I’ve never been ill before.
Well, you know what I mean… I’ve had my fair share of man flu, and I had the obligatory week in bed with mumps during uni, when it was confidently predicted that we would see mumpy zombies roaming the streets, attempting to bite victims until they realise they can’t move their necks. I’ve never been ill ill before.
I should probably explain what has happened – this is a picture of the arteries in your neck (took me ages to draw!) of which you have a set on the right hand side of your head, and a set on the left
The big massive one, called the carotid artery, is one of two that supplies all the blood to your brain, eyes and face, and I have managed to get a tear in the internal carotid artery, after it splits and heads towards the brain. ”How,” I hear you say, “on earth have you managed to do that?!” Well don’t be so impatient, I’ll get to that…
When I say tear, it (luckily) doesn’t mean I have blood spurting around inside my neck. An artery has such a thick wall that only the inside wall tears, but that means that your blood pressure forces it through this hole and in to the lining of the artery, and like a hose pipe if you put your foot on it, a bubble is forced out – and in to the artery itself. In my case (described as a small tear), the left artery had half closed, and therefore reduced by 50% the blood flow to the left half of my brain. Luckily, my super intelligent body compensates for this by increasing flow through the right carotid artery, but obviously this puts a lot of strain on the other side. The bubble that was forced outwards stretched a nerve that is wrapped around this artery, relating to my left eye, scalp and parts of the face. The major risk is having a stroke, either by the artery closing off completely, or by the blood clotting to attempt to heal the tear, and then this breaking off and entering the brain.
I must explain that this is an incredibly rare condition – estimated that there are under 3 cases per 100,000 people, and that some of these go undiagnosed, or are only subsequently discovered as the cause of a stroke. This sort of thing can be caused by a myriad of factors – there are underlying diseases such as Hypermobility Syndrome or even HIV, and there are external causes from the most serious car accidents down to getting your hair washed (in the USA this condition is even known as the “Beauty Parlour Stroke”). I appear to be the first person ever to do this having sex. (Me=Hero.) Suppose I best start from the beginning!
(Just going to run off the other excuses before I blame the sex!) I’ve been going to the gym fairly regularly for about 5 months, and had developed a bit of a routine (cardio, weights, core) that took me about 90 minutes to complete, and was helping me get in the best shape I’d been in since, well, forever! I was having to buy new clothes, was feeling great… then one Friday evening, I was late out of work and we were due to be going out, but I’d only been once that week so thought I would squeeze a quick session in. I stupidly managed to squeeze my usual 90 minute session into 40 minutes, and remember after a couple of the sets of weights feeling distinctly dizzy… oh well, thought nothing of it! The following day, I went to get my hair cut, and had my hair washed in one of the backwash basins that people who have had strokes are encouraged to avoid.
Had a lovely relaxing Saturday evening in, lie in on Sunday, cup of tea on my girlfriend’s sofa, bit of sexy time (as you do!)… then about 10-15 minutes after we had finished, I started getting an ache in my jaw – it felt like it was in the muscle, and this spread to my head within the next 15 minutes. The pain was incredible, I could feel the exact outline of the left half of my brain and wanted to shove my hand through my ear to rub it… after about another half an hour of this, the pain made me vomit twice, and after this I managed to keep some painkillers down and go to sleep. Looking back now, it was crazy that I didn’t go straight to hospital, but I’ve always assumed that I was a massive hypochondriac, and therefore that this wasn’t that bad and was just me being a wuss.
The following (Monday) morning, I woke up looking like an absolute mess. My left eye was severely bloodshot and painful to move, my left eyelid was drooping down (though I was able to move it) and the headache was as bad as ever. Despite this, I had to go to work as I had people off and was the only person able to open up. I just about made it in, the other staff commenting on how bad I looked… I even remember jokingly making a comment that I hoped it wasn’t something worse like a stroke :-\ I managed to make it in to work every day, feeling utterly terrible and nearly crashing my car twice, but I had assumed it was sinusitis and was taking regular doses of Sudafed and ibuprofen which were controlling the pain, so thought it would start to clear itself up eventually.
By Thursday morning, it was clear it was not getting any better, so I thought I best go to the doctor. Phoned at 8am, told to go down at 11am. As I was new, had to fill in a form, then got an incredulous look when I said I needed to see a doctor! (I know, what a dick I am!!) got an appointment for 4.50pm. Now I know GP’s work extremely hard, and they are under a lot of pressure, but if someone walks in saying they think they’ve got sinusitis, maybe you shouldn’t just write them a prescription for antibiotics?! Luckily, I complained so much about the pain in my eye that she suggested I should get it checked by an optician. I am deeply indebted to a fantastic optometrist who correctly diagnosed the “Horner’s Syndrome” which I was suffering from, and from seeing her at 3.45, I was in hospital by 5pm.
Horner’s syndrome is caused by the damage to the nerve, and is what caused the drooping eye and the incredible pain… luckily (I seem to be saying that a lot!) it doesn’t appear to have done any permanent damage, and I am now generally either pain free or just suffering with minor headache or neckache. The arterial aneurysm can cause no physical symptoms, so it is quite fortunate that I suffered symptoms enough for it to be diagnosed, without (touch wood!) it causing any permanent damage.
I had CT scans and an angiogram to confirm the damage, and was allowed home the next day. About 10 days later, I went for a stroll to buy more painkillers and began to feel very dizzy… before long, the same headache was coming on again, and I wasn’t messing around this time. I called a taxi and went straight to A&E. After about an hour, I was back under the CT scanner again, it was determined that the tear had got bigger, but that, “in the grand scheme of things, it’s still fairly small…” However, they were taking it more seriously this time. I was kept in hospital for 4 days, I saw 9 different Neurologists in total, and they even convened a big meeting to discuss me! The dilemma was that they could either leave me to heal on my own, slice me open and fix it manually, or allow a vascular surgeon to slide a metal stent up to the tear to block it off. I am glad they all came to the same conclusion; that I am young and healthy enough to heal on my own, and that the risks of surgical procedures were not outweighed by the benefits.
I’m now well in to my 4th week off now, with probably another month or so to go. The best treatment at the moment is rest, keeping my blood pressure down as much as possible so the blood flow is not upsetting the tear and allowing it to heal. I am on a large dose of aspirin to thin my blood and to stop it clotting and trying to heal the tear as a cut would, by scabbing over. The second tear is the downside of thinning the blood, as it makes it more likely to happen, but it is infinitely better than having a stroke. I’m having to take it very easy, I get tired quickly and can set off quite a serious headache incredibly easily, by moving too quickly or turning my head too sharply, and I really don’t fancy another week in hospital, listening to an old man crap in a bag…
Luckily, I’ve got the most fantastic girlfriend who has spent nearly every hour outside of work looking after me, my family and friends have rallied around to help, and work have been absolutely fantastic… only one being a dick is my housemate, but that will probably end up being another post (with lots of swearing!)
I don’t really know how to feel about it… I realise that I’m still potentially very ill, that one wrong move and I could be paralysed for life, or could even drop dead, but that in many ways I’ve been incredibly lucky! I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of the health system (and only one hot nurse!), I’ve been poked, prodded, jabbed, injected with radioactive hot ass juice twice – the dye they use to make the circulatory system show up on the scans makes you feel like you’ve been drinking petrol shots, and then feels like you’ve shat out the hottest curry ever…
Anyhoo… got distracted there! I’m trying to be very stoic about it, short term pain long term gain kind of thing, if it heals properly then this should be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, but it is very boring to do absolutely nothing every day, and I can feel the belly and moobs growing back. Very frustrating when I think of all the hard work to get rid of them! I suppose it’s a bigger picture thing though, would rather have a belly and use of all my limbs…
So I don’t think there was much point to this post… well, not quite true – I guess it’s a warning to all the blokes that you should go to the doctors, as your degree in medicine from the university of life might not be as good as you think! Also, I’m a very bored individual at the moment, so please feel free to send me anything even vaguely interesting that might keep me going for another day, and more importantly, to keep me from going mental and trying to walk up the stairs too fast.