Today is my four year stroke-iversary: no fooling! Every year when this day comes around, I can’t help but to think back to that fateful night and the lessons that it taught me.
April 1st of 2016: I was out for an evening walk with my wife around our neighborhood, as we liked to do. We had just rounded the block, and were preparing to continue down the street on our usual route, when I suddenly started to feel weak and a little dizzy. I sat down on the curb to regain my composure, and we made the decision to turn around and head back for the apartment.
That night, I started to notice a very slight, generalized numbness throughout my entire body. Normally, when you think of a stroke, you think of just one side of your body going numb. Also, this was just a slight tingling, and I thought it would pass, so I didn’t go to the doctor. What a fool!
I think that in the back of my head, I knew that I had had a stroke, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I was 37 years old. I didn’t want to have had a stroke at 37, even though I had already started dialysis 8 months prior. I didn’t want to add another thing to my list of things that would kill me, so I kept it tucked away. My wife and I went out to lunch the next day with a friend of mine, and I noticed that I was slurring my speech a little, but I hid it well enough that no one else noticed.
The day after that (two full days after my stroke), and only after a lot of gentle prodding from my loving wife, I called my dialysis nurse to tell her that the numbness had not gone away. My nurse, Tina, who trained me to perform home dialysis, must have heard something in my voice because she instructed me to go straight to the emergency room.
As I was already a dialysis patient, they quickly got me into the emergent care (that is what I call the emergency room). The doctor was as stumped as I was, as I presented with atypical symptoms. After a panel of labs came back negative, the doctor ordered a CT scan of my brain. The CT was inconclusive, but it looked like there was something there, so he ordered an MRI of my brain.
If you are ever curious about what science fiction construction noises sound like blasted into your ears, go get an MRI of your head. It is unpleasant to put it mildly.
The MRI showed, you guessed it, that I had an ischemic cerebral vascular accident (CVA, also known as as stroke) of my Corpus callosum, which according to Wikipedia, connects “the left and right cerebral hemispheres, enabling communication between them.” According to the doctors, this could account for my feeling numb throughout my entire body.
They admitted me to the hospital, and they ended up keeping me a week for observation, in which time I met with a host of different doctors and had a bunch more tests, including another, longer MRI, which they called an magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA).
The cause of my stroke was that a piece of plaque (artery gunk) had broken away from my arterial wall and made its way up my carotid artery to my brain, which caused a small amount of brain damage. The doctors told me that my carotid artery was 70% blocked from this plaque, which was no doubt a result of years of eating the fattiest pieces of meat I could get my hands on and not exercising.
I immediately cut out all red meat and dairy products (I haven’t eaten any since), and my wife and I switched to only eating lean meats like chicken and fish. I gradually weaned myself off of all meat (it was easy after having a stroke), and I went fully vegan for about two years. I have since brought a limited amount of only the highest quality fish back into my diet. I usually only eat fish once a week, and we buy it and cook it the same day.
What I learned from this experience was if you suspect there is anything unusual going on with your body, go seek medical attention immediately. At least call an advice nurse and try to get some direction. If you don’t have health insurance, find a way, somehow, to get some. Even with health insurance, my hospital stay cost me $500, and I can’t imagine how expensive it would have been were I not insured.
Next, the typical American diet of huge portions of meat with every meal is killing us. A lot of the meat in America is packed with growth hormones so cattle ranchers can get the most bang for their bovine and the most punch in their pork (these are bad, I know). Harangue in their hens? Probably not, but I digress.
Meat makes us fat, makes us get diabetes, fills our arteries with fat, gives us strokes, kills us. I realize that none of this is referenced or researched, but this is what I believe, and this is why I no longer eat cheese or steaks.
It has been helping too! When I first moved up to Oregon, I was tested by the local transplant clinic up here to get on their waiting list for a kidney. When they did an ultrasound of my carotid artery, they found only a 50% blockage. Huzzah! I had decreased my arterial plaque by 20% thanks to vegan eating. That was enough for me to be sold.
I know that a lot of people talk about protein. “How can you get enough protein from plants? Blah, blah, blah…” As a dialysis patient, I get labs drawn every month. As a peritoneal dialysis patient, I lose a lot of protein through treatment, so they check my protein levels every month. It’s a fact! It is also a fact that my protein levels are always ABOVE the desired level. I get more protein than I need! And 99% of it is from plants, and a little from fish.
OK, that is enough of my ranting. Here is a picture of my cat.