Monday, August 25, 2008

Now, for Something Completely Different

The Reeds in Italy
Part One: The Attack of the Transient Ischemics

Well folks, the last we chatted was two weeks ago, as Renita and I were just setting foot in Nigeria and planning for a time of learning and evaluation from our colleagues in the central plateau city of Jos. Then last week, Renita returned to Liberia and took up blog duty, and I planned on attending a conference on good governance sponsored by the Micah Network. However on Sunday afternoon (the 17th), I experienced something completely unlike anything I ever had before. It was one of the weirdest trips I’ve ever been on, and I’ve been on a few. While munching on some nuts and talking with a friend, I began to notice I was stuttering. Buy the time 30 seconds had passed, I not only could not pronounce certain words, but I could not even figure out what word was supposed to go where. Even if I could figure out the word, I could not say it. When I attempted to spell, I couldn’t imagine the letters. It was fascinating. I thought I’d eaten some bad peanuts. I also suddenly had a bad headache. I called Renita and after doing some research, she said what I had sounded like a TIA. (Transient Ischemic Attack)

Called “mini-strokes,” TIAs occur when blood in the neck or head is blocked from reaching a portion of the brain. A TIA can affect several different functions, and with me it started with my speech, but on Monday I had a severe headache and my vision was affected, on Tuesday I had another episode with inability speak, on Wednesday my left hand and left side of my face and even tongue (Now that’s weird!) went numb, and by this time the doctors in Jos were insisting on an “emergency evacuation” to a hi tech hospital before I blew a major gasket. Everyone was now certain these were TIAs, and the stroke clock was ticking. The trusty American Heart Association warns us to treat suspected TIAs like stokes and that many people who get TIAs go on to have a major stroke within a year. So I was more than willing to get to a hospital with the most modern facilities. But where? Where would our brand new insurance company send me?

Buongiorno! On Wednesday I was told I’d be Medivacced (sp?) out of Africa to the Istituto Clinico Humanitas in romantic Milan Italy the next morning. Of course I'd rather go to Michigan, but Milan would do. I was ready. But the next morning came, then the day came--and went, and I was told the emergency would have to wait another day. Friday morning came and went, and finally around 1:00pm we got off the ground in our personal-sized jet. We were supposed to be in Milan around 6:00pm, but due to two refueling delays, we did not arrive until midnight. I had a great time onboard with the Kenyan medical staff and English pilots. Real characters. I kept telling them that, with all the delays, “It’s a good thing nobody’s sick.”

And really, I wasn’t. My symptoms had subsided, and with my recent back pain gone after two months of killing me, I felt better that I had in months. As soon as I got to the hospital, they drew blood and put me into a CT scan. They immediately determined there was “no current emergency” and at 1:30am I was wheel-chaired to my room. After a few hours of sleep, the tests continued—more BP, EKG, Dopler/vein artery test, then I met the head of the department, watched the Olympics in Italian, and rejoiced at 2:00pm as my lovely wife appeared at my doorway. And joy of joys, the hospital staff said she could stay with me while I’m here. Conjugal visits! Finally, to top off our first day, a little later we met with my neurologist, and after a very nice and relieving chat, she ended our conversation by deepening the mystery of these strange episodes—she doubts they were TIAs at all.

Next Time-- The Reeds in Italy Part Two: Rounding Up the Unusual Suspects

In the medivac jet - here Larry our pilot self administers a sobriety test under the supervision of Joseph the doctor. He was too drunk to tell if he passed.

James, my Kenyan nurse, takes the stretcher while I support him from the chair.

The ambulance took us to the Instituto Clinco Humanitas, where I was met by this guy. No additional comment necessary.
And this lady. A little camera shy, but definitely not shy with needles. She wheeled me up to my room...

...where the next day Renita joined me, exhausted, after a long flight and a longer week.

One building (mine) of the huge Instituto Clinico Humanitas complex, a truly world-class teaching hospital. If they can't figure me out here, it ain't gonna happen anywhere.


Lorraine said...

Bob, Bob, Bob . . . only you can crack me up while talking about a major health scare.

It's a good thing you have Renita there to talk some sense into you . . . ;-)

Seriously, I'm glad you're doing okay and I hope/pray that they figure things out. I'll save my rant about, "don't let them tell you it's just because of your weight!" for another day.

and seriously? you are funnier than David Sedaris . . .

Smashley said...

Bob, feel better soon! I'm still checking your blog daily since I found it months ago. Hopefully your attack was just something "special" in the nuts and not a TIA ;)