Many of us have had a physical reaction to the pandemic. I’ve heard many people mention that they have gained a COVID 15. The pandemic has given me time to focus on certain areas of my life that I’ve neglected – most significantly my health and wellness. A month or two before the pandemic, I started focusing on eating healthier and moving more. Then COVID-19 came along, putting an end to my frequent business travel. That made it easier for me to stick to healthier eating habits while helping me to avoid those lunches, dinners, and drinks with clients and friends. In the pre-pandemic world, I would plan my weekly travel itinerary around meals at great restaurants with good friends.
The end result has been that I’ve lost 30 pounds so far and would like to lose ten more. I’ve been sitting at the 30-pound mark for a couple of months. Stalled. Despite that, I’m still excited about the progress I’ve made. But that’s not the story I wanted to share in this post.
That’s the context for this story. A few weeks ago I was sitting at my office in downtown Durham, NC, after having completed a couple of early morning client meetings. Nothing out of the ordinary was going on. Because of the pandemic, I am often the only person on this floor of our office building and that was the case on that Tuesday morning. At about 10:45am I noticed my left arm started to tingle – from my shoulder down to my fingertips. It felt like I hit my funny bone. The tingling persisted for a couple of minutes and I got concerned. I knew I didn’t have any chest pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath, so I didn’t think I was having a heart attack. I actually felt fine other than being slightly nervous about that tingling in my arm. Then, after two minutes, the tingling subsided.
I decided to go to the hospital as a precaution. Since I was the only person on my floor of the office building, I could envision myself passing out and not having anyone around to help or call 911. So I decided to shoot off an email to one of my colleagues, letting him know that I was heading to the ED, so he could let my other coworkers know that I would be unreachable for a bit. Unfortunately, when I went to type the email, I couldn’t make my left hand move. It was numb. I couldn’t even grip my cell phone.
So, I decided to just call an Uber and head over to Duke’s ED which is only a four-minute drive from my office. Of course, as I pulled up the Duke App on my iPhone, my credit card information had expired. Predictable! With my right hand, I updated the credit card info and ordered the Uber (it was only 4 minutes away). By this time only 5 minutes had passed but it seemed like an eternity. I took the elevator down to the street level and walked outside to meet the Uber. By the time I hit the fresh air, my symptoms were gone. The feeling in my left hand and arm had returned but my grip was a bit weaker than usual; so maybe I was at 90%. I really debated getting in the Uber given the symptoms had subsided.
My Uber arrived and we took the short ride over to Duke Hospital’s ED. Less than fifteen minutes had passed from the time I first noticed tingling in my arm until I arrived at Duke. I called my wife from the Duke ED to let her know what was going on. The team at Duke was amazing. They swarmed around me and had me undergoing a CT scan within minutes. The CT scan showed no bleeding or hemorrhaging, so it didn’t look like a stroke. They were stumped and decided to keep me overnight for observation and to run more tests. Eventually, I had a CT Angiogram, an MRI, and an Echocardiogram in addition to the original CT scan.
The following morning, the neurology team visited me and let me know that my MRI showed that I had indeed suffered a stroke. The medical report states that I a tiny cortical infarction in the right precentral gyrus within the hand knob, which correlated with my report of left-hand weakness. It was stunning news to hear that I had a stroke; after all, I just spent the better part of a year trying to improve my health by losing 30 pounds. And there is some weird, irrational part of me that keeps saying that I am way too young to have this kind of a health issue. Of course, since this happened, I’ve met a number of people who have shared stories about having strokes at ages I consider to be too young.
I’m not sure what lessons I’ve learned from this experience. I already knew that life is fragile and fleeting so it should not be taken for granted. The stroke was a powerful reminder that I need to focus even more intently on my health. I saw more doctors in February than I’ve seen in the last 10 years (as a patient). And the month of March will be filled with follow-up appointments. The other thing I’ve been thinking about is the financial cost of a health event like this if I did not have health insurance. For people who don’t have health insurance, an event like this would be something they might never recover from financially. I’m grateful that I am among those who have health insurance.
This health scare really was a stroke of luck. I believe I have a better chance of living a long, healthy life as a result of this event. I wouldn’t say that this was a wake-up call, but it did reveal hidden health issues (such as an irregular heartbeat) that will now be treated. I’m so fortunate to have escaped this episode with no long-term negative impact. For the time being, I’m pacing myself and trying to improve my work-life balance. And I’ve had amazing support from my wife (Scotti) and my cadre of friends around the country. For all of that, I am extremely grateful. It will be awesome when this pandemic ends and I can once again hug my closest friends!