Anise – Hope is the Thing with Feathers

It was a Tuesday morning when my 2-year-old son and I walked to a café. Once we sat down, I gave my son, Brooks, his bagel, and he dove right in. Other customers laughed good-naturedly because of the mess he was making. They mentioned how cute he was, I smiled, agreed, took a bite of my bagel….

Suddenly, I heard buzzing so loud that I reflexively looked at other people to see how they were reacting. I think I asked my son if he could hear it. I covered my ears trying to block it out the noise before realizing it was coming from inside of my head.

I felt nauseous and dizzy. I tried to unlock my phone to call my, but I could not get my fingers to unlock my phone. I remember struggling to enter a single correct number on my phone. Then I panicked. “Call 911! Something’s wrong with me! I’m having a seizure or a stroke! Call! I can’t unlock my phone! Call call call something’s wrong with me!”

The other customers in the store came to my rescue immediately. They were my first guardian angels that morning.

I thought, “This can’t be happening!” I tried to stand up and just fell over. Lying face-down on the ground, I was throwing up, yelling and moaning.  I realized I could no longer speak. Someone there tried to comfort me and said that help was on the way.

Within minutes the ambulance took me to the nearest hospital. A CAT scan revealed a clot, and they administered a “clot buster,” TPA.

Then I could feel myself turning into a vegetable. I started foaming at the mouth, both hands started curling up to my chest like a t-rex. My fists clenched and I couldn’t move my legs. I was gasping for air. The nurses were all very scared and I could see it in their faces.

I heard one nurse say, “go get the ventilator,” and I saw my life flash before my eyes. I saw all the lights and scared faces referring to me in the third person. I mustered all the strength I could TO NOT DIE and just stay there with them. Slowly, the medicine provided some relief, but I was not out of the woods yet.

They put me in a helicopter and flew me to Westchester Hospital outside of New York City.

Once we landed, the medical team peppered me with questions: Could I see? Could I touch my finger to their finger and then touch my nose? If I was seeing double, did I see things side by side or top and bottom? Could I say my name and birthday? Did I know where I was? Did I know what day it was? All of this happened while we were flying through the hospital halls on a rolling gurney.

Another CAT scan confirmed that there was a blood clot in one of the main arteries going to my brain. The medical teams began to prepare for surgery and I was asked to sign some papers.

When the surgeon entered, he announced a new plan. Everyone became very quiet as they processed his words. They were going to conduct a mechanical thrombectomy entering through my wrist. Everyone got to work, modifying their preparations, and I was asked to sign a new set of papers.

I was awake during the procedure. I felt intense pain the moment the device struck the clot. It felt like someone was scraping the bottom of my brain with a pottery tool. They kept scraping until suddenly, it felt as if someone had sucked the pain out of my head with a vacuum.

The moment the clot was removed, I could see out of both eyes and wiggle my toes. I remember looking down at my feet and moving both at the same time.  Everything came back instantly.

In total from the stroke onset at 7:45am, to the surgery, it was a little over 5 hours. Surgery finished around 1pm.

After a couple of days in the hospital, I am physically fine and do not need any rehabilitation therapy, which is very unusual. My body recovered on the operating table. The only injury left was a tear in my artery that should heal within 90 days.

While I was resting in the recovery unit, after my operation, I reflected on how close to death I had been and might still be. The thought occurred to me that my family will continue after I am gone. With or without me, they will live their lives. A new awareness of the randomness of life and the limits of what is within our control hit me. By acknowledging what it not within my control, I can let go and feel free, more open and more loving. 

Anise, Stroke Survivor

Upstate New York

Anise was enjoying a leisurely morning with her 2-year old son. They stopped at a cafe for a bagel when she was struck by a powerful stroke. After riding in an ambulance and then a helicopter, an experimental procedure saved her life. This is her story.

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” is a campaign dedicated to telling the stories of a battle well fought, the challenges of an uphill recovery or even the bittersweet saga of going down swinging. Chronicling the experiences of the patient, their family and friends remind us to keep hope and to reinforce our resilience. The goal of this project is not to heroize or glorify the neurointerventionalist, but, rather, to acknowledge the daily struggle of the patients or their loved ones.