so Ellen was again staying at Sonia's however this time the hospital was only a five minute drive away. Ellen was with me on late Monday afternoon when Dr Sturm agreed I could go home so we left on Monday night and since then there have appeared to be no problems. I have a six week period from my discharge from RNSH where I am not allowed to drive and this makes sense to me but aside from that life seems to have returned to normal.

One thing must be mentioned before I finish this and that is the wondrous attitude and approach of all the doctors, nurses, wardsmen and wardswomen. It was truly inspiring. How these people work with such skill, dedication and especially patience when equipment around them is continually failing is beyond me. Thankyou all of you.

This certainly was a couple of weeks I could have done without. When I finally am able to drive again and am getting in the right-hand side of a car, I am going to have to develop a new way of doing so, so as to avoid ever hitting my head again. I hope I am successful.

John Owen
22 March 2006

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