Darrell Laurant, the Lynchburg News & Advance columnist, writer, and author, suffered a stroke on June 8. This is his story, written especially for Our Health.
In its most common usage, the word "stroke" conjures images that are smooth and gentle -- the stroke of a canoe paddle; a child stroking her doll's face. A caress.
But what hit me on a recent afternoon wasn't anything like a caress. It was more like being punched squarely in the face by a heavyweight boxer.
We've known about strokes, aka "cerebrocardiovascular accidents," since the time of the ancient Greeks. They called the condition "apoplexy," which meant "struck down with violence." Strokes are currently the leading cause of disability in the United States and Europe, number two worldwide.
A stroke usually follows one of two basic scenarios. Either a blood clot enters the brain and stops it, like a piece of metal thrust into the cogs of a machine, or blood leaks away from the brain and starves it.
Risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and cigarette smoking. I had none of them.
What I do have is a weak heartbeat in one ventricle that sometimes leaves the heart vulnerable to fluid buildup. In extreme cases, the resisting pressure of this fluid can cause blood to pool in the heart -- and when blood isn't moving, it is subject to clotting. This is what the doctors later told me.
Like so much else that happens within the human body, however, these behind-the-scenes dramas are usually played out without the knowledge of the body's owner. Certainly, I wasn't thinking about the state of my internal organs as I stood drying my hair in my bathroom on my day off, getting ready to join my wife Gail (briefly out on an errand) for lunch.
It happened just past the stroke of two, no pun intended. Looking back, it seemed that I received a message from my brain a millisecond before the stroke hit, something akin to "Uh, oh!" Then my vision went black. I must have set down the hair dryer, and then I could no longer feel my body. Any of it.
From that point, my recollections must be considered suspect. Strokes, after all, attack the brain, which is the seat of human memory. I do recall briefly wondering if I might be dead -- not an unreasonable concern, given the unnatural darkness that surrounded me and my sense of complete disconnection from my body.