As many of you heard, Jen had a bit of a medical emergency this weekend. To prevent my thumbs from falling off in a tragic texting mishap, I thought I would update everyone on my blog instead. Those who didn’t know us a couple years ago and haven’t heard the story can get caught up on Jen’s previous medical saga in this series of blog posts:
If you don’t feel like reading through those, here’s the condensed recap. In 2011, when Jen was pregnant with Hannah, she was hospitalized with a terrible migraine. A brain scan revealed that the two main blood vessels in her brain — the internal carotid arteries — were completely shut off. After an Odyssian journey of doctor visits, we discovered that her ICAs had been in the process of closing over many years as the result of a rare disease called fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD), and that her migraine had been triggered by the final dissection of one or both of those arteries. We were left with very little in the way of future prognosis, but we knew to be on the lookout for any signs of stroke or other signs of further arterial deterioration. For the past couple years, periodic brain scans and other tests have been clear, and Jen has lived relatively symptom-free.
On Friday, we received something of a gracious reminder that Jen isn’t entirely out of the woods.
That afternoon, she was sitting at the computer, when she suddenly noticed that she was having trouble reading the screen. She went to the mirror and found that she couldn’t see the right side of her face. It wasn’t a black spot — part of her field of vision was just gone. That soon progressed to a series of other symptoms, including dizziness, tingling in her arm, and nausea. A call to her neurologist confirmed that she needed to get to the hospital ASAP. Unfortunately, I was over an hour away, so Jen called 911 while friends rallied to get over to our house and watch the kids. Between the ambulance ride and the ER, Jen developed some migraine-like pain in her head and neck.
Unlike with most medical emergencies, it didn’t make sense just to take Jen to the nearest hospital. She needed to be with her doctors at UC Irvine, who not only know her medical history, but are among a very small group of doctors in the nation that have expertise in dealing with FMD complications. Thankfully, the emergency personnel drove her up to UCI Medical Center in Orange.
By the time I made it up to the ER at UCI, they already had done a scan of Jen’s arteries, and were about to give her some morphine for the pain. I was able to hang out with her for a couple hours while we waited for an MRI.
As an aside, if you’re ever tempted to think too highly of human nature, I’d suggest spending a few hours in an ER. You usually will be treated to a little cross-section of the deep brokenness of humanity on display. It’s usually sad and occasionally a little humorous, like the guy a couple beds down from Jen who was convinced he was in a broken-down car rather than a hospital bed.
The doctors suspected that Jen either had a stroke or a TIA (transient ischemic attack, sometimes called a “mini-stroke”), but the possibility remained that it was an atypical migraine. They wanted to do more tests to narrow it down, and wanted to keep her in the hospital at least overnight for further observation.
By the time they completed the MRI, got her admitted to a room, and gave her dinner, it was already pretty late. Due to the incredible kindness of friends from our church, I was able to stay in the room with her that night and all the next day.
Now is when I must sing the praises of UCI. Instead of a won’t-quite-fold-down-all-the-way chair, they had a padded bench I could use as a bed. There is a world of difference, my friends, between a zombifying night of catnaps in an uncomfortable chair and a night of on again, off again hospital sleep on a padded bench. A world of difference.
Jen was able to get a little sleep as well. More importantly, she was able to switch from morphine to Advil and still control the head and neck pain.
We spent all day Saturday hanging out in the room, talking and taking catnaps between visits from nurses and various therapists. The therapists administered a battery of tests to make sure that Jen hadn’t lost the ability to talk, read, swallow, walk, etc. Late that afternoon, we got the news we hoped for: they were going to release Jen.
As for what happened? The doctors believe she experienced a TIA due to low blood flow to part of her brain, perhaps brought on by low blood pressure or even dehydration. A blood perfusion test on the MRI revealed that the newfangled arterial plumbing in her brain is providing weaker blood flow on the left side of her brain than on the right side. That, the doctors think, leaves her susceptible to a TIA caused by temporary low blood flow on the left side of her brain. Or at least that’s the working theory.
The great news is that there’s no evidence of permanent damage due to stroke, and there’s no evidence of FMD complications or dissection in Jen’s remaining cranial arteries (most crucially, the vertebral arteries proving all the blood to her brain).
So we’re basically back to where we started a couple years ago. We go back to living our lives, and if Jen experiences stroke-like symptoms, we call 911 and get to the hospital. It may be another episode like this, in which case the doctors may learn more over time if a pattern develops.
This latest episode was a gracious reminder in at least a couple ways. First, it reminded us after a couple years of normalcy that things aren’t completely normal with Jen. But instead of reminding us by way of a devastating stroke, God saw fit to remind us gently. I’m very grateful that she gets to carry on with life as usual, able to see the faces of her five children, able to communicate with no difficulties, able to drive around unassisted, and able to experience the myriad other graces in her life. Second, it reminded us again that life really is a vapor. Though we’re tempted to waste it in so many ways, God continually gives us the grace to re-focus on spending this life on things that really matter and in pursuit of the one treasure that will never fail: Jesus.