So there I was about two weeks ago, having just sat down in a meeting with a customer, when I started to get migraine symptoms. My right hand and foot got tingly and numb, and my vision started blurring slightly.
“Great,” I thought to myself. It had been a couple of years since I had a migraine. Migraines aren’t just really bad headaches. It infuriates me when people are at work and they say something like, “I’ve been fighting a migraine all day.”
Bitch, please. You can fight a headache. You don’t fight a real migraine. A migraine is the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. A migraine is Mike Tyson, and you’re Michael Spinks. When I get a migraine, I typically ask people to hide sharp objects, because I have a legitimate fear that I might try to harm myself to end it.
Luckily, I was somewhat of a silent observer in this session, so I figured that all I had to do was endure the symptoms long enough to get through the meeting and get to a pharmacy. I haven’t carried any Imitrex with me in quite some time—I used to keep a little single-dose pen in my car that was actually a needle that I could jam into my thigh if needed. It also occurred to me that this meeting was taking place in Peoria, and my hotel was in Chicago, over three hours away. No worries, I thought. I will just drive to the closest hotel and get a room for the night, regardless of what it costs.
By the time the meeting was over, I could tell that this wasn’t going to be even a normal migraine. I had no feeling at all in the right side of my body, and I had a severe “aura.” If you haven’t experienced a migraine, auras are difficult to describe. It’s like somebody has dropped a particularly strange vignette-style Instagram filter over your eyes. Everything is blurry. All sources of light and sound become sources of immense pain. It’s borderline unbearable.
My colleague returned me to my rental car, and I apologized to him that we were going to have to cut our day together short. I got in the car, pointed myself to the highway, and just started driving.
That’s when things got incredibly strange.
As I was driving, I realized that the sounds from radio were causing me immense pain. So I went to turn off the radio, but I realized that I didn’t know how to do it. All the knobs were exactly the same as they had been on the three-hour drive from Chicago to Peoria, but they no longer made any sense to me. I started randomly pushing the buttons, but all that did was switch it from Sirius radio to AM, and the AM signal was even worse—it was just loud noise.
I looked down at the dashboard of the car, and the instruments no longer made any sense to me—the speedometer, the tachometer, the odometer, they were all completely foreign.
I started to feel like I was slowly losing my mind. I started just saying things to jog my memory. I said my address out loud—or at least I tried to. It wouldn’t come out. I could think it in my head, but I couldn’t say it. I knew my name, though, so I tried to say that. All I could say was my first name—over and over. I couldn’t say my middle or last name. So I thought to myself, I’m going to spell my name. I tried to say “M-A-R-K.”
I heard the following sounds come out of my mouth: “I-Z-3-4”
I couldn’t think of my children’s names. I couldn’t remember anything about how to operate a car other than how to steer and use the gas and brakes. Every instrument on the dashboard, including the turn signals, headlights, all of the steering wheel controls, were completely unreadable and unusable. My brain was simply losing more and more function by the second. Worst of all, I knew it.
I panicked. Badly. I remembered that I needed to go to a hotel, but when I drove past a highway sign that had lodging on it, I couldn’t read it. I recognized the symbols for Courtyard Marriott and Homewood Suites, but I didn’t know what they meant. So I just kept driving, hoping against hope that something was going to start making sense to me. I KNEW that I shouldn’t be driving in my condition, but I honestly couldn’t remember how to STOP driving.
And then, after some undetermined amount of time, the low fuel light came on the dash of my rental Impala. I knew that it meant something bad, but I couldn’t really remember what. Then, somewhere, out of the reaches of my mind, the word “fuel” started to come to me. I knew that I needed to put more fuel in the car, but I didn’t know what that meant.
I saw a sign on the side of the road that had the same word that was appearing on my dash. FUEL. I figured that I should try to drive myself to that sign and, hopefully, I’d know what to do when I got there.
I maneuvered the Impala to the gas station, slowed down until I was next to a gas pump, and stopped the car. I knew I needed to turn it off, but I couldn’t figure out how, so I just got out of the car and left it running. I got out of the car and was immediately left breathless by the negative degrees of the Illinois environment. There I was, standing in a thousand-dollar suit, a beautiful charcoal overcoat, and black Allen Edmonds Park Avenues in front of a gas pump, and I didn’t know what to do. So I grabbed the pump and started pushing every button I could find. Nothing worked. I somehow remembered to put the nozzle into the tank (how I parked the car on the right side of the pump, I have no idea), but I didn’t know what else to do.
So I walked into the gas station where a young woman, looking exactly how you might imagine a young woman working at a gas station in the middle of Nowhere, Illinois might look, was standing behind the counter. She smiled and said, “How may I help you sir?”
I stood, rooted to the spot, trying to figure out how to respond to her. I was in incredible pain. I knew that I had virtually none of my vocabulary available to me, but I also knew that I needed to communicate to her that I needed help. So I fought against every part of my brain to find these words, which I spoke to her:
“Please. Help. I am having a bad pain. I need fuel for my…my…I need fuel. I don’t know how. Can you help?”
This wonderful, angelic girl, realized something was terribly wrong. Despite the fact that she was working the gas station by herself, she put on her coat and came outside to brave the arctic temperatures. I just handed her my wallet, because I knew that I needed to pay for it, but nothing in there made sense to me. She walked to the pump and pulled out one of my credit cards and asked me how much gas I wanted.
Gas. That word didn’t make sense. So I just started at her blankly. I said, “I need fuel.” She replied, shivering badly because her coat was insufficient for the weather, “Okay, sir. HOW MUCH?”
I knew she was talking to me like I was mentally disabled, and it really made me angry. I almost started crying in frustration, because I KNEW that I couldn’t find the words to answer her. Finally, I figured out how to say, “All of it, please.”
She filled my tank, handed me a receipt, and asked me, “Sir, are you okay?”
“Yes, I am ok. Bad pain. Very bad pain. But I’m okay.”
She looked extremely concerned, but she also looked extremely cold, and she must have decided that the cold was worse than her concern, because she then sprinted back into the store.
I opened the door and sat back down in the Impala. I don’t know if it was the sudden temperature change, or what it was, but all of a sudden—POW. My brain came back. Everything made sense again. I still had pretty bad pain, but it was exponentially better than it had been just moments ago. All the instruments in the car made sense again. I finally turned off the AM radio. I looked at my phone and entered my destination into my Maps application. Just like that, I was back to being me.
I joyously said the names of my children. I sang out my address.
Then, I called my doctor. I explained what had happened. He told me that I had a “Transient Ischemist Attack,” or a “mini-stroke,” and that I needed to come see him when I got home. “Remember the news reporter from LA?” he said. “That’s what happened to you. There’s likely no permanent damage, but we just want to make sure.”
So I went to get an MRI (not before I went to buy my Fiesta ST, though—priorities!), and I’m happy to report that there was no damage to my brain (insert joke here). All my vitals—blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI—are fine. My doctor says no treatment is needed unless it happens again.
I struggled with whether or not I wanted to share this with you, the Doghouse readership, but I figured that I was incredibly lucky to have survived this incident. After the fact, I was able to determine that I had been driving for almost sixty miles, totally unable to think or speak. I could have killed myself. I could have killed somebody else. I thank God that I didn’t. If reading my story helps you recognize the signs of a TIA earlier so that you can get help, then it will have been worth sharing it.
God bless, and happy weekend!