In the fall of 2002, I was beginning my fourth year of commuting 150 miles from York, Maine to my position as an assistant professor of Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.
On this mid-October Thursday, I left home as usual at 4A; after driving for two hours, I treated myself to pancakes and coffee at Zip’s Diner on I-390 south of Worcester, MA, 30 miles from campus. On campus in Willimantic by 8A, I prepared for my day of office hours, a seminar in teaching Secondary English, a faculty meeting, and my 4P class of graduate students in the Teaching Reading course.
All the while my mind was pre-occupied with the keynote address I would be giving the following morning to 900 public school teachers in northern New Hampshire, 4 hours away. To summarize, I’d finish teaching on campus by 7P that Thursday, drive to Littleton, NH by 11P, and give my keynote the next morning at 9A. No stress there!
Well, it turns out there was a lot of stress there. But, was that what caused what happened that afternoon? Let me explain.
As my 4P class was approaching, I found my eyes couldn’t focus on the class roster; I couldn’t read my students’ names. I didn’t feel well (later students said I looked pale); I decided to take a walk while my 25 students were organizing in groups preparing for their presentations. Upon returning ten minutes later, I got everyone’s attention and told them that something was wrong and I was going to drive myself to the Windham Hospital (not a half mile away).
Fortunately, the students didn’t let that happen; a student got my department chair, David Stoloff, and he drove me to the hospital. I was a mess. I couldn’t focus, was losing my memory, was forgetting my own kids’ names and was barely holding on to Hannah’s image that seemed to be disappearing down a long tube. I couldn’t speak.
The medical people ran me through the CAT scan and the MRI. Nothing abnormal, but no answers either. I remember being swallowed up by the CAT scan and thinking, am I going to have to learn to use a fork again?
Since the medical staff was stumped, they shipped me by ambulance to the Hartford Hospital 30 miles away for their big-time neurologists to give me the once over. And then a surprising thing happened in the ambulance, I started making sense talking to the EMT, just chit chat. I was getting better, remembering more and more. Not four hours later from the initial event, I was doing well enough to be considered for discharge.
My department chair had called Hannah, and she drove the 150 miles from York to Hartford with our daughter Molly, a teacher in Rye, NH at the time. By the time they arrived in the late evening, I was sitting up and ready to go home. I had to pass one final test.
A nurse came in and mentioned three unrelated items (e.g. apple, water skis, Mount Rushmore). If I could remember those three when she returned in five minutes, I could go home. I nailed them. You would have been so proud!
Hannah drove us back to Eastern and then after midnight, I followed her home in my Honda Civic Hatchback. Clearly, I was fine. Perhaps, driving home was not the best choice. I was young, well 55.
Home by 3A, I took the weekend off, received a weekend gift of a three-foot potted plant from the president of Eastern, and drove back the 150 miles on Monday for my full load of classes.
Dr. Brown, a neurologist in York, checked me out and said that of 10,000 patients, he had never seen a case like mine. He didn’t think it was a TIA (transient ischemic attack (i.e. temporary amnesia related to the heart). A GTA (global transient amnesia) never came up. And that was pretty much that. No limitations, just let him know if any of my symptoms return. And for 15 years none had! Until this afternoon.
Given that previous experience, I didn’t feel these symptoms were any big deal, but Doc Braden here at York Hospital, the attending ER doctor, did, and wanted me to spend the night in the hospital.
On Saturday, part 4 picks up on finding an angel in the hospital.